How Harmful Is It

If you like to swim laps, or spend summer days poolside, you’ll want to read this. A new study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters suggests the average pool may contain a great deal of urine.

Researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada set out to determine the extent of pee contamination in swimming pools. To do this, they tested water from pools and hot tubs in two Canadian cities for acesulfame potassium, or Ace-K, a widely consumed artificial sweetener found in supermarket staples like frozen meals, packaged cookies, and diet sodas.

What does sweet pool water have to do with pee? The amount of Ace-K in a pool is a helpful measure of the amount of urine present, since the ingredient is not metabolized by the body, is excreted exclusively through urine, and doesn’t get broken down by chlorine.

When researchers compared the levels of the sweetener in pool water and tap water, they found that the former contained up to 570 times more Ace-K. Based on those concentrations, they concluded that a 220,000-gallon commercial-size swimming pool likely contains almost 20 gallons of urine. A residential pool probably holds about two gallons.

 

The presence of pee in your pool isn’t just gross; it also raises real health questions, the researchers say. They point to recent studies that have shown bodily fluids like urine and sweat can react with disinfectants in the water to form disinfection byproducts (or DBPs), compounds that may cause uncomfortable symptoms like eye irritation and respiratory problems. Some preliminary research has even linked DBPs to cancer when they’re consumed.

So is it bad for your health to wade in other people’s wee? Don’t cancel your local pool membership just yet. Rutgers University environmental health expert Clifford Weisel, PhD, told NPR that people shouldn’t stop swimming—but they should be aware of the risks.

Balance and coordinate your body with these yoga exercises

You probably learned to balance at the ripe age of two. But honing the skill is essential to your overall fitness and sports performance as an adult, too. Rebecca Weible, owner and director of Yo Yoga! studio in New York City, says yoga urges us to improve our balance, posture and evenly distribute our weight in our feet. “Look at your own shoes. You’ll notice how worn out the heels are. Is one sole more battered than the other?” Weible says.

Mastering balance-focused yoga poses is one way to bring awareness to your weight distribution, while also building strength, stability and alignment. “It makes a huge difference when we’re running, weightlifting, doing plyometrics or performing agility moves,” Weible explains. Whether you’re doing tree pose or Warrior III, “your whole body needs to be involved with yoga,” Weible says. Check out these standing yoga poses to help you improve your balance and coordination.

If you’re new to yoga, Weible recommends using a wall or chair to help you stabilize. “The goal is to notice the wall and lighten your touch. You can move from having your entire hand on the wall to just your fingertips,” she says.

 

1. Tricky Kitty

This beginner’s yoga pose is an excellent progression to standing positions, like tree pose or Warrior III. Weible likes this pose for balance because you’re much closer to the ground, and your body is immediately forced to find balance.

How to: Get into tabletop position with your knees directly below your hips and your arms and shoulders are perpendicular to the floor (a). Step your right foot back and keep it tucked (b). As you inhale, simultaneously lift your left hand and right leg off the floor. Your left fingers are pointing straight in front of you and your right foot is flexed and forms a straight line with your back and head (c). Focus on a point on the ground and keep your chest lifted and open so your upper body could provide support (d). As you exhale, slowly bring your right leg and left hand back down to the ground in tabletop position (e). Repeat the same movement on the other side.

 

2. Tree Pose

Tree pose reminds us to engage our core muscles, specifically the obliques, in order to maintain alignment from head to foot. Bringing your hands to prayer (mudra) isn’t just for aesthetics; it helps keep your chest open and extends your upper back so you stand straighter. Need to modify? Weible suggests placing the tip of your toes on the mat or resting your heel against the standing ankle for more support. From there, your foot can flutter to the calf and work its way above your knee on your thigh, but you should never have your foot on your knee, as it’s too straining for that joint.

How to: Stand in mountain pose (tadasana) with your feet hip-distance apart, hands by your sides, palms facing forward (a). Begin to shift your weight onto your right foot and bend your left knee (b). Slowly grab your left ankle with your left hand and place it against your inner right thigh, pressing your left foot sole with your toes pointing to the ground (c). Engage your core as you place your hands in prayer pose (mudra) (d). Focus on a point in front of you and hold for two or three breaths before bringing your left foot back down to the ground (e). Repeat the same movement on the other side.

Exercises to Build Total Body Strength

We know how much space kettlebells and dumbbells can take up in your home. But the truth is you don’t need a whole lot of fancy equipment to get the most out of your at-home workout. Resistance bands are space-efficient, highly portable, and they’re great for every level of fitness. Since they rely on your bodyweight for resistance, they’re extremely flexible and can make even the simplest workout extra tough.

There are a variety of resistance bands out there, but the three most popular types are looped resistance bands, elastic band tubes with handles and mini bands. Looped resistance bands, which basically look like a giant rubber band, are commonly used in advanced powerlifting and sports performance workouts to do lifts like the barbell squat and bench press. Elastic tubes are thin, cylinder-shaped tools with handles at each end and are used for strength exercises, from bicep curls to shoulder raises. Mini bands are small, flat, looped elastic bands, typically placed above the knees or ankles for mobility and stability work, or as part of a dynamic warm-up.

How much resistance you’ll get is determined by the stiffness of the band and how far it’s stretched. Exercise equipment manufacturers will likely include the amount of resistance each band has, but in general, the wider or longer a band is, the more resistance it has.

If you have one, two or all three types of bands, you’re in luck. We’ve got 10 resistance band exercises to help you build strength and stability — right where you are.

1. Band Pull Apart

Targets: Chest, triceps, rhomboids (upper back)
How to: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and head facing forward (a). Hold a resistance band in front of you with your arms extended straight out. There should be 4-6 inches of band left at the ends where your grip stops (b). Pull the band apart by bringing your shoulder blades together so that the band touches your chest (c). Slowly return to the starting position by bringing your arms back down in front you at eye level. This move should be done slowly and under control. Repeat for 8-10 reps (d). You can use a therapy band for this exercise, if strength bands are too difficult.

2. Upright Row

Targets: Shoulders
How to: Stand with the band under your feet, shoulder-width apart. Shoulders should be back, spine straight and head facing forward (a). Hold the top of the band with a pronated (overhand) grip, hands close together and arms straight down in front of your body. This is the starting position (b). Lift your hands towards toward ceiling, raising them to about chin height, while keeping the hands close to the body. Your elbows should point to your sides and your forearms parallel to the floor (c). Return the bands back to the starting position (d). Repeat for 8-10 reps.

Interval training workout will help you torch major calories

When it comes to cardio, we love a good piece of equipment that will kick our butts. (Woodway Curve and WaterRower, we’re looking at you.) And one of the newer machines to hit the floor is actually an oldie but goodie: the air bike. Don’t be fooled, though. It’s just like riding a bike, but not at all. Unlike a traditional bicycle or spin bike, the air bike has a big fan in lieu of a front wheel (check one out here). And if you’ve heard rumblings that it ain’t easy, it’s true. These “assault” bikes will blast major calories, but straight up humble you, too.

 

All About the Air Bike

While you’d set a stationery bike at a certain resistance (or watts), the fan bike is different in that the faster you pedal, the more resistance you generate. “The harder you work, the harder it gets,” says Mike Boyle, co-founder of Boston area Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning. Plus, you also use your arms at the same time, which allows you to work both your upper and lower body together. Boyle calls it the bike equivalent of an indoor rowing machine.

“It becomes a total-body exercise, which you’re not able to get on a regular bike,” he says. “They’re almost like a well-kept secret, because the average person tends to say they’re way too hard,” he says. But now that CrossFit’s gone mainstream and HIIT is hotter than ever, there’s a desire for equipment that takes your workout up a notch.

Because you use your arms and legs simultaneously, your heart rate soars about 20 percent higher than if you were to just pedal with your legs, says Boyle. So it makes sense that you also get a boost in calorie burn by about the same amount, he adds.

 

It’s also gentler to your joints. “With any bike, you eliminate the ground reaction force, so it’s safer. The only thing that gets beat up is your heart and lungs,” says Boyle. Plus, unlike other bikes, you sit up straighter, which puts less pressure on your spine.

 

Your Air Bike HIIT Workout

So how do you use the air bike? HIIT workouts are generally the best place to start. And, because you don’t have to deal with buttons or dials to change the resistance, you can simply hop on and go.

But before Boyle gets his clients going, he first has them do a “maximum speed aerobic test” or MAS. Translation: Ride the bike at a sustainable pace for five to six minutes. At the end, the bike should tell you what your average rpm is. The rate that you can hold for five minutes is your max aerobic speed, says Boyle. Once you know that, then you can set up your intervals in several ways:

 

That means you ride at 110 percent of your MAS. Let’s say your trial told you your MAS was 60 rpm. In the “on” portion of the interval, you’d shoot for 66 rpm. Follow it up with 10 seconds off. “Off” means you simply spin the pedals with your feet. Don’t be concerned with your speed here — the idea is to recover, says Boyle.

RELATED: The 20-Minute Treadmill HIIT Workout to Get Fit, Fast

To switch things up, other options for the intervals include:

  • 10 seconds on, 10 seconds off
  • 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off
  • 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off

The total number of intervals you complete will vary depending on your work/rest ratio. But Boyle typically recommends spending the last 10 to 15 minutes of your workout doing conditioning on the air bike. (Yes, that means all this work happens after your regularly scheduled strength session.)

To vary things up, you can also use the air bike for a steady state ride (again in the 10 to 15 minute range). Or, you can try a timed two or three miles. No matter which route you go, we guarantee you’ll feel the burn.

Photos Prove Nobody Looks Perfect All the Time

We’ve all had less-than-flattering photos taken, whether at a wedding, a friend’s birthday party, or on a family vacation. When we look back at these snapshots, they should trigger happy memories. But for most of us, the sad fact is, poor lighting or a “bad” angle can rob us of the joy we felt in the moment.

One blogger is drawing attention to this familiar issue, and putting her foot down. Dorothy Beal, creator of the blog Mile Posts, is a run coach and 32-time marathoner. Her photo has been snapped by professional photographers on courses countless times, and as anyone who’s ever had a picture taken in the middle of a workout can imagine, mid-race photos aren’t always pretty.

Over the weekend Beal posted two of her pics from a recent half marathon on Instagram. On the right, she looks happy and strong. On the left, she looks tired and sweaty. When Beal first saw the photo on the left, she forgot all her positive memories from that race in an instant.

“I was left questioning if there was a part of my body that didn’t have cellulite,” she wrote in the caption. But Beal was determined not to let one unflattering image bring her down, or change her memory of what had been a fun and celebratory day.

“A race photo is ONE SINGLE moment in time and I let one of them steal joy from me,” Beal said. “Most times we don’t look great while we run, but that’s not why we run anyways, we run to FEEL like I look in the photo on the right – HAPPY.”

Still, it took time for Beal to work up the courage to share both images. “I’ve had both of those pictures stitched together waiting to post for months now,” she explained in an email to Health. “But every time I went to post them there was this little voice of self-doubt that told me not to for fear of judgment.”

The response she has received so far (including nearly three thousand likes) has been overwhelmingly positive. Many people have commented that they can relate, and several runners have said that they too have let race photos make them feel insecure. They all appreciate Beal’s simple message: “Don’t let a photo steal joy – you are worth so much more than one split second – moment in time.”

Diet for a healthier heart

You’ve probably seen certain foods touted as helpful for lowering cholesterol. But how exactly are diet and cholesterol connected?

Let’s back up for a minute. In case you need a quick refresher on cholesterol, we all have two natural types in our bodies: HDL, the “happy” or good kind, and LDL, the “lousy” kind. In general, having a high HDL is healthy, while having a high LDL is linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

That’s because LDL tends to clog and harden arteries, whereas HDL carries LDL away from the arteries to your liver to be eliminated. HDL also seems to protect against damage to blood vessels (a major precursor to hardened arteries).

Then there’s dietary cholesterol, found in animal-based foods. Experts used to think that eating high-cholesterol foods—like egg yolks and shrimp—raised total blood cholesterol levels. Newer research has shown that’s not true.

But what we do know for certain is that other foods (think oats and almonds) can help manage or improve your overall cholesterol profile, and reduce your risk of heart disease. Below are my top five picks for these “cholesterol helpers”—plus easy and tasty ways to eat them more often.

Pulses

Several studies have linked pulses—the umbrella term for beans, lentils, and peas, like chickpeas—to cholesterol reduction. One study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that a 3/4 cup of pulses daily lowered lousy LDL cholesterol by 5%. That may not sound like much, but it is a significant drop.

Pulses are truly one of the most versatile food groups, since they can be consumed in both savory and sweet dishes, and are found in many forms, including whole beans, purees like hummus, pulse flours, and products like pulse-based pastas. Add beans to an omelet or whip chickpea flour into a smoothie. Snack on oven-roasted chickpeas or veggies with lentil dip. Add beans or lentils to salads or soups, use pulse noodles in place of wheat versions, and swap all-purpose flour for chickpea or fava bean flour in baked goods. You can even use a hummus or pureed split peas or lentils in place of creamy sauces.

Insanely Good Exercise

Zumba was born in Colombia in the 1990s, quite by accident. A fitness instructor forgot to bring his usual workout music to class, so he grabbed some Latin albums from his car, ditched the constraints of a traditional workout and danced just like he would at a club. His class followed along, sweating to the salsa and rumba beats, and loving it.

Since then, Zumba has pitched itself as more of a party than a workout. Indeed, some research suggests it may be the very best workout for people who hate to exercise.

A Zumba class is like any other instructor-led workout, but with simple dance moves heavy on the hips and step counts. Those moves add up to a decent sweat, says John Porcari, a professor of exercise and sport science at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. He and his colleagues analyzed a group of women who were Zumba regulars and found that a 40-minute class burns about 370 calories, a little more than nine calories per minute. That’s roughly the same amount you’d work off if you ran at a slow-ish pace or biked at 15 miles per hour for the same amount of time.

People worked hard in the class, too. “We found that they exercised at about 80% of maximum heart rate, and 60% V02 max,” which is a measure of oxygen used during exercise, he says. “We found it’s a pretty good workout—similar to moderately intense exercises like step aerobics or cardio kickboxing.”

 

But the most impressive part of Zumba is how much it appeals to people who stay away from exercise. A study in the American Journal of Health Behavior showed that when women with type 2 diabetes and obesity did Zumba three times a week for 16 weeks, they lost an average of 2.5 pounds and lowered their percentage of body fat by 1%. More importantly, the women enjoyed the class so much that they made it a habit—very unusual for an aerobic exercise program. “After the study had ended, most the participants continued going,” says study coauthor Jamie Cooper, an associate professor at the University of Georgia. “It seems like most of them had fun, made friends and didn’t see Zumba as hard work.”

The workout-in-disguise has unique physical and mental health benefits. Another study linked Zumba’s hip-swinging, stomach-gyrating movements to increased core and trunk strength and better balance in older overweight women. After just eight weeks, the women’s quality-of-life scores jumped 9% and their self-esteem increased 16%. A related study on Zumba’s psychological benefits found that people who practice it feel more independent and said that their lives seemed more purposeful.

It’s not hard to see why the activity would be invigorating and freeing. “You have to let go and have fun during Zumba,” Cooper says. Just as some people with anxiety take improv classes to relieve their social skittishness, dancing around other people may help Zumba-goers feel less shy or self-conscious about their bodies.

 

The workout may be especially helpful for older adults who can’t run or do more intense workouts (or for those who don’t want to). One 2015 study found that even scaled-back versions of Zumba can help older adults keep up their cardiovascular fitness. More broadly, plenty of evidence suggests that dancing can help seniors maintain balance and coordination, lowering their risk for falls.

Zumba is never going to compete with workouts like CrossFit or high-intensity interval training when it comes to physical fitness gains. “But not everyone is the type to sign up for CrossFit,” Cooper says. “There’s still a place for Zumba, because people really enjoy it.”