4 Reasons Why Meditation Can Be Life-Changing (Science Even Says So)

Dating back to the ancient Indian Vedas of 1500 BCE, meditation is known to be deeply relaxing and plenty soothing during stressful times. But that’s not all: Science proves that its benefits go so much deeper. In fact, it’s literally mind-changing.

If you’re not into meditating now, here are four reasons why you might want to hop on the mindfulness wagon:

Meditation Literally Grows Your Brain

It might sound strange, but meditation is like a chia pet for your brain. When you meditate, the grey matter in your brain (the regions of the brain responsible for muscle control, sensory perception, self-control, and decision-making) grows larger.

In a study published in the journal NeuroImage, meditating participants showed enlarged regions of both the orbito-frontal and hippocampal areas of the brain, which are crucial to emotional regulation and response control. So, say you’re having a stressful day—the benefits of meditation may have changed your brain, helping to you keep your emotions stable and under control.

Related: Shop yoga accessories to inspire calm in your life.

Meditation Can Make You More Zen

A study at Johns Hopkins showed a connection between mindful meditation and moderate relief of the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.

On top of that, a 2016 study published by Biological Psychiatry showed that meditation led to increased communication within the portions of the brain that handles stress, focus, and calm. We’ll have some of that, please.

Related: The Many Health Benefits Of Ashwagandha

Meditation May Decrease Inflammation

Turn in any direction, and you’ll hear inflammation being touted as the key culprit or symptom behind many of our conditions, including stress.

The good news? Various studies show a reduction in inflammation due to meditation, including one published by Georgetown University. The study took 89 people with panic disorder and divided them in half: Half the group took an eight-week mindful meditation course, while the other half spent eight weeks in a stress-management course.

Both before and after the study, the subjects took the Trier Social Stress Test, a tool for creating and monitoring a stress response in a lab setting. Basically, the stress test works by giving the participants rapid and anxiety-inducing instructions and then monitoring their responses.

The stress test specifically monitors blood-based markers of stress responses, including levels of the stress hormone cortisol and the inflammatory proteins. The group who took the stress management had increased anxiety and inflammation.

But the meditation group? Not so much. They showed drops in inflammation and stress markers.

Related: 4 Types Of Foods That Help Fight Inflammation

Meditation Can Boost Your Attention Span

The verdict is in: Meditation increases your attention span. One study, published in Psychological Science, concluded that mindfulness training improved test scores and working memory capacity while also keep distracting thoughts at bay. Whether you’re a student taking a big test or an employee at work, having a great attention span is pretty key.

So, how much should you meditate to reap the rewards of mindfulness? According to Psychiatry Research, just 27 minutes of meditation per day can lead to benefits. Sign us up!

Is There A Best Time Of Day To Work Out?

Everyone always says, “Timing is everything,” and that definitely counts when it comes to fitness. If you’ve ever felt sluggish during an early-morning sweat or unmotivated and tired during a post-work gym session, you know just how true this can be.

Busy schedules tend to dictate when you have time to work out, but your personal sweet spot may vary depending on your fitness goals and internal body clock.

Consider An AM Sweat Session If…

You’ve probably heard quite a bit of back-and-forth about fasted cardio—a.k.a. cardio you do on an empty stomach, typically first thing in the morning. “While studies don’t definitively show any timing benefits for losing weight, the exercise window can be manipulated for training adaptation and performance purposes,” says Tasuku Terada, Ph.D., researcher at the University of Alberta in Canada.

So hitting the cardio bright and early may not be necessary if you’re trying to shed pounds, but sweating on an empty stomach may promote greater muscular aerobic adaptations—like your muscles’ ability to store glycogen (and prevent energy depletion) and their number of mitochondria, which help your cells produce more energy, says Terada. Both of these adaptations ladder up to how efficiently your muscles use oxygen—though more research to support these benefits is needed, Terada says.

To reap these muscular benefits, you’d need time to fast prior to hitting the gym, which is often easiest to do overnight, while you’re sleeping.

Related: Let’s Set the Record Straight About Fasted Cardio

You may also want to consider morning workouts if you’re often plagued by sleepytime struggles. “For some individuals, rigorous exercise close to bedtime can stimulate the body and brain in a way that makes it difficult to fall asleep,” says Sina Gharib, M.D., sleep researcher and associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington.

The hormones released during and after exercise—like adrenaline, cortisol, and epinephrine—can have energizing effects for some folks. So if you have trouble falling asleep after a gym sesh and don’t have the luxury of sleeping in the next morning, it’s better to find time to work out earlier in the day. Ample sleep is crucial for benefiting from your workouts, after all, since your body uses that time to recover and grow stronger.

Consider A PM Sweat Session If…

Waking up at the crack-of-dawn to work out seems like the move (Did you crush leg day before work? Impressive.), unless, of course, it means you’re missing out on a full night’s sleep.

“The average person needs close to eight hours of sleep per every 24 hours,” says Gharib. If you fall short on that downtime, your body gets stuck in a state of constant breakdown, sabotaging your performance and progress. Waking up at five o’clock in the morning is even tougher when your progress stalls and motivation tanks.

If a morning workout cuts into your sleepy time, consider pushing your workout to later in the day, suggests Gharib.

Related: Exactly What To Do At Night To Have A Great Night’s Sleep

Another reason to exercise later in the day: performance. Chowing down on carbs before endurance events—like a long run or race—helps improve your performance during the event, according to Terada. If you’re training for a distance running event or long obstacle race, fuel is crucial to your ability to kick butt. Since your body needs time to digest and process the carbs so they can be used as fuel, you’re best off hitting these workouts a couple of hours after a meal instead of first thing in the A.M.

Having proper fuel before a workout is also key if you’re trying to build muscle, so scheduling heavy lifts for lunchtime or after work may support your gains. “If your goal is muscle growth, protein supplementation becomes more important,” says Terada. Just like you want to get those carbs in before endurance training, you want to consume muscle-repairing protein before training for muscle growth—and afterward, too.

Related: How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

The Bottom Line

With all these different variables, penciling in the perfect time to work out probably feels a little daunting—especially if you choose to challenge your body differently and do different workouts from day to day. But here’s the good news: The best workout time for you ultimately boils down to your preference.

“The bottom line is, performing exercise at any time of day is better than no exercise,” says Terada. If you find a time that fits your daily life, you’ll be more likely to make it a routine and reap the benefits of a consistent healthy lifestyle.

Related: Find a recovery supplement to help you rebound after a tough workout.

12 Energy Bite Recipes You’ll Want For Breakfast, Snack-time, And Dessert

When you need a quick snack to keep you full until dinner—or something sweet to satiate your inner cookie monster—we’ve got your answer: energy bites.

Mix and roll together a few simple ingredients—like nut butter, rolled oats, protein powder, chia seeds, and honey—and you’ve got a stash of easy grab-and-go treats. We rounded up a dozen of the yummiest, most creative recipes out there—so get mixing!

no bake chocolate pb energy bites
photo: Gimme Some Oven

No-Bake Chocolate PB Energy Bites
If you’re new to the world of energy bites, this classic recipe from Gimme Some Oven is the place to start. Coconut, flaxseed, peanut butter, and chia seeds come together for a dose of healthy fats—and chocolate chips make each bite as good as a cookie.

lemon blueberry energy bites
photo: The Recipe Rebel

Lemon Blueberry Energy Bites
Fresh lemon juice makes these fruity-sweet bites the perfect alternative to that coffee shop muffin that’s been staring at you all week. The Recipe Rebel’s energy bites are made with only five ingredients and are sweetened with honey.

vanilla espresso almond butter energy bites
photo: With Salt And Wit

Vanilla Espresso Almond Butter Energy Bites
Get in your coffee along with your morning (or afternoon) mug with these espresso-inspired energy bites from With Salt And Wit. Instant coffee packs the flavor you crave, while vanilla protein powder bumps up the protein and helps sweeten the treat.

nutella chia energy bites
photo: Baking-Ginger

Nutella Chia Energy Bites
We know: We had you at ‘nutella.’ Using just chocolate hazelnut spread and three other ingredients, these sweet bites make for the perfect dessert. Baking-Ginger knows how to make the people happy.

carrot oat energy bites
photo: My Kids Lick The Bowl

Carrot Oat Energy Bites
Trying to squeeze more vegetables into your day isn’t always easy—especially if you have a sweet tooth. My Kids Lick The Bowl’s recipe makes it happen, though, by combining finely chopped carrots with sweet dates, cinnamon, ginger, and a few other flavorful ingredients. It’s like healthier carrot cake—in a ball.

matcha green tea energy bites
photo: Living Well Mom

Matcha Green Tea Energy Bites
Matcha is so trendy (and so great for you) that we’re putting it in everything and anything. Shredded coconut and maple syrup sweeten up these bites from Living Well Mom. What a delightful green color they are.

Related: Is Matcha Really A Miracle Worker?

brownie energy bites
photo: Jessica In The Kitchen

No-Bake Brownie Energy Bites
There’s nothing quite like biting into a chewy, walnut-y brownie, but if you’re eating clean or watching your weight, these brownie bites will satisfy your inner fudge monster. Plus, you don’t have to wait impatiently for Jessica In The Kitchen’s bites to bake.

sweet salty energy bites
photo: Don’t Waste The Crumbs

Sweet And Salty Energy Bites
Lovers of all things salt, these are the energy bites for you. Mix crumbled pretzel pieces into your standard energy bite concoction of honey, PB, coconut, flaxseed, oats, and coconut oil, and you’ve got a treat like no other. Don’t Waste The Crumbs recommends throwing some mini chocolate chips into the mix if you’re feeling indulgent.

cinnamon apple energy bites
photo: Recipe Runner

Cinnamon Apple Energy Bites
Put a slice of apple pie in front of us and chances are we won’t be able to take just one bite. So Recipe Runner’s energy bites are pretty much our hero—especially considering they’re free of refined flours and sugar, unlike most slices of the classic T-giving dessert.

healthy cake batter energy bites
photo: Desserts With Benefits

Healthy Cake Batter Energy Bites
Start with Desserts With Benefits’ homemade cake batter nut butter, and mix in a handful of quick ingredients for these birthday-worthy treats. They’re guilt-free, sweetened with stevia, and super-colorful if you roll them in rainbow sprinkles before serving or storing.

lemon turmeric energy bites
photo: Natalie’s Food And Health

Lemon Turmeric Energy Bites
Yet another trendy, health-friendly ingredient we can’t get enough of: turmeric. This feel-good, bite-sized snack from Natalie’s Food And Health gets its flavor from ground turmeric, lemon zest, vanilla extract, coconut, and (of course) dates.

Related: 12 Easy Ways To Incorporate Turmeric Into Your Diet

dark chocolate hemp energy bites
photo: Minimalist Baker

Dark Chocolate Hemp Energy Bites
Hemp hearts are the new chia seeds, and Minimalist Baker’s recipe is all about these chewy sources of protein and healthy fats. Each bite has four grams of protein, so consider us impressed.

Related: Shop a variety of ingredients for healthier baking.

5 Health Gurus Share Their Morning Routines

You try to wake up early, eat a healthy breakfast, get some exercise in, and make sure your morning routine is all around killin’ it. But sometimes it doesn’t always work out so well, does it?

It doesn’t have to be so hard to have a great morning—promise. Putting time aside for a consistent daily routine—even just one small thing each morning to help you feel healthy and happy—can make a huge difference.

For inspiration, five health gurus offer up their own morning routines. From protein-packed breakfasts to setting intentions, you’re sure to find something here that may change the way you prep for the day ahead.

Nikki Ortiz, dancer, yogi, and 2015 National Yoga Champion

“The main thing I do every morning to ensure a successful day is meditate. I make sure I have some time with myself to get centered and grounded before I can start my day. I got in the habit of doing it every morning about two years ago and it’s changed the game. I feel very incomplete if I don’t meditate in the morning. I do it for about 10 minutes, and after that I can go about my day.”

Lauren Gleisberg, fitness pro

“Regardless of what time you wake each morning, establish and stick to a morning routine to set yourself up for success each day. My 10-minute morning routine includes waking and sitting in silence for a minute to set an intention for the day, drinking a glass of water to get my body going, writing out my daily to-do list that aligns with my weekly and monthly goals, making a protein smoothie, and then diving into my day. A simple yet productive routine like this helps set the tone for the entire day.”

Related: Shop protein for a healthy, satiating breakfast.

Cristina Curp, food blogger and recipe developer

“Although my life has had a total health overhaul in the last two years, one thing I haven’t given up is my morning coffee. Instead, I have made it into a nutrient dense vessel for all good things. My one cup of Joe packs plenty of satiating good fats, protein, turmeric, and health-promoting wild mushroom blend. A little cinnamon for flavor and a whirl in my blender. This stuff is practically rocket fuel! Here’s my recipe:

12-oz of fair trade coffee
1 tbsp grass-fed butter
1 tbsp mct oil
1 tbsp grass-fed beef gelatin
1 tbsp cocotropic wild mushroom blend
Dash of cinnamon

Blend until frothy. Pour, sip. Kick butt.”

Related: One Nutritionist’s Entire Day Of Eating, In Photos

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, nutritionist

“Two critical parts of my morning routine are my 7:30 a.m. workout and a protein-packed breakfast for refuel. I find that exercising in the morning gets my day started while I have enough energy, as I’m too drained in the late afternoon and too busy with my kids. Also, I make sure to consume a breakfast with at least 20 grams of protein along with fiber-rich carbs and healthy fat to support muscle growth and repair.”

Dr. Rajeev Kurapati, physician and author

“I wake up early (around 4:30 or five in the morning) after making sure I get at least five to six hours of restorative sleep. Then, I drink warm water to help with digestion and to re-hydrate from the night before. I do yoga and meditation for about 20 minutes after I shower.”

Related: Is It Worse To Skip A Workout Or Skimp On Sleep?

perfect morning routine

6 Dumbbell Moves That Build Muscle AND Burn Calories

Walk into just about any gym on the face of the planet and you’re sure to find a rack of dumbbells. But just because these tools are pretty standard doesn’t mean you’re limited to doing boring old bicep curls with them.

Grab a pair of dumbbells and try these exercises instead—you’ll work multiple muscles at the same time and torch calories while doing so.

Related: Find the performance supp that’ll give your next workout just the boost it needs.

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How Ballet Dancing Got My Body Fit And My Mind Strong

When I hear the word “ballet,” it conjures feelings of calmness and relaxation. No, not because I have fond memories of seeing The Nutcracker as a child, but because these days, it is the main focus of my fitness routine.

I was never a good dancer. From the time I was about four years old, I’d tried out several different styles of dance: tap, jazz, Irish. I loved dancing, though I had no clue that I was bad at it. I just blissfully bumbled along in my sparkly costumes.

In high school, I was faced with reality. I had been taking classes with some friends at a new dance studio, where I worked its front desk to pay the tuition, and one day I sneaked a look at my account in the system. There was an administrative note: If I ever tried to take the jazz class with my friends again, they should only let me sign up for level one.

After that, I didn’t go back to jazz class.

Related: How To Get A Full Workout Using Just Your Own Bodyweight

I didn’t want to give up on dance completely, but I was also afraid of looking stupid. I hadn’t realized that I was noticeably more of a beginner than the other girls, even though I’d been taking classes for years. Why hadn’t anyone told me?

By the time I hit college, I took a few dance classes, but that’s it. One class in particular stood out to me: ballet. I loved the live piano music playing classical and musical theatre medleys, the camaraderie, and most of all, how good I felt afterward. I felt flexible, taller, and high on endorphins. But those feelings of embarrassment from high school stuck around.

There was an administrative note: If I ever tried to take the jazz class with my friends again, they should only let me sign up for level one.

After I graduated, lack of convenience and logistics forced me to quit physical activity entirely—unless you count sprinting to catch up with an adorable dog.  Every so often, I would see a musical or watch a dance movie (think: Center Stage or Step Up) and feel twitchy. I missed it, even if I didn’t want to swallow my pride and show up to a class where I might fall short.

I thought back to my ballet class. Why not try it again? I asked myself. So I went, logistics be damned.

I was surrounded by confident regulars who seemed to already know everything. My old fears came back: People might be thinking I should move down a level (and worse, I thought they would be right). After class, the teacher announced that someone would be coming to film the class the next week. I didn’t go back.

Maybe dance classes aren’t for me, but I can still dance at home, I thought. I got a ballet DVD from the library and tried its workouts, but it didn’t hit the spot. I couldn’t stop wishing that it were actually ballet rather than ballet-inspired. It never gave me that rush I was looking for.

Then I read about another studio (this one seemed smaller and less intense) offering ballet classes, so I decided to try one more time.

Related: Shop fitness products to take your workout to the next level. 

The new studio had only one level of adult ballet classes in the evenings: It was labeled ‘beginner,’ and I was relieved that I didn’t have to pick a number to define my skill level or attempt to discern whether my ballet ability was basic, beginner, or advanced beginner (a perplexing oxymoron). I thought that might help me let go of my worries.

I bought a new lacy black leotard and float-y skirt, and wore it with pink tights and slippers. I was so nervous that I showed up early and walked right into the previous class, full of advanced children effortlessly practicing their pirouettes.

Then, finally, the teacher invited the adult students inside and called us to the barre. The pianist started playing, and I danced.

Ballet has a lot of rules. Sometimes I find it comforting to know exactly what’s expected of me. I know where I’m supposed to be. My mind quiets.

Ballet makes me feel taller, like there’s more space between each vertebrae. Now when I feel competitive in ballet class, it’s mostly with myself.

Maybe I needed time to get older and care less about other people’s opinions in order to enjoy dance. I also needed to find the right teachers for me—ones that give constructive criticism about how to improve my technique, and are more interested in body alignment than how graceful I look (or don’t look).

Ballet has a lot of rules. Sometimes I find it comforting to know exactly what’s expected of me. I know where I’m supposed to be. My mind quiets.

At the same time, I get an amazing workout. I don’t have a lot of strength yet in my arms, and sometimes when I hold my arms in second position—out to the side with a slight curve—I can feel them shaking as the muscles develop.

Related: Shop products to boost your flexibility. 

Classes often include a series of leaps and jumps that leave me breathless and my heart thumping fast, and plies—movements that involve bending knees with feet turned out and a flat back—are great for my thighs and butt. Ballet also helps me improve my flexibility, strengthen my core muscles, and work on my posture.

After years of anxiety, I finally found my way back to blissful bumbling. I feel much more connected to my body and what it can do, and I’m glad to be making progress toward not caring so much what people think. At last, I’m not afraid to make mistakes, and dance as I was always intended to—for myself.