Change Your Choices

Change Your Life…Tips for a healthier you

Health Benefits of Pets

This is the man who wasn't sure about having a house pet with our rescue cat, Luis.

I will admit to being a cat lady.  Yes, we currently have 3 cats living in our house, I would have more but that might be considered crazy!  I was raised in a house where rescue cats were in an out as well as our own  cats plus our rescued chihuahua that we had for 13 years.  My husband was not raised with pets in the house but our daughters and I convinced him that a cat would be good to have.  Hahaha….he now begrudgingly admits that having pets around is quite entertaining.  Having a pet can also help you live a long and healthy life- here’s how:

  • Pets alleviate loneliness. Loneliness is one of the biggest obstacles to  recovery from illnesses such as heart disease. Patients who suffer heart attacks  but own pets are likely to have five times the survival rate of patients who are  not pet owners.
  • Petting an animal induces relaxation. The act of petting an animal lowers a  person’s blood pressure. Studies have shown that owning a pet has long-term  positive effects on blood pressure.
  • Pets help people adapt, adjust and deal with many changes and losses in  life. Pet owners can benefit emotionally from the human-animal relationship.
  • Dog owners get more exercise. Walking is excellent exercise for people and  dogs. Many people who do not enjoy exercise are happy to walk their dog.
  • Dog walkers also get more social interaction, because people are more likely  to talk to a walker with a dog as opposed to a lone walker.
  • Caring for any pet requires a certain amount of physical activity.
  • In studies, people with pets have been found to have lower cholesterol and  triglyceride levels when compared with people who did not have pets.
  • Dogs can be trained to predict the onset of a seizure in their human friend  and forewarn him.
  • Children who live with a cat or dog in their first years of life have a  lower incidence of hay fever and asthma and are less likely to develop  animal-related allergies. They also have a more stable immune system and can  fight off disease more effectively.
  • Dogs provide physical assistance for the disabled as well as encouraging  social interaction.
  • The benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)for humans with mental  disorders have been well-documented.
  • A Canadian study of nearly 1,000 adults age 65 and over found that pet  owners were more physically fit and less likely to suffer a decline in health in  the course of a year.

If you don’t have a pet, think about your lifestyle and consider what type of animal would be best for you.  Visit a local shelter to see if you connect with one of the many dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, etc. who would love to help you on your quest for not only physical but good mental health as well.

Has your pet improved your life?  Please share your story.

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Sunday Morning Inspiration

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Excuses. Excuses. Excuses.

Why don’t you exercise? Too tired? Not enough time?  Too expensive?  Don’t know what to do?  Stop with the excuses!  There are 101 reasons why you can’t exercise and only one why you can…because you want to feel better than you do at this very moment.

If you are happy with your weight, your blood pressure and cholesterol are good, you can walk up a flight of steps without getting winded, you sleep well, you aren’t stressed out, you have toned and strong muscles and you are happy with your sex life- read no further as you have arrived. For the rest of us- let’s get rid of those excuses.

1- I’m too tired to work out.  Do you ever say to yourself OR to others “I’m so tired” followed by “I’m completely exhausted” or “I’m beat” and other not-so-uplifting statements. Did you know your body can hear you? Stop telling yourself and everyone else how tired you are and do something about it.  If you are staying up too late, enforce a bedtime. Do what it takes to get to bed on time, shut off the computer and TV and start listening to your body. Most of us can’t change the time we wake up but doing a few things in the evening can make your morning less hectic. Set out clothes and shoes for the next day, clean the kitchen and get it ready for breakfast, have your purse, laptop bag, keys, etc. in one place.  Lots of little things done ahead might give you an extra 15 minutes in the morning!

2- I’m too busy to work out.  I hear this on ALL the time.  Yes, we all have demands in our life.  Job, kids, spouse, and just life in general can be very time consuming but are any of these things stealing your time?

  • Checking Email & Responding All The Time
  • Checking/Updating Facebook, Twitter, MySpace All The Time
  • Going to the Grocery store every single day for 1 or 2 items
  • Paying bills piecemeal over the month instead of in chunks or online.
  • Watching too much TV

If you decrease each of these items by even 5 or 10 minutes, (in no time) you’ll have 30 minutes to use for working out or some other physical activity! Reading this blog is not a waste of time, but how many minutes (hours) have you been online today? A favorite quote “Those who think they have no time for exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”

3- Exercise is Boring.  Yep, running on a treadmill for 30 minutes everyday can be boring.  So why are you wasting your time doing something you don’t like when there are so many options? Find some forms of exercise that you enjoy- walking, cycling, swimming, skiing, yoga, zumba, tennis, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, racquetball, dancing, etc.  The possibilities are endless.  Try new things and switch them up now and then to keep your workout interesting. Many gyms offer free or sample classes so you can try before you buy, I highly recommend it.

4- I can’t afford to join a gym.  Have you checked the cost of joining a gym lately?  There are LOTS of great deals out there and many employers offer reimbursement so it might be more affordable than you think.  I know the YMCA offers scholarships and reduced fees in some cases as well.  If a gym still isn’t in your budget, there are plenty of other ways to workout that are inexpensive  and some are free!  Start a walking program, ride your bike, dance, jump rope, invest in a few workout DVD’s.  Goodwill or  used sports equipment stores are great places to shop- I bought my rollerblades at Goodwill for $5, they were new with the tags still on!

5- I’m Too Fat.  If you are worried about going to the gym because you are out of shape, stop worrying.  The images in your head are not at all what you will see in the gym.  Yes, there are a few hardbodies but mostly the gym is full of people just like you.  Don’t worry about how you look in your gym clothes.  Don’t worry that everyone will stare.  Don’t worry that you don’t know what you are doing.  Don’t worry that you will sweat or your hair will get messed up.  I spend a lot of time at the gym and I have taught many, many new people who were  just as worried, in fact, I was a worrier at one time!   I recommend working with a personal trainer (they are NOT like the Biggest Loser) or take a few classes until you get comfortable.  And don’t worry that people will see you without make-up, the gym is a judgement free zone!

Challenge for the day: What’s YOUR excuse and how are you going to overcome it?

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Snack Attack!


Snacking is my biggest downfall.  I eat very healthy meals, watching what I eat, how much, and I count calories.  I’m concerned about keeping my weight in check but also want to give my body what it needs to stay healthy and disease free.  BUT- it’s those darn between meal times that are ruining everything! I don’t know if I am really hungry or just in the habit of snacking but I am adding lots of unnecessary calories and usually sugar and/or salt into my system.   Here are some snacking tips.

Morning Munchies: To curb morning munchies, eat a healthy breakfast that includes some protein and fiber.  I do this but by 10am I am wandering the office looking for food and it usually ends up to be candy.  Don’t feel bad if you are hungry 3-4 hours after breakfast, this is normal so plan ahead.  Pack a banana, apple, or some grapes to tide you over until lunch. If you aren’t going to be eating lunch for a while, have some protein like some string cheese or greek yogurt.


Mid- Afternoon Hungries: This is a tough time for a lot of folks since they lunch between 11:00 AM  and 1:00 PM and dinner at 6:00 PM, that is a lot of hours so a snack makes sense. Try yogurt and cereal, or cottage cheese and fruit.  DON’T eat sugary, empty-calorie foods. They will cause you to remain hungry and you may overeat later.  I like a wasa cracker with some fat-free strawberry cream cheese to appease my sweet tooth or some peanut butter on celery sticks to satisfy a salty/crunchy craving.

After Work Grazing: I am often so hungry when I get home from work that I eat anything I can get my hands on, probably more calories than the meal I’m making.   This might sound odd but I now drink a Bud Light 55 while preparing dinner. It is only 55 calories but is satisfying and gives my hands something to do instead of reaching for chips, marshmallows, crackers, etc.  Also,  beer has some good health benefits.


TV Time: Do you have a favorite chair that you sit in while watching TV?  Is it full of snack crumbs like mine?  When you’re in a ‘comfort’ place like that, you’re likely to lose track of the quantity you take in. The first step is to try to not eat in your ‘happy place,’ but if you really want to, have a set snack — don’t graze. Stick to a portion controlled snack, not the whole bag.  You can do great all day with your calories only to blow it while mindlessly munching in front of the TV.

Late Night Noshing: Need a little something before bed?  This time of day can be deadly.  First- do you REALLY need something or is eating before bed a bad habit?  If I am teaching at 5am I like to have a banana with peanut butter or a cheese quesadilla to get me through the night and all the way through class.

Cheese quesadilla before bed?  Yes!  Sprinkle some grated low-fat cheese, like Jarlesberg light, on a high-fiber tortilla,  fold, then crisp both sides on a cast-iron skillet or indoor grill.  Check the Nu Val scores on both the tortillas and cheese to make the most nutritious choice.

Other good late night snacks are frozen blueberries, yogurt with some crushed pretzels mixed in (I like to dip!) or a small square of dark chocolate.

Reminder- Your weight is all about balancing calories in and calories out.  Don’t let munching keep you from reaching your goals.  It all adds up!


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Let’s Get S.M.A.R.T.


Jan 2- the gym is busy!


I have taught classes at the YMCA for several years and every year it’s the same.  On Jan. 2 the place is packed.  Treadmills are full, classes are waitlisted, and I have to wait to use the weight machines.  Wow- this is exciting!  Look at all these people who want to look and feel better.

Jan 25, a few people went back to the couch

Fast forward to Jan. 25.  The Y is still fairly busy, but not like it was 3 weeks ago.  I know in another month there will be even fewer people, by spring we will have lost at least half of those who joined with all sorts of great intentions.  So..what happened?  And why does it happen year after year?  Here area a few of my observations.

>Many people have never set foot in a gym and have no clue what to do.  I recommend booking a few sessions with a personal trainer.  It is well worth the extra charge. I am also a big fan of joining classes.    Trust me, no one is watching you, they are worried about what they are doing, not what you are doing.

>They work out like crazy for the first week and then feel like crap and can’t get motivated to do it again.

>They didn’t lose 10 lbs. in the first week so they give up.

>It is much easier to fall back on old habits than start a new one.  Yes, laying on the couch is easy.  But working out is more fun, you just need to make it a habit.

Let’s make a SMART action plan to help you make and KEEP those fitness goals.

Specific.  Don’t just say “I’ll eat healthier”  Say “I’ll eat 3 pieces of fruit on most days” and stick to it.  I also like S for Small. Stop using your big dinner plates. Use your salad plate instead, it really helps keep portion sizes under control

Measureable. Use numbers to quantify frequencies and amounts. Instead of saying, “I will drink more milk,” say, “I will drink 3 glasses of fat-free milk per day.”

Achievable – Can you actually meet the goals that you are setting for yourself? If you haven’t been off the couch for years, don’t suddenly start working out for 90 minutes every day.  Set an achievable goal like “I will walk 15 minutes 3 days per week” and stick to it, increasing the time as you build stamina.  Walking 15 minutes everyday for a year is better than being an exercise nut for 3 weeks and then quitting.

Even if you need to lose 50 lbs, don’t say “I will lose 50 lbs.”  Say, “I will lose 2 lbs. this week.” After you lose those 2 lbs, say ” Now I will lose 2 more lbs.”  and so on.

Realistic – Saying that you will never eat dessert again is not realistic for someone who really enjoys those foods. Start out by having that piece of chocolate cake, but take half a piece or share it with a friend.  The next time cut back to just a few bites.  I’m told some people give up sweets completely but I’m not there yet!

Time Sensitive – Specify a timeframe for your goal. Instead of saying “more often” to decide how often you will eat fruit, say “twice a day, 4 days this week.” or “I will work out 3 times this week.”  Schedule your workout time and put it in your calendar.  Treat it like you would any other appointment that can’t be cancelled.

Be sure to write down your SMART goals and review them every day.  Post them on the frig, on your workspace, in your car; anywhere that you keep them top of mind.

Being healthy is vital to life. Just as you spend many hours committed to your job, so shouldn’t you spend the time that it takes to be committed to a healthy lifestyle? This can only enhance your quality of life. So, there is no time like the present to invest in your well-being. If not today, when? Be S.M.A.R.T. Get started today!



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Walk this Way!

I have written about walking before, and will most likely write about walking again but I really believe in walking. Walking is a free, no expensive equipment needed exercise that pretty  much everyone can do.  Walking can be done  anywhere at anytime and it is easy to modify the intensity, depending on your fitness goals.  However, walking can get a bit monotonous if  you don’t change it up now and then.  We all have our favorite routes and tend to do the same thing day after day so…

 Let’s learn some new ways to walk!

1- Namba.  Up until about 150 years ago virtually all Japanese learned to walk in a special style called the namba, in which the right arm and leg swing forward at the same time, and then the left arm and leg swing forward. No one knows why this was done, the Japanese are now allowed to walk like the rest of us!


I have added Namba walking to my routine, my husband calls it the Franken Chicken Walk.   It sounds ridiculous but walking with left arm/left leg out then right arm/right leg out is really tough.  Your brain has to work as it is not natural to move this way, your core will work harder to keep your balance, and you will find yourself tiring quickly.  I have been doing 2 minute intervals of Namba walking for the past few weeks and it has really strengthened my lower back and obliques.  Caution- it looks crazy and you will get a few “looks” from others but keep at it!

Doing the Frankenchicken!

2- Intervals. Walk at your usual pace for 5 minutes.  Pick up the pace for 2-3 minutes.  Walk at your pace for 2-3 minutes.  Pick up the pace for 2-3 minutes.  I think you get the drift of this!  You will find that your “usual” pace speeds up and your intervals will be even faster.  This is a great way to build cardio endurance for beginners.

Yes, you can do intervals on a treadmill, just hit the speed up key!

3- 100’s.  Walk 100 steps.  Jog (or run)  100 steps.  Walk 200 steps.  Jog (or run) 200 steps. Walk 300 steps.  Jog (or run) 300 steps.  Do this to 500.  After doing 500 steps jogging, do 400 steps walking, then 400 jogging, 300 walking, 300 jogging down to 100.  Walk at a normal pace for 5 minutes to bring your heart rate down before stopping.  I enjoy this as I am so busy counting that I don’t realize how far I have gone and how hard I am working!

4- 10 Second Spurts.  After walking normally for 5 minutes to warm up, run as fast as you can for 10 seconds.  Slow down and walk for 1 minute.  Run as fast as you can for 10 seconds, walk for a minute.  Do this for 30 minutes.  Whew!!  I don’t think I have run at top speed for 20 years, it was quite a shock to the system and I found that I enjoyed it. Disclaimer: I enjoyed it for 10 seconds at a time knowing I had a 1 minute walk coming up!

No excuses- get out there and WALK!

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An Amazing “Ice Cream” Recipe!

Oh, the wonders of the internet never cease to amaze me.  I had a bunch of bananas that look like this:

And since I am afraid of my oven (topic for another day), I can’t make banana bread so I googled “ripe banana recipes” and came up with this gem: 1 Ingredient Banana “Ice Cream”.  Since I had the one ingredient, I gave it a try.  Wow- we can’t wait for the next bunch of bananas to ripen.  This is for bananas that are just beginning to turn, not the ones that are all brown.

Banana Ice Cream

Makes about 2 cups

You will need 3 or 4 ripe but not brown  bananas.  Just peel,  slice them up and stick them in a ziploc bag and freeze  at least 1-2 hours.  (If you forget them overnight and they are frozen really hard, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw 10 minutes or  pound them with a meat tenderizing hammer until they begin to break down a bit)  Place them in  your blender or food processor.

  Process  and  Voila! The bananas will soon look like soft serve ice cream.  You might have to stop and push them around a bit with a scraper but have patience, it will happen! If you are having trouble getting to look  like ice cream, add cold water, one teaspoon at a time.  I haven’t had to do this but your results might vary.

You can eat this  immediately or place in a container and freeze until firm. 

Right out of the blender. You can put it in the freezer again if you like firmer ice cream.

Top It Off Ideas

This low-cal goodie leaves room for some toppings. Each of the portions below will add 50 calories per serving:

  • 3 vanilla wafer cookies
  • 1 sugar cone (whole or broken into pieces)
  • 2 teaspoons semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 teaspoons natural peanut butter- I’m going to blend in peanut butter and chocolate chips next time.
  • 1 ½ teaspoons chocolate-hazelnut spread (such as Nutella)
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup diced mango
  • 1 heaping tablespoon granola
  • 1 ½ tablespoons shredded coconut
  • 2 chocolate covered pretzels
  • 2 teaspoons chocolate syrup

If you want to keep the calories as low as possible, these are virtually calorie free:

  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Vanilla extract
  • Ground cinnamon

Why bananas?  Compare this to your favorite ice cream and you’ll know why.

Calories 105
Calories from fat 0
Total fat 0g
Sodium 1 mg
Total Carbohydrates 27.0g
Dietary Fiber 3.0g
Sugars 14.0g
Protein 1.0g
Vitamin A 2%
Calcium 1%
Iron 2%

Banana Nutrition Facts

  • Vitamin C which is found in bananas, helps the body to defend and heal against infections.
  • Not only are bananas rich in vitamin C, they also contain potassium. Potassium is a mineral that helps in the building of muscles and protein synthesis.
  • A diet rich in potassium is said to reduce the risk of hypertension and stroke. As bananas are free from sodium and very rich in potassium, they can be included in the diet to reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
  • Bananas contain three natural sugars, sucrose, fructose and glucose, along with fiber. A banana thus gives an instant and substantial boost of energy.
  • A banana contains vitamin B6, which helps in the synthesis of antibodies in the immune system.
  • No other fruit contains more digestible carbohydrates than bananas. This is advantageous, because the body burns off calories from carbohydrate more easily and quickly than calories from fat or protein.

Let me know if you have any recipe ideas!

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In Honor of Elvis, Let’s have a Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich

He also liked bacon on this sandwich. Let's skip that!

Today would be Elvis Presley’s 76th birthday so we are going to have one of his favorites- a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich!  Granted, it will not be the same as Elvis’ recipe, he died at age 42 and I’m assuming his diet contributed in some part to his death.

His chef used a whole stick of butter and let the white bread soak it up.  We aren’t going to do that and will still have a great tasting sandwich.

Healthier PB and B – paying attention to the ingredients can make this MUCH healthier. This is not a low-calorie sandwich so don’t eat too many!

Peanut Butter

Choose a sugar-free natural peanut butter made with just peanuts and salt–a 2-tbsp. serving only has 90 mg of sodium–or made with just peanuts, if you prefer. Peanut butter is rich in healthy fats, which should equal 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories, according to A serving of peanut butter has 16 g of total fat, of which only 2.5 g are saturated fat; 4.5 g are polyunsaturated fat; and 8 g are monounsaturated fat, which lowers cholesterol and prevents heart disease.  Watch the Nu Val scores as peanut butter can vary greatly in nutritional benefits.

Whole Grain Bread

Use whole grain bread to make a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Whole grain breads are richer in vitamins, minerals and fiber than breads made with refined grains. Breads made with whole grains provide a steady, sustained source of energy because they’re digested more slowly than breads made from refined grains. The refinement process produces bread that is absorbed rapidly during digestion, creating sharp spikes in your blood sugar and insulin levels that may lead to type 2 diabetes. When shopping for whole grain bread, look for a whole grain–such as whole wheat or whole rye–listed as the first ingredient. I also like to use the new sandwich thins, only 100 calories each and there is usually one brand on sale.


Bananas go well with peanut butter, and they’re a healthier choice than jam or jelly, which is mostly sugar. Bananas are a good source of fiber, vitamin C and manganese, and a very good source of potassium and vitamin B6. Half of a medium banana has 50 calories, zero fat, 14 g of carbohydrates–of which 7 g are sugar–1.5 g of fiber and 211 mg of potassium.  Go ahead and use ripe bananas.  I had heard that they have more calories as they ripen but that’s not true. Caloric content of a fruit cannot increase if it is no longer attached to its tree.  As a banana ripens, much of the starch converts to sugar, so even with the same calories, the perception is that a sweeter food like a ripe banana will be more “fattening”. Yes, a ripe banana has a bit more sugar, but not enough to cause concern.  (and still WAY less sugar than a doughnut!)

Grilled PB & B



Heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat, and add a bit of olive or canola oil.  Yes, you can also use a dab of butter if you like. Spread 1 tablespoon of peanut butter onto one side of each slice of bread. Place banana slices onto the peanut buttered side of one slice, top with the other slice and press together firmly. Fry the sandwich until golden brown on each side, about 2 minutes per side.

This can also be made in a panini maker or George Foreman grill.  Variations: sprinkle some cinnamon on the bananas, studies have shown that just 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon per day can lower LDL cholesterol.

If you are in a hurry- make some toast.  As soon as it pops up, get the peanut butter on it so it melts.  Add the bananas.  This is a favorite bedtime snack when I have to teach at the Y at 5am.

Happy Birthday Elvis, thanks for the sandwich!



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Happy New Rear- final post for Butt Week!

Let's do some squats!


By now we all know that having a strong butt, hamstrings, and hips is essential to a healthy body.  Let’s put it all together for a butt-centric workout you can do 2-3 times a week.

Start with a warm up.  Some of my favorite moves:

High Steps- Cross your arms in front of your chest like a genie.  Raise one knee has high as you can, lower, and then lift the other.  The goal is to get your knees to touch your arms.  Do 10 steps on each side

Hamstring Stretch- Keeping your knees slighlty bent,bend at the waist and touch your toes. If you can’t get to your toes, stop when you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings (back of legs) Hold for a few seconds and stand.  Repeat 10 times

Toe Touches- Arms out to the side, twist and touch right hand to left toe (or in the direction of your left toe for beginners!)  Turn your head and neck to look up toward your left hand.  Switch sides. Do 10 times

Jumping Jacks- do 10.

Routine: See previous posts for instructions.  Your option to use weights where applicable.  This is a beginner workout, add more moves or more reps as needed.  x= number of times to do this move.  For example: 8x means do 8 times.

Standing Lunges- 8x right leg, 8x left leg

Squats- Shoulder width 8x

Basic Bridge- 5x

Donkey Kick- 15x on each side

Swingers- 5 on each side

REPEAT this routine 3 times. Feel free to add more, this is pretty basic but a nice beginners workout.


Hip Flexor stretching is essential


I hope you enjoyed Butt Week, it’s great to start the year with a strong rear!

We've been looking at ladies all week, time for a change!



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Some Favorite Moves for a Toned Butt!

Lunges and Squats are the most popular exercises for your glutes, but here are a few favorites of mine that can be easily incorporated into your routine.

Basic Bridge

Lie back, knees bent, feet on the floor hip-width apart, arms extended at sides with palms facing down.

Don't look to the side, keep your neck neutral

  • Lift your hips toward the ceiling, pressing into your heels (but don’t squeeze your glutes).
  • Hold for 10 deep breaths, then slowly lower your hips to the floor.
  • Repeat 5 times.

To make this an intermediate move, lift your toes off the floor, pressing through your heels.  To go advanced- lift a leg and press with just one.  5 reps, then switch and do 5 on the other leg.

Donkey Kick

donkey kick butt exercise

Get on your hands and knees, with wrists aligned under shoulders, and knees under hips.

  • Drawing your abs in, lift your left leg parallel to the floor, with knee bent, foot flexed. Your leg should not straighten, keep a 90 degree angle when you press up.
  • Return to starting position and repeat 15 to 20 times. Don’t let  your hips turn, keep them parallel to the floor.
  • Switch sides.

Need more intensity ?  Make it a side kick.  Kick to the side at a 45 degree angle.  Or- use a resistance band around your foot and under your hands.


Your glutes run diagonally so this exercise will work them diagonally.  You can make this really intense by keeping the contraction through the whole move.

Get on your hands and knees, wrists under shoulders, hips and knees aligned.  Some people prefer to have the opposite hand a bit forward.

. Raise your right leg and straighten, pointing your toes.  Slowly move your leg to the side, stop when you feel your hips begin to turn.  Return leg to the back.  Do this 5 times.  Slow and easy, not using momentum.  Don’t expect your leg to go far- this is a small but intense movement. Remember to work the other side!

Now that you have done these separately- let’s put them together in a routine.  Tune in tomorrow for the Butt Week Finale!

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