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7 Small Changes You Can Make Every Day for Flatter Abs

Habits for Flatter Abs

Whether the goal is to trim down for bikini season or just feel healthier in your own skin, it can be frustrating when you hit a road block. Fortunately, we’ve found small tweaks you can change in your daily routine to help push you past that flat-abs plateau. (Also try these sneaky tips for toning your abs during any workout.)

RELATED: J.Lo Shows Off Her Toned Abs in Her Latest Bikini Photo—Here’s What She Does to Keep Them Strong

Learn to Relax

There are four times more cortisol receptors (basically tiny stress-hormone magnets) in belly fat compared with subcutaneous fat (the fat that sits just beneath your skin), according to a study in Psychosomatic Medicine. This means if you stress out a lot, fat goes to your belly faster than anywhere else. Stress affects your body in other negative ways too, so stay happy and calm, exercise, meditate, and hang with people who make you smile. (Take these steps if you feel a freak-out coming on.)

RELATED: 5 Crazy-Effective Crunch Variations

Check Your Macros

50/30/20: The breakdown of carbs, protein, and fat as a percentage of total daily calories that can help you best manage hunger, satiety, and keep belly fat and weight under control, says Diana Lipson-Burge, R.D.N., a dietitian in Hermosa Beach, California. For example, if your base metabolism (calories your body burns daily at rest) plus activity works out to 1,800 calories a day, that breaks down to 900 calories of healthy carbs like vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grain; 540 calories of protein from sources like nuts and lean meats; and 360 calories of fats, such as the fat in olive oil, soybean oil, salmon, and walnuts. (Meal prepping can help you hit these numbers; here are some meal prep tips for beginners.)

RELATED: The One Thing Venus Williams Adds to Her Ab Workouts for a Rock-Solid Core

Build Some Muscle

A study of more than 10,000 people in the journal Obesity found that those who added 25 minutes of weight training to their routines during a 12-year period gained fewer inches around their waists than those who bumped up their aerobic exercise by the same amount. If you’re new to lifting, use this 4-week training plan to get you started.

RELATED: The 7 Best Ab Exercises That Are All Over Pinterest

Focus On Fiber

A study in the journal Obesity found that for every 10-gram increase in daily soluble fiber intake (that’s the kind that slows digestion and helps you feel full), the rate at which deep belly fat accumulated fell by 4 percent over five years. (Eating fiber can also aid in a deeper sleep throughout the night.) Add those 10 extra grams with half an avocado, 3/4 cup of black beans, 3/4 cup of oat bran, and a red apple. (Or add these high fiber recipes into your repertoire.)

RELATED: Perfect Abs Are Not the Key to Happiness—and This Woman’s Transformation Photos Are Proof

Know When You’re Hungry

On a hunger scale (where 1 is ravenous and 10 is too stuffed to move), stop eating when you’re at a 7 to avoid gaining weight, says Lipson-Burge. “It’s a point where you’ll be hungry again in three to four hours.” Having 400 to 500 calories at each meal should keep you satiated and prevent overeating at your next meal. “After four more bites, you’d be at an 8, Lipson-Burge explains. If you stop eating at an 8 (instead of 7) two or more times a week, you might be consuming more calories than you need to get down to your natural body weight. (If you struggle with putting the fork down, learn how to stop binge eating with these tips.)

Sleep It Off

Getting six to seven hours of shut-eye a night can help keep you from adding excess pounds to your middle, according to a study in the journal Sleep. People who slept for five or fewer hours or eight or more hours had higher amounts of abdominal fat (as well as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes). It gets worse for short sleepers: They put on almost twice as many inches around their waist over five years as the longer snoozers. Researchers speculate “extreme” sleep patterns (too much or too little) alter hunger and other hormones and may upset your daily calorie balance by leading you to eat more and exercise less because of fatigue or just being awake fewer hours. (If you’re usually a night owl, stock up on these snacks to help you fall asleep faster.)

And P.S. Know That Lipo Isn’t Magic

Liposuction will remove absolutely zero visceral fat, says Andrew Larson, M.D., a bariatric surgeon in West Palm Beach, Florida. “Liposuction removes subcutaneous fat,” he says. “Only diet and exercise can help you shrink the amount of fat deep inside that surrounds your organs.” (Even if you’re short on time, try to squeeze in a quickie workout like this 7-minute abs routine.)

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This article originally appeared on Shape.com

The Life Motto Hannah Bronfman Lives By

There’s no shortage of talk about mindfulness. In fact, a growing amount of research is exploring the connection between our brains and our bodies. Whether or not Hannah Bronfman knows it, the catchphrase that the HBFIT founder lives by is at the core of this way of thinking.

“My personal mantra would be, ‘Mind right, body tight,’” Bronfman tells Health. “And that is because I think a lot of people lose sight of why they work out, and for me it is more of a mind-body connection. So that kind of reminds me that it’s not just about the physical, it’s about the mental as well.”

Clearly Bronfman’s brain is in alignment with her frame because her workouts—from one-legged deadlifts while balancing on a slam ball to prowler pushes to yoga—have been yielding some pretty awesome results. But she wasn’t always as dialed in as she is now. It was a tragedy in her life that may have launched the change in her perspective.

RELATED: 5 Fitness Influencers Share the Words They Live By

“My grandmother actually became very sick when I was 19 and it was actually because she had battled with anorexia her whole life, and so she basically got to a point in her life where her body could no longer support her,” Bronfman told us at a launch event for her book Do What Feels Good, which hits bookshelves in January. “When she passed away, that was a huge eye-opening experience for me to not only lead my happiest and healthiest version of myself.”

She also hopes that other women “realize that these types of issues that I had seen as a little girl—if you don’t get that under control and change that conversation with yourself—these are thoughts and feelings that will stay with you your whole life, and, ultimately, could lead to your demise, like my grandmother.”

Intimate and personal stories like this—along with recipes, DIY beauty, and healthy-living advice—are all things that have helped Bronfman on her overall wellness journey, and she includes them in her book. She also wants to get one more point across. 

“This book is not a how-to, it’s not a diet book, it’s not a manual on how to be like me… This is all the information that has gotten me through. It has changed the way I thought about myself, changed the way I have conversations about myself, and taught me a lot about how I feel, and so this knowledge is to help everyone on their journey of self-discovery.”

Bravo Bronfman. Bravo.

Dumbbell Box Step-Overs Will Give You Your Tightest Butt Ever

When it comes to leg day, it doesn’t get more classic than the squat. But if a squat is the only lower-body movement in your leg-day routine, not only do you risk getting bored, but you’re missing a chance to work not only your legs and glutes but your core and upper body, too.

Enter: the dumbbell box step-over. The exercise is a lot like a box step-up, but with the addition of two weights, either dumbbells or kettlebells. Stepping not just up but over taxes and tones the lower body in a different way than just squatting. “Dumbbell box step-overs are a challenging movement and a great way to train and challenge the entire body, but also more specifically to sculpt and train the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quads, core, and even upper body,” explains certified personal trainer Katherine (KG) Gundling, a CrossFit level one trainer at ‪ICE NYC‬.

“These are one of my favorite exercises to play around with because they build strength quickly, are deceivingly challenging, and are definitely underappreciated,” Gundling says. Plus, they’re really versatile: All you need is something to step onto and two weights.

Whether you’re looking for a new move to add to leg day, are DIY-ing a hotel-gym workout, or just want to sculpt your whole body (with major emphasis on the booty), here’s how to do this move.

RELATED: 11 Celeb-Approved Workouts for a Toned, Sculpted Butt

How to do a dumbbell box step-over

First, find a box (or a bench or a stack of weight plates) to use. Make sure it’s high enough that when you put your whole foot on the box, your knee is at a 90-degree angle. (If your knee is higher than your hip joint, the platform is too high, especially if this is your first time trying the movement.) Hold one weight in each hand at your sides. Stand six inches from the box so that you’re facing it, with your hips square and your shoulders stacked right over your hips.

When you’re ready to begin, brace your core, draw your shoulders back, and squeeze your lats. Take a large step with your right foot, placing the whole foot on the box (A). As you drive your weight into the foot on the box, keep your chest up, your arms straight, and your shoulders back. Straighten your right leg and bring your left foot up until you are standing on top of the box, and squeeze your glutes (B).

Then, re-engage your core and draw your shoulders back if they’ve rounded forward. Step down with your right leg, then with your left leg (C). Once you’re on the ground, turn around so you’re facing the box. That’s one rep. Repeat the movement, this time stepping up first with your left leg.

Gundling recommends warming up first with two sets of 10 to 12 reps of dumbbell step-ups–where you’re just stepping up on top of the box–using a light weight, then doing two sets of 4 to 6 reps of the step-overs using a moderate weight. If you want to use two 20-pound dumbbells during the workout, for example, warm up with two 5- to 12-pound dumbbells first.

If you’ve never tried a dumbbell box step-over before, start with the basics. “This movement requires a lot of coordination and stabilization of the whole body. I recommend that beginners first master the unweighted box step-up and then get used to doing weighted dumbbell box step-ups before finally progressing to the dumbbell step-over,” says Gundling.

And if you want to make it harder? Either go heavier or slow it down. “Focusing on and slowing down the eccentric part of the movement—the part when you’re stepping down and off the box—is great for improving strength, balance, and stability,” says Gundling.

RELATED: The Goblet Squat Is the Move You Need to Tone Your Core and Lift Your Butt

The benefits of the dumbbell box step-over

Once you get the hang of this killer movement, you’ll really be toning and strengthening your entire body. Below, check out the full-body benefits of dumbbell box step-overs.

You’ll get a peach pump
“If you perform the dumbbell box step-over and its variations consistently you will notice booty gains, which will be noticeable in glute shape and strength, as well as an increase in your back squat and deadlift weight,” says Gundling.

For even more emphasis on the booty gains, make the box higher. The higher the box, the more the movement will build and strengthen the muscles of your posterior chain–aka the glutes and hamstrings. The lower the box, the more the movement will target your quads.

Your legs will get stronger
“Another bonus of the box step-over is that it strengthens each leg unilaterally, as opposed to as one unit. Unlike with jump squats or leg presses, your legs can’t compensate for each other [during a step-over] if one is stronger,” says Gundling. That means that you’re evenly working the quads, hamstrings, and calves of each of your legs.

You’ll stabilize your core
Those two weights at your sides are fighting to pull you down, which means you have to engage your core to keep your torso upright. “You can’t properly do this movement unless your core is engaged,” Gundling says. “Over time, engaging your core like this will improve overall core strength, stabilization, and balance.” And you know what that means? Better posture, reduced lower-back pain, and more defined abs.

You’ll boost your upper-body strength
Ditch the dumbbells and this move will primarily target the lower body. But hold onto the dumbbells and you’ll also be training your grip, shoulders, traps, and back. Gundling explains that this is because your upper body is now working under tension.

If you do any push-ups, pull-ups, shoulder presses, or barbell movements, you’ll definitely notice the difference. Even better? Because the movement strengthens your back, you might just find that your posture improves, too.

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This Simple Stair Test Could Predict Your Risk of Dying

Last year around this time, I made it my New Year’s resolution to take one extra flight of stairs every day at the office. I arrive every morning smugly congratulating myself for being a superior human being for not taking the escalator. Oh and I also happen to live in a third-floor walk-up apartment. Nothing could have prepared me more for headlines this morning that how well you do on a new stair test could determine your risk of dying.

Those headlines are riffing off a new study presented at a European Society of Cardiology meeting in Milan this week. Spanish researchers found that high performers on an exercise test had a lower risk of death from heart disease, cancer, or other causes, and the level of fitness required for those life-extending benefits turns out to be about the same as quickly climbing four flights of stairs without stopping.

RELATED: This Is the Best Anti-Aging Workout, According to Science

Here’s how the study worked: Researchers recruited more than 12,000 people who had been diagnosed with or who were thought to have coronary artery disease, aka damage or disease in the arteries that carry blood to the heart. The study participants walked or ran on a treadmill during a test called exercise echocardiography to measure how their hearts responded to physical exertion.

Their fitness levels were calculated in what’s called METs, or metabolic equivalents. One measly MET is the energy it takes for me to sit in front of this computer (relatively) calmly. People in the study who could handle 10 METs of treadmill activity were deemed to be high performers on the test—or to have good “functional capacity.”

There were big health wins for those folks in the research: Compared to people with poor functional capacity, the high performers were less likely to die from cancer, heart disease, or other causes over the following five years or so. For every additional MET achieved in the test, their risk of dying from those causes decreased by 9%, 9%, and 4%, respectively.

RELATED: Here’s Why You Get Out of Breath Walking Up Stairs (Even Though You’re Fit)

Without access to a fancy sci-fi treadmill setup, how can us normals calculate our METs? That’s where the stairs come in. “There are much cheaper ways to estimate if you could achieve 10 METs on the treadmill test,” study author Jesús Peteiro, MD, PhD, a cardiologist at University Hospital A Coruña in Spain, said in a statement. “If you can walk very fast up three floors of stairs without stopping, or fast up four floors without stopping, you have good functional capacity. If not, it’s a good indication that you need more exercise.” Try to do those four floors in under a minute, Dr. Peteiro told TODAY.

Feeling particularly cocky, I took myself to the fifth floor of my office building, broke out my iPhone timer, and set off running. Only one naive bystander looked at me funny, and I was back in my chair before my coworkers even noticed I was gone—although my panting may have given me away. How many more years do I get if I can run four flights in 32 seconds?

Of course, it’s not all that surprising that the physically fit people in the new research were more likely to live longer, even if the stair test itself is kinda fun. “Our results provide further evidence of the benefits of exercise and being fit on health and longevity,” Dr. Peteiro said in the statement. “In addition to keeping body weight down, physical activity has positive effects on blood pressure and lipids, reduces inflammation, and improves the body’s immune response to tumors.” You’ve heard it all before, sure—but only 19% of women get enough exercise, so it’s worth repeating.

How much exercise is enough? According to recently updated guidelines for Americans, we should be aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, in addition to some strength-training. Which, by the way, you can even do on the stairs.

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Your Peloton Membership Just Got a Lot Better

If you’re a Peloton fan, you’ll love their latest offering: yoga. That’s right, the brand best known for its high-energy, interactive indoor and streaming cycling classes, and more recently their treadmill classes, is now ready to help you get Zen.

To start, there will be four live yoga classes taught each day by one of three instructors: Aditi Shah, Anna Greenberg, and Kristin McGee. Classes will range from 20 to 45 minutes, and will include a variety of styles, including Vinyasa flow, a vigorous power yoga, a restorative class, a basics class geared towards helping beginners build the foundation of a practice, and even guided meditation. Plus, a bank of yoga content that will be available anywhere, any time.

Studio classes for new members will start at $20, while the yoga programming will be included in current Peloton Bike, Tread, and Digital subscriptions ($39 and $19/month, respectively). And you can count on the signature Peloton teaching style with instructors interacting with both those in class as well as at-home yogis via strategically placed cameras throughout the room as well as a leaderboard. (FYI: Studio classes start today, but live and on-demand streaming won’t begin until December 26.)

“What I am really excited about is bringing the feeling of community into people’s homes, to give them an awesome yoga practice in their home, but with this added element of the boutique fitness experience which is not available to everyone, and I think that is going to be really incredible,” explained Greenberg.

And if the 30-minute flow geared toward prepping folks for Crow Pose (read: tons of hip openers!) I took yesterday with Greenberg, which was the very first classes taught and filmed at the studio, is any indication of Peloton Yoga Studio’s potential, then I’m pretty sure they are going to #namaslay it.

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You Don’t Have to Do Cardio to Lose Weight (But There’s a Catch)

When you think of exercise geared specifically toward weight loss, you likely imagine spending long hours on the treadmill or elliptical. And while it’s true that doing steady state cardio probably will help with weight loss, experts say it’s totally unnecessary if your main goal is fat loss. In fact, you can lose weight just by lifting weights. (Yes, really. Just peep these weight lifting body transformations.)

However, that doesn’t mean you should never do cardio. Here’s why you might want to prioritize strength training if shedding pounds is on your to-do list—but you can’t forgo breathing heavy forever.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Build Lean Muscle Fast

Why You Don’t Need Dedicated Cardio Sessions to Lose Weight

“Cardio is one of the least effective fitness modalities for weight loss,” explains Jillian Michaels, health and fitness expert and creator of My Fitness by Jillian Michaels app. That’s because you lose weight by burning more calories than you eat, and to many people’s surprise, strength training is actually better at doing that than steady state cardio.

The reasons for this are pretty simple. First, strength training changes your body composition. “Resistance training will help you build more muscle, which will spike your metabolism and help you burn more calories,” explains Betina Gozo, a Nike Master Trainer who focuses on strength training. The more calories your body burns on its own, the easier it is to lose weight. In other words, if you want to lose weight, building muscle is a good thing. (Here’s all the science on building muscle and burning fat.)

Second, resistance training done in a circuit often burns more calories than plain old cardio, particularly when done with compound movements like squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, cleans, push presses, and more, according to Jennifer Novak, C.S.C.S., a strength and conditioning specialist and owner of PEAK Symmetry Performance Strategies. “When more joints are involved in a movement, more muscles have to be recruited to execute them,” she explains. That means—yep—more calories burned.

RELATED: The Best Workout for Your Metabolism

Plus, there’s the “afterburn” effect that comes along with higher-intensity resistance training. “When you’re just doing straight-up cardio, you’re working at an aerobic pace and only burning calories for the amount of time that you’re working out,” says Gozo. With a high-intensity resistance training circuit session, you continue burning calories for the rest of the day, she adds. Of course, you can absolutely get this afterburn benefit from HIIT, but for the muscle-building benefits, you’ll want to incorporate resistance in the form of weights, kettlebells, or body weight leverage.

“That said, all of this is irrelevant if you don’t also watch what you are eating,” adds Michaels. Remember that saying: “abs are made in the kitchen?” Well, it’s true. With a dialed-in nutrition plan and strength-based workout routine, you’re most likely to see the weight loss changes you’re looking for.

The No-Cardio Catch

Now, while cardio isn’t necessary for weight loss, that doesn’t mean cardio is unnecessary ~in general~. The American Heart Association currently recommends 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise per week (spread over five days) OR 75 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular exercise per week (spread over three days) plus two strength training sessions for optimal heart health. (Only about 23 percent of Americans are meeting those requirements, though.) That’s because getting your heart rate up is still crucial for keeping your heart healthy.

The thing is: Strength training, when done strategically, can definitely get your heart rate high enough to count as vigorous cardiovascular exercise. (Here’s a primer on how to use heart rate zones to train for max exercise benefits.) “Compound movements are a great way to get your heart rate up while doing strength training,” explains Gozo. Because you’re working several muscles at once, your heart rate is going to climb. (If you’ve ever heard your heartbeat in your ears after doing a few heavy deadlifts, you know exactly what she’s talking about.) Plus, by minimizing the rest you take between sets, adding heavier weights, and/or stepping up your pace, you can boost your heart rate.

RELATED: I Lost 72 Pounds and Now I’m Hooked on Taking Care of My Body

Get the Best of Both Worlds

So how do fitness pros recommend balancing strength and cardio training if you’re trying to lose weight? “I would recommend cardio only on your off days,” says Michaels. “For example, if you lift four times a week and you want to get one or two more sweat sessions in—but still allow your muscles the proper recovery time—this is when cardio would be fine.”

Want to ensure you’re hitting the recommended amount of cardio without ever setting foot on the treadmill? Weight train in circuits, she explains. “Move from one exercise to the next in swift succession to keep your heart rate up. I personally add a HIIT interval into every circuit as well to get the extra intensity.”

It’s also a good idea to choose your weights strategically. “Try to incorporate weights and resistance that actually challenge you for your last few reps, or else you may not be getting full benefits,” says Gozo. “You never want the weights to be easy to move for 15+ reps. You want the ‘resistance’ to be there to make change happen.”

The only cardio caveat? If you’re training for something sport-specific (such as a half-marathon or triathlon) then you will need to do dedicated cardio workouts, says Michaels.

Still, Michaels is fully behind the idea of focusing most of your effort on shorter resistance-based workouts over long bouts of cardio. “Study after study has shown us the higher intensity, shorter duration workouts are the most effective for overall fitness, cardiovascular health, bone density, muscle maintenance, metabolism and more.” Want to give this kind of workout a try? Check out this kettlebell cardio workout.

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This Is the Best Anti-Aging Workout, According to Science

You’re already using anti-aging moisturizers and anti-aging eye creams–is it time to adopt an anti-aging workout, too? 

A new study published today in the journal European Heart Journal says when it comes down to the anti-aging effects of exercise, cardio is queen. Endurance exercise–like running, swimming, or bicycling–and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) both slowed signs of aging compared to lifting weights–at least on the cellular level.

Here’s how the study went down: A team of German researchers divided 124 healthy but inactive adults between the ages of 30 and 60 into four groups. One group carried on with their non-existent exercise routines. The other three sweated it out for 45-minute sessions three times a week for 26 weeks.

The endurance training group walked or ran continuously. The HIIT group completed a warmup, four rounds alternating between faster and slower running, and a cool down. The resistance training group used eight different strength-training machines to complete a circuit of exercises including seated chest presses, lat pulldowns, and leg presses.

At the end of the study, people in both the endurance training and the HIIT groups had experienced anti-aging effects of their workouts, while the inactive and resistance training groups did not. Those turn-back-the-clock effects were measured at the cellular level, by examining white blood cells from blood taken before the start of the study and days after the final exercise session.

RELATED: The 27 Best Anti-Aging Tips of All Time

In those cells from runners and HIIT-ers, researchers noted two important changes: Their telomeres–the caps at the ends of  chromosomes–lengthened, and telomerase–an enzyme involved in maintaining those caps–increased. These effects “are both important for cellular aging, regenerative capacity, and thus, healthy aging,” study author Ulrich Laufs, MD, of Leipzig University in Germany, said in a statement.

Telomeres naturally shrink over time, and as they do, cells die instead of continuing to divide. Cell death is bad news not just for wrinkles and gray hair, but for risk of age-related health concerns like heart disease, cognitive decline, and even early death.

So what was it about endurance and HIIT workouts that could stave off that shrinkage? The researchers hypothesize that those types of exercise affected levels of nitric oxide in the blood. Since nitric oxide increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure, it could in turn have affected the cell changes found in these two groups of participants.

RELATED: Find Your Perfect HIIT Routine With These Top Workout Videos

This isn’t the first study to link exercise to telomere length. A team from Brigham Young University found that adults who jogged for 30 to 40 minutes five times a week had telomeres as long as those of people who were 9 years younger than them, for example. And HIIT workouts have been previously linked with additional anti-aging cellular changes. The new study, however, is thought to be the largest ever to directly compare the anti-aging effects on telomeres of different types of exercise.

However, according to an accompanying editorial published alongside the study, this research doesn’t necessarily mean one workout or the other is better for your physical fitness. “The authors reported that changes in telomere length were not associated with changes in cardiorespiratory fitness,” write the editorial authors, of Newcastle University in the UK. Further studies are needed, they say, to clearly understand the link between telomere length, telomerase activity, and disease prevention.

In the meantime, don’t go giving up your strength sessions. These results fall nicely in line with common exercise recommendations. “Our data support the European Society of Cardiology’s current guideline recommendations that resistance exercise should be complementary to endurance training rather than a substitute,” study co-author Christian Werner, MD, of Saarland University in Germany, said in a statement.

Same goes for recently updated exercise guidelines for Americans, which suggest getting 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity per week, as well as at least two sessions of muscle-strengthening activity.

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Jillian Michaels May Have Just Revealed the Secret to Looking Younger

If you could look inside every single cell in your body, you would see 23 pairs of chromosomes (46 chromosomes in total). And at the end of every one of those squiggly thread-like things are telomeres. These little caps protect your genetic information from being lost when your cells divide and keep the chromosome from fusing with neighboring chromosomes.

Think of them like the ends on your shoelaces, but they’re not made of cheap plastic. They’re made from a series of DNA segments, or “base pairs,” that repeat thousands of times. In white blood cells, for example, you start out with around 8,000 base pairs at the ends of your chromosomes. Over and over again, that base-pair sequence repeats itself, almost as if you’re winding masking tape around the ends of your chromosomes to keep them snug.

RELATED: Jillian Michaels’ 6-Exercise Circuit to Get Back in Shape After Baby

But here’s the catch. When your cells divide, and they will about 50 to 70 times on average over their lifetimes, the ends of your chromosomes—well—they aren’t copied quite as perfectly as you might think. See, every time your DNA replicates itself and divides, it shaves a tiny bit (approximately 20 to 30 base pairs) off your telomeres. Oxidative stress (or the damage wrought by free radicals) messes with things as well and can cause you to lose an additional 50 to 150 base pairs per split.

That adds up and over time, telomeres shrink. And once a telomere becomes too short, it leaves your cell’s DNA exposed. That’s when a series of unwelcome biological actions can occur.

Your broken DNA might try to fix itself either by copying the sequence of another DNA molecule that’s kind of like it or by fusing together two “cap-less” chromosomes.

RELATED: Jillian Michaels’ Total-Body Shred

Neither is always a bad thing and either can temporarily do the trick. But if two chromosomes fuse, the cell can either die or become genetically abnormal. In the latter case, your abnormal cells continue to divide and become potentially dangerous.

But that’s not all. When the caps come off your chromosomes, your cells can no longer divide. Instead, they either die or become senescent cells— which are basically zombie cells that sit inside your tissues and secrete stuff (such as pro inflammatory cytokines) that damages healthier cells.

That’s why the shortening of telomeres has been associated with aging. As skin and pigment cells die, we start to see wrinkles and gray hair. But the really bad stuff is when our immune cells start to die off, and our risk of heart disease, diabetes, cognitive decline, premature death, and a number of age-related issues increases.

However, it turns out that just a few smart lifestyle choices can fortify and even lengthen your telomeres. In one study, participants switched to a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and unrefined grains; walked 30 minutes a day six days a week; and practiced stress-busting techniques such as yoga and meditation. Over time, their telomeres grew by roughly 10 percent!

What to Eat

You can’t go wrong with a Mediterranean-style diet (which emphasizes produce, whole grains, olive oil, legumes, and fish). One of the most eye-opening studies showing its effect on telomeres involved 217 elderly participants who were divided into three groups: those who did a half-ass job with the diet, those who did a mid-level job, and those who stuck to the diet as rigidly as possible. The stricter participants were about sticking to a Mediterranean-style diet, the longer their telomeres were as a result.

Getting an abundance of nutrients—including magnesium and vitamins D, B6, and B12—from foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, lean meats, and fish has been shown to protect telomeres and keep those caps long and strong. And according to researchers at Emory University School of Medicine, alpha lipoic acid—found in spinach and tomatoes, for example— may stimulate telomerase, an enzyme that repairs and maintains telomeres (but so far, only in mice).

It’s also been observed that foods high in beta carotene (think cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, winter squash, broccoli, even watermelon) could play a major role in helping telomeres maintain their length. A four-year analysis of 3,660 participants age 20 years old and up showed that as blood carotenoid levels increased, so did the length of their telomeres—by as much as 8 percent.

Even fatty acids are friends of your telomeres. Several studies point to the protective powers of omega-3 fatty acids. But even better: research out of Ohio State University found that adults who took omega-3 supplements for four months preserved telomere length in their white blood cells—the immune cells that fight off illness and disease.

How to Sweat

Regular exercise doesn’t just build up your strength and endurance—it’s preserving your telomeres. Researchers at Brigham Young University recently discovered that adults who participated in regular physical activity (in this case, 30 to 40 minutes of jogging five times a week) had telomeres that were like those of individuals nine years younger who didn’t exercise.

RELATED: Jillian Michaels’ Calorie-Burning Workout

Others have noticed that obesity may change how your telomeres age. When researchers at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria looked at patients who experienced weight loss as a result of bariatric surgery, not only did their BMIs drop but they appeared to have longer telomeres up to two years later. The thought is that excess adipose tissue places the entire body under increased stress, which negatively impacts telomeres.

Even the length of time you spend either standing or sitting each day could be shaving away your caps. One study involving 68-year-old sedentary, overweight participants found a difference in those who stood more than they sat. The less they parked their butts, the longer the telomeres in their blood cells were after six months.

Recent studies seem to confirm that it’s not just  how long you exercise but how active you are when you’re not working out that is part of the solution. A landmark study involving nearly 1,500 women ages 64 to 95 found that those participants who engaged in less than 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, and who remained sedentary for more than 10 hours per day, had shorter telomeres. In fact, it was found that telomere length in the white blood cells of the most sedentary women was, on average, 170 base pairs shorter than telomere length in cells of the least sedentary women which made them biologically older by 8 years.

It’s not just about physical exertion, though. Plenty of research is looking at meditation and other stress-relieving forms of activity that may have a positive e ect on telomere maintenance. One of the most surprising studies involved 39 family dementia caregivers (median age 60), who were given two options: either practice Kirtan Kriya, a type of meditation with chanting involved, or listen to relaxing music for just twelve minutes a day for eight weeks. Those who chose music experienced a 3.7 percent improvement in telomerase activity— not bad, right? But those who opted to chant and meditate improved their telomerase activity by a whopping 43 percent.

Excerpted from THE 6 KEYS by Jillian Michaels with Myatt Murphy. Copyright © 2018. Available from Little, Brown Spark, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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10 Exercises You Should Never Do Again, According to Trainers

Take a look around your gym: You’ll probably see some fellow gym-goers hammering out these exercises. But that doesn’t mean you should too. These crazy common moves are, at best, ineffective—at worst, dangerous. Here, the moves—and exercise machines—you should ditch from your workout routine, according to trainers.

Smith Machine Squats

Squatting on a Smith machine might look like a safe alternative to the squat rack. In reality, it’s anything but. When you lower into a squat using a Smith machine, your back stays straight and almost perfectly perpendicular to the ground, which compresses and stresses the vertebrae, says Lou Schuler, C.S.C.S., coauthor of The New Rules of Lifting Supercharged. Also, since using the Smith machine requires leaning back into the bar, you overly stress your knees, never fully contract your glutes or hamstrings, and don’t train your core.

RELATED: 4 Lower Body Exercises You Can Do in Front of Your TV

Try Instead: Weighted squats
Save yourself the risk and learn how to do a barbell squat without the machine. Both bodyweight and weighted squats (e.g., goblet, barbell, and dumbbell variations) train your entire lower body functionally, effectively, and without overstressing your joints, Schuler says. Plus, since you’re not relying on the stability of a machine, these exercises also work your core. (Related: How to Do Bodyweight Squats Correctly Once and for All)

Machine Leg Extensions

How often do you just sit around and kick out your legs? Probably not often—if ever. So why do so in the gym? “There’s no functional benefit to leg extensions,” says strength coach and personal trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., C.P.T. (Functional exercises use your body’s natural movement in ways that apply to real-world motions.) Plus, your knees aren’t designed to carry weight from that angle, which could cause injury. While your injury risk is low if you have otherwise healthy knees, why take the risk if the exercise isn’t even functional to begin with?

Try Instead: Squats, deadlifts, step-ups, and lunges
All of these moves are great for training your quads. Not to mention, they simultaneously strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and smaller stabilizing muscles. Since these are all functional exercises, tapping your body’s natural movement patterns, your knees are designed to take their weight, he says.

Ab Machines

Sure, ab machines are a lot more comfortable than arms-behind-the-head sit-ups, but they can make it awkward to activate your ab muscles correctly, says Jessica Fox, a certified Starting Strength coach at CrossFit South Brooklyn.

RELATED: How to Get a Flat Stomach at Any Age

Try Instead: Planks
Most people can—and should—just do full sit-ups. Even better? Drop into a plank: It’s more effective for toning your abdominals than an assisted crunch (or any machine), and typically safe for people who can’t do sit-ups because of neck pain. (Up your ab game with this powered-up plank workout that HIITs your core hard .)

Photo: oatawa / Getty Images

Behind-the-Head Lat Pull-Downs

When performing lat pulldowns, the bar should always stay in front of your body. As in, always. “Otherwise it’s a shoulder injury waiting to happen,” says women’s strength expert Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S. Pulling the bar down and behind your head and neck places extreme stress and strain on the front of the shoulder joint.

Try Instead: Wide-grip lat pull-downs
Pulldowns are still your traps’ main move—just focus on aiming the bar toward your collarbone. You don’t need to bring the bar all the way to your chest, but you should move in that direction, Perkins says.

The Elliptical

Ellipticals are simple to use—which is why people gravitate to them. But, since you move through a relatively small range of motion, it is so easy to slack on these things, says Christian Fox, a certified Starting Strength coach at CrossFit South Brooklyn.

RELATED: How to Use a Rowing Machine in 6 Easy Steps

Try Instead: Rowing machine
A better choice to get your heart rate up: The rowing machine. “Rowing incorporates a lot of muscle mass into the movement, and with a little technique can provide a wallop of a workout,” Christian Fox says. Skeptical? Attempt a 250-meter sprint at max effort, and you’ll never want to step on the elliptical again. (Not sure where to start? Here’s how to use a rowing machine for a better cardio workout.)

Abductor/Adductor Machines

Like many machines in the gym, these target one specific area of the body—which is simply an inefficient way to work out when there are so many moves that will work multiple muscles at once, Jessica Fox says.

Try Instead: Squats
Skip the machines and drop into squats. A proper squat recruits more muscles (including the ad/abductors) and is a functional movement, meaning it’ll better prepare your muscles for real-life challenges, like walking up stairs and picking things up. (Want more multi-muscle moves? Check out these seven functional fitness exercises.)

Photo: filadendron / Getty Images

Triceps Dips

It’s meant to train your triceps, but it can easily end up overloading the small muscles that make up your shoulder’s rotator cuff. “It’s a risk to lift your body weight when your upper arms are behind your torso,” Schuler says. Damage those muscles and even everyday tasks—like washing your hair—can become painful.

Try Instead: Cable pushdowns, triceps push-ups, and close-grip bench presses
Tone your triceps while keeping your arms in front of your body with any of these moves, Schuler suggests.

Superman

“The amount of force and compression that gets placed on the vertebrae of the low back is unreal,” Donavanik says. “Yes, you’re working your spinal erectors and many stabilizing muscles throughout the back and core, but you’re placing a ton of force and stress on a very sensitive and specific area in the body.”

Try Instead: Bird-Dog
Get on all fours with the bird-dog exercise, advises Donavanik. The yoga staple strengthens the same muscles, while placing less force on the spine. Good mornings, deadlifts, and floor bridges are also great alternatives, he says.

Super Light Dumbbells

Light weights have their place in barre or spin class, but if you’re lifting too light you could be missing out on some serious sculpting. (BTW, here are five reasons why lifting heavy weights *won’t* make you bulk up.) Yes, you will want to start out light if you’ve never lifted. But over time you must lift progressively heavier weights to gain strength and definition, Jessica Fox explains.

Try Instead: Anything over 5 pounds
How heavy should you go? Depending on the exercise, the weights should be heavy enough that the last two reps of each set are significantly challenging. (Need more convincing? Read these 11 major health and fitness benefits of lifting weights.)

Anything That Hurts

There’s something to be said for pushing through muscle fatigue and discomfort. But when discomfort turns into pain, the opposite is true. “Pain is your body’s way of saying, ‘Stop! If you keep doing this, I’m going to tear, break, or strain,'” Perkins says. What’s the difference, exactly? While discomfort feels like a dull or burning ache in the muscles, acute pain tends to be sharp and sudden, and most often strikes near a joint, she says.

Try Instead: There’s an alternative move for every exercise out there whether you’re modifying for an injury, for pregnancy, or just because you’re tired AF in your boot-camp class and worried about sacrificing form. Be sure to ask your trainer for a move that works for you.

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