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Ikea expands paid parental leave to 4 months for US employees

Ikea announced on Tuesday that effective Jan. 1, it will offer a new parental leave policy in the U.S. for workers who are expanding their families, providing up to four months of paid leave.

This includes salaried and hourly workers, both mothers and fathers, and adoptive and foster parents. The company said the expanded policy was introduced to ensure employees have the opportunity to bond with their children and connect as a new family. 

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“At Ikea, we believe time with family and friends is so important for a healthy work-life balance and a happy and productive workforce.” said Lars Petersson, Ikea U.S. president. “This benefit, which applies to all parents, will give our co-workers the opportunity to spend more time with their families when welcoming a child. Our co-workers are our most important resource, which is why we continue to invest in helping them reach their dream.” 

CNN writes that the change in policy comes as other companies adjust their paternal leave policies in an effort to modernize workers' benefits and increase employee retention. Last year, Netflix began offering parents "unlimited" paid leave for a year. Other tech companies such as Adobe and Microsoft also have adjusted their parental benefits. 

How to Create the Perfect Workout Playlist

You know that scene in High Fidelity where John Cusack is touting the importance of the perfectly crafted mix tape? A tape that has to kick off with a killer track to grab attention, then take it up a notch, then cool it off a notch?     Sure, that guy was creating a playlist to woo a girl, but he was on to something. Little did he know, he was also giving us words of wisdom on how to best create a set of tunes for a high-energy workout. Below are the seven main components of any good workout playlist, no matter the musical genre. (In fact, I find that the more eclectic the playlist, the more exciting—and surprising—it can be!)   Follow these guidelines to craft a playlist before your next workout, and you’re sure to stay engaged and pumped the entire time. After all, music—especially the right music—can make working out more fun!   1. Warm-Up Song Like John Cusack says, you have to kick off a playlist with a killer track that grabs attention. Choose a song here that inspires and motivates you but has a moderate tempo. During this song you’ll be doing some light static stretching and easy movement to warm you up, and you don’t want to be rushed, so choose a song that’s at least four minutes long. Songs like “Rock with You” by Michael Jackson or “Crazy” by Aerosmith are good candidates for an appropriate warm-up song tempo. However, the best warm-up songs are those that build in intensity and have a super inspirational message. “Proud” by Heather Smalls (best known as The Biggest Loser theme song) is an excellent choice.   2. Get-You-Going Song The second song of a playlist should be as inspiring and as motivating as the warm-up song, only faster paced so that you can naturally get your heart rate from an easy level up to a moderate-paced workout level. Choose a moderate- to fast-paced track with a strong and catchy beat that you naturally want to match your walking/running/elliptical speed to. “Let’s Get It Started” by the Black Eyed Peas is one of my favorites, as is “Running Down a Dream” by Tom Petty.    3. Pump-You-Up Songs Playlists that feature songs with varying beat speeds are a perfect way to naturally work some intervals into your workout—maybe without you even noticing—because people naturally pick up their pace when a fast song is playing and slow down their pace when a slow song is on. For this reason, be sure to throw in at least one or two super-fast and high-energy songs into your playlist. You want these songs to be music that is darn-near impossible to sit still to. Some of my go-to favorites include “Hey Ya” by Outkast and “Maniac,” the Flashdance theme, by Michael Sembello. The fast tempo will help you to burn more calories and have a blast while doing it.   4. Recovery Songs After any pump-you-up song, it’s important to have a moderate- to slow-paced song after it to recover. Because you’ll usually be out of breath from the previous song, choose a track that you really enjoy and find meaning in. During these songs you want to slow down your pace, but still stay motivated enough to keep up your workout. Songs like “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor and “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree are perfect picks.   5. In-Between Songs Unless you plan to do a full workout of intervals (in which case you’d just need a warm-up, cool down and multiple pump-you-up and recovery songs in the middle), you’re going to need some songs that hold your interest and keep you motivated. For these in-between songs, your absolute favorite moderate-paced tracks work best. For example, my guiltiest pleasure is pop music, so every time I head out for a long run, I jam-pack my iPod with Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani. My husband, on the other hand, loves Smashing Pumpkins and Oasis, so he lifts to that. A friend of mine loves Garth Brooks when he cycles. All of our workout playlists are so different, but they all work to motivate us. No matter the genre or guilty pleasure, just make sure that the beat keeps you moving. And try not to sing along too loud!   6. Finale Song This is the mother of all songs on your playlist. The finale song is basically a pump-you-up song times 10 because it has to inspire you at the time in your workout when you’re the most tired—the very end! This song should remind you that you just have a little bit left to do and then motivate you to give it your all. “The Final Countdown” by Europe or “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor are sure to inspire your last few minutes.   7. Cool Down Track The cool down track should be slow and give credit where credit is due—to you, of course! “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera is always a good one to play, as is “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson. Be sure to cool down for at least five minutes—you may need more than one song to cool down to, which isn’t a bad thing since it gives you more time to enjoy music that you love.    You may already have a go-to workout playlist, but structuring it in this way is guaranteed to push you harder and faster! And remember, it doesn’t matter what genre of songs you choose, it just matters that you enjoy them.   Looking for Song Ideas? Check out SparkPeople's Workout Music for pre-made workout mixes availble for purchase, or get more music ideas from Coach Nicole here:

Article Source: id=1742

Prevent Fitness Setbacks Before They Happen

Even the most dedicated exercisers suffer from fitness setbacks from time to time. Whether it's losing our workout mojo or over-scheduling ourselves, we're human (think: imperfect). But what if you could prevent those setbacks from ever  occurring? What if you could somehow stop setbacks in their tracks, before they set you and your fitness goals back? We compiled a list of the 12 most common fitness setbacks. Read on for how you can play up your defense and stop these workout pitfalls—before they happen! How to Prevent 12 Common Fitness Setbacks Setback #1: You're too busy at work. You have every minute of your day planned so that you can leave work on time, get to the gym, work out, and shower before meeting your in-laws for dinner. But the day gets crazy, a million things come up, and you're stuck at work late. Now you're barely making it to dinner on time, let alone working out. We've all been there, but believe us—there is a way to prevent this one! Prevent It: You have two options. First, exercise first thing in the morning. By getting up a little earlier—before demands on you even begin—it will ensure that you take care of your workout first, no matter what life throws at you later. Second, if you're not an early morning riser, schedule time for you on your work schedule. Even if it's as simple as taking a 15-minute break twice a day or shutting your door and doing some resistance band exercises during lunch, treat workouts as a non-negotiable time for you that can't be pushed back until tomorrow. These physical activity breaks are not only good for your body, they help refresh your mind, too, giving you more focus and energy to work better—and more efficiently! Setback #2: You forgot your gym bag (or something in it). There's nothing worse than getting to work—or the gym—only to realize you forgot your gym bag at home and you have no sports bra or workout shoes. Prevent It: Always keep a back-up set of workout clothes and gear in your car or office (wherever makes the most sense for you). It may seem silly to have a second gym bag, but believe us, whether you forgot a hair tie, shoes, socks or deodorant, you'll never regret having a spare gym bag. It doesn't need to be the best gear you have—an older pair of running shoes and a retired set of workout shorts and a top will work in a pinch. And if your gym rents lockers, an even better idea is to store your extra gym bag there. (Note: If you regularly go from gym to work this tip can also apply to leaving a separate set of work-appropriate clothes in your locker or your car, just in case you forget something and can't run home before work!) Setback #3: You lost all motivation to work out. Motivation to work out seems to wax and wane as your life changes and you settle into (or out of) a routine. Losing all of your workout mojo, though, is something you definitely want to avoid at all costs! Prevent It: The key way to prevent boredom and keep your motivation high is to set goals that matter to you and to regularly switch up your exercise sessions so that they're fun and fresh. Each quarter, month and week, be sure to set a few fitness goals for yourself. Whether it's going for a walk every night after dinner instead of watching TV or running a whole 20 minutes before stopping on the treadmill, find a goal or milestone that gets you excited. Then, once you reach those goals, give yourself fun little rewards like a new song to download for your iPod, a healthy living magazine or even a whole new workout outfit. Each month, also challenge yourself to try a new physical activity that's outside of your usual workout comfort zone such as kettlebells, Zumba, rock climbing or Pilates. Keeping workouts fresh and focused will help you to keep your motivation high. Setback #4: The weather is less than ideal. If there's one thing you can't control, it's the weather. Whether it's rain, snow, heat or humidity, Mother Nature can throw a wrench in your fitness plans from time to time. Prevent It: Have a back-up workout you can do indoors. It doesn't really matter if it's an exercise DVD to do at home, a SparkPeople workout you can do in front of your laptop, or even just a circuit of a few no-equipment-needed exercises like push-ups, jumping jacks, lunges, squats and sit-ups. Whatever it is, any indoor workout is better than skipping your outdoor workout completely. Poor weather is never a good excuse to miss a workout! Setback #5: You're late for the group exercise class you wanted to take. You've been dying to try a new group exercise class for weeks, only to unexpectedly get stuck in traffic and miss the start time of the class by 10 minutes. Prevent It: It's never a good idea to jump into any group exercise class late. Many times the warm-ups are specific to the activity you'll be doing, and the instructor will preview some moves or give you tips on what to expect in the workout. Furthermore, it's distracting to the class and the instructor when latecomers roll in. However, that doesn't mean you should just give up on your workout that day! Make the most of the time by doing your own version of the class on your own. If it's a cardio class, do cardio on a piece of equipment you don't normally use at the gym. If it's a strength class, hit the dumbbells. If it's a dance, yoga or Pilates class, head home to do some SparkPeople videos that are similar. Where there's a will, there's a way. And, remember: To really prevent this setback, try to get to the gym about 15 minutes before class begins. This gives you extra time in case traffic is bad, and if you get there super early, you can always hop on the treadmill to get a little additional cardio in! Setback #6: The gym is packed! All of the [fill-in-the-blank] machines are taken. You're ready and pumped to workout, only to be stuck waiting for in a line for a treadmill to open up. Prevent It: If possible, try to go to the gym when it isn't packed. This may mean that you go earlier in the morning or later in the day, but it's worth it to not have to stand around. If changing your schedule around isn't an option, it's time to start loving other pieces of cardio equipment. In most gyms, the rowers, stair climbers and upright stationary bikes are usually open no matter how busy the gym is. While most people prefer ellipticals and treadmills, these other pieces are still awesome for cardio, so give them a shot! Because you're not used to doing them, you're likely to work your body in new ways, too, which means a better workout and a higher calorie burn. Bonus! Setback #7: You are beyond sleepy. If you've lost a few hours of sleep the night before, or are just having a 3 p.m. crash that no amount of coffee can cure, a workout can actually be a great way to boost your energy. However, if you are chronically sleep-deprived and tired, your workouts—and your motivation and energy to do them—will suffer. Prevent It: Prevent this setback by making sleep a priority. Many of us cut back on sleep to get more done in the day, but that's a losing strategy in the long run. Getting adequate sleep can help improve your health, focus, and mood and even make losing weight easier. Not to mention that you'll have the energy to work out and enjoy it! To improve your sleep habits starting tonight, take SparkPeople's 4-Week Sleep Challenge! Setback #8: You forgot your workout tunes. If you're someone who loves working out to music on your iPod, this can seem like a major workout killer to try to exercise sans music. Prevent It: Remind yourself that exercising without music is OK. In fact, everyone did it that way long before portable music devices existed—and they still got great workouts! Even if you love working out with music (research does show that music can make workouts more fun), there's something to be said for doing a workout every now and again with nothing but your body and your thoughts. Doing this in nature is ideal, but it can work at the gym, too. Instead of focusing on the beat or the lyrics of your favorite workout songs, pay attention to your breath, feel your muscles as they're moving, and be totally present in what you're doing. Intently focusing on the mind-body connection can be a great way to de-stress and appreciate your body for how amazing it is. It can also help you work more intensely since you aren't distracted. Try a workout-music-free workout once every few weeks. Then the next time you forgot your iPod, it'll just be another time that you get to tune in to you! Setback #9: You don't feel good. No matter if you are suffering from a cold, have a stomachache or are running a fever, sometimes we miss our workouts because of our health. Prevent It: While you can't always keep yourself illness-free year-round, by eating a healthy diet, taking time to de-stress regularly, sleeping seven to nine hours a night and working out regularly, you can help prevent yourself from getting sick. Remember that exercise should be a part of your overall wellness plan to keep you healthy. And for those times that you do get sick? Always listen to your body and take time to rest when you need it. If you feel up to exercising, or doing a workout at a lighter intensity, go for it. Not every sniffle or stomachache is a sign that you shouldn't exercise. In fact, sometimes a light workout can help you alleviate certain unwanted symptoms, like gastrointestinal distress, by diverting blood away from the problem area (your gut in this case) and to your working muscles. Setback #10: You overslept and missed your workout time. You pride yourself on getting your workout in early, but when you accidentally oversleep, your workout plans go awry! Prevent It: All of us miss our alarms from time to time, but you can prevent this by doing a few things. First, set two alarms, such as a regular alarm clock and the alarm on your cell phone. In case your power goes out, the cell phone will work as your back-up. Also, don't keep your alarm clock by your bed, in arm's reach of hitting the snooze button. Set it across the room so that you actually have to get up and out of bed to turn it off. Because getting up and out of bed is always the hardest part, once you're up, turn on some lights and put on those workout clothes right away to start off your morning and workout right! Setback #11: You have to travel. Whether it's for pleasure or business, travel plans can throw a wrench into even the most dedicated exercisers fitness plans. Prevent It: It's easy to let a trip, along with its unexpected layovers, lack of hotel gyms, or jam-packed travel schedule, to throw off your workout plans. That's why it's important to plan, plan, plan. Before you travel, come up with three workout options that you can do while gone. For example, pack a resistance band in your suitcase so that you do some strength moves no matter where you are. Pack a workout DVD that you can do on your laptop. Talk to the hotel concierge for help mapping out a walking or running route. And definitely pack work apparel and shoes (wearing them to travel in is an extra good idea, so that you're comfortable and can get some extra steps and walking in when you can). Then make a goal to work out every other day at the least. Staying fit while traveling just takes a little creativity, so plan ahead to prevent this fitness setback! 12. You get injured. Oh drats! Injuries are the worst. Prevent It: By all means not every injury can be prevented, but, many of them can. The majority of exercise-related injuries can be chalked up to doing too much, too soon, too often. So make sure that you're wearing proper footwear for your physical activity; that you warm up and cool down properly, slowly build your workouts in terms of duration and intensity, and take at least one day a week off for active recovery. Always listen to and respect your body. It's the best way to stay injury free! Article Source: id=1690

Declare Your Independence from the Gym

It's an excuse many of us have heard or even said ourselves: I want to get fit, but I can't afford a gym membership. While a health club can be a fantastic place to work out, it's not the only way to get fit. In fact, you can enjoy a variety of different workouts at home or outdoors that are extremely low cost and sometimes even free! If you think that toning up or losing weight takes a gym or fancy fitness equipment, think again. Here are 10 workouts you can do sans gym that will challenge your body and give you great results. 10 Gym-Free Workouts How to do it: Grab 10 small note cards and write one exercise on each: 5 cardio moves (jump rope, high knees, mountain climbers) and 5 strength moves (push-ups, lunges, crunches, etc.). Shuffle the cards. Warm up for 5 minutes by marching in place, then draw a card and do that exercise as many times as you can for 1 minute. Then move on to the next card for 1 minute. Try to go through the full set of cards, working up to running through the circuit of cards two, three even four or five times!

  1. Try a DIY Bootcamp. An outdoor bootcamp can be a lot of fun—who doesn't like fresh air and a good challenge? You can always create your own bootcamp, but it's more fun with a group, so gather a few pals and hit a local park with open space, trees, benches and other landmarks. With your group, agree on a duration of time you'll spend working out, then brainstorm different strength and cardio exercises you can perform using what's found around you. Get creative! Examples might include triceps dips on a park bench, seated squats up against a tree, pushups with your feet on a curb, sprints to a pond and back, and even hill repeats. No matter which exercises you choose, be sure to warm up with a 5-minute walk and cool down with some gentle stretching.
  2. Pop in a workout DVD. There really isn't an excuse not to work out at home with the vast array of workout DVDs available including Pilates, dance, strength, kickboxing—the list goes on and on. While many DVDs require little to no equipment, others allow you to use things you have around the house such as soup cans as dumbbells or a chair for support. No matter what level of exerciser you are, there's something out there for you! If you're not sure where to start, why not try Coach Nicole's convenient and effective DVDs, which are broken into 10-minute segments?
  3. Go for a walk. Walking is one of the best activities to do because it requires only a pair of supportive shoes, and it's something that comes very naturally to most of us! If you're a beginner, hit the pavement at a pace that gets you slightly out of breath but not so much that you can't carry on a conversation. If you're a seasoned exerciser, walk in an area with hills or try intervals of speed walking followed by a slower-paced walk. For more tips and workout ideas, take a look at SparkPeople's Walking Guide.
  4. Circuit train. Circuit training is a great way to fit in your cardio and strength training simultaneously.  
  5. Try yoga. One of the best things about yoga is that you only need your body and a mat to do it. From online workouts that explain the poses to a variety of free yoga videos on YouTube, you can try any style of yoga without leaving your living room. You can even download workouts to your iPod and take your yoga practice outdoors! While yoga isn't known for its calorie burn, it is fantastic for flexibility and can be a muscle builder when doing more strenuous poses like plank. It's also a wonderful stress reducer.
  6. Take a hike. If you live in an area with access to hiking trails, you're in for a real workout! Hiking is a great calorie-burner and aerobic workout—not to mention a fun and beautiful way to spend an afternoon! So grab a friend or loved one, lace up those hiking boots, pack some water and food (depending on how long of a hike you're going on) and hike yourself fit. I guarantee the scenery and your feeling of accomplishment after hiking will be loads better than doing hills on a treadmill at the gym!
  7. Go old school with calisthenics. Get fit with a retro calisthenics workout. From jumping jacks to sit-ups to push-ups and lunges, this dynamic form of working out requires nothing but your body weight and is just like what you did in P.E. class as a kid. Revisit those early roots for some serious calorie burning and body toning!
  8. Turn housework into a workout. Yes, you can put the lean back in clean by turning your usual household chores into a heart-pumping workout. The key is to focus on cleaning activities that have a higher calorie burn such as scrubbing, vacuuming and washing windows. Turn on some upbeat tunes and really put your back into it. Even try throwing in some lunges, squats or push-ups between chores to really feel the burn.
  9. Play! So few of us make time in our lives to just have fun and play. Whether it's engaging in a sport, playing an active video game or even just dancing around your living room, lighten up and do something active that you love. As long as you get your heart rate up you'll burn calories—and have a good time doing it. Consider an adult sports league to add a little friendly competition into the mix.
  10. Run it out. Just like walking, running is the perfect gym-free workout because all it requires is a good pair of running shoes and some space. Whether it's around your neighborhood, at a park or on a track, running burns more calories than almost any other cardiovascular activity, and those who do it regularly claim that "runner's high" is a real-deal. Visit SparkPeople's Running Center for workouts, training plans and more get-started tips.
See? No more excuses about not making it to the gym. A world of fitness is right at your fingertips!Article Source: id=1650

Walking and Running Tips for City Dwellers

Living in a big city can be exciting. If you reside in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago or San Francisco, you have access to some of the hottest and trendiest health clubs and group exercise classes right in your back yard. And even if you live in an urban part of Dallas, Seattle, Kansas City, Pittsburgh or any other large metropolitan area, you still have a lot of different workout options available. But what if running or walking outdoors is your favorite activity? Well, urban exercisers have to deal with the hustle and bustle of city life, which can put a damper on your exercise experience. Urban living may give you the freedom to function without a car and easily walk to hip shopping, dining and entertainment destinations, but when you're trying to actually fit in a workout, navigating the city safely and efficiently can be a bit of a challenge. After all, you're up against pollution, traffic, possible crime, uneven sidewalks and other treacherous conditions, not to mention all the traffic and intersections that stop you multiple times mid-run. Below are six tips for navigating the urban landscape, understanding the possible risks associated with metropolitan running and walking, and using the city to your workout's advantage! 1. Park it. This is an obvious one, but it's too important to ignore. City parks are made for running and walking! They're usually free of traffic and noise, and many parks have better-quality trails and pavement than the streets do. Thanks to fewer cars and taxis and a higher density of trees and plants, these areas are also likely to have less pollution. This is especially important because exercise increases your breathing rate, making air quality that much more important. Stay Safe Tip: Air quality in cities is usually poorer than more rural areas because of the concentration of traffic, industry and people. In fact, a 2004 review conducted by the University of Brisbane in Australia that examined pollution studies from around the world showed that air with low concentrations of pollutants affected those exercising just as much as air with high concentrations of pollutants impacted non-exercisers. Furthermore, another study, this one published in The New England Journal of Medicine with data taken from the Women's Health Initiative, found that women who lived in areas with high air pollution—even in the form of very small particles called soot—were more likely to die of heart attacks than other women who lived in less pollutant areas. Before you work out, be sure to check the air quality forecast along with the weather. Don't exercise outside on low-quality air days, and avoid high-traffic times like rush hour. In general, air quality is better in colder weather than the hot summer months. City Fitness Tip: The bigger the park, the better your workouts, as it will give you more places to explore and more foliage to release cleaner air. Check out your local parks and recreation department online. Most cities will list all of their parks, including its amenities (like bathrooms and drinking fountains), hours and features. This allows you to find the best open area for you and your workout, and it might also allow you to discover an entirely new place to walk or run. There may be a hidden gem just a few blocks away that you've never stumbled upon!   2. Run in the place where you live. While parks are great for getting away, sometimes straying from the park can be a good thing when you need variety or a change of pace (pun intended). Jog or power walk through a residential area of town that has an interesting history or one that you find particularly charming or beautiful. Residential areas usually have less traffic and more flora and fauna than commercial areas. Stay Safe Tip: Be alert to any suspicious activity or unusual situations while you're working out. While crime can and does happen anywhere, some cities are more known for their crime than others (Detroit, Memphis and Miami topped Forbes' recent "America's Most Dangerous Cities" list). But no matter where you live, it's always a good idea to run during daylight hours, carry your ID, and bring a phone and enough money for an emergency—just in case. Always trust your gut. Get more outdoor exercise safety tips. City Fitness Tip: Pretend that you don't live in your city, and ask yourself where you would go if you were a tourist looking for a workout that could double as sight-seeing. Pick the closest spot for your regular run/walk, and map out a couple other options that are farther away for a future trip. Then grab a friend and see your city in a new active way! Or, if your city doesn't have many safe tourist spots that are suitable for running or walking, turn your trip to the park on its head by running or walking to the park and then using it as a site for strength exercises such as lunges, squats, push-ups and triceps dips on a park bench. Or do some yoga or stretching at the park as a complement to the cardiovascular exercise it took to get there. The possibilities are endless! 3. Play red light, green light. Next time you're stuck at a stoplight, don't just stop or jog in place, impatiently waiting for the light to turn green. Use the break to do some squats or use that street pole for a few one-armed push-ups or that city bench for an assisted plank. If you need a break, enjoy the interruption and do a quick hamstring or shoulder stretch. Instead of fighting against the city's nature, why not embrace it? Stay Safe Tip: While exercising on pavement or asphalt isn't too dangerous (except for the occasional pothole or bad driver), running on the road or sidewalk can be hard on the joints. In fact, concrete is one of the worst shock-absorbing surfaces. Asphalt absorbs more shock, but it's still not great (grass, wood chips and dirt are best). So when you can do so safely, jog on the asphalt. City Fitness Tip: Use traffic and stoplights as interactive interval training. After a short walking or jogging warm-up, run hard to a stoplight and see how far you can go without having to take a break because of the traffic. When you hit a yellow light, perform a set of upper-body exercises such as wall pushups on a city building or triceps dips using a park bench. If you get stuck at a red light, hit that lower body with basic squats or lunges. You may get a few curious looks from people, but in a big city, most people have seen stranger things, right? 4. Get on track. Running in a circle may not strike your fancy, but running and walking tracks can be great places for city dwellers to work out in peace. On the track, you can easily track your distance, avoid the traffic and distractions of street running and, if you're lucky, you'll have an easier-on-the-body rubberized surface for your workout. Sounds like heaven, right? Tracks are also perfect for intervals. If you follow the walk-run training method, do fartleks: Run the straights (100 meters) and walk the curves (100 meters), or experiment with other distances marked on the track. Stay Safe Tip: Running or walking on a track is much easier on your joints than running on the blacktop or concrete, but don't forget about personal safety. Tracks can sometimes be in secluded areas of the city that you're not familiar with. When in doubt, bring a buddy and keep your cell phone close! City Fitness Tip: To find a running track near you, perform an online search for "running tracks in [enter your city]." If this isn't an easy search (some cities are better about posting their information online than others), call or visit your local running or walking specialty store. Ask them where the best—and safest—running tracks are in town. 5. Get active on your commute. Unless you work from home, you already have to commute to your job. So why not multitask with an active commute that doubles as a workout? Walking lends itself better to commuting since it won't leave you as sweaty and out of breath for your day on the job, but running or biking can also work. Stay Safe Tip: Never wear headphones while actively commuting to work, and always be alert and aware of traffic and any suspicious behavior. If you're biking, find a bike path/lane and always wear a helmet. If you're walking, choose routes that are well used, well lit, safe and have plenty of public areas in case you think someone may be following you. City Fitness Tip: Instead of walking in your dress shoes to the subway, throw your nice shoes in bag or backpack and lace up those sneakers! Power walk to the bus stop and get off a few stops early to squeeze in some extra steps. 6. Hit the gym. You may love outdoor running and walking, but when the weather is bad or you work late hours, it's hard to get out there and hit the pavement. A gym membership may be expensive, but it allows you to work out safely and comfortably. Plus, if you join a full-service health club, you'll also have access to group exercise classes, strength training equipment, possibly a pool and more! So don't rule it out: You never know what new activity you might fall in love with. Stay Safe Tip: The same safety tips apply for going to and coming home from the gym as they do for running and walking outdoors in a big city: Be alert, carry your cell phone but few valuable personal belongings, and stick to areas that are well traveled and safe. City Fitness Tip: Think the treadmill should be renamed the dreadmill? Try these three tips to refresh any treadmill routine! Happy and safe running and walking in the city! This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople Coaches Jen Mueller and Nicole Nichols, Certified Personal Trainers.Article Source: id=1577

She Weighs the Same in Both Photos—the Change Is Something You Can't See

We've all cringed while looking at photos we're in—we'd like to forget all about the school photos we took during our awkward years. But for some, those pics can lead to a serious downward spiral of self-harm. In a viral post on Instagram, Megan Jayne Crabbe (a.k.a. @bodyposipanda) shares a photo from three years ago that made her feel so awful about her body that she began crash dieting. Today she's the same size she was back then. The only difference is she's learned to embrace her body. As Crabbe writes, "The problem is not your body, the problem is how you've been taught to view your body." Check out the rest of her kick-ass message below: Photo: Instagram/@bodyposipanda

13 Gifts for Your Fit Friends That Aren't Leggings or Sneakers

We all have one. That annoying inspiring friend who is somehow always working out (at least according to their #mondaymotivation, #transformationtuesday, and #workoutwednesday Instagrams). Since they already live in a state of pre-gym/at gym/post-gym, surprise them with something other than spandex and sneakers. Trust us, they'll love you for it. Side note: If this person is you, congratulations on being the most motivated person in your friends' social feeds! Now send this link to everyone you know so you don't spend the holiday faking smiles over yet another pair of sweat-wicking tights. Apple Watch Nike+ This next-gen Apple watch's new features (waterproofing, built-in GPS, heart rate sensor, etc.) transform it from mere arm candy to a solid sports watch. The Nike+ edition has some dope bonus features (brighter screen, easy app accessibility, run scheduler, social challenges) that motivate you to run more—really. The watch also supports subtle lifestyle changes through one-minute meditations and a vibrating reminder to move when you've been sitting too long.Available at nike.com, $369. Lululemon All Day Tote Chances are your fit friend isn't just hitting the gym all day. This tote looks like an office-appropriate shoulder bag but allows her to stash her workout gear and stay organized thanks to labeled internal compartments.Available at shop.lululemon.com, $128. Specialized Utility Hoodie This is the perfect way to subtly suggest he finally get rid of that ragged basketball sweatshirt from college. With a wind- and water-resistant shell and a cozy fleece inside, it'll be his new go-to when heading to and from the gym, on his daily bike commute, or for bitter cold runs. Available at specialized.com, $150. Fitlosophy Fitspiration Journal Know someone with more finisher medals than necklaces? Who's more organized than a 1950s secretary? This is the gift for them. The journal will help them stay focused on their goals and provide nutrition and health tips, plus inspiration, along the way. Available at getfitbook.com, $16.95 Practice Peace CorePower Yoga Gift Card The best hack for gift buying? Getting something that seems more expensive than it is. This Practice Peace gift card only costs 80 bucks but is worth $100. The lucky recipient can use it on class packs, apparel, and accessories at CorePower locations nationwide. Available at corepoweryoga.com, $80 for a $100 gift card. Stance Run Socks These are not the lame socks your mom leaves in your stocking. Stance Run socks look cool, yeah, but it's the arch-cushion comfort and blister prevention that keep us cramming more in our sock drawers.Available at stance.com for men and women, prices vary. Pinch Provisions Fitness Kit Doesn't matter if you sweat, sparkle, or nearly die at the gym, everyone forgets things from time to time. From extra hair bands and earbuds to deodorant and lip balm, this kit has everything you don't realize you need until, well, you do. Snag one for yourself and a pal. Available at pinchprovisions.com, $22. New Balance Shadow Jacket This edgy find is way cheaper than a leather moto jacket but looks just as badass. Your friend will love the look, but she'll really appreciate you when she realizes the inside has a mesh liner and sweat-wicking technology to prevent feeling wet and gross when she throws it on post-workout. Available at newbalance.com, $139.99. FitVine Wine What's the point of crushing workouts if you can't enjoy some wine? FitVine was started by athletes who know there are few things better than a good glass of wine (in moderation, of course) after a grueling sweat session. Available at fitvinewine.com, $15.99. Ban.do Work It Out Exercise Mat Because motivation comes in many forms. One of them being a triangular slice of pizza. Available at bando.com, $32. SKLZ Hydro-Roller Friends don't let friends skip foam rolling. Or hydrating. Ensure they do both with this two-in-one foam roller water bottle. Available at sklz.com, $39.99. Oribe Gold Lust Dry Shampoo What we wish we could fit in our gym bag: our entire shower. What we can actually fit in our gym bag: this shower-in-a-bottle. If your friend is already a dry shampoo devotee, she'll love being upgraded to this luxe version that's packed with sweet-smelling lavender and chamomile. If not, prepare to blow her mind and trim her locker room time with this style-saving spray. Available at oribe.com, $22-$44. WorkoutLabs Yoga Cards Give the yogi in your life the gift of zen on the go. These yoga cards feature 47 of the most common poses, 5 sequences, 3 breathing exercises, and a meditation card, making it easy to fit in a practice anywhere. Available at amazon.com, $27.95.

A Fan Asked Lena Dunham If She Was Expecting. Her Response Is Everything

Women of all sizes know how sh*tty it feels when someone asks if they're expecting, but they're not pregnant. It happened to Lena Dunham earlier this week. A fan left a comment on one of Dunham's Instagram photos asking, "Are you expecting? You look beautiful." Even when the question is bookended by a compliment, it still feels like a personal attack. Lucky for us, Dunham had the perfect response. We'll keep it in our back pocket to shell out next time someone asks if we're eating for two: Photo: Instagram/@lenadunham

Lady Gaga Talks About Her Mental Illness for the First Time—and How She Copes

In an emotional video (yep, grab the tissues) on NBC's Today show, Lady Gaga shares—for the first time ever—that she has a mental illness. While visiting with LGBT youth at a homeless shelter in New York, the star opened up about struggling with PTSD after she was raped. Many of the young adults she met with also deal with mental health issues, and Gaga shared the things that help her cope: meditation, support from her family, and medication. We’re amazed by Gaga’s bravery in sharing her story, and we hope her words empower others to talk about the strategies they use to manage their mental health. Because sharing what works for us could help someone else while also lessening the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Before-and-After Photo Shows What Cancer Can Do to Your Body

Scroll back a few months on Cheyann Shaw's Instagram feed and you'll see plenty of mirror selfies from the gym. They look like every other fitness Instagrammers' posts: arms flexed, abs on display, booty popped, plus a motivating caption. This past August, Shaw was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but that hasn't stopped her from posting photos. Her Instagrams are unapologetically raw. Her recent before-and-after photo, for example, stopped us in our tracks: Whoa! Give yourself a second to process that. We're used to before-and-after photos showing a specific type of progress. This shows progress of a different sort—learning to embrace and love your body even when it seems to be turning against you. Through surgeries and many rounds of chemo, Shaw has stayed strong and continues to share an inspiring message about always fighting back. We’ll let her powerful photos (and captions!) take it from here:

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