20 People on the Beauty Product That Makes Them Feel Powerful

Sure, beauty products are great for dealing with things like dry skin or hair that just won’t do what you want. But they’re so much more than just solutions to problems. For many of us, our makeup, lotions, sprays, and scrubs help us unlock an inner strength; have you ever felt completely ready to take on the day after applying a favorite mascara, or expertly laying your edges?

For many of us, beauty routines are way more than skin deep; they’re life- and mood-changing. For me, filling in my brows isn’t just for vanity’s sake, it’s a major part of my daily self-care routine. After I’ve finished—even if they end up looking more like sisters than twins—I feel more confident and empowered to take on the day because I know that my brows are snatched. When I think my eyebrows look their best, I dare you to try and tell me anything.

Here, 20 people describe that one, holy-grail product—from makeup to fragrance and much more—that helps energize them day in and day out, and gives them a little extra firepower.

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Metformin may help patients maintain weight loss long-term

In the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) clinical trial and its long-term follow-up study, among the persons who lost at least 5 percent of their body weight during the first year, long-term maintenance of weight loss was more likely if they had been assigned to treatment with metformin than with placebo or lifestyle intervention. Being older and losing a greater amount of weight in the first year were the most consistent predictors of lasting weight loss. Findings from a cohort study are published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Weight loss plays a central role in efforts to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. As such, identifying good predictors of long-term weight loss could lead to improved weight management. The DPP was a randomized controlled trial that compared weight loss and diabetes prevention with metformin, intensive lifestyle intervention (ILS), or placebo among more than 3,000 participants with prediabetes, and its Outcomes Study (DPPOS) observed patients after the masked treatment phase ended. The DPP/DPPOS is the largest and longest-running study of metformin for prevention of diabetes.

After the first year, twice as many participants in the ILS group versus the metformin group lost at least 5 percent of their body weight. However, those who were assigned to the metformin group had greater success at maintaining their weight loss between years 6 and 15, while patients were still being followed. The researchers noted that greater weight loss at one year predicted long-term weight loss across all groups. Early weight loss was also important with regard to diabetes incidence. The researchers found that cumulative diabetes incidence rates over 15 years were lower among those who lost at least 5 percent of their weight in the first year.

According to the study authors, future research should focus on whether metformin could be a useful intervention for weight loss maintenance after initial weight loss with lifestyle interventions, antiobesity drugs or devices, or bariatric surgery.

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Materials provided by American College of Physicians. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Walking Pneumonia: What Does It Mean?

What is walking pneumonia? How is it different from regular pneumonia?

Answer From Eric J. Olson, M.D.

Walking pneumonia is an informal term for pneumonia that isn’t severe enough to require bed rest or hospitalization. You may feel like you have a cold. The symptoms are generally so mild that you don’t feel you need to stay home from work or school, so you are out walking around.

Chances are you won’t see a doctor for your mild symptoms. If you do see a doctor, you may not seem sick enough to need a chest X-ray, which is the way to diagnose any kind of pneumonia.

Walking pneumonia is often caused by a type of bacterium that produces milder symptoms that come on more gradually than do those of other types of pneumonia. The illness often is brought home by young children who contract it at school. Family members of infected children typically begin having symptoms two or three weeks later. This kind of pneumonia can be treated with an antibiotic.

Updated: 2016-11-10

Publication Date: 2016-11-10

A deep learning tool for personalized workout recommendations from fitness tracking data

Computer scientists at the University of California San Diego have developed FitRec, a recommendation tool powered by deep learning, that is able to better estimate runners’ heart rates during a workout and predict and recommend routes. The team will present their work at the WWW 19 conference May 13 to 17 in San Francisco.

Researchers trained FitRec on a dataset of more than 250,000 workout records for more than 1,000 runners. This allowed computer scientists to build a model that analyzed past performance to predict speed and heart rate given specific future workout times and routes.

FitRec also is capable of identifying important features that affect workout performance, such as whether a route has hills and the user’s level of fitness. The tool can recommend alternate routes for runners who want to achieve a specific target heart rate. It also is capable of making short-term predictions, such as telling runners when to slow down to avoid exceeding their desired maximum heart rate.

The team was able to develop the tool partially because they were among the first to collect and model a massive fitness dataset for academic research. But developing FitRec was no easy feat as the fitness dataset has a huge number of workout records, but only a small number of data points per individual.

“Personalization is crucial in models of fitness data because individuals vary widely in many areas, including heart rate and ability to adapt to different exercises,” said Julian McAuley, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at UC San Diego.

“The main challenge in building this type of model is that the dynamics of heart rates as people exercise are incredibly complex, requiring sophisticated techniques to model,” researchers added.

To build an effective model, computer scientists needed a tool that uses all of the data to learn but at the same time can learn personalized dynamics from a small number of data points per user. Enter a deep learning architecture called long short-term memory networks (or LSTM), which the researchers adapted to capture the individual dynamic behaviors of each user in the dataset.

Researchers fed the networks a subset of a public dataset from endomondo.com, an app and website that function as a workout diary. After cleaning up the data, researchers wound up with more than 100,000 workout records to train the networks.

They validated FitRec’s predictions by comparing them with existing workout records that were not part of the training dataset.

In the future, FitRec could be trained to include other data, such as the way users’ fitness levels evolve over time, to make its predictions. The tool could also be applied to more complex recommendation routes, for example safety-aware routes.

But in order for the tool to be used in commercial fitness apps, researchers would need to have access to more detailed fitness tracking data and deal with various data quality issues.

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Materials provided by University of California – San Diego. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Everything I Thought I Knew About Miscarriages Changed When I Had Two ‘Silent’ Ones

It feels like a rite of passage for a pregnant person, that first OB appointment when you hear the heartbeat.

My husband and I had already been through the drill with our first daughter. We had an appointment around eight or nine weeks full of hand-holding and laughing as the doctor took out the wand, and that magical little flicker of a heartbeat on the ultrasound screen.

Except, with our second pregnancy, there was no flickering on the screen. During a nine-week checkup, my doctor moved the wand around, frowning as she searched for a heartbeat. Finally, she gently delivered the bad news—she couldn’t detect a heartbeat, because there was none. My pregnancy had stopped developing the previous week, she suspected.

My husband and I struggled to make sense of what had happened—or, rather, what hadn’t happened. I didn’t bleed, I didn’t feel pain. The only symptoms I’d experienced over the past nine weeks were things I had always believed signaled a healthy pregnancy, like morning sickness, sore breasts, mood swings, fatigue so pronounced that I was falling asleep by 8 p.m. every night. Everything I’d ever known or read about miscarriage seemed to touch on bleeding and tissue expulsion—noticeable and detectable symptoms.

But my miscarriage was quiet. Invisible.

It turns out I was suffering through something that is sometimes described as a missed miscarriage (or a “silent” miscarriage), where your body fails to recognize that the baby it carries is no longer living; the pregnancy has stopped developing but your body hasn’t physically passed it. It felt like a double failure; an extra helping of injustice. Not only did I feel like I failed to provide a safe environment for my baby, but my body didn’t even realize the baby it’s supposed to protect and nourish was no more.

This is absolutely not to say that any version of a miscarriage—with symptoms, without symptoms, climactic, anticlimactic—is more or less traumatic than another. But I felt like I was in this strange position: I was praying for the physical miscarriage to happen while still desperately wanting this pregnancy.

Luckily, we had choices. I say “we” because, although it was my body going through the physical miscarriage experience, it was a joint emotional one, and my husband’s input was essential for me through the decision-making process. It helped remind me that I had support and love, and that we were in this together.

I could wait it out to see if my body would finally catch up and complete the miscarriage on its own (something referred to as expectant management, or watchful waiting). Or, I could take misoprostol, which is a medication that essentially can induce the miscarriage and move the process along. I also had the option to go through a surgical procedure known as a D&C (dilation and curettage) to manually remove the tissue.

After three long weeks of watchful waiting to see if my body would recognize what had happened and finish the job—three weeks of denial, tears, and increasing physical discomfort—my husband and I talked through it and finally decided to go the D&C route. I was told the outpatient surgery would be quick and painless (it was) and would allow us to test the fetal tissue. Our results came back two weeks later and revealed that we would have had a girl. But our baby girl had developed with a genetic anomaly known as mosaic trisomy 14. It’s a (rare) genetic disorder that can happen at random. And while it’s not always problematic or fatal, it can cause developmental abnormalities and interfere with proper intrauterine growth.

A chromosomal fluke. Better luck next time.

We named her August.

After August, sadly, luck never came. Over the next six months, we had two more miscarriages in a row. The second miscarriage was a natural pregnancy loss at six weeks, with minimal symptoms, and the third, another “missed” one at nine weeks.

Once again, we were faced with decisions. How did we want to handle this? What medical procedure should we choose?

Even though my previous D&C experience had been fine, I don’t like being under general anesthesia and wanted to avoid another surgery if possible. So, I gave Mother Nature another fighting chance—we did watchful waiting for three more weeks, praying yet again for my body to have that physical miscarriage I never wanted—until finally it was time for medical intervention. At this point, having now gone through the processes of expectant management and also a D&C, we decided I’d try misoprostol this third go-around.

I had a half-hour phone call late one night with my wonderful doctor. We talked through the options. I cried on the phone. We also made a game plan for future pregnancies. My doctor—knowing me, my husband, and our medical history—reassured me that, whatever was ahead, we’d get through it.

I felt in that moment, dare I say it, lucky.

I live in California, a state with lawmakers and representatives that have been early, enthusiastic, and continued champions of reproductive rights. In the lowest physical and emotional place of my life, I was able to make a plan with my husband and doctor, walk into my local pharmacy, and go home with the pills I needed for my miscarriage.

I hunkered down on the couch with a heating pad and remote control as tears slipped down my cheeks, and another precious life slipped from my body. I felt lucky because nobody had inserted themselves into that very private, personal decision I made about what was best for my body.

Yes, my circumstances, like those of so many other pregnant people, were complicated. In the end, the pill didn’t even fully work, and I required further medical intervention to remove the so-called “products of conception,” as my doctor referred to them, from my uterus. Having exhausted all options during what amounted to a three-month miscarriage—and knowing that I didn’t want to receive general anesthesia—I made another choice. I decided to have a D&C in office with a pain medicine injection, a painkiller, and my husband holding my hand.

It wasn’t pleasant. It certainly wouldn’t be the preferred option for everybody. But it did finally free me from the physical hell I’d been in and opened the door for me to begin to heal emotionally, too.

Most importantly, it was the right choice for me—and I’m so grateful I was given the bodily autonomy to make it.


Half of all American workplaces offer health and wellness programs

Workplace health promotion programs are increasing in the U.S., according to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and RTI International. Nearly half of all workplaces in the nation offer some level of health promotion or wellness programs and 17% of workplaces with 50 or more employees offer comprehensive workplace health promotion programs.

Laura Linnan, professor in the Department of Health Behavior at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and founding director of the Carolina Collaborative for Research on Work and Health, is lead author of the study which published on April 22 in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

The 2017 Workplace Health in America Survey is the most recent national survey of workplace health promotion programs, and the first of its kind in 13 years. The survey assessed the current status of employer-based health promotion programs, addressing nutrition, stress, physical activity, alcohol and substance abuse, sleep and a variety of other health topics.

Many workplace health promotion programs addressed only certain components of health and wellness. In contrast, comprehensive workplace health promotion programs include supportive social and physical environments, linkages to related programs, health education programs, integration of programs into the organization’s structure, and health screenings with appropriate follow-up and education. The team found that three factors were independent predictors of having a comprehensive health promotion program: at least one person who was assigned responsibility for the program, a budget and several years of experience with health promotion programming.

Other key findings from the study included:

  • The percentage of worksites with a workplace health promotion program increased with the size of the employer, ranging from 39% of worksites with 10-24 employees, to 60% of worksites with 50-99 employees, to 92% of worksites with 500 or more employees
  • Almost 30% of worksites offered some type of program to address physical activity, fitness, or sedentary behavior
  • About 19% of worksites offered a program to help employees stop using tobacco products
  • About 17% of worksites offered a program to address obesity or weight management

“Most American adults work, and many spend half or more of their waking hours at work,” Linnan said. “Where we work, how long we work, the conditions of our work, who we work with — all of these factors impact our health. Employers have an opportunity to shape work environments and work conditions in ways that support employee health. The Workplace Health in America Survey identifies gaps in knowledge to help practitioners and researchers set the agenda for future progress in worker and workplace health.”

The study’s results suggest that small employers will need focused attention, as they tend to offer fewer health programs, policies and benefits than larger employers. Given that small employers tend to have resources for safety, one strategy that the research team identified is to look for ways to integrate safety and health promotion programs in ways that create a culture of health for all employees.

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Materials provided by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Empathy often avoided because of mental effort

Even when feeling empathy for others isn’t financially costly or emotionally draining, people will still avoid it because they think empathy requires too much mental effort, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

Empathy, the ability to understand the feelings of another person, is often viewed as a virtue that encourages helping behaviors. But people often don’t want to feel empathy.

“There is a common assumption that people stifle feelings of empathy because they could be depressing or costly, such as making donations to charity,” said lead researcher C. Daryl Cameron, PhD. “But we found that people primarily just don’t want to make the mental effort to feel empathy toward others, even when it involves feeling positive emotions.”

The study, which was published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, included 11 experiments with more than 1,200 participants. Cameron led a team of researchers at Penn State University, where he is an assistant professor of psychology, and the University of Toronto.

The researchers designed an “Empathy Selection Task” to test whether cognitive costs, or mental effort, could deter empathy. Over a series of trials, the researchers used two decks of cards that each featured grim photos of child refugees. For one deck, participants were told just to describe physical characteristics of the person on the card. For the other deck, they were told to try to feel empathy for the person in the photo and think about what that person was feeling. Participants were told to choose freely from either deck in each trial.

In some additional experiments, the researchers used decks that featured images of sad or smiling people. When given the choice of choosing between decks, participants consistently picked the decks that didn’t require feeling empathy, even for the photos of happy people.

“We saw a strong preference to avoid empathy even when someone else was expressing joy,” Cameron said.

Across all of the experiments, participants on average chose the empathy deck 35% of the time, showing a strong preference for the deck that didn’t require empathy.

There also weren’t any financial costs for feeling empathy in the study because no one was asked to donate time or money to support child refugees or anyone else featured in the photos.

In survey questions after each experiment, most participants reported that empathy felt more cognitively challenging, saying it required more effort and that they felt less good at it than they did at describing the physical characteristics of other people. Participants who reported that feeling empathy was mentally demanding or made them feel insecure, irritated or distressed were more likely to have avoided the empathy deck during the experiments.

Can people be encouraged to feel empathy if they think they are good at it? In two experiments, half of the participants were told that they were better than 95% of others on the empathy deck and 50% better for the objective physical characteristics deck, while the other group was told the opposite. Participants who were told they were good at feeling empathy were more likely to select cards from the empathy deck and report that empathy required less mental effort.

The cognitive costs of empathy could cause people to avoid it, but it may be possible to increase empathy by encouraging people that they can do it well, Cameron said.

“If we can shift people’s motivations toward engaging in empathy, then that could be good news for society as a whole,” Cameron said. “It could encourage people to reach out to groups who need help, such as immigrants, refugees and the victims of natural disasters.”

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Materials provided by American Psychological Association. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Those home-delivered meal kits are greener than you thought

Meal kit services, which deliver a box of pre-portioned ingredients and a chef-selected recipe to your door, are hugely popular but get a bad environmental rap due to perceived packaging waste.

But a new study from University of Michigan researchers found that meal kits have a much lower overall carbon footprint than the same meals purchased at a grocery store, despite having more packaging.

Average greenhouse gas emissions were one-third lower for meal kit dinners than the store-bought meals when every step in the process — from the farm to the landfill — was considered, according to the study.

The main reason? Pre-portioned ingredients and a streamlined supply chain lower the overall food loss and waste for meal kits compared to store-bought meals.

“Meal kits are designed for minimal food waste,” said Shelie Miller of the U-M Center for Sustainable Systems in the School for Environment and Sustainability, senior author of the study scheduled for publication April 22 in the journal Resources, Conservation and Recycling. The first author is U-M doctoral student Brent Heard.

“So, while the packaging is typically worse for meal kits, it’s not the packaging that matters most,” Miller said. “It’s food waste and transportation logistics that cause the most important differences in the environmental impacts of these two delivery mechanisms.”

Since Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Plated entered the U.S. market in 2012, dozens of other companies have started selling meal kits that shoppers can order online and cook at home. Refrigeration packs in the boxes keep ingredients cold.

Annual U.S. meal kit sales reached an estimated $3.1 billion in 2018 with a growth rate of nearly 22 percent, according to the Packaged Facts research firm. In a 2018 Nielsen survey, 9 percent of U.S. consumers surveyed said they had purchased a meal kit, while 25 percent of respondents said they would consider trying a meal kit in the next six months.

Despite the popularity of meal kits, their environmental impacts are understudied, according to the U-M researchers. The new study assesses relative greenhouse gas emissions of meal kits compared with grocery store meals.

The recipes for five two-person meals — salmon, cheeseburger, chicken, pasta and salad — were sourced and prepared from both a meal kit service and a grocery store. Meal kits were purchased from Blue Apron.

Greenhouse gas emissions were estimated for every major step in the lifetime of the food ingredients and the packaging: agricultural production, packaging production, distribution, supply chain losses, consumption and waste generation.

This type of cradle-to-grave impacts study is called a comparative life-cycle assessment. Greenhouse gas estimates, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per meal (CO2e/meal) were based on values found in previously published studies.

The U-M study found that the emissions tied to the average grocery store meal were 2 kilograms CO2e/meal higher than an equivalent meal kit. The average emissions were calculated to be 6.1 kg CO2e/meal for a meal kit and 8.1 kg CO2e/meal for a grocery store meal, a 33% difference.

Median grocery meal emissions exceeded the median meal kit emissions for four of the five meal types: salmon, chicken, pasta and salad.

Emissions differences between meal kits and store-bought meals were influenced by three main factors: food waste, packaging and the supply-chain structure, which includes transportation logistics.

Emissions tied to household food waste from grocery meals exceeded those for meal kits for all five meals. The difference was attributed to meal kits pre-portioning ingredients, leaving fewer ingredients that are later wasted.

Generally speaking, meal kits contain large amounts of packaging but less food per meal due to pre-portioning. Grocery meals have less packaging per meal, but larger quantities of food must be purchased, leading to higher household food waste.

“We took a close look at the tradeoff between increased packaging and decreased food waste with meal kits, and our results are likely to be a surprise to many, since meal kits tend to get a bad environmental rap due to their packaging,” said Miller, associate professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability and director of the U-M Program in the Environment.

“Even though it may seem like that pile of cardboard generated from a Blue Apron or Hello Fresh subscription is incredibly bad for the environment, that extra chicken breast bought from the grocery store that gets freezer-burned and finally gets thrown out is much worse, because of all the energy and materials that had to go into producing that chicken breast in the first place,” Miller said.

Meal kits and grocery meals also exhibit radically different supply chain structures that influence their greenhouse gas emissions.

By skipping brick-and-mortar retailing altogether, the direct-to-consumer meal kit model avoids the food losses that commonly occur in grocery stores, resulting in large emissions savings. For example, grocery stores overstock food items due to the difficulty in predicting customer demand, and they remove blemished or unappealing foods that may not appeal to shoppers.

Meal kits also displayed emissions savings in what’s called last-mile transportation — the final leg of the journey that gets food into the consumer’s home.

Meal kits rely on delivery trucks. Since each meal kit is just one of many packages delivered on a truck route, it is associated with a small fraction of the total vehicle emissions. Grocery store meals, in contrast, typically require a personal vehicle trip to the store and back.

In the U-M study, last-mile emissions accounted for 11 percent of the average grocery meal emissions compared to 4 percent for meal kit dinners.

“The way consumers purchase and receive food is undergoing substantial transformation, and meal kits are likely to be part of it in some way,” said Heard, who conducted the research for his doctoral dissertation at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability.

“In order to minimize overall impacts of the food system, there is a need to continue to reduce food loss and waste, while also creating advances in transportation logistics and packaging to reduce last-mile emissions and material use.”

In the study, the largest emissions source, for both meal kits and grocery store meals, was food production: 59 percent of meal kit emissions and 47 percent of grocery meal emissions were tied to agricultural production. Meals with the largest environmental impact either contained red meat or were associated with large amounts of wasted food.

The other authors of the Resources, Conservation and Recycling paper are U-M undergraduates Mayur Bandekar of the Program in the Environment and Benjamin Vassar of the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

The study is titled “Comparison of Life Cycle Environmental Impacts from Meal Kits and Grocery Store Meals.” While Blue Apron employees were consulted for the study, no funding was provided by the company.

Was the restaurant really that bad — Or was it just the rain?

There are a few things that will result in poor customer reviews of a restaurant: bad service, bad food — and bad weather.

A study of 32 Florida restaurants found that customers left more negative remarks on comment cards on days when it was raining than on days when it was dry.

Results showed the odds of patrons leaving very negative comments versus very positive comments were 2.9 times greater on rainy days.

In two other online studies done in other parts of the country, results suggested that unpleasant weather left people in bad moods, which was then linked to them having less positive views about the restaurants they visited.

“Restaurant managers may see more than the usual bad reviews on certain days, and it may have nothing to do with the service or the quality of the food,” said Milos Bujisic, co-author of the study and assistant professor of hospitality management at The Ohio State University.

“Restaurants can’t control the weather, but it may affect how customers review them.”

The research appears online in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research and will be published in a future print edition.

While weather was not the most important factor in how customers reviewed their dining experience, it can’t be ignored, said study co-author Vanja Bogicevic, a visiting assistant professor of hospitality management at Ohio State.

“It may be a smaller factor, but it is something that managers should pay attention to,” Bogicevic said.

In the first study, researchers examined the comments cards left at the Florida restaurants, all part of the same national fast-casual chain.

The researchers rated the comments on a five-point scale from 1 (very negative) to 5 (very positive). They also examined weather data from the National Climatic Data Center for each restaurant’s location on the days comment cards were left.

They examined 14 different weather variables, but only three were related to customer comments — rain, temperature and barometric pressure.

Higher temperatures — which in Florida, can often mean it is uncomfortably hot — were linked to more negative comments.

Higher barometric pressure was also connected to negative comments in Florida, which is also probably different from much of the country, the researchers said, because rising pressure is often associated with fair weather. In warmer climates, high barometric pressure is often linked to higher daytime temperatures.

Two other studies conducted online offered more insight into exactly how weather affected customer evaluations.

In one study, 158 people from around the country who visited a restaurant within the last 24 hours were asked to rate and describe the weather conditions right before their restaurant visit. They also rated their own mood and what kind of “word-of-mouth” review they would give the restaurant — in other words, whether they would recommend the restaurant and tell others positive things about their experience.

Results showed that people who described the weather as more pleasant also rated their mood more positively. Better moods — and not the weather itself — were related to more positive word-of-mouth.

A third study specifically targeted people living in the Midwest, Northeast and Northwest regions of the United States, where the weather is variable over the year.

This study involved 107 people. Some were asked whether they visited a restaurant in the last seven days during pleasant weather, and some were asked if they had visited a restaurant in unpleasant conditions (very cold, raining or snowing).

Participants who reported eligible conditions for the study then answered questions about their mood that day, their dining experience and whether they would give good word-of-mouth to the restaurant.

Similar to the previous study, pleasant weather elevated consumers’ moods, which was linked to a better rating of their restaurant experience and better word-of-mouth compared to those who visited in unpleasant weather.

Bujisic noted that bad weather may affect not only the mood of customers, but also the wait staff and others who serve the customers.

“A rainy day may put employees in a bad mood and that will affect their service,” he said. “Managers need to explain that to their employees and work to keep them motivated.”

In addition, managers may want to find ways to boost customers’ moods during unpleasant weather, Bogicevic said.

“Think about creative strategies to make customers happy. Maybe offer a free drink or play more upbeat music,” she said.

Work Your Entire Lower Body With This One Bodyweight Exercise

Trainer Kira Stokes wants to change your definition of “the gym.”

“The gym exists far beyond four walls,” the New York-based fitness instructor and creator of the Kira Stokes Fit app, tells SELF. “The biggest gym and the best gym is often just the great outdoors.”

Stokes, whose clients include Ashley Graham, Shay Mitchell, and Candace Cameron Bure, demonstrated that philosophy earlier this week when she shared an Instagram video of her demoing a multi-part lower-body move on a beachside bench in Santa Monica, California.

You can check out the video, via @kirastokesfit, here:

“I’m always about looking at your environment and finding a way to utilize whatever you it is you come into contact with in a way that fatigues certain muscle groups in a seamless manner,” says Stokes. And this move—a combination of a step-up, reverse lunge, and jump lunge performed with just your bodyweight and an elevated platform—does exactly that.

“It’s such a good move,” says Stokes. And though it combines multiple exercises, she adds that it’s not overwhelmingly complex once you learn each part.

Why this move is great for your lower half

The move requires balance, stability, and control. “It’s the ultimate compound move for your lower body,” she explains, as it combines strength (from the step-up and reverse lunge) and power (from the jump lunge). With this move, you essentially work your entire lower body, including your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core. You’ll also likely get your heart rate up, which makes it a good cardio exercise, too.

The jump lunge portion specifically adds plyometric work and the cardio. Plyometric moves—exercises that involve explosive movement, like hops and jumps—are great for developing power, elevating your heart rate, and incorporating high-intensity work into your training, says Stokes. The jump lunge, in particular, is “pretty freaking difficult,” says Stokes. Doing a set of back-to-back jump lunges without a break would be very tough. The fact that this move incorporates a step-up and reverse lunge in between each jump lunge means you get a small reprieve in intensity between the jump lunges, Stokes explains. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy—again, it’s three separate lower-body moves combined into one, and you’ll probably get fatigued pretty quickly as you give it a go.

How to do the move

As mentioned, you’ll need a bench or step to perform this move. The ideal height of your elevated platform depends on your own height, says Stokes. A good rule of thumb is to find a platform high enough that when you place one foot on top of it, the hip and the knee of that leg are at the same height, or the knee is perhaps slightly higher. Use a shorter step and you won’t get as much glute work; use a step that’s too high and you won’t be able to step up and down with control.

Also, the move, as Stokes demos it, is “definitely not beginner-level,” she says. If you’re new to exercise, scroll to the second to last paragraph for a recommendation on how to modify it.

  • Stand tall in front of your elevated platform.
  • Step your right foot up onto the platform, making sure to place your entire foot onto the platform.
  • Engage your core, squeeze your right glutes, and drive through the heel of your right foot to step up onto the platform, lightly setting your left toes on top, but keeping most of the weight in your right leg. At the top of the step-up, make sure you stand up straight with good posture.
  • Then, with control, reverse the movement and step your left foot off the platform, and place it on the ground, keeping most of your weight in your right heel and squeezing your right glutes as you lower down.
  • Once your left foot is on the ground, lift your right foot off the platform and take a big step back to get your body into position for the reverse lunge. Your left foot will be in front and your right foot will be about 2 feet behind it.
  • From here, keeping your core tight and posture tall, bend both knees to perform a reverse lunge. Squeeze your left glutes as you lunge.
  • At the bottom of the lunge, push through the heel of your left foot and the ball of your right foot to jump straight up.
  • As you jump, switch your stance so that your left foot goes back about 2 feet, landing on the ball of your right foot and keeping your heel off the ground. Your right foot is now in front, flat on the floor, facing forward.
  • Lift your left foot off the ground and step up onto the platform to repeat the pattern, this time leading the step-up and reverse lunge with your left foot.
  • Continue this pattern for 60 to 90 seconds. Repeat for 3 to 4 sets, suggests Stokes.

During the step-up component, “place, don’t plop” your foot up onto the bench and back down again, says Stokes. In other words, the movement should feel steady and controlled. Also, make sure that you really press down through the heel of your leading foot—this will ensure good muscle activation in the glutes.

Then, as you perform the reverse lunge, make sure you really sink down into the movement until your back knee is just a few inches off the ground. “Making sure you hit the full range in each position is incredibly important so that you get the max benefit of the move,” says Stokes.

During every part of the move, make sure to keep your core continually engaged. This will help stabilize you and protect your lower back from undue stress. Also, focus on maintaining good posture throughout. Don’t round your shoulders forward on the step-up or the lunges, says Stokes.

To regress the move, simply forego the jump lunge and follow a pattern of stepping up, stepping back, and reverse lunging. To make the move more challenging, simply continue the pattern for a longer period of time. Or, perform three jump lunges (or more) in between each step-up. Or, add a pulse to the reverse lunge both before and after you do the jump lunge, says Stokes.

Try this move the next time you’re passing a park bench (or any elevated platform of appropriate height) and you’ll get lower-body strengthening, plyometric work, and cardio while enjoying some time outside.