51 Healthy Slow-Cooker Recipes That Will Rock Your Crock-Pot

If you can’t afford a live-in chef—you’re a kween, yes, but not an actual queen—a slow-cooker is your next best option. Sure, healthy slow-cooker recipes involve a teensy bit of prep, but aside from a bit of searing and seasoning, they do most of the cooking themselves. All you really have to do is dump your ingredients in your slow cooker before you hit the road, and let it all simmer for six to eight hours. You’re free to run some errands, catch a movie, or go to work. When you get home dinner will be ready and waiting for you. What’s more regal than that?

30 Healthy Snacks for Work That You Can Keep at Your Desk

Applesauce

Applesauce is often sold in shelf-stable packets or cups like the one pictured above, which means it’s a great snack to keep at your desk. Full of fiber and healthy carbs, it’ll definitely keep you satiated, but if you want it to be even more filling consider combining it with some dried nuts you might also have at your desk.

A small plastic container filled with organic cinnamon applesauce and a spoon inserted into the food on a white tablecloth.

7 Apple Cider Vinegar Facts To Know Before You Drink It

Even though it’s easy to find programs and products that claim to make weight loss quick and easy, according the research, as well as expert advice, not only do most weight loss diets fail, losing weight and keeping it off typically requires a fair amount of effort and commitment to the long game. It’s no surprise, then, that supplements like apple cider vinegar (ACV), which some people turn to because of its reputation as a weight loss aide, “detoxifier,” and general health booster, abound.

But does drinking ACV really promote weight loss, or deliver on any of the other popular rumors swirling around it? Here, experts get to the bottom of the debate around apple cider vinegar and weight loss and health.

1. It doesn’t actually cause weight loss.

“There are many mostly unfounded claims about apple cider vinegar,” Scott Kahan, M.D., director of National Center for Weight and Wellness, tells SELF. As a doctor specializing in obesity management as well as a researcher in obesity treatments, a lot of patients ask Dr. Kahan how apple cider vinegar may affect their weight. Simply put, there’s no rigorous science to back up the claim that apple cider vinegar kicks off a metabolic process that results in weight loss.

“Like with most supplements, people make a lot of claims based on absent or extremely poor data,” says Dr. Kahan. “Virtually no [scientific literature] comes up for this, and what does is usually tiny, not well-done studies in obscure journals.” Because of that, he says they’re “basically meaningless” when it comes to supporting claims of apple cider vinegar’s weight loss benefits. In fact, one study that shows that study subjects who lost weight following a protocol that involved consuming two tablespoons of ACV per day were also eating 250 calories less than usual.

Another expert agrees. “Apple cider vinegar doesn’t have any physiological properties that speed up your metabolism or melt fat,” Abby Langer, R.D., tells SELF.

2. It’s value as a probiotic is questionable.

Nowadays “gut health” is all the rage and, subsequently, so are probiotics. But what do they actually do? It helps to first understand just what a probiotic is. Author of The Bloated Belly Whisperer Tamara Duker Freuman, R.D., explains that a probiotic is a specific species and strain of a microorganism, usually bacteria, that has been demonstrated through research to benefit human health. They occur naturally in products like yogurt and kefir and they can also be bought in supplement form. But unless a specific microorganism has been shown to do something health-promoting, there’s really no way to know if it’s doing much of anything, says Duker Freuman. “There’s minimal evidence to suggest that the average person would benefit from taking probiotics,” Duker Freuman says. Apple cider vinegar would fall into this category of bacteria-containing foods that probably won’t do much for otherwise healthy people. The research that has shown probiotics to be promising for health typically are looking at a specific bacteria and a population with a specific condition, explains Duker Freuman, like studies of how a certain bacteria affects ulcerative colitis patients and others about how specific probiotic mixtures have been found to help patients with the gut infection Clostridium difficile, or C. diff.

Duker Freuman’s bottom line about ACV is that it probably isn’t harmful and it’s also unlikely to promote gut health. The only people she says should steer clear of it entirely is anyone with acid reflux or acid damage to their esophagus from acid reflux.

3. Apple cider vinegar doesn’t “detoxify” you.

“I’ve heard a lot about how apple cider vinegar ‘detoxifies’ you,” says Langer, who explains that it’s simply not true. In fact, the body is basically built to “cleanse” itself. Your body does a clutch job of detoxing all on its own—that’s precisely what your liver, kidneys, and intestines are for. They work together to eliminate toxins and waste from your body in the form of urine and feces, while also helping your body absorb the beneficial nutrients from whatever you eat. “Despite what you may read, there’s nothing magical about apple cider vinegar,” says Langer.

4. It should not be used as an appetite suppressant.

While some research has proposed that the acetic acid in ACV may suppress the appetite and other research has shown acetic acid consumption to suppress body fat accumulation in mice, we so far lack any strong evidence that ACV is an effective appetite suppressant.

But perhaps more important than the fact that ACV hasn’t been reliably shown to suppress appetite is the fact that cutting calories and undereating are not winning strategies for weight loss and are likely to leave you feeling hungry and deprived. Not to mention that restricting what you’re eating can set you up for a restrict-binge-restrict cycle as well as hamper your ability to think intuitively about food and eating. To suppress your appetite when you feel hungry is deny your body the nourishment it’s asking for. “It’s unhealthy psychologically,” Langer says.

“If you feel hunger at a time that’s unexpected, like between meals, an appetite suppressant isn’t the answer. The answer is to take a look at what you’re eating over all to see if it’s adequate in calories or volume, and also macronutrient-wise,” says Langer.

5. There’s a chance it could modestly lower blood glucose levels, but we don’t have solid evidence for that.

One 2013 study in Journal of Functional Foods suggests as much, noting that participants who ingested apple cider vinegar each day for 12 weeks had lower blood sugar. The issue is that the study was only conducted on 14 people, and they were all already predisposed to type 2 diabetes.

“Because studies are typically done on certain subsets of people, you can usually only make very specific conclusions based on the population that’s actually studied,” says Dr. Kahan. In other words, studies are a great way to learn about various subpopulations, but unless the research is large-scale and designed to apply to many groups, it doesn’t automatically tell you about the general population.

That’s not to say apple cider vinegar can’t help lower blood glucose levels, at least in the group studied. “It may have some effect in terms of decreasing the increase in blood sugar that happens after eating a carbohydrate in people who are prone to high blood sugar,” says Dr. Kahan, although the mechanism behind this isn’t totally clear. “Vinegar is an acid that changes the pH of food, which can affect how quickly something is metabolized and absorbed,” he says. “It could also affect the enzymes that are responsible for metabolizing and absorbing the nutrients of different foods.”

Until something has been rigorously studied, trusted experts refrain from developing any clinical guidelines about its use for health. In short, no one should be taking their health advice from the results of one very small study.

6. You shouldn’t drink too much of it.

Even though the vast health claims are dubious, that doesn’t automatically mean you can’t drink apple cider vinegar. “Lack of scientific evidence doesn’t mean that it’s dangerous or won’t make you feel healthier,” says Langer. If you’re going to incorporate it into your diet, it’s all about how you do it.

Langer recommends never going over two tablespoons a day, and Dr. Kahan agrees that overdoing it could have negative health effects. Beyond exacerbating the stomach irritation issue, too much acidity can wear away at your tooth enamel and even harm your esophagus, he says. He also suggests eating before you drink anything with apple cider vinegar mixed in so that stomach irritation is less likely.

“Vinegar is a strong acid,” he says. “Like with a lot of other ‘magic’ pills, potions, and foods, you want to be careful about having too much.”

7. It hasn’t been proven to control high blood pressure.

Just because acetic acid was shown to reduce blood pressure in rats, it doesn’t mean it will have similar effects on humans. Again, until this is studied more rigorously and thoroughly, there’s not enough evidence to show that consuming ACV will lower blood pressure.

8. It can cause nausea in some people.

While drinking ACV diluted in water can be “health neutral” for lots of people, it can make others nauseated, says Duker Freuman. If you have a sensitive stomach or other gastrointestinal woes, ACV might not be for you. In fact, going back to the idea that ACV could be an appetite suppressant, a 2014 study in the International Journal of Obesity found that feelings of suppressed appetite after ingesting ACV were due to the nausea subjects felt after ingesting it.

9. ACV doesn’t interact well with certain medications.

You should definitely talk to a doctor if you take insulin or diuretics and are interested in drinking ACV.

10. There hasn’t been enough good research on ACV to determine whether it has other health-related uses.

Although it’s touted as a supplement for acne, hiccups, allergies, and more, as a 2017 article noted, in Natural Product Research notes, “more in vitro and in vivo validations are necessary in order to precisely weigh the pros and cons of ACV.” Reshmi Srinath, M.D., assistant professor in the Mt. Sinai division of endocrinology, diabetes, and bone disease, and director of the Mount Sinai Weight and Metabolism Management Program, tells SELF that while there have been small, non-controlled studies suggesting that apple cider vinegar may be beneficial in some ways, “there’s not enough clinical data to support its use to the general public.”

15 Lower Ab Exercises for Women That Will Set Your Core on Fire | SELF

There are endless ways to work your abs, but lower abs workouts and exercises are usually the hardest to come by. The upper abs and obliques tend to get all the love from many popular exercises, while the lower abs are notoriously harder to target.

For the record, we technically don’t have separate “upper abs” and “lower abs.” When people refer to either, they’re actually talking about just different areas of the rectus abdominis, the muscle that runs vertically from your sternum to your pelvis on each side of your abdomen. It’s what you think of when you picture six-pack abs. But it is possible to primarily activate one part of the rectus abdominis—say, the lower part—while the upper section mostly chills out. The movement you’re doing will determine which portion of the muscle (and the rest of your core, for that matter) are involved and whether you’re getting more of a lower abs workout or upper abs workout.

It’s important to work all of your core muscles, including targeting the lower section of the rectus abdominis. If one portion of your core is weak, this can cause other areas to become overactive as they try take on more of the work, Jason Loebig, an NASM-certified personal trainer and the founder of Live Better, tells SELF. Your hips and lower back are particularly vulnerable to taking over, and ultimately becoming strained, especially if you spend a good part of your sitting down.

“As a result of sitting with poor posture for lengthy periods of time, the hip flexors and lower back may suffer,” says Loebig. “A strong core, specifically the ability to maintain a small amount of tension in the abs while sitting, helps to relieve tight hips and lower back pain by keeping the spine and pelvis in the correct posture position,” he says. So, even if you’ve got strong upper abs and obliques, strengthening your lower abs is important for making sure your core is putting in all the work it should.

To get familiar with where your lower abs are and how to engage them (along with the rest of your core, Loebig recommends a simple breathing exercise. “Start lying down on your back and take some deep breaths through the belly. If you put your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your belly, your left hand should be rising and falling. Each time you exhale, you want to engage your abs like you’re going to take a punch to the gut.”

This starts to warm up your core, so you can bring on the real work, no matter what type of abs exercises you’re doing. Here are some of the best lower abs exercises to get your whole core working more efficiently. Add a couple into your regular workout, or string four to five together to create your own custom lower abs workout.

Demoing the move below are Cookie Janee, a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; Amanda Wheeler, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-founder of Formation Strength, an online women’s training group that serves the LGBTQ community and allies; and Crystal Williams, a group fitness instructor and trainer who teaches at residential and commercial gyms across New York City.

How Often Should You Work Out? The Perfect Weekly Workout Routine

We all go into workouts with our own set of goals and expectations, and most of us have wondered how often you should work out. Maybe you run for the mental health benefits. Maybe you lift for the gainz. Maybe you love the serenity of yoga and the aggression of boxing. It’s great to hone in on your “why” to motivate you to get up, lace up your sneaks, and get to sweating. But what about the “how”? How often should you work out? And what should you do each time? For how long? Going in with a game plan is crucial. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “how many days a week should I work out?,” you’re probably ready for some answers.

That’s why we tapped Noam Tamir, CSCS, founder of TS Fitness, to help lay it all out for you.

How often should you work out each week?

As you can imagine, there’s no simple formula that’s right for everyone. So if you’re wondering, “how many days a week should I work out?,” that answer might be totally different than, say, your BFF or your coworker. (Come on, you didn’t really think the answer would be that easy, did you?) If you’re looking to amp up your fitness level, your magic number of days depends on how active you already are. For example, you’ll probably see results from one day a week if you don’t already work out at all, Tamir says. But if you’re used to multiple workout days a week, one day probably won’t challenge your body enough to stay at peak form or make progress.

The breakdown varies depending on your specific goals, but in general, four to five days a week will do the trick if you’re aiming to improve your fitness and stay in shape.

What should each day of working out look like?

If you want to work out five days per week and are working on both strength and cardiovascular fitness, try three days of strength training, two days of cardio, and two days of active rest. If you only want to work out four days a week, think about your goals: If you want to add muscle, cut a cardio day. If you want to improve endurance, skip a strength day. Or, switch it each week, says Tamir.

Remember, it’s important to be realistic about your own schedule when you’re asking yourself, “how many times a week should I work out?” If four days makes more sense for you than five days, do that. But if five days is reasonable, great!

Either way, here’s how (and when, and why) to crush it at each one.

Strength Training: 2–3 Times per Week

Corey Towers

Why: “The more muscle you have the higher your metabolic rate. It also strengthens joints and bones,” he adds.

How: To build muscle mass, you should try to work each muscle group two to three times a week, says Tamir. So in a two- to three-day strength plan, this means you should aim to do full-body workouts—you’ll want to hit the major muscle groups of your upper and lower body, including your glutes, quads, hamstrings, chest, shoulders, back, arms, and core. That might sound like a lot, but that’s where compound exercises come in. Moves like squats, lunges, and bicep curls-to-overhead presses work more than one muscle group at a time, so you get more bang for your buck. Compound exercises also work your core, so while you can throw in some abs work at the end of a sweat session, you’ll also be working your core with every squat (which also works your glutes, hammies, and quads).

You also want to have a balance between pushing and pulling movements. So, for example, a pushing movement would be a chest press, and a pulling movement would be a row. You should do different moves in each of the three strength sessions, but repeat those same moves every week.

“I would stay with a program for four to six weeks and progressively increase the weight,” says Tamir. “[The week before your last week], I would have a little bit of a drop-off, to give your body a little bit of a recovery, and the last week really push it hard.” Don’t feel like you have to go hard on the machines: strength training can also incorporate bodyweight moves (like squats), dumbbells, kettlebells, TRX suspension trainers, and more.

There are also strength training classes available at many gyms and studios: Think TRX classes, CrossFit, and bootcamp-style sessions (like Barry’s Bootcamp or Orangetheory, which also incorporate cardio). Challenging barre and reformer Pilates classes can also work your muscles like you wouldn’t believe—while these kinds of classes range in intensity (and some are more restorative than others), chances are, there are some in your area that’ll seriously put those muscles to the test.

Related: 6 Essential Weight Lifting Moves for Beginners

How Long: A strength-training session should last 45 to 60 minutes, plus foam rolling and at least a quick warm-up beforehand.

Bonus Tip: Strength training is also where you can improve other elements of your fitness. “Flexibility work can be incorporated in the warm-up and during the exercises to make sure you are completing the full range of the movement,” says Tamir. You can work on coordination during the warm-up with nonlinear movements and patterns like crawling. You can also improve balance (and engage your core!) by doing single-leg exercises.

Cardio: 2–3 Times per Week

Sumetee Theesungnern / EyeEm

Why: As important as it is to strength train, cardio has its place in a balanced workout routine too. “Doing cardio keeps your circulatory system working optimally helping you to recover faster…[and it] keeps your endurance up,” says Tamir. “It also increases your VO2 max, which helps your body utilize oxygen.” Check, check, and check.

How: You’ve got a ton of options: an outdoor jog, the good old elliptical machine, the list goes on. “Whether something is cardiovascular depends on where your heart rate is at and how long you’re doing it for,” says Tamir. Target heart rates are different for everyone, but Tamir suggests that a good baseline to aim for during your cardio routines is between 120 and 150 beats per minute for 45 to 60 minutes. (Learn more about target heart rates here.) “I’m a big fan of doing functional movements to keep my heart rate up,” says Tamir. For example, consider kettlebell swings. Often incorporated in strength training, they have their place in a cardio workout too—the key is trying to do more reps within a certain time span to keep that heart rate elevated. And you can improve your agility, while getting in some cardio, with moves used by ice skaters (or by adding an agility ladder).

There are also plenty of cardio classes out there you can drop in on (many of which will work your muscles a bit, too). Heart-pumping examples include indoor cycling, kickboxing, HIIT classes, dance cardio, treadmill classes, rowing classes, and more.

How Long: The American College of Sports Medicine recommends logging 150 minutes of moderate-to-intense activity per week. How you split that up will depend on what type of training you’re doing (longer, steady-state sessions vs. shorter HIIT workouts).

Bonus Tip: Another option is interval training, which “helps you burn more calories in the same time as steady state,” says Tamir. He likes doing 20 seconds of hard work followed by 40 seconds of active recovery for 45 to 60 minutes. The best part? You can do this with pretty much anything—indoor row machine, bike, treadmill, functional movements, you name it.

Related: 20-Minute Cardio Workout for People Who Hate Running

Rest Days: 2 Times per Week

artursfoto

Why: Taking a break lets your body recover and rebuild so you can get back to your workouts refreshed and ready to rock it. A rest day should actually be considered active recovery, meaning you don’t have to hit the gym or break a serious sweat, but you should do something. “It’s not just about the physical recovery—it’s also the mental,” says Tamir. “Doing something that you enjoy that’s active is great for the mind…and it assists in residual fatigue.” Plus, it keeps up your conditioning.

How: Whether you do some stretching or just take a walk, active recovery shouldn’t require a ton of effort like a workout day, but it should get you moving. You can also try a restorative class, like gentle yoga or a relaxed mat Pilates class.

How Long: Aim for 30–60 minutes.

Bonus Tip: Where you place these rest days is up to you—if you do your workouts Monday through Friday, feel free to take the whole weekend off, says Tamir. Or, you could break them up by doing a strength day, a cardio day, then a rest day before getting back to weight training. Although the order doesn’t really matter, Tamir recommends not working on strength two days in a row. “You want to give your body 48 hours to recover,” he says.

Of course, your perfect gym week may vary slightly based on your goals and your schedule, but it’s all about having good fitness habits.

“If you want results, you need to have a routine that you can stick with,” says Tamir. “I’ve seen so many people try to fit workouts in inconsistently, and it ends up being a waste of time.” So, while it’s great to have a baseline answer to the question, “how often should you work out?,” the most important thing is that it works for you. No matter what you do and when you do it, the goal should be to rock it, rest, repeat.

Increased risk of harm from cannabis across Europe

Cannabis resin and herbal cannabis have significantly increased in potency and in price, according to the first study to investigate changes in cannabis across Europe.

The study, published today (Sunday 30 December) in the journal Addiction by researchers from the University of Bath and King’s College London, draws on data collected from across 28 EU Member states, as well as Norway and Turkey by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

The findings show that for herbal cannabis, concentrations of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (‘THC’ — the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis) increased by a similar amount each year, from 5% in 2006 to 10% in 2016.

For cannabis resin (or hash), THC concentrations were relatively stable from 2006 to 2011 (from 8% to 10%) but then increased rapidly from 2011 to 2016 (from 10% to 17%). The price of cannabis resin also increased, but to a lesser extent than for herbal cannabis.

Lead author Dr Tom Freeman from the Addiction and Mental Health Group within the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, said: “These findings show that cannabis resin has changed rapidly across Europe, resulting in a more potent and better value product.”

Unlike herbal cannabis, cannabis resin typically contains cannabidiol (CBD) in addition to THC. CBD has recently attracted considerable interest due to its potential to treat several medical conditions including childhood epilepsy syndromes, psychosis and anxiety. When present in cannabis, CBD may offset some of the harmful effects of THC such as paranoia and memory impairment.

Cannabis containing higher levels of THC and / or lower levels of CBD has been linked to greater long-term harms such as the development of cannabis dependence, and an increased risk of psychotic illness. New resin production techniques in Morocco and Europe have increased levels of THC, but not CBD.

Dr Freeman added: “CBD has the potential to make cannabis safer, without limiting the positive effects users seek. What we are seeing in Europe is an increase in THC and either stable or decreasing levels of CBD, potentially making cannabis more harmful. These changes in the illicit market are largely hidden from scientific investigation and are difficult to target by policy-makers. An alternative option could be to attempt to control THC and CBD content through regulation.”

It is estimated that 24 million people (or 7.2%) of European adults used cannabis in the last year. Across the globe 192 million people use the drug in a variety of markets, ranging from heavily sanctioned prohibition to commercialised legal sale. Cannabis policies are rapidly changing across the globe.

Recreational use is now legalised in Canada and several US states, and medical use is permitted in many more countries, including very recently in the UK.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Bath. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

14 Benefits of Female Masturbation and Why Every Woman Should Do It

It’s kind of wild that female masturbation is still something of a taboo topic. This is especially galling when you take the benefits of female masturbation into account. It would be one thing if masturbation were just this thing you do without any potential payoff, but in reality, masturbation—and the orgasms it may cause—can bring a lot of good into your life. These benefits aren’t even just limited to your sexual health.

“I recommend [masturbation] to the women I [treat],” says Kelley Kitely, L.C.S.W., a women’s mental health expert based in Chicago, tells SELF. “But a lot of women are embarrassed by it. My hope is that we can normalize it for women, too, because it’s such a natural function,” Kitely says. “I like to refer to it [on the same level of importance] as eating, sleeping, and brushing our teeth.” Sign us up.

Although there’s not a wealth of science on the subject (can researchers pursue that a little more fervently, please?), many experts believe masturbation can improve your wellbeing in various ways. As a bonus, if you go with the most basic version, “masturbation is safe, easy, and free,” Wendie Trubow, M.D., president of Five Journeys Integrative Medicine, tells SELF.
Still not enough to sell you? Read on for why you should go ahead and get off. Whether you’re a master-bator, or a self-love newbie, think of this as a primer or reminder of why you should touch yourself, bust out a toy, or otherwise go after it in the way that delights you most. As Dr. Trubow tells SELF, how you do it is “really a matter of personal preference.” But we’d argue that it’s a matter of personal care that you do it at all.

Before we dive into our rationale, a quick note on terminology: We understand that you don’t need organs like a uterus or vagina to be a woman. In this article, we’re using terms such as “female masturbation” to represent the act in people with vaginas in accordance with the science on the subject—but many of these benefits are in effect no matter your gender or sexual and reproductive organs.

OK, now for the benefits:

1. The focus necessary to orgasm can help push stress from your mind.

Picture the most mind-blowing orgasm—or even the most incredible non-orgasmic sexual experience you’ve ever had. Chances are it probably didn’t happen while you were fretting about a big work presentation or mentally running through your endless to-do list.

Getting to orgasm often requires putting any stressful thoughts out of your mind, then the wave of pleasure compounds that effect. Orgasm “shifts the focus” away from anything that is stressing you out, says Kitely. While we can’t present you with a landmark piece of science backing this up, just think about how stress often recedes when you throw yourself into something you really enjoy. It’s basically the same situation here.

Since we’d be remiss not to mention that some people have a hard time achieving orgasm and that orgasm isn’t a necessary part of a fulfilling experience, let’s be really clear here: Any kind of sexual pleasure, orgasmic or not, may help take your mind off the stressful realities of day-to-day life. Even if it’s temporary, that’s still a win!

2. An orgasm-induced endorphin release can also help with stress relief and put you in a great mood.

So, here’s part two of masturbation’s stress-relieving powers: Having an orgasm releases endorphins that can help quell stress, at least temporarily, Dr. Trubow tells SELF.

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that can bring about positive feelings. To be fair, there aren’t scientifically solid major studies that show a clear link between masturbation, endorphin release, and positive feelings. However, it is a generally accepted medical fact that physical activity helps to increase your endorphins, according to the Mayo Clinic. What is masturbation if not an incredibly pleasurable form of physical activity? Think about the moment after you’ve had an orgasm: You’re all like “V is for victory,” right? (Right before you sigh, smile, and take a nap, which we’ll get to in just a second.)

FYI, those endorphins are like the ones you get from a great workout, says Kitely, so that runner’s high now becomes your orgasm high. This means that perhaps there’s something to the idea, then, that masturbating before heading into the office can leave you with a clearer head, just like exercise can. Some people have even reported having more energy post-masturbation orgasm, says Kitely, just as people can experience an increase in energy after exercise. All good things.

3. Having an orgasm could also make you really tired, potentially helping you to fall asleep.

Let’s chat about what happens as you work your way toward orgasm. This process is part of what is known as the sexual response cycle, and going through it is a major reason why orgasmic release feels so great.

As you masturbate or have sex, your body cycles through different stages that come with very real physiological changes. For instance, in desire, the first phase, your heart and breathing rates start climbing, and your clitoris becomes engorged with blood so you actually have a little erection, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Your muscles get all tense, too, in preparation for release. These kinds of changes ramp up as you approach orgasm.

When you reach orgasm, then, you unleash all that pent-up energy and tension. Your muscles spasm. Your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing are at their highest, most frenetic rates, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Is it any wonder that all of this can be exhausting, and in the post-orgasm resolution phase, you may experience some fatigue?

It’s not just that all this work and release can be tiring. One theory holds that orgasm (whether through masturbation or sex) appears to prompt the release of more prolactin, a hormone that is linked with sexual satiety and is also implicated in sleep.

Obviously, it’s not like an orgasm is a failsafe sleep aid, especially if you have sleep issues like insomnia. But for some people, the relaxation masturbation provides can be a great way to get really tired really quickly (or really slowly, depending on how you go about your masturbatory business). “It’s great to do right before bed, in the bath, or during other relaxing nighttime rituals,” Kitely tells SELF. “It naturally just puts people in a meditative state,” she says.

4. Exploring what gets you off the best can help you feel more self-assured in your sexuality.

There’s some outdated yet still pervasive cultural stigmatization when it comes to female masturbation. This can translate into people with vaginas often feeling ashamed of their own bodies and sexuality, Kitely says. A huge benefit of female masturbation comes down to doing away with that shame. One of the most enduring, immutable facts about human nature is that we’re sexual beings. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s wonderful.

“I really believe firmly in [masturbation] building confidence and self-esteem for women and knowing their own bodies and what they like,” Kitely says. Masturbation is one of the best ways to learn about your sexuality, help you understand what your preferences are, and learn how best to reach orgasm] if that’s something your body can do. And when you’re consistently, perhaps quite literally tapping into this really special part of yourself, you’re probably feeling pretty, pretty good. (Yes, that’s Larry David you hear saying that in the back of your mind.)

5. It may help increase your libido. (Yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too.)

This is the best kind of vicious cycle, in that it’s not really vicious at all.

Dr. Trubow explains it as a “feed-forward” mechanism, which means that the more one stimulates oneself, the more one wants to be stimulated. This is another benefit of female masturbation that really comes down to human nature: When you experience a little bit of something that’s amazingly pleasurable, whether it’s a delectable piece of carrot cake or a delightful orgasm, you’re probably going to want more of that good stuff.

This would be awesome no matter what, but there’s one reason why it’s particularly great: Many people with vaginas deal with low libido at some point. There’s a vast range of potential causes, including depression, pain during sex, drinking too much alcohol, chronic illness, and fatigue, according to the Mayo Clinic. No matter the source, it can be awful to feel like you’re losing touch with the sexual part of yourself. That’s where masturbation comes in for some people.

“A woman who is looking to get back into being sexual is encouraged to masturbate since it can lead to more sexual thoughts and better sexual response,” says Dr. Trubow.

With that said, sometimes masturbation isn’t enough to boost a low libido. You definitely shouldn’t feel like you’re failing in any way if this is your experience. All it means is that you may benefit from seeing a medical professional who can get to the root of your low libido and offer potential ways to treat the issue.

6. If you’re in a relationship, masturbation may make you more interested in having sex with your partner.

This comes from the same feed-forward mechanism Dr. Trubow explains above: Once you feed your libido, it often desires more. That might translate into even more masturbation, in which case, go you. And, if you have a partner, it can also mean more sex with them. It’s not just about quantity—the quality might go up thanks to your masturbation, too.

So, real talk for a sec: Masturbation did help my relationship. By heightening my own sexual awareness, I’m more conscious of what I like and can direct my husband to those specific spots or feelings. Figuring out what you like with a partner is special. But feeling the freedom to explore your sexual likes and dislikes on your own—then bringing that into your relationship—is another way of creating an overall greater sex life together.

More sex in a relationship is often a totally welcome and exciting development. The only exception is if masturbation is actually getting in the way of connecting with your partner, Kitely says. It’s one thing if you happen to masturbate more than you have sex with your partner and you’re both perfectly happy with that. But if you find that your masturbatory habits are disrupting your relationship or life in some way, seeing a sex therapist might be a great idea. Here’s how to find one.

7. You can give your heart a bit of a workout if you really get active.

To be clear, we’re not saying masturbation is enough of a workout that it can replace your usual exercise sessions. But remember how we talked about the sexual response cycle, and specifically how it involves an increase in your heart and breathing rate? It stands to reason that if you have a really long, intense bout of masturbation, you may get your heart rate up significantly enough to give it a workout.

Unfortunately, science hasn’t yet delivered a final verdict on how much of a heart workout masturbation, sex, and orgasms really offer. But, according to the experts, over time masturbation may be able to at least slightly contribute to improved cardiovascular health and endurance. “The power [of] this depends on how vigorously a woman is masturbating,” Dr. Trubow says. “If she can sustain her heart rate and work up a sweat, then it’s great for cardiovascular health!”

8. You can also give your pelvic floor a workout while you masturbate.

It’s pretty hard to talk about the benefits of female masturbation without discussing the pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles that support crucial internal organs like your bladder and uterus, according to the Mayo Clinic. Having a strong pelvic floor is important because it can help you avoid or lessen issues like leaking pee when you sneeze, laugh, or cough. (This kind of thing can happen after you have a baby, for instance.)

The cool thing about having a pelvic floor is that it’s really just like other muscles in your body—it responds to strengthening exercises. In this case, these strengthening exercises are known as Kegels. The first step in doing Kegels is identifying your pelvic floor muscles, which you can do by stopping your stream of pee (or pretending you’re doing that even if you’re not peeing). Feel that kind of internal clench? Those are your pelvic floor muscles at work.

There are different Kegel workout regimens, like squeezing and holding the muscles for five seconds, then releasing, and doing 15 reps of that sequence three times over. But you can also work out your Kegels while you masturbate with toys like small, weighty Ben Wa balls you insert inside your vagina. As a bonus, a stronger pelvic floor may translate into stronger orgasms, too.

9. You might give your butt and inner thighs a mini-workout.

It would be pretty cool to see masturbation-induced gains at the gym, right? OK, let’s start with the (slightly) bad news first. Not to be too much of a downer, but just like masturbating isn’t going to work your heart the same way a cycling class would, it’s probably not going to give your thighs and glutes any kind of major strengthening benefits.

However, that doesn’t mean masturbation won’t do anything at all in this arena. Thanks to your sexual response cycle, your muscles do tense up and spasm as you get sexually excited and achieve orgasm (whether through masturbation or sex). So, the end result is that you probably naturally engage muscles in areas like your inner thighs and butt as you work to get off. There are few things better than finding a form of exercise that barely feels like exercise at all, which is just another reason why masturbation can be such a blessing.

10. Masturbating increases blood flow to the vagina, which may help counteract menopause’s uncomfortable effects on the area.

You’re probably already aware of some characteristic menopause symptoms, like hot flashes. But did you know that menopause can affect your vagina, too?

According to the Mayo Clinic, menopause happens when your ovaries start producing a low enough level of hormones like estrogen and progesterone that you no longer have a menstrual cycle. You officially enter menopause when you’ve gone a full year without a period, which typically happens in a person’s 40s or 50s in the United States. (The average age is 51, the Mayo Clinic notes.) Things like having a hysterectomy or undergoing cancer treatment such as chemotherapy can put a person into menopause earlier than this.

In addition to regulating your menstrual cycle, estrogen helps to promote vaginal lubrication, the Mayo Clinic says. So, when this hormone is dropping in the months and years leading up to menopause (perimenopause) and during menopause itself, you can deal with a phenomenon known as vaginal atrophy, which essentially means your vagina might be much drier than usual, leading to discomfort (especially during penetrative sex and masturbation).

There are various treatments for this, including vaginal lubricants and moisturizers, the Mayo Clinic says. But the organization also mentions the fact that staying sexually active can help because it increases blood flow to the vagina, prompting more lubrication. Whether you incorporate that sexual activity through masturbation or with a partner (or both), it may help relieve some vaginal discomfort.

Dr. Trubow also specifically recommends that perimenopausal and menopausal people try masturbating with internal toys such as dildos to “maintain vaginal resiliency.” “[These toys] can train the vaginal muscles to expand and maintain elasticity,” Dr. Trubow says.

With that said, you don’t need to try this technique if it’s uncomfortable for you. If you’re dealing with symptoms like vaginal dryness and discomfort, talk to your doctor to make sure you land on the most effective treatment plan possible.

11. Masturbating can help relieve menstrual cramps, too.

If you get cramps when you get your period, you might not want to move at all, much less put in the effort required to have an orgasm. But it may actually be able to help lessen those cramps, at least in the short-term.

Quick biology refresher: When you have your period, it means your uterus is sloughing off any endometrial lining it’s built up to support a potential pregnancy. It would be super helpful if your uterus could do this without bothering you at all, but sometimes it results in pain. You can thank prostaglandins for that.

Prostaglandins are hormone-like chemicals that prompt your uterus—which is a muscle, FYI—to contract in order to expel that unnecessary lining. Voilà: Now you have cramps. And, while it may feel like masturbation is no match here, we’ve got one word for you: endorphins. Those feel-good neurotransmitters don’t only help relieve stress, they actually seem able to relieve pain, too. This can result in your cramps dwindling, perhaps even significantly if you’re lucky. (Tried it. It works for me.)
The major caveat here is that sometimes these endorphins aren’t going to be a match for period pain, no matter how strong the orgasm. If you have period cramps that are painful enough to really interrupt your life, don’t leave this one up to masturbation—see your doctor for help.

12. You can experiment with having multiple orgasms.

This huge benefit of female masturbation is a real reward for all your hard work. Here’s the deal: If you have one orgasm, you can probably have another one again—and soon. Dear reader, welcome to the incredible world of multiple orgasms.

Let’s return to that sexual response cycle for a second. Once your orgasm is over, your body basically returns to normal functioning. Your heart rate and breathing decline, your vagina and breasts come down from their heightened swollen state, your brain can produce coherent thoughts again—you get the gist. At this point, you can go about whatever else is on your agenda for the day. Or, if you want, you can go after another orgasm again pretty much immediately.

It’s much easier for people with vaginas to have multiple orgasms because there’s no need for a refractory period, which is the recovery time people with penises need before they can reach orgasm again, the Cleveland Clinic explains. Depending on how your specific body works, you might want a little break anyway if your genitals are feeling overly sensitive. But overall, having a vagina means you can get back on the orgasmic horse much more quickly than if you had a penis.

13. Sexual activity—including masturbation—is associated with better cognition as you age.

You might feel like your brain and vagina are two completely separate entities, but they may be more connected than you think. Some research shows that sexual activity, masturbation included, is linked with better cognition in aging adults.

For instance, a 2017 study in The Journals of Gerontology studied 73 people between the ages of 50 and 83 who participated in a range of sexual activities (including masturbation) at varying frequencies. The study authors found that more frequent sexual activity was associated with higher scores on cognitive tests that evaluated thing like memory and verbal fluency.

These study results backed up a similar study from 2016, this one published in Age and Ageing. This earlier study was much larger, examining 6,833 adults from the ages of 50 to 89 who participated in various forms and frequencies of sexual activity, including masturbation. The study authors found that, overall, sexual activity was associated with a “modest benefit” in various aspects of cognitive function in older adults, specifically between sexual activity and memory recall in older women.

Experts aren’t yet sure why this connection may exist, but they posit that neurotransmitters like dopamine, which is involved in sexual activity, may offer a protective benefit for the brain.

None of this is to say that masturbation is the key to keeping your brain sharp no matter your age, or even that it’s certain to directly benefit your brain health for the time being. But what scientists have found so far here is pretty cool.

14. And, perhaps amazingly, some experts believe masturbating can even temporarily strengthen your immune system.

OK, stay with us here. This is by no means concluding that masturbating is going to make your immunity skyrocket. Sometimes things like the common cold are just going to get you no matter how much very happy time you spend playing with yourself in bed or wherever else strikes your fancy.

But there may be something to the idea that good sexual health can translate into good overall health. One admittedly tiny study (again, science, more attention on this subject, please!) supports this notion. A piece of 2003 research in NeuroImmunoModulation recruited 11 very game volunteers who agreed to abstain from sex for 24 hours, watch pornography, then masturbate until orgasm. There was also a control session that involved watching a documentary and not masturbating at all.

The researchers found that five minutes post-orgasm, the study subjects had an increased level of certain types of lymphocytes (white blood cells that help your immune system fend off illness). The scientists concluded that specific components of the immune system appear to activate with sexual arousal and orgasm.

Is one 11-person study enough to say that you should definitely masturbate because it will absolutely make you less likely to get sick? Nope. But think about this: Your immune system is at its best when you’re engaging in a variety of healthy lifestyle habits such as getting enough sleep and reducing stress as much as you can. As you now know, masturbation can help you succeed in these areas—so, in some senses, it really may make you healthier overall.

Additional Reporting by Zahra Barnes

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Dry January Can Be Amazing For Your Health, If Done The Right Way

Dry January, aka ditching alcohol in the first month of the new year, is an annual tradition for many people. For some, it’s part of a New Year’s resolution to drink less, while others claim it’s a way to “detox” from excessive drinking over the holidays—but all swear that it’s going to do beneficial things for their health.

At SELF, we’re not usually fans of fad diets or gimmicky health changes that may not be sustainable for the long haul. That’s because any type of deprivation with an expiration date tends to not have a lot of benefits once it’s over. Even if you reap some benefits in the short-term, you might end up overindulging once you reach your goal.

But, as far as wellness trends go, dry January seems pretty harmless—in fact, it could actually do really great things for your health—if you approach it the right way.

First, come up with your “why.”

Before you commit to dry January, it’s important to consider why you’re doing it. There’s obviously nothing wrong with abstaining from or limiting your alcohol intake. Excessive drinking and binge drinking can lead to several negative health effects, including weight gain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., tells SELF. “Excessive drinking also impairs your sleeping patterns and increases the risk for certain diseases, including breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and liver problems,” she says.

But taking a one-month hiatus from drinking won’t necessarily turn back the clock—nor will it make it acceptable to drink as much as you want the rest of the year. So it’s important to consider why you’re taking a break from drinking this month.

Next, consider how much you’re actually drinking these days.

In most cases, the benefits of Dry January will depend on what your baseline drinking behaviors are, George F. Koob, Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), tells SELF. Someone who drinks occasionally probably won’t notice as much of a difference as someone who has four or five drinks in one night—several nights a week. So, for our intents and purposes, let’s assume we’re talking about someone who drinks more than what’s considered “moderate,” which actually depends on who’s defining “moderate.”

The USDA Dietary Guidelines defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women, while the NIAAA defines low-risk drinking as no more than seven drinks per week for women, or no more than three drinks on any single day. So if you’re drinking a lot more than that, keep in mind that this transition may be a bit harder for you than someone else.

You should also be careful—and possibly give your doctor a heads up—before abruptly stopping drinking if you’ve been drinking a lot, as you may experience withdrawal symptoms. “Most people are going to think of it like a hangover but if you have a predisposition to seizures or you’re on seizure medication, abruptly stopping alcohol could trigger a seizure,” says Koob.

So what health benefits can you reasonably expect from dry January?

1. You might lose some weight.

If you’re having several drinks a week, one of the main benefits of dry January could be a decrease in your overall calories, since a standard drink typically has around 150 calories, says Koob. If you’re trying to lose weight, cutting alcohol is one way to do it without compromising any of the fuel and nutrients your body needs.

“Alcohol contributes calories but doesn’t make us feel more satisfied—it often amps up hunger,” New York-based registered dietitian Jessica Cording tells SELF. Since alcohol has a dehydrating effect, it can also contribute to bloating, she says, noting that its ability to impair your judgment may also lead you to make poor food choices that can contribute to weight gain.

2. You could see how your body feels without booze.

“The biggest benefit is learning where your body is in relation to alcohol and what you want your relationship with it to be,” says Koob. If, for instance, you’ve been feeling not your best lately and you suspect that your regular (or excessive) drinking habits might be contributing to that, it could be helpful to see how you’re feeling (mentally, physically, socially, etc.) when you don’t have booze for a month.

“For some people, it can be a great way to hit the reset button and get their systems back on track,” says Cording. Dr. Wider agrees, telling SELF that “it’s not a bad idea, especially if you are trying to cut down on your drinking.”

3. You might sleep better and feel more energized.

“It may help you feel more clear-headed and experience better sleep along with regular digestion,” Cording says. “This can help you feel more energetic and stay motivated to get in your workouts and stick to overall healthy eating habits.”

And the sheer fact that you’re not going out drinking most nights can lead to sleeping more and skipping fewer workouts. All of that can impact how productive you are, how focused you are at work, and how you feel overall, says Koob.

4. Your immune system may be in better shape.

When it comes to your immune system, the snowball effect of positive health habits may be more influential than just abstaining from alcohol. According to Koob, being intoxicated can acutely suppress immune function making you more vulnerable to pathogens, while chronic drinking can lead to inflammatory reactions throughout the body. While there isn’t data to suggest that ditching booze can protect you from the flu, it’s reasonable to assume that drinking less, sleeping more, and exercising more can all have a positive influence on your immune system.

5. Your general health may improve.

As we mentioned, excessive drinking can lead to things like weight gain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, all of which can increase your risk of developing serious health conditions. So, even though abstaining for one month won’t turn back the clock, it likely couldn’t hurt as far as your health is concerned.

While we don’t know exactly what effect dry January will have on your liver, we do know that alcohol puts metabolic stress on the liver and that about half of all liver disease deaths are from alcoholic liver disease, says Koob. So it’s reasonable to assume that abstaining from drinking is generally good on your liver—as long as you don’t use this hiatus as an excuse to drink however much you want the other 11 months of the year.

6. You might reevaluate your relationship with alcohol.

Once Dry January is over, check in with yourself to see how the experiment went and what that might mean for your drinking habits going forward. Do you feel better? Healthier? More productive? Have you saved money? Do you really miss being able to chat with colleagues or a date over a beer? Maybe you’ve found that you’re more energized without all those hangovers, or you’re less anxious after a night of drinking. Or maybe you’ve found that you lost a few pounds, but you otherwise feel the same and just miss the social aspects of drinking with friends. All of these are helpful takeaways to consider after your experiment.

Bottom line: Dry January can have some great health benefits if you go about it the right way.

Obviously it doesn’t hurt to participate in Dry January, but you’ll reap the most health benefits if you think of it as a springboard to revisit your overall relationship with alcohol. Oh, and don’t forget that your tolerance to alcohol’s effects will often be lower after a month without drinking, Koob says, so be careful not to overdo it the first time you have a drink again.

Remember, ditching alcohol for a month and then resuming your usual drinking habits isn’t going to do much for your long-term health if you tend to overdo it. “This isn’t a great pattern: binge/abstain, binge/abstain,” Dr. Wider says. “Just like other substances, alcohol in excess has health consequences, regardless of whether you go dry for a month.” That’s why she says it’s better for your overall health to be a moderate drinker in general rather than going from one extreme to the other.

Cording agrees. “This is a great time to think about what a realistic amount of alcohol is for your lifestyle,” she says. “Think about how to fit it in in a way that feels balanced.”

“Learn from the experience,” says Koob. “What is your relationship with alcohol, and where do you want to be?”

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7 Ways to Look Flawless While Transitioning to Natural Hair

While the transition from relaxed to natural hair texture is usually a beautiful and empowering experience, it can often be a real struggle. Styling hair when it’s in-between textures—or straight, wavy, and/or curly at the same time—can make it tempting to disguise your hair in a top knot every single day of the week.

“When transitioning from relaxed to natural, retaining moisture and proper detangling is key,” says Monique Rodriguez, founder of hair brand Mielle Organics. “As your natural hair grows, you may experience a new challenge in caring for two different textures. Products designed to make your natural hair more manageable are best during this period.”

I’ve had plenty of moments in my personal journey where, after a wash and go, my hair has been super coily in certain sections, while simultaneously having straight ends in others. Needless to say, these moments can be extremely frustrating when you’re ready for your hair to finally have one cohesive texture. To find out how to best manage transitioning hair (without wanting to pull it out entirely), we spoke with a few natural hair gurus to get details on how to help your hair look and feel healthy in 2019 and beyond. These expert tips will help make your curls really pop.

1. Consider the “big chop”.

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Going all in on the “big chop”—or dramatically cutting off relaxed hair into a short style—is one of the fastest ways to start your natural hair journey, but it’s definitely not a requirement. “It’s not for everyone, but a big chop is very therapeutic and it naturally pushes you headfirst into self-acceptance and understanding your texture,” celebrity hairstylist Angela Stevens tells SELF.

If you’re interested in hanging on to your hair length for a little while longer, don’t feel pressure to chop it all off. During her transition process, celebrity hairstylist Monique McCorkle would snip her relaxed ends after each shampoo. “Every time I washed my hair, the dead ends would get all knotted up, so trimming my hair made it more manageable and cut down on my styling time,” she explains. For those who don’t feel as comfortable cutting their hair totally off, regular trims at a salon are a great option for keeping hair healthy and even while it grows. Stevens advises trimming hair every four to six weeks, because as curly strands grow, straight hair is often more prone to breakage at the meeting point.

2. Experiment with protective hairstyles.

Protective styles, like weaves, braids, and wigs, to are great tools to help protect new growth,” explains McCorkle. While it’s easy to pull your hair back every day, hairstylist Sammy LaCombe says these looks can thin out your hairline and damage your roots from all the tugging and excess force. Instead, try out different protective styles that put less tension on the hair, but still keep your ends tucked away.

“Braids and weaves are great protection when done with the health of the hair in mind,” says Stevens. “Here are some things to consider: Pain and hydration. At no point in the service should the styling be painful, although it is a common misconception that has allowed hair loss to prevail. If it’s too tight, speak up, or reconsider your hairstylist. It’s also very important to make sure the hair and scalp are moisturized prior to implementing a protective style. Brush through the hair with a paddle brush after oiling the scalp to evenly distribute the moisture on the hair that’s meant to be braided—it will help increase circulation, which helps to promote hair growth.” While protective styles can help give your hair a break, hairstylist Gabrielle Corney suggests wearing these styles in moderation, as more breakage could be caused between natural and relaxed parts of hair.

3. Disguise straight ends with a well-placed curl.

Even if you’re dealing with particularly straight ends, it’s still possible to wear a curly hairstyle while transitioning. A two-strand twist out or foam roller set can completely hide the appearance of relaxed hair by helping to make it more uniform. Bonus: Since foam hair curlers are cushy and narrow, they won’t tug at your hair like many plastic rollers can, and can be purchased at most drug or beauty supply stores. To get a curly look with foam rollers at home, wrap a one-inch section of conditioned damp hair around a rod at a time, then sit under a hood dryer until hair is completely dry. Next, gently remove the rollers to reveal a bouncy set of curls. LaCombe’s preferred curly style method is created with two-strand twists. “At night I’ll put my hair in thick twists, coil the twists into buns, and pin them,” she explains. “In the morning, I’ll take them out and shake them out.”

4. Try out new hair accessories.

Mireya Acierto/Getty Images

With the chill of winter months ahead, you’ll probably want to avoid going outside with a wet head. If you don’t have time to style your hair before heading to work in the morning, there are plenty of accessories—some made specifically for natural hair types—that you can use to illustrate your personal style. One versatile accessory is the head scarf or turban, which can be tied into a wide variety of different shapes to completely cover or accent your hair. Other quick and easy accessory ideas can include decorative headbands or barrettes for days when you want to keep hair out of your face, or spice up a second- or third-day hairstyle.

5. Make heat protectants your new BFF when using hot tools.

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When heat is used properly, it can be a wonderful aid for styling natural hair. Hairstylist and author Anthony Dickey recommends transitioning women use hooded dryers, hair dryers, and other hot tools on a low setting to better protect against heat damage. If you’re looking to completely straighten your hair while transitioning from a relaxer, a great heat protectant is key.

“Some natural hair lines that I love with heat protectants are Mielle Organics and Alodia,” says Stevens. “I usually like to use a thermal leave-in cream before blow drying, and a heat protectant spray throughout the hair before straightening. Lastly, one pass of a hot tool per section is the best protection against heat damage—don’t overdo it, ladies!”

6. Supplement your shampoo routine with co-washing.

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Co-washing is a process that utilizes a conditioner to hydrate and cleanse hair in place of shampoo. Using this method can help to not only reset your curly wash-and-go style, but also provide moisture outside of your go-to leave-in conditioner. Reserve use of a sudsy shampoo for about once every two weeks to help remove any product build-up from hair.

“The reason to love co-wash is that the cleanser is made of antimicrobial oils that still clean the hair but give it added moisture,” says Stevens. “Any style that’s heat-free will love the benefits of co-wash.” While this cleansing method can be useful to help keep hair hydrated, Corney says it should never take the place of a regular shampoo.

7. Schedule a consultation with a hairstylist who can help you transition properly.

George Doyle/Getty Images

Just like any other life experience, you may need a bit of professional help on your natural hair journey. Although there are some things you can do at home, utilizing the expertise of a stylist who understands natural hair can be a total game changer. “Seek the assistance of a professional cosmetologist who specializes in natural hair,” Rodriguez explains. “They can provide useful information on proper care for your hair texture and recommend at-home solutions in-between visits related to dryness, heat damage, dandruff, and more.”

Many salons offer hair consultations before the actual appointment to help better assess their clients’ needs. “From the first consultation alone, you will know whether or not the stylist understands your needs and will give you what you’re asking for,” says LaCombe. “If within that consultation, you feel like there’s a misunderstanding or they’re not going to do what you want to do, it’s not a good fit.”

Corney suggests that while the internet is vast and plenty of information available, it won’t cancel out the advice of a professional. “Seek out a qualified professional who wants to be your healthy hair care partner,” she explains. “You may be surprised on how much healthier your hair can be.”

Workout Calendar: SELF New Year’s Challenge 2019

Welcome to SELF’s New Year’s Challenge for 2019! Below you’ll find the official workout calendar—think of this as your complete schedule of events for every single workout you’ll be doing this month. Every strength workout in this challenge was designed exclusively for SELF by Alyssa Exposito, a top trainer based in New York City.

If you’ve done a challenge with SELF before, you might notice this one is a little different. Your strength workouts are all here, but your cardio workouts are up to you! Read all about how to schedule your cardio days, and get several suggested workout ideas right here. Each week you’ll have three strength workouts, two cardio workouts, and two rest or active rest days. You’ve also got several warm-up and cool-down options from which to choose. We’ll remind you of this every single day, but warm-ups and cool-downs are super important and help you lower your risk of hurting yourself. So don’t skip ’em!

Something else you’ll need: Make sure to download our workout PDF. You can use this handy calendar to pencil in your cardio workouts, check off each day of the challenge, and track your sleep each night. Why sleep? Because workouts are only a small part of the health equation. Other factors, like getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and managing your mental health can all contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

Another important thing: We are obviously big fans of fitness challenges around here (understatement of the century). But we want to be clear that our fitness challenges are not intended to lead to weight loss. There’s a lot of reasons for that: For starters, lots of evidence points to the fact that simply working out alone isn’t likely to help you lose weight. So… it won’t be effective in the first place. But more importantly, there are just so many wonderful reasons to work out that have absolutely nothing to do with your weight. Regular exercise can do amazing things for your cardiovascular health. For your strength. For your mental health and overall mood. For your sleep! And ultimately that’s what this challenge is all about: Helping you develop a fitness habit, and hopefully helping you build up some strength along the way. Just want to make sure we’re all on the same page about that before we get going. Cool? Cool.

And finally, we’ll leave you with this: It’s a good idea to check in with your healthcare practitioner before you get started with any changes in your fitness or exercise habits. And that’s especially true if you’re dealing with any underlying health conditions, which include a history of disordered eating. If you have any questions or concerns at all, definitely reach out to your doctor.

Now… let’s get to it! Happy working out!

Morgan Johnson

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4


Top image: Photographer: Catherine Servel at Brydges Mackinney. Hair: Tetsuya Yamakata at ArtList. Makeup: Seong Hee at Julian Watson Agency. Manicure: Julie Kandalec at Bryan Bantry. Stylist: Sara Van Pée at Quadriga. Model Mia Kang is wearing Carbon38 tank top, similar styles at carbon38.com; Athleta sports bra, similar styles at athleta.com.