How to Cook Risotto-Style Dishes With Whatever Grain You Have

Though traditional risotto is famously made with arborio rice—a starchy, short-grain rice that gives the dish its famously creamy texture—you can actually make it with a bunch of different whole grains. Farro, quinoa, couscous, oats—as long as it gets creamy after a while on the stove, it can be a great substitute for a risotto-like dish.

That’s great news if you, like me, live somewhere where it’s hard to find arborio at the supermarket. I didn’t make risotto on many occasions because I couldn’t track down the elusive rice. But now that I know I can use almost any grain in my pantry instead, I whip it up whenever the craving strikes.

The process for making risotto-style dishes with alternative grains is extremely similar to traditional methods, so if you know how to make one risotto, you know how to make almost all of them. Here, chefs break down exactly what you need to know. From how long to stir the rice to how much broth you should use, these tips will help you make a restaurant-worthy dinner with whatever grains you have on hand.

1. Choose your grain.

“Risotto can be made with many types of whole grains, from quinoa and barley to millet and farro,” Carlos Calderon, chef at North Italia, tells SELF. “The great thing about grains like barley is that you can still achieve the same creamy texture, which is what you would ultimately desire from a delicious risotto recipe,” he explains. Even couscous, which isn’t a grain at all, can get the job done.

The only grains you’ll want to avoid are really tough grains, like wheat berries or kamut. I learned the hard way that these will never get creamy or soft like a grain should for risotto, no matter how long you cook them or how much broth you add.

2. Gather the other ingredients.

For the most basic risotto recipe, you’ll need onion, garlic, white wine, veggie or chicken stock, Parmesan, butter, pepper, and salt, Juan Munoz, chef at Proper Food in San Francisco and New York City, tells SELF.

If you want to add any other ingredients—veggies like asparagus or mushrooms, meat like bacon, or any other cheeses—cook them separately and stir them in when the risotto is nearly finished.

3. Find the tools you’ll need.

You’ll need a medium-sized oven-safe saucepan, a large pot, a wooden spoon, a knife, a ladle, and a grater (unless you’re using cheese that’s pre-grated).

4. Heat up the broth.

Fill up your large pot with a bunch of broth—at least 6 cups. Throughout the risotto-making process, you’re going to gradually ladle this broth into the rice until it’s mostly gone.

The broth needs to be simmering, or it’ll mess with the way the risotto cooks, so set the pot over a medium heat while you prep the rest of your ingredients. That way, it’ll be ready to go when you are.

5. Sauté garlic and onions until soft.

Dice a small onion, finely chop two cloves of garlic, and set both aside. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to your small saucepan and set it over a medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and a pinch of salt, and cook until translucent and tender but not brown. It should take about eight minutes. (Fun fact: Onions won’t continue to cook in acidic ingredients, so you have to cook them all the way through before you add the wine.)

6. Add grains and wine.

When the onions and garlic are softened, add whichever grain you’re using and stir. Then, add 1/2 cup of wine and let it cook until all the alcohol burns off (you’ll be able to smell it).

7. Add the broth gradually and prepare to stir.

Note: If you’re using brown rice, skip to step 8!

If you’re using a grain aside from brown rice, Munoz recommends following a traditional risotto recipe. That means you’ll have to babysit it and stir it until it’s ready, which will take about 30 to 40 minutes depending on which grain you’re using.

Add a ladle of broth and stir constantly until it’s mostly absorbed. Then, add another ladle of broth, stirring again until it’s mostly absorbed. Repeat this until the grains are fully translucent and tender—taste as you go to make sure you don’t accidentally overcook it.

Keep extra stock on hand, because Munoz says you’ll never know how much you need when you’re mixing up the grains. “Grains like barley will take a long time to cook and need much more stock,” he explains, “sometimes double the amount.”

8. For brown rice, use the oven instead.

Making brown rice “risotto” is even easier than actual risotto, says Munoz. That’s because after the wine has reduced, all you have to do is add broth, cover it, and stick it in the oven for an hour. For every 1 cup of brown rice, use about 6 cups of broth, he says.

After adding the broth, place the whole pan in a 375 degree F oven for one hour, says Munoz. When it’s finished, remove it from the oven, and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Let cool and enjoy.

9. Add butter and cheese, and dig in.

Audrey Bruno / Thomas Bringold

Risotto made with brown rice (left) and bulgar (right)

Finish your risotto-like dish (no matter which grain you’ve used) by stirring in 1 tablespoon of butter and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese for every 1 cup of grain you use. Or, more, depending on your personal taste.

I followed these tips to make risotto with brown rice and another with bulgar, and both were absolutely delicious. In fact, they were so good, I don’t plan to go out of my way to find arborio anytime soon.


10-Minute Total-Body Kettlebell Workout

The kettlebell is a stellar exercise tool, but it can be a little intimidating if you’ve never worked with one before. You’ve probably seen people on Instagram throwing them around or doing really complex moves that seem out of your league. The thing is, kettlebells aren’t just for super advanced exercisers. As long as you have a base level of strength (meaning it’s not your first time ever lifting weights) and are approaching kettlebells with the same level of care you would any other free weight, you can definitely use them in your routine.

The biggest difference between kettlebells and dumbbells is the shape. Because of its handle-and-bell construction, you can move a kettlebell a little more dynamically—you can swing it, and flip it over your arm, and hold it a few different ways. That makes it a great tool for many functional exercises, but also means that your wrists will be working even harder to stay straight and keep the weight stable. (You may also feel more sore than normal after a kettlebell workout since your body’s not used to lifting this sort of weight.)

Also, because of the kettlebell’s shape (with the majority of the weight on one end), “most kettlebell exercises challenge the stability of more than one muscle group at a time, specifically the core,” says Ava Fagin, certified personal trainer at Body Space Fitness in New York City. “Kettlebells are fantastic tools to use if you’re looking to build strength and get your heart rate up at the same time,” Fagin adds.

So, she put together a short-and-sweet workout that’ll help you do just that. The workout below includes five exercises and are arranged so that you’ll be alternating between upper-body and lower-body exercises, Fagin explains. They also focus on four very functional movement patterns—hinge, push, knee bend, pull—and get you moving in a few different directions “so you’re challenging your muscles to work in more than one plane of motion.”

While this workout isn’t incredibly advanced, you should have at least a little bit of experience lifting weights in general before jumping into it. If you have any injuries or are unsure if this workout is safe for you, it’s best to speak with your doctor before trying it.

The workout is an AMRAP workout, which stands for “as many rounds as possible.” The goal is, you guessed it: to complete as many rounds of the exercises as possible in the allotted time. “If you’re short on time and have a moderately sized kettlebell, doing an AMRAP is a great way to get a solid workout in,” says Fagin. “During an AMRAP, you will be given certain exercises and the rep count for each exercises. The goal is to complete as many rounds as possible of this set of exercises in a given time frame.” For this one, that’s 10 minutes.

“Though the goal is to work for as many rounds as possible, make sure you are safe and take a rest if you need it,” adds Fagin. “In addition, make sure you have warmed up first.” She recommends activation exercises with mini resistance bands, and doing a few dynamic stretches to prep your muscles to work through their full ranges of motion. Then, you can get into the main workout, below.

The Workout

What you’ll need: Two moderately heavy kettlebells. Fagin suggests using the overhead press (instructions below) as a gauge for how heavy the weight should be. “Ideally, if you’re able to press the weight comfortably over your head 10 times without complete exhaustion, it should be appropriate for the rest of the exercises,” she says. Remember, you’ll be using the weight for 10 full minutes, so if it seems too heavy within the first few reps, it’s best to use something lighter.


  • Kettlebell Swing—10 reps
  • Kettlebell Overhead Press—10 reps
  • Kettlebell Lateral Lunge—10 reps
  • Kettlebell Bent Over Row—10 reps
  • Kettlebell Halo—10 reps


  • Do 10 reps of each exercise.
  • Minimize rest in between each move.
  • Repeat the circuit as many times as you can in 10 minutes.

Fagin suggests aiming for 5-7 rounds, though it’s always best to concentrate on proper form over speed. As you get stronger and more comfortable with each move, you’ll likely be able to fit in more rounds in the 10-minute window.

Demoing the moves below is 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.

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.

These Athleisure Lines are Fire and Our Bodies are Ready

Here at #TeamSELF, we’re huge fans of athleisure wear. Since we practically live in leggings, and definitely swear by sweats, it should come as no surprise that we always keep an ear to the ground when it comes to the hottest new athleisure releases. Right now, there are some awesome collaborations that we’re coveting—like the newest Adam Selman x Carbon38 drop—which can be worn during a low-impact workout, or on your way to weekly brunch with the besties.

Since each of these collaborations are designed with fashion at the forefront, you’ll stay stylish from head to toe, whether you’re training at home or at the gym. If you’re looking to make a statement with your athleisure looks, you’ve come to the right place. These lines are so good we’ve already started filling our online shopping carts to the brim and planning outfits—and aren’t sorry about it. Interested in a spring wardrobe refresh? Keep reading for a few of our favorite items right now (that are selling out fast).

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.

7 Mistakes You Might Be Making When Seasoning Your Food

When I was just starting out in the kitchen, spices intimidated me quite a bit. I was always afraid that I was going to use way too much of something and totally mess up my food, so I was often using way less than I should have. Even when I was following the measurements in a recipe, the final product would sometimes be disappointingly bland. But I was hesitant to ever add extra.

It wasn’t until I started to learn more about cooking—by watching expert tutorials and reading cookbooks—that it became clear what I was doing wrong. And the more I watched a pro throw a palmful rather than a pinch of something into a recipe, the more I became comfortable doing it myself, and started to notice an instant improvement in my home-cooked meals.

Seasoning food can seem even trickier because there aren’t really any hard and fast rules for how much to season every dish you cook. Each spice has a different level of potency, and everyone has different tastes, so the correct amount of seasoning will vary greatly depending on the spice, the dish, and the person consuming it, Dan Zuccarello, executive food editor of books at America’s Test Kitchen, tells SELF.

If your food is regularly turning out bland or just sort of so-so on the flavor front, it probably has something to do with the way you’re seasoning it. From not using enough salt to holding onto spices for way too long, I asked Zuccarello to share the common mistakes people make and what to do instead to ensure that everything you cook turns out irresistibly delicious.

1. You don’t salt your food.

Salting is extremely important, because it does so much for food, Zuccarello explains. The universal ingredient has the power to make meat juicier, veggies meatier, sweets sweeter, and so much more. As Samin Nosrat explains in her essential cookbook Salt Fat Acid Heat, when you use salt in the right amount, it will make your food taste more like itself.

Which brings us to…

2. You aren’t using the right amount of salt.

Whenever you’re boiling something in water, that water should be super salty—about 1 tablespoon of salt (preferably kosher salt) for every 4 quarts of water, says Zuccarello. Even though that sounds like a recipe for something inedible, it will guarantee your food is properly seasoned throughout. Plus, much of the salt will end up evaporating and/or going down the drain, so you don’t have to worry. If you’re not sure if your water is salty enough, taste it! If it makes your lips purse, then you’re good to go.

When you’re adding salt directly to a dish (not just the cooking water), you need to use much less. Start small and work your way up. Work with a teaspoon at a time and be sure to taste with every addition. That way you’ll know for sure if it needs more, and if you’ve over salted, you’ll have time to fix your mistake (more on that in a minute).

As for meat, Zuccarello says that you should use 1 teaspoon of kosher salt for every pound of meat you’re seasoning. (BTW, here’s why cooks suggest kosher salt over regular table salt.) “Salting proteins for an extended amount of time helps [them] retain their own natural juices,” he explains. Just be sure that you’re not salting something too far ahead of time. Chicken, steak, and pork can benefit from a longer salting period because they’re much tougher—be sure to season them for at least an hour, and up to 24 hours, before you intend to cook. On the other hand, fish and shellfish will dry out if salted too soon, so it’s best to wait until you’re ready to start cooking to season them.

If you’ve over salted something, there’s a super easy fix: Add more of the other ingredients you’re using until it doesn’t taste too salty anymore. Maybe that’s more water in a soup, or more butter in a sauce, or more lemon juice in a vinaigrette. Every time you add another ingredient, taste the dish, and keep going until it tastes just right again. Sure, you’ll have a larger portion of whatever you were cooking, but at least you won’t have to throw it all away and start from scratch.

3. You always use black pepper.

Black pepper is great for a lot of reasons. “Beyond its heat and sharp bite, [it] enhances our ability to taste food, stimulating salivary glands so we experience flavors more fully,” says Zuccarella. But, he adds, you don’t need to use it in everything the way you do with salt. It can definitely enhance the flavor of whatever you’re cooking, but it won’t make or break a dish the way salt can. Basically, use it when you want to, but don’t count on it to make your food delicious all on its own.

4. You only use pre-ground spices.

“You’ll get more flavor if you buy whole spices and grind them just before using,” Zuccarello explains. “Grinding releases the volatile compounds that give the spice its flavor and aroma.” Of course, this would require you to invest in a spice grinder, but luckily they aren’t that expensive (like this one here). You can totally stick with pre-ground spices if you prefer, but if you’re really looking to enhance a dish’s flavor, this is a good trick to try.

5. Your spices are super old.

If you’ve already used a ton of a spice and can’t detect its flavor, that might be because your spices are too old, says Zuccarello. “The longer a spice is stored, the more compounds disappear,” he explains. The fresher the spices, the more flavorful they will be. Try to refresh your spice rack every year, and if you’re not sure how old something is, smell it. The weaker it smells the weaker it will taste.

6. You’re not letting the spices cook.

Zuccarello says that “blooming” spices in a fat source (like oil, butter, or ghee) or toasting them in a dry skillet will better release their flavors. So when you can, be sure to cook the spices before anything else. Sauté them in a pan with a bit of oil just until they become fragrant, then add your other ingredients. Even if you want to sprinkle a spice on top of something, like toast or pasta, he says they will be so much more flavorful if you heat them up for a bit first.

7. You’re not tasting as you go.

The only way to really know what a dish needs is to taste it. If you add a bunch of salt and spices to a dish right at the beginning, and don’t taste it again until its finished, it probably won’t end up that great. And then you’ve wasted all that time you had to remedy it.

Also, feel free to go off-recipe. The measurements of spices that one calls for might be too much or too little satisfy your tastes. Season a little bit at a time, taste after each addition, and adjust accordingly. You’re the one cooking, so go ahead and make the dish your own.

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.


9 Small but Impactful Health Habits to Lock Down in Your 20s

Your 20s can spark a rocky journey into self-sufficiency that makes it very easy (tempting, even) to put your health on the backburner. For many of us, it can feel like a hamster wheel of working and socializing and doing Big Things—while things like sleep, nourishment, and exercise fall by the wayside. (Take it from this seasoned 28-year-old.)

It also doesn’t help that we’re often told we’re “so young!” and “have nothing to worry about!” even when it may not feel that way. Your 20s are filled with people telling you that you have your whole life ahead of you, that it’s totally OK to just relax and enjoy yourself. And while that’s all nice and valid, it can also contribute to a pretty lackluster attitude around taking care of yourself, especially if you’re generally considered to be in good health.

The thing is, it’s a whole lot easier to maintain good health than it is to reverse course once something is wrong. So, even though phrases like “preventive health screenings” and “flexible spending accounts” might make your eyes glaze over (same, TBH), it’s worth thinking about this stuff in your 20s and setting good habits as early as possible. It can also just feel good to be more mindful about your health in this often transitional, stressful time of our lives. You’re looking out for Current You and Future You.

“The earlier you start to get into a routine of these healthy habits, the easier it is to keep them in your life when it gets … more complicated,” Erin Snyder, M.D., an associate professor of medicine and clinician-educator at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, tells SELF.

With that in mind, here are nine health habits experts recommend nailing down in your 20s.

1. Check in with a primary care doctor once a year.

“Most women in their 20s are generally healthy and pretty busy, so many don’t seek medical attention until they have a problem,” Amber Tully, M.D., a family medicine physician at the Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF. Sure, options like visiting the nearest urgent care center can be great in a pinch. But you’ll benefit much more in the long run from establishing a relationship with a primary care practitioner (PCP), Dr. Tully says.

This means finding a great doctor you trust whose approach and values align with yours, Dr. Tully explains. For instance, you may be most concerned with finding a provider who will be a validating LGBTQ+ ally or who has a certain approach to care that you find helpful or validating.

The next step is making (and keeping) an annual checkup with that person. This will help you stay up-to-date on general health screenings and build a clinical history. Then, when something like a scratchy throat or swollen vulva pops up, “You already have someone who knows you and your history, and who you feel comfortable talking with,” Dr. Tully says. (They’ll also probably be more likely to squeeze you in for a last-minute appointment, Dr. Tully adds.)

2. Find ways to move that you actually enjoy.

You already know that getting exercise is essential to good health at any age. But incorporating working out into your regular routine in your 20s can set the stage for lifelong physical activity.

“Your 20s are a great time to get into this habit of exercise,” Dr. Snyder says. “When life throws you curveballs, you’re able to roll with things because you’re motivated to figure out where to put your exercise time.” For instance, if you spend a year or two really into boxing or lifting or yoga, you’re more likely to prioritize time for that activity even when things get hectic (or especially when things get hectic).

If you haven’t yet discovered what kind of physical activity you really enjoy, now’s the time to experiment. Maybe you like to knock it out with spurts of full-body HIIT or take your sweet time in savasana. From hiking to rowing to, hell, underwater rock running, there are so many possibilities out there.

Once you do figure out what you like, think about what a sustainable workout schedule looks like for you, Dr. Snyder says. What time of day works best? How many times a week is realistic? Do trendy boutique classes or a gym membership fit into your budget, or are you more into apps or no-equipment, at-home workouts? Here are some more tips on starting a fitness routine from scratch if you have zero idea where to start.

3. Learn to cook a few things that you actually like eating.

If your culinary prowess is currently limited to the microwave, it’s worth getting more comfortable in the kitchen. “Learning how to cook is such a vital skill to cement in your 20s,” Dr. Snyder says. The goal is to build up a repertoire of meals you love to make (and devour), Dr. Snyder explains. This makes it so much easier to fuel your body and mind in whichever way helps you feel best, plus it can be a great way to save money.

Try setting aside a couple of nights a week to make dinner for one or meal prep, and think of how to make it fun even if it doesn’t come naturally to you (yet). Try a discounted trial period for a meal-kit delivery service or find a cooking class on Groupon for you and a friend. Incorporate seasonings you’ve never tried, whip up a gourmet version of a childhood favorite, or join the slow-cooker movement.

Cooking doesn’t have to be hard, so don’t feel intimidated. There are tons of unfussy, budget-friendly recipes out there. You don’t even have to chop, dirty more than one pan, or make a special trip to the grocery store if that’s not your thing.

4. Get enough sleep. Seriously.

People in every decade of life are missing out on valuable rest. But people in their 20s may be particularly prone to neglect sleep because it can feel easier to get by on a few hours or rebound from all-nighters, Dr. Tully says. Ah, youth.

But, don’t do this. The drawbacks of sleep deprivation aren’t just limited to next-day irritation and brain fog. If you’re already prone to health issues such as anxiety and depression, chronic sleep deprivation could leave you even more vulnerable. If you drive while too tired, your drowsiness could put your life at risk.

To avoid sleep deprivation, prioritize getting seven to nine hours of rest a night and practicing good sleep hygiene, like by sticking to the same sleep and wake times as much as possible. Yes, this might feel impossible in your 20s. You don’t have to be perfect—just try.

5. Carve out time for regular stress relief.

Clearly, your 20s can be full of upheaval. To cope, figure out what forms of self-care and stress management help you deal with whatever life flings at you. It can be anything, really. Exercise can help mitigate the effects of stress. So can mindfulness meditation, journaling, quality time with good friends, ballet, curling up with tea and a book, therapy, and unplugging from tech. The key is that it’s something you do just for you, Dr. Snyder says.

Whether it’s stepping away from your desk at 2 P.M. every day to recharge or a weekly date night with your partner, make your stress relief happen consistently in order for it to become a habit. “You need to block out time,” Dr. Snyder says. You can even earmark time for stress relief on your calendar if that will help.

6. Wear sunscreen every time you go outside.

The single best dermatological action you can take in your 20s is literally just wearing sunscreen, Dr. Tully says.

Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun (and tanning beds) causes damage that can lead to skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). If you’re concerned with signs of aging, like wrinkles, know that UV damage can cause that prematurely, too.

To protect yourself, wear sunscreen on your face and neck every single time you’re going outside, Dr. Tully says. (Go for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to protect against multiple types of ultraviolet damage. Sorry, but makeup with SPF doesn’t cut it.) You should also slather any other exposed skin with sunscreen before heading outside. Beyond that, wear sunglasses with broad-spectrum UV protection and a broad-brimmed hat for extra protection, and generally limit the amount of time you spend in the sun, especially mid-morning to late afternoon. Of course, sometimes you just want to enjoy some sun in the middle of the afternoon, which is fine. Live your life. Just be sure to stay on top of your sunscreen application while you’re at it.

Finally, don’t set foot near a tanning bed, please. If you really want a tan, consider getting it sprayed on instead.

7. If you’re not trying to get pregnant, find a birth control method that works for you.

If you’re sexually active with anyone who can get you pregnant but you don’t want to have kids (now or ever), you could obviously benefit from some birth control. But there are so many options out there—both hormonal and non-hormonal—so it’s worth thinking about what exactly you want from a contraceptive method.

If you’re not sure which birth control would work best for you, talk to your ob/gyn. Be honest with them about anything you’re looking for in addition to pregnancy protection (like if you want to stop your period) and when (if ever) you might want to have kids. That will help inform your choices. For instance, if you want to have a baby soon and like the reassurance of taking a pill every day, oral contraception could be right for you. If you’re not having sex very often and you don’t really want to be on a hormonal method, condoms may be just fine. The important thing is that you’re using whatever method you choose consistently and correctly.

You should also be realistic about what kind of contraception fits most easily into your life. The success of many forms of birth control (like condoms, pills, the vaginal ring, and the patch) can change depending on whether you use the contraception perfectly every single time or typically (as in, you mess up taking it at some point).

It’s also important to be pretty content with your method of birth control so that you stay on it. If the side effects are making you unhappy, talk to your ob/gyn about trying something different instead of letting your birth control lapse.

8. Have safe sex every single time.

Safe sex isn’t always about pregnancy protection. It’s also about protecting yourself from sexually transmitted infections as much as you can.

Unless you and your partner have both been tested and are in a monogamous relationship, that might mean using an external condom (worn by a person with a penis), an internal condom (worn by a person with a vagina), or a dental dam for any oral/genital action. This won’t protect you from all STIs, since infections like herpes and human papillomavirus can be transmitted via intimate skin-to-skin contact. But it’s better than nothing.

Your 20s are also a good time to practice taking control of your sexual and reproductive health by, you know, actually talking to sexual partners about getting tested. Here’s how to do that as easily as possible.

9. See an ob/gyn once a year, too.

Just like with a PCP, building a relationship with an ob/gyn you love can be invaluable.

Seeing your ob/gyn every year will typically entail a pelvic exam and breast exam. It also gives you a chance to discuss any concerns about your sexual and reproductive health, like wanting to try new birth control or experiencing a weird pain during sex.

Also, you need Pap smears pretty regularly in your 20s, and cervical cancer screenings are one of the most essential evaluations for people with vaginas in their 20s, says Dr. Snyder. In your 20s, you should get a Pap smear to check for abnormal cervical cell changes at least every three years, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. You may need them more frequently than that depending on the results. (Here are some tips for making the experience as stress-free as humanly possible.)

Finally, you should be testing for STIs regularly. All sexually active people with vaginas under 25 and those over 25 with certain risk factors (like new or multiple sex partners or a partner with an STI) should be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Depending on your relationship status and how much sex you have, it may or may not make sense to have these kinds of tests once a year, or it may be best to have them more often. Talking to your ob/gyn at your annual appointment is a great way to figure out what makes sense for you.


A Quick 4-Move Workout You Can Do Anywhere From Celebrity Trainer Erin Oprea

Now that the weather is (hopefully) warming up in your neck of the woods, the concept of exercising outdoors is finally appealing again. For your next outdoor workout, consider a four-part circuit that trainer Erin Oprea recently posted on Instagram.

On Monday, the Nashville-based author of The 4×4 Diet shared an Instagram video of her demoing a series of exercises that can easily be performed al fresco—all you need is your bodyweight and an elevated step. Of course, you can also perform this circuit inside, too.

“This workout can be done ANYWHERE and if you focus on perfect form it will work your whole body!” Oprea writes in the caption.

You can check out the moves yourself, via @erinoprea, here:

As for the inspiration for this circuit, Oprea tells SELF she was at the pool and wanted to sneak in a little movement before grabbing lunch. “If your goal is for something short, quick, yet effective, [this circuit is] great,” she says.

Why this circuit makes a great workout

In terms of strengthening benefits, the circuit, as a whole, “pretty much hits the whole body,” says Oprea. There are four different moves and they each involve a slightly different combination of muscles and/or muscle groups. The sit-ups work essentially your entire core; the decline push-ups work your chest, triceps, back, shoulders, glutes, quads, and core; the plank twists really work your obliques, plus your glutes, legs, shoulders, and back; and the Bulgarian split squats are “killer on the legs” as well as the glutes and core, says Oprea. In other words, if you do all four moves back-to-back as this circuit suggests, you’ll engage nearly every big muscle group in your body.

On top of that, a few of these moves (like the Bulgarian split squats and even the push-ups) will likely get your heart rate up, says Oprea. Translation: The circuit ends up being a sneaky cardio workout, too.

Another notable perk of this workout is that all of the moves can be easily progressed or regressed. The circuit, as Oprea demos it, is moderately challenging, she says. But with simple tweaks, you can make it easier or harder depending on your fitness level and goals.

How to do the circuit

For a full workout, do the following circuit four times through, resting about 1 minute (or less) in between each round. The less rest you take in between each round, the more of a cardio challenge the workout will be.

As mentioned, you just need an elevated step to get it done. Find something sturdy that’s about knee-height, recommends Oprea. You may also want a mat for the sit-ups.

Of course, make sure to speak with your doctor before starting this or any new exercise to make sure it’s safe for you. Oprea notes that those with bcak issues and/or diastasis recti (separation of the abs, which is a common side effect of pregnancy) should probably skip the sit-ups, says Oprea. If you have knee issues, the Bulgarian split squats probably aren’t a great idea. But again, talk to your doctor if you have these or any other concerns.

Sit-up and Twist

  • If using a mat, place it on the ground perpendicular to the elevated step.
  • Lie down on the ground (or on top of the mat) so that your body is perpendicular to the step. Rest your heels up on the step so that your toes are pointed up. Your legs should be straight and angled slightly out into a V-shape.
  • Tilt your pelvis under a bit and engage your core. This will protect your back from excess stress when you sit up.
  • From here, raise both arms out straight in front of your chest and use your core to lift your torso up. As you sit up, reach your arms up, and then at the top of the sit-up, twist your torso to the right and reach your left hand toward your right ankle.
  • Come back to center with both hands raised, and then use your core to lower your torso back down.
  • Repeat, but this time at the top of the movement, reach your right hand toward your left ankle.
  • Come back to center with both hands raised, and then use your core to lower your torso back down.
  • This is 1 rep. Do 15 reps.

This move is “very difficult for a lot of people,” says Oprea. To make it easier, position your body further away from the elevated step; to make it more challenging, scooch yourself closer. You can also make the move easier by performing it with your heels on the ground versus on the elevated step, says Oprea.

However you do the move, focus on continual core engagement as you sit up and down and as you perform the twists. Keep it “nice and controlled,” says Oprea. “This is not meant to be fast and slinging your body around.”

Decline Push-up

  • Get on all fours with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-distance apart.
  • Lift your legs up one at a time to place your toes on top of the elevated step. From here, walk yourself out into a high plank position. Squeeze your butt and quads and engage your core so that your back is flat (not arched or rounded). Your body should be in one straight line from your head to your heels.
  • From here, bend your elbows to lower your chest to the ground.
  • Then, push yourself back up, keeping your core, butt, and quads engaged and your back flat.
  • This is 1 rep. Do 20 reps.

These decline push-ups will work your chest from a slightly different angle than a standard push-up, says Oprea. In terms of executing them correctly, the biggest mistake Oprea sees is arching the lower back. Prevent that by tucking your pelvis in, bracing essentially your entire body—from your shoulders to your back, core, glutes, and legs—and then lowering your entire body down as one unit. As you do so, lead with the chest, not the head, she adds.

Also, make sure you lower your body down a significant amount with each rep (don’t just perform micro pulses with your arms). If that much lowering is too difficult, or if you are still working on mastering the traditional push-up, regress the move by doing knee push-ups on the ground, says Oprea. Over time, you can work up to legs extended and then on an incline.

Plank Twist

  • Keeping your toes atop the elevated step, place your hands directly under your shoulders, tuck your pelvis in, and engage your core so that your back is flat (not sagging or rounded). Squeeze your butt and quads. As with the previous move, your body should form one long, straight line from the top of your head to your heels.
  • From here, lift your right foot up off the step, bend your right knee and slowly draw it in toward your chest and across to your left elbow.
  • Slowly reverse the twist to place your right toes back on the step. Then, lift your left foot up, bend your left knee and slowly draw it in toward your chest and across to your right elbow.
  • Slowly reverse the twist to place your right toes back on the step.
  • This is 1 rep. Do 20 reps.

By performing these plank twists with your feet elevated (versus on the ground), you’re adding extra pressure on your upper body. This means the strengthening demands on your shoulders, in particular, are greater. If you feel that you’re putting too much weight in your shoulders, perform it with your feet on the ground instead, says Oprea.

As with the sit-up twists, focus on good form—not speed—as you do this move. “Don’t swing your body around,” says Oprea. “These are nice and controlled movements.” With each twist, think about performing a little crunch with your abs.

Bulgarian Split Squat

  • Position yourself into a staggered stance. Prop your left foot on the elevated step. You can flatten your foot so that your shoelaces are lying face down, or, if that hurts your ankle, go onto your toes.
  • Hop your right foot forward a few feet so that your knee will not pass your toes when you perform the split squat, but not so far that you feel a significant strain in your back hip.
  • Brace your core and bend both knees to lower your body into a split squat until your front quad is parallel to the ground. Make sure to keep your core tight, spine straight (your torso may need to lean slightly forward to achieve this, and that’s fine), and shoulders back (not hunched up or rounded forward).
  • Push through the heel of your standing leg as you straighten that knee and return to standing.
  • This is 1 rep. Do 20 reps, and then switch legs for another 20 reps.

This split squat is especially good for working the quads, butt, and core, says Oprea. The core, in particular, is the stabilizing force in this move as your body works to stay balanced with every rep. Think about continually engaging it throughout.

Another form tip: Make sure to keep your back knee bent and pointing down as you perform the split squats, says Oprea, who adds that many people incorrectly tend to keep it straight. Also, make sure that you don’t rock your body forward as you lower down—keep your shoulders back and chest up.

If you have trouble balancing, stand near a sturdy object—like a tree or bench—and lightly rest a hand on top of the object for added stability. To make the move more difficult, hold a set of light dumbbells in your hands as you squat.

Oprea’s final tip for the circuit as a whole: “Have fun, but really focus on perfect form,” she says. “That is the key.”


Do Topical CBD Products Actually Do Anything for Pain?

You don’t need me to tell you that CBD (cannabidiol) is everywhere. You can eat it, you can drink it, you can vape it, you can even bathe in it. And, although there’s still plenty to learn about this fascinating little compound, fans of it claim that it has some pretty impressive benefits—particularly when it comes to managing pain.

Personally, I always keep a few jars of it at my desk to help with the shoulder and neck muscle tension inherent in a job consisting mainly of typing and holding a phone next to my face. But it turns out that the research behind these claims is pretty sparse, to say the least. Here’s what you need to know before you give topical CBD a try.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, is a cannabinoid, a type of compound found in cannabis (marijuana). Unlike the more well-known cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD does not produce a “high.”

Both THC and CBD act on a system of receptors in your body called cannabinoid receptors. You have cannabinoid receptors throughout your body and, so far, researchers have identified two major types: CB1 (found primarily in the central nervous system, including parts of the brain and spinal cord) and CB2 (found mainly in immune system tissues). Interestingly, both have been found in skin. Researchers have also found that, while THC can bind to and activate both types of receptors, CBD seems to modulate and somewhat block the effects of CB1 and CB2 receptors. So, any effect that CBD has on CB receptors may actually be more related to regulating and even counteracting some of the actions of THC and other cannabinoids in the brain.

So, why does the body have receptors for compounds in cannabis? Well, it doesn’t exactly. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are similar enough to compounds that your body naturally makes, called endocannabinoids, that they can interact with this system. Normally, the endocannabinoid system is thought to play a role in a variety of functions in the body, helping to regulate things like parts of the immune system, the release of hormones, metabolism, and memory.

If you’re ingesting something that only has CBD in it and no THC, you won’t have significant effects in the brain. This is why CBD is often referred to as being “non-psychoactive,” although that’s clearly a bit of an oversimplification because it does do something in the central nervous system.

More recent research suggests that many of CBD’s effects may occur outside of CB receptors, Jordan Tishler, M.D., medical cannabis expert at InhaleMD in Boston, tells SELF. In fact, according to a recent review published in Molecules, CBD may have effects on some serotonin receptors (known to play a role in depression and anxiety), adenosine receptors (one of the neurological targets for caffeine), and even TRPV-1 receptors (more commonly associated with taste and the sensation of spiciness).

“It actually is a very promiscuous compound,” Kevin Boehnke, Ph.D., research fellow in the department of anesthesiology and the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at the University of Michigan, tells SELF. “It will bind to receptors in multiple different pathways,” which makes it difficult to know how it might cause noticeable effects.

“Cannabidiol is a super messy drug,” Ziva Cooper, Ph.D., research director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative in the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, tells SELF. “It has lots and lots of targets and it’s not clear how much of its effects on each target contribute to the potential pain relieving effects.”

All of this points to how hard it is to study the specific effects of CBD on its own—which might be why it’s tempting to claim that it’s the cure for everything without a whole lot of research to actually back up all of those claims.

Here’s what the research says about using CBD for pain.

The most common medical reason for which people report using CBD is to manage chronic pain, followed closely by managing arthritis or joint pain. But does it actually work?

When the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering evaluated decades of cannabis research, they concluded that, “in adults with chronic pain, patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids are more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms.”

But that’s not quite as exciting for CBD as it sounds: “We don’t know cannabidiol’s effects on its own,” says Cooper, who was part of the National Academies committee that put together this report. “ [The conclusions about cannabis and cannabinoids] were based off of what we know about THC or THC plus cannabidiol.”

In fact, the most compelling research they found for using cannabinoids for pain came from a large review and meta-analysis published in JAMA in 2015. For the study, researchers looked at results from 79 previous studies of cannabinoids and various medical conditions, including chronic pain. However, of those studies, only four involved CBD (without THC)—none of which were looking at pain. So, although we might assume that, in the studies involving the whole cannabis plant, CBD is doing something to help address pain, we don’t have great evidence to prove it.

“It might be that cannabidiol by itself is helpful for pain, but at this point we don’t know that,” Cooper says.

The studies we do have about CBD for pain are all animal studies. For example, in a 2017 study published in Pain, researchers gave rats an injection into one of their knee joints to model osteoarthritis. Rats then either received doses of CBD or saline directly into an artery in the knee joint. Results showed that, after receiving CBD, rats showed less inflammation in the joint area and fewer pain-related behaviors (like shaking or withdrawing the affected paw or not being able to bear weight in that paw) compared to those that received saline.

Another study, this one published in 2016 in the European Journal of Pain, also looked at arthritis in rats but did so with a topical formulation of CBD. After the rats received an injection into one knee joint to model arthritis, they received a gel that contained either 10 percent CBD (in four different total amounts) or 1 percent CBD (the control) on four consecutive days. The gel was massaged into the rats’ shaved backs for 30 seconds each time.

Then the researchers measured the inflammation in each rat’s knee joint, the level of CBD that made it into their bloodstream, and their pain-related behaviors. They found that the rats that were given the two highest doses of CBD showed significantly lower levels of inflammation and lower pain behavior scores compared to those that got the control. The two lower doses didn’t show much of an effect.

But if you’re reading this, you are probably not a rat, which means these results aren’t directly applicable to your life. Although we know that rats do share much of our physiology—including CB1 and CB2 receptors—these studies don’t really tell us if humans would have the same results with CBD.

“There’s really no substitute for doing proper human studies, which are difficult, expensive, and ethically complicated,” Dr. Tishler says. And we simply don’t have them for CBD and pain.

The only thing that comes close is a Phase 2 clinical trial using a proprietary CBD transdermal gel (meaning it’s meant to go through the skin into the bloodstream) in 320 patients with knee osteoarthritis over 12 weeks, which has not been peer reviewed to date. Unfortunately, in almost all of the study’s measures of pain, those who received CBD didn’t have statistically different scores from those who got placebo. But “they found some reductions in pain and improvements in physical function,” Boehnke says.

So…is CBD cream just an expensive placebo?

It’s totally possible (and actually pretty likely) that any effect you get from a commercially available topical CBD product is a placebo effect or related to some other aspect of the product. But there are a few things going on here that are more complex than they seem.

First off, we don’t know much about the correct dose of CBD needed for a pain-relieving effect. The doses in the rat studies that were effective were pretty large (for a rat, obviously). And the human participants in the Phase 2 clinical trial we mentioned received 250 mg of synthetic CBD topically per day—as much as many consumer topical CBD products contain in a single jar.

And even though the lotion was applied topically in the rat study, it wasn’t applied locally to the knee. Instead, the researchers were really using the topical application to get it into the rats’ bloodstream, or what’s called “systemic” administration. But you’d likely need a different dose for it to be effective locally (if you applied it just to your aching shoulder, for instance) in a human. We have no idea what that dose should look like.

One major issue is that it’s actually somewhat difficult to create a topical cannabinoid product (containing CBD or THC) that penetrates the skin enough to produce an effect, but not so deep that it gets into the bloodstream, Boehnke explains. If the product does get into the bloodstream—if it’s transdermal rather than truly topical—it could potentially reach the brain, possibly producing psychoactive effects if it contains THC.

But at this point, we have no idea how deep the creams that are commercially available are penetrating. And even if they’re getting to that sweet spot in your skin, we don’t know how much CBD is getting there or how much is necessary to provide an effect.

So, how do we account for all the people out there (like me) who use these products and feel like they’re doing something? Beyond the placebo effect, it’s possible that something else in the cream could be doing the heavy lifting here. These products don’t just contain CBD, Dr. Tishler points out. In fact, many of them also come with ingredients like arnica, menthol, or camphor, which may all provide a more immediate sensation of soothing or pain relief. So it could be those ingredients (or just the act of massaging the balm into your skin) that makes you feel better.

Two other common reasons people take CBD are to manage anxiety and sleep issues, two things we know can contribute to pain, Boehnke says. So, if you are dealing with other issues like that in addition to pain, any reduction in pain you feel could be an indirect effect of it helping you manage anxiety or sleep. (But those are still unlikely to be affected by a topical formulation.)

If you (like me) feel like your CBD cream is truly having an effect, it’s likely unrelated to the CBD itself. And because there are plenty of other pain management options out there that we know more about—including medical cannabis—it’s important to talk to a health care provider to make sure you’re not overlooking something else that might be more helpful.

“If somebody comes in with pain, do you reach for a bottle of CBD? The answer is absolutely not,” Dr. Tishler says.

But, ultimately, if you like it, you’re not experiencing bothersome or dangerous side effects, and feel like it works, that’s what matters most.

Consider this before you buy a topical CBD product:

The first thing to be aware of is the amount of CBD that a product claims to contain. Because the studies we have about CBD and pain all looked at systemic administration rather than truly local, we don’t really know what the correct dose would be when applied locally. It’s tempting to go for the highest amount you can find, but it’s really up to you since we don’t even know where to start.

It’s also important to remember that, although generally benign, side effects have been reported with some forms of CBD. For instance, oral CBD taken in the large amounts that have shown some limited promise in helping with anxiety issues may come with side effects, such as diarrhea, reduced appetite, fatigue, and interactions with other drugs you might be taking, specifically blood thinners, Cooper says.

But some studies have found essentially zero side effects of high-dose CBD (900mg) and those that researchers do see—like drug interactions—aren’t considered to be issues when CBD is used topically.

If you’re worried about a purely topical CBD product getting into your bloodstream, Dr. Tishler explains that’s unlikely. CBD is hydrophobic (meaning it isn’t water-soluble) and lipophilic (attracted to lipids, like oils) and tends to stay on the outer layer of skin or possibly accumulate in the sebaceous glands unless it’s paired with “enhancers” (ingredients designed to help them make it through the skin, at which point they would instead be transdermal). Making a truly “water-soluble CBD” has been a challenge for the industry, although there are a variety of patents out there.

That said, we don’t always know exactly what’s in the CBD products out there due to a lack of regulation. Until recently, CBD was regulated as a Schedule 1 substance, meaning that the federal government believed it had a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical value. But the FDA approval of Epidiolex last year and the passage of the Farm Bill in December 2018 changed things by lifting the federal ban on commercial hemp production (hemp also contains CBD in lower amounts than cannabis). But it also made things more confusing because we’re still waiting on actual CBD regulations from the FDA. In the meantime, companies are treating hemp-derived CBD as if it’s perfectly legal, Dr. Tishler says.

The lack of regulation has also left the door open for products to be subject to both “contamination and adulteration,” Dr. Tishler says. One study, published in JAMA in 2017, found that almost 70 percent of CBD products—including vape cartridges, tinctures, and oils—sold online did not contain the things they claimed to in the right amounts. That’s why Boehnke recommends only buying CBD products that you can verify (via a certificate of analysis) contain what they’re supposed to. And Boenhke offers the same advice he does for all cannabinoid products: Start at a low dose and, if you decide to increase it, go slowly. (Start low, go slow.)

Ultimately, though, I still love my CBD creams and don’t plan on abandoning them any time soon (I also love my bottle of ibuprofen, for the record). But if you’re interested in turning to CBD to manage serious pain, it’s probably worth talking to your doctor about all of your options first.


5 CBD Creams, Balms, and Lotions I Use When Muscle Aches Are Ruining My Life

At any given time I have somewhere between one and probably 20 CBD (cannabidiol) products at my desk. That’s partly because I genuinely enjoy using them and partly because, thanks to my job, I get sent about a billion of them every week.

I use them to massage my neck and shoulder area during the day because I have a tendency to revert to the classic hunched-over position while typing. I also keep an additional few bottles of CBD at home for post-workout muscle soreness and those inevitable days when my lower back is nagging me.

But whether or not topical CBD actually helps with pain is surprisingly complicated. For anyone unfamiliar, CBD is a compound found in cannabis that doesn’t produce the typical “high” feeling—and it’s touted to have various positive health effects, a big one being pain management. We don’t have a ton of research on the subject, as SELF explained previously, and what we do have is mainly from animal research, which means we don’t know how effective it might be in humans.

Even if it’s just a placebo effect, though, it’s one that comes with very few potential harms. Although high doses of CBD (upwards of 600 mg) when taken orally have been associated with things like gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, and possible drug interactions, it’s unlikely that those would occur if you’re just using it topically.

But I still feel like my CBD products personally make me feel a bit better, so there’s that. The important things to keep in mind are knowing what’s in the product you’re buying—as much as possible, with an unregulated substance like CBD—and making sure you’re not overlooking another treatment option that may have more research behind it. Some companies take the extra step of making sure that their products are tested by a third party and offer a certificate of analysis upon request or on their website so you know what’s actually in them.

Legally, CBD is in a bit of a limbo. With the passage of the Farm Bill this past December, the previous federal ban on the commercial production of hemp was lifted and hemp plants containing less than .3 percent THC are no longer considered Schedule 1 substances. But the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t finalized any regulations around hemp-derived CBD products, so things are definitely still developing.

With so many unknowns and so many topical CBD products out there, it’s hard to know where to start. Below, I’ve shared a few of my personal favorites—the ones I always come back to. But, as always, it’s best to check in with a medical professional before you start experimenting.

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.

Study finds that quitting smoking during pregnancy lowers risk of preterm births

There is an important association between maternal cigarette smoking cessation during pregnancy and risk of preterm birth, according to a new Dartmouth-led study published in JAMA Network Open.

The negative health impacts of cigarette smoking during pregnancy — which include low birth weight, delayed intrauterine development, preterm birth, infant mortality, and long-term developmental delays — are well known. In good news, the proportion of women who start their pregnancy as smokers has been declining in recent years.

“Of concern, though, given the substantial benefits of smoking cessation during pregnancy, is the proportion of pre-pregnancy smokers who quit smoking during pregnancy has remained essentially stagnant since 2011,” explains lead author Samir Soneji, PhD, an associate professor at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, who collaborated with Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez, PhD, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, on the study.

The investigators sought to assess the probability of preterm birth among expectant mothers who smoked before pregnancy and quit at the start or during pregnancy. Using data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, they conducted a cross-sectional study of more than 25 million pregnant women (modal age 25-29) who gave birth to live neonates during a six-year period (2011-2017) — measuring their smoking frequency three months prior to pregnancy and for each trimester during pregnancy.

Notably, their analysis not only showed that quitting smoking was associated with reduced risk of preterm birth, it showed that the probability of preterm birth decreased more the earlier smoking cessation occurred in pregnancy — up to a 20 percent relative decrease if cessation occurred at the beginning of pregnancy.

However, the study also found that only about 25 percent of women who smoked prior to pregnancy were able to quit throughout their pregnancy, and approximately 50 percent of women who smoked during their pregnancy did so with high frequency (more than 10 cigarettes per day).

“Pregnancy can be a stressful time in a woman’s life,” says Soneji. “And women who smoked prior to pregnancy may turn to smoking or continue to smoke as a way to mitigate this stress.

“Thus, it is incumbent upon healthcare providers who care for pregnant women to have a renewed focus on smoking cessation,” he says. “Pregnancy is often a time when women have more frequent contact with the healthcare system, and this increased contact provides expectant mothers an opportunity to discuss their concerns about smoking, including their attempts to stop, and receive the support and resources they need to safely and successfully quit.”

Another positive takeaway from the study is that the benefits gained from cessation extend to heavy smokers. “Even among women who smoke a pack a day or more, there can be a substantial reduction in the risk of premature births if these heavy smokers quit early in pregnancy,” Soneji says.

Next, Soneji plans to look at quit rates and smoking intensity and their impact on the risk of infant mortality. “Thankfully most premature babies end up doing well,” he says. “But premature birth is strongly linked to infant mortality. If we determine quitting, and quitting early, reduces the risk of infant mortality, then that may speak to mothers even more saliently about the importance of smoking cessation.”

This study was supported by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (grant number P2C-HD041022) to the California Center for Population Research at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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Materials provided by The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. Original written by Timothy Dean. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Light, physical activity reduces brain aging

Incremental physical activity, even at light intensity, is associated with larger brain volume and healthy brain aging.

Considerable evidence suggests that engaging in regular physical activity may prevent cognitive decline and dementia. Active individuals have lower metabolic and vascular risk factors and these risk factors may explain their propensity for healthy brain aging. However, the specific activity levels optimal for dementia prevention have remained unclear.

The new 2018 Physical Activity-Guidelines for Americans suggest that some physical activity is better than none, but achieving greater than 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous (MV) physical activity per week is recommended for substantial health benefits.

Using data from the Framingham Heart Study, researchers found that for each additional hour spent in light-intensity physical activity was equivalent to approximately 1.1 years less brain aging.

According to the researchers, these results suggest that the threshold of the favorable association for physical activity with brain aging may be at a lower, more achievable level of intensity or volume.

“Every additional hour of light intensity physical activity was associated with higher brain volumes, even among individuals not meeting current Physical Activity-Guidelines. These data are consistent with the notion that potential benefits of physical activity on brain aging may accrue at a lower, more achievable level of intensity or volume,” explained Nicole Spartano, PhD, research assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM).

“We have really only just begun to uncover the relationship between physical activity and brain health.” Spartano emphasizes the need to explore the impact of physical inactivity on brain aging in different race, ethnic, and socio-economic groups. She is leading a team effort to investigate these patterns at multiple sites all over the country. “We couldn’t do this research without the commitment of the Framingham Heart Study participants who have given so much to the medical community over the years. Our research also hinges on the multi-disciplinary team of investigators at Boston University and external collaborators.” She also acknowledges the importance of funding for research in this area and is grateful for support from the National Institute on Aging, American Heart Association, and Alzheimer’s Association.

These finding appear online in JAMA Network Open.

Funding for this study was provided by the following research grants: NHLBI-N01-HC25195, HHSN268201500001I; R01-AG054076; R01-AG049607; R01-AG047645; R01-HL131029; R01-NS017950; American Heart Association (15GPSGC24800006 and 16MCPRP30310001). Dr. Vasan is supported in part by the Evans Medical foundation and the Jay and Louis Coffman Endowment, Department of Medicine, BUSM.

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