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Experience Life Magazine

40 Days of Weightlifting for a Foodie

I’ve never been much of a weightlifter. I don’t like the smells that accompany it (mostly from myself — I can get pretty smelly), and have never felt confident that I’m lifting correctly. It oddly makes me feel foreign in my own skin, and, frankly, I’m uncomfortable with the whole idea.

But, it’s 2014, and in honor of the B.Strong for Bryce 40-day Fitness Challenge and a colleague’s inspiring post about getting comfortable being uncomfortable, I found myself chatting with coworkers Jamie Martin and Maggie Fazeli Fard about weightlifting for 40 days — and how it was time to face my discomfort head on.

(Related: 5,000 Kettlebell Swings)

I normally take photos of food and wine, and I realized as I gathered the images below that cooking was once something I was highly uncomfortable with, too. When I finally began, I hid away in the kitchen when no one was there. I was clumsy. I burned things. I measured incorrectly. Even after I started enjoying it, it took me a good year to actually cook for someone else.

Now, I love cooking. I love experimenting. And I love sharing that passion with others. Food (and wine) does indeed heal broken pieces in us. (Disclaimer #1: I should be clear. I’m not trading my wine indulgences during these 40 days, just adding some weights to my repertoire.)

Drinking wine at the cabin while making dinner.

Drinking wine at the cabin while making dinner.


Chatting with friends over wine in the kitchen.


Preparing cranberries and pears for a new scone recipe.


A quick dinner of zucchini, cheese, salsa, spinach, and leftover tenderloins.


Choppin’ those tomatoes!


Brunch in Chicago outside during warmer times. I loved these jam and butter jars.



























It was time to face the uncomfortable once again. In honor of Bryce — my coworker’s 8-month-old nephew who was recently diagnosed with Krabbe disease and has spent numerous hours in the hospital getting tests and fighting to live each day — I’m going to be brave and start picking up some weights.

On my first day at the gym, I warmed up on the bike and then found myself doing biofeedback with my new trainer — Maggie! (Disclaimer #2: Maggie is not a certified trainer. I use this term loosely, as she’s teaching me for fun.)

As we began biofeedback testing, I kept wishing I was in a room alone, away from people, but I stuck with it. Maggie was a fantastic teacher and spent a good 15 minutes explaining how to move my hips for kettlebell deadlifts. I felt awkward and uncoordinated, and caught myself saying there was something wrong with my hips.

She assured me there wasn’t. I tried again.

(Related: Show Me How: The Hip Hinge)

It turns out, kettlebell deadlifts, pushups, one-arm rows, and goblet squats tested well for me. By the end, I was feeling more comfortable and was amazed that my body was moving in ways I hadn’t felt it move before.

Below are some photos from Day 1, along with that log that Maggie took for me. Check back each week for more photos on my progress!


A close-up of me grabbing a kettlebell during a deadlift.




More deadlifting.

















How to read the log:

  1. The set is listed first. Each set in this is made up of 2 exercises. Example: Set 1: Squats and Pushups.
  2. Total Time for the set means the length the set lasted.
  3. The weight and reps are listed next. Example: @ 20 pounds, 6, 8, 7 = 6 reps at 20 pounds, 8 reps at 20 pounds and 7 reps at 20 pound.
  4. Tested means between each rep set, biofeedback testing was used to gauge the body.
  5. Both exercise in each set are alternated throughout the set.


Log: Day 1














Lifting, it turns out, can be healing in its own way — just like food and wine.

Tell Us: Where are you pushing yourself out your comfort zone this year?

Casie Leigh Lukes is Experience Life’s digital content specialist.

Experience Life Magazine

5,000 Kettlebell Swings

Bryce and Auntie Jamie, just a couple of days after his diagnosis.

Bryce and Auntie Jamie reading his favorite book, Commotion in the Ocean, a couple of days after his diagnosis.

This past November, my only nephew, Bryce, was diagnosed with a fatal genetic disorder called Krabbe Disease, for which there is no treatment or cure. My nephew will never sit up, let alone walk or run. He’ll never get to toss the football with his Daddy or get to play tag with his cousins (my daughters). He will never get to tell his Mommy he loves her.

As his auntie and his Mom’s sister, I feel helpless, wishing there was something I could do to better support them in a situation that’s helpless in and of itself. Maintaining Bryce’s CaringBridge page and website doesn’t seem like enough; spreading the word about his benefit seems miniscule. And while I know my sister really just needs me to be there to let her cry and talk through her pain and grief, I still wish — I will always wish — I could do more.

So when my aunt asked if I thought my sister would be OK with her organizing a fitness challenge in honor of Bryce, I said yes. She also wants to help in some way.

The B.Strong for Bryce 40-Day Fitness Challenge kicked off last week. The goal is to inspire family and friends to set personal health and fitness challenges that they can complete by March 1st, and to tie a financial incentive to their actions — the proceeds of which will go toward Bryce’s care as he battles Krabbe. We’re asking them to walk, run, lift, bike, MOVE for Bryce.

About 75 people have joined so far, committing to everything from walking 100 miles to swimming 3,000 laps as a family to jumping rope 300 times per day. It’s a win-win: They’re helping out a special boy in need, while improving their own health and fitness. And research shows that tying health and wellness endeavors to a meaningful cause like this is a surefire way to increase fitness and motivation, as reported in an Experience Life article published in December 2012:

Thanks to the feel-good environment and focused sense of purpose, participants reap rich physical and psychological benefits beyond the walking, running, climbing and biking that takes place at the events themselves. Even those who choose to provide sideline support stand to get back far more than they put in. The Corporation for National and Community Service reviewed studies from sources like Duke University to look at the correlation between volunteering and physical health. Their discovery: Virtually any kind of volunteer activity can reduce intensity levels of chronic pain, lower rates of depression and reduce mortality risk. The social ties it creates can even improve immunity.

 I may not be able to take away the physical or emotional pain of Bryce’s diagnosis, but I can help financially by moving physically. My challenge: To do 5,000 kettlebell swings at $0.05 per swing. That’s 125 kettlebell swings a day for 40 days.

I’m seven for seven days so far. And I plan on swinging every day until March 1st — and well beyond. It feels so good to be taking action.

TELL US: Is there a charity event that’s close to your heart? Share it with us in the comments section below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife. 

Jamie Martin is Experience Life‘s director of digital initiatives.  

Experience Life Magazine

On The Bike: Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever

He was the best of heroes, the worst of heroes. Wheelmen--Lance-Armstrong

Lance Armstrong battled and beat cancer, then battled and beat the best bike racers in the world to win an unprecedented, impossible seven Tours de France.

How many people around the globe owe thanks to Lance for the increased public awareness of cancer, funding for cancer research, and inspiration for the possibility of besting the odds, surviving cancer, and rebuilding a life?

And how many people around the globe did he inspire to start riding, to buy a Trek bicycle, to purchase their own U.S. Post Service or Discovery Channel jersey, to take road-racing classes, to take out a beginner’s Category 5 license, to start competing? The Great Bicycle Boom of the 1990s and early 2000s came thanks to Lance.

Yet there was always an inkling — then a lurking concern, then a growing fear — that perhaps Lance wasn’t playing by the rules. In winning the Tour and other single-day classics or multi-day stage races, he outsprinted and outclimbed bicycles foes who were almost all later disqualified, fined, or sanctioned for doping — Richard Virenque, Jan Ullrich, Floyd Landis, Ivan Basso, Alexander Vinokourov, the list is painfully long. As Greg Lemond, America’s first Tour de France winner, said about modern-day bicycle racing, with the drugs they have, “one could convert a mule into a stallion.” How could Lance possibly have done it if he was clean?

The suspicions grew, but our desire to believe in Lance was stronger.

As Lemond, again, succinctly summed up Lance’s reign as America’s greatest sporting hero of the times, “If Lance is clean, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sports. If he isn’t, it would be the greatest fraud.”

We now all know which one it is.

Wall Street Journal reporters Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell chronicle the rise and fall of “Lance, Inc.” in Wheelmen (Gotham Books, 2013). The story they tell is alternately stirring, thrilling, disgusting, depressing, and revolting. It’s a thriller, a page-turner, a business exposé, at times practically a sci-fi romp. You go from rooting for the underdog to cheering for his disgrace. And when you’re finished with the book, you’ll want to wash your hands. And wash them well.

The story also follows the broader modern era of bicycle racing, getting behind the scenes into the Tour and other events, explaining things we all saw or heard about but didn’t know the backstory to. In chilling prose, the authors describe the whole U.S. Postal Team getting blood transfusions while lying down on the floor of their bus during a faked mechanical breakdown to put off the French police. They tell of team Trek bicycles sold in Belgium to buy EPO and other performance-enhancing drugs to keep the expenses under the table. And in equally thorough detail, they explain the bribes “Lance, Inc.” paid to cycling’s governing bodies to suppress positive drug tests. As they summarize,

“Lance Armstrong’s fourteen-year-long deception was an elaborate, many-tentacled enterprise requiring complicated logistics, scores of people to execute them, and an iron-willed determination to keep it going. Lance relied on his teammates, doctors, lawyers, financial backers, sponsors, assistants, and associates to help him cheat — or at the very least to ignore the evidence that he was doing so — and on the complacent, hero-worshipping media to celebrate his victories without looking into how he achieved them. The few who did raise questions were publicly attacked, sued for large sums of money, and generally vilified by Lance and his well-trained army of supporters. Some of the people in his network of allies directly aided and abetted him in his doping. And everyone from his ex-wife to his friends, sponsors, and former girlfriends turned a blind eye to it — until almost the end. Of course, once the USADA decision was released, the defections were virtually unanimous — the proverbial rats fleeing the sinking ship.”

Of course, cycling isn’t alone in its battle with drugging: think of Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and too many others. In fact, cycling should be praised for doing more publicly — and painfully — to fight performance-enhancing drug use than most other sports or sport-governing bodies.

And the money made from cycling and the attached endorsements is pennies compared to Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, or World Cup soccer.

But that’s not the point. As many of us suspected deep down, Lance was a false hero. In the end, he lost his seven Tour victories.

Yet more importantly, Lance stole our faith in our sport.

Why did we believe in him for so long? That’s one of the questions the authors struggle with. Their answer is profound:

“For a long time, Americans just couldn’t get enough of Lance. . . . Millions persisted in believing in him until it became impossible to do so. Why? That may be a question harder to answer than why his teammates and coaches, his sponsors and financial backers, collaborated in the lie. But society’s gullibility in the face of ever-mounting evidence probably has something to do with its need for a certain kind of hero. Looked at this way, Lance is the inevitable product of our celebrity-worshipping culture and the whole money-mad world of sports gone amok. This is the Golden Age of fraud, an era of general willingness to ignore and justify the wrongdoings of the rich and powerful, which makes every lie bigger and widens its destructive path.”

There have been recent calls for Armstrong — as well as Nike and Trek and others — to return some of what is now ill-gotten gain. But let Lance keep the money.

Instead, refund our faith in cycling.

As Lance’s first autobiography pointed out, it’s not about the bike. No, indeed: It was about the power and the glory, as well as all that money.

For the rest of us — the Cat. 3 racers, the gran fondo riders, the triathletes, the spinning-class exercisers, the bicycle commuters, the weekend riders — it is about the bike.

And the best response to all this madness is to simply get back on your bike and ride.

Michael-Dregni: On the Bike

Michael Dregni is Experience Life’s managing editor.







Tell Us: What’s your favorite way to ride bike?

Experience Life Magazine

Healing Trials for Winter Feet


Admittedly, I come from a long line of people with smelly, sweaty feet. During my brothers dorm days, they stuck their sneakers in their windows (and in more desperate moments outside — even in the snow) to air out the rank smell.

I have not escaped this foot odor. I leave sweaty foot prints throughout my house when I take my socks off and usually develop an unpleasant wafting stench a few hours into the day. Even in the winter. My roommate has named it “The Lukes Foot Syndrome.”

To make matters worse, my sweat is cold, my circulation poor, and I live in a very cold climate. The more I learn about sweat and hormones, the more I realize I have a hormone imbalance, which I’m working on. (I don’t smother antiperspirant on my feet any longer, which made matters much worse.)

As a result of the foot nastiness, cold sweat, dry climate, walks in below zero temperatures, and having my tootsies cooped up in wool socks all day, my baby toes began to itch about two weeks ago. I didn’t think much of it, and just applied extra lotion.

Around this same time, I also started biking in the gym — my stair workout just wasn’t cutting it for movement — and was wearing old shoes that gave me blisters.

I ignored my feet, and two days ago they got my attention.

I was here at the Experience Life office and my toes began to swell, burn, and itch. I panicked in my hypochondriac way, ran to the kitchen, and scooped some coconut oil onto a paper towel. On the bathroom floor, I smothered coconut oil over my little toes. I emailed numerous people saying I had a disease spreading over my entire body. (They assured me I was overreacting.) 

I went home convinced I was developing a massive, unique body rash — the thought of my small toes falling off even crossed my mind a few times. My boyfriend soon stopped by my apartment with a bag of foot treatments. He had gone to Whole Foods and talked with a man in the homeopathy area. (Did I mention I have an amazing, thoughtful boyfriend?!)

I soaked my feet in a mix of warm water, Epsom salt, and tea tree oil. After the water got chilly, he dried my feet and massaged Argon oil into them, followed by a tea tree oil balm. (For what it’s worth, he also learned that Argon oil can be applied to the ends of hair to prevent split ends and is great for beards.)

As he massaged my feet, they began to feel much better. The swelling lessened in my toes and the burning disappeared. But then I noticed the bottom of my foot hurt. Badly. He said he was barely touching them, but could feel a series of bubbles inside my foot as he massaged them.

Despite that discomfort, I slept well that evening, the circulation in my feet keeping them warm, and my mini-spa treatment leaving them moisturized, and the smell of tea tree oil pleasantly lulling me to sleep. The next morning I did a quick version of this before going to work.

I raved to my coworkers about my foot spa, also slipping in mention of the weird bubbles in the bottom of my feet. Maggie brought me a revolutionary foot tool: a lacrosse ball.












I stepped on the ball, putting pressure on my foot, and slowly rolled it up and down. Although extremely painful, within a few minutes, I felt my hip muscles loosen, and my toes grow warm.

I am now enthralled at the way my feet are connected to the rest of my body, and plan to do some more in-depth research on foot health.

Quick things to do to keep your feet healthy:

  • Change socks frequently throughout the day to reduce wetness
  • Alternate wool and cotton socks
  • Soak in an Epsom salt foot bath
  • Rub tea tree oil, Argon oil or lotion into them a few times a day
  • Roll out the bottom of your foot with a lacrosse ball
  • Replace gym shoes when they are no longer keeping your feet healthy
  • Massage your feet

I learned there are easy ways to heal my feet, and in the future plan to take better care of them. They’ve definitely gotten my attention.

Related Articles: The Joy of the Pedicure, A Pain in the Foot, Best Foot Forward

Tell Us: In what ways do you pamper your feet?

Casie Leigh Lukes is Experience Life‘s digital content specialist.

Experience Life Magazine

How To Be A “Morning Person”

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” –Benjamin Franklin

How to Be a Morning Person Our society is designed for the proverbial early bird. Nine-to-five work schedules. Pre-dawn school bus pick-ups. Six a.m. bootcamps. Hostile corporate takeovers before breakfast. Want to catch the worm? Better be the first one up.

Anecdotal and scientific research indicate that early risers are more productive and even happier than the rest of us. Depressingly, the discovery of an “early bird gene” implies that it’s not easy for everyone to reap these rewards.

So what’s a night owl to do? Is there hope for those of us who don’t wake up chirping with the sun?

My natural tendency is to stay up late and sleep until I’m rested. Since I was a toddler, my body clock has resisted going to bed early — not just because of a fear of missing out, but because I feel fully alert well into the wee hours.

For years I struggled, fighting an inner battle between not being able to fall asleep at the “right” time and a sense of responsibility to never be late for school or work. The result of this lack of sleep, compounded over many years, was fatigue, crankiness, and, ironically, insomnia. I dealt with it by telling myself that I was just “one of those people” who could run on five hours of sleep each night.

In 2010 I started a job that required me to be in the office and fully alert at 5 a.m., a schedule that further messed with my wonky sleep cycle. Five hours of sleep per night was suddenly cut to three. One morning I woke up, got dressed, packed lunch, and walked halfway to the train station before realizing it was barely 1 a.m. I’d only slept 45 minutes and was running on auto-pilot, heading to work three hours early.

After that “wake-up call,” I committed to fixing my sleep/wake habits. I figured I may never be a natural “morning person,” but I could at least spare my physical and mental health by making some lifestyle changes.

Whether you simply want to reap the purported benefits of rising early or you’re forced to wake early because of job or family obligations, it is possible to ease the transition from night owl to early bird. Here are some tips that worked for me:

1. Practice good bedtime habits. 

A good night’s sleep is an integral part of waking up early.  It sounds obvious, but start getting ready for bed before you want to go to sleep. So, if your goal is to be in bed by 10 p.m., don’t wait until 9:58 p.m. to brush your teeth. The last thing you want is to go to bed feeling alert, so give yourself a buffer window to unwind after any nighttime chores. Use this time for relaxing rituals, such as drinking a cup of tea, yoga or meditation, or reading. Bonus points if you don amber-tinted sunglasses.

2. Streamline your morning routine.

What morning tasks can you knock out the night before? Set the coffee pot on a timer. Prep your lunch.  Pack your gym bag. Wash and style your hair. Pick an outfit. Write out your to-do list. These are all small (but necessary) time-sucks that can be done before bed. Yes, it frees up a few minutes for extra sleep, but more importantly it relieves some early-a.m. stress. The to-do list was especially helpful for me.

3. Don’t hit the snooze button.

When the alarm goes off, just get up. An extra 10 minutes won’t do anything but make you more groggy.

4. Wake up to something you love.

You’ll be more likely to get out of bed if you’re getting up to do something you enjoy. Some ideas: Drinking a great cup of coffee, listening to your favorite radio station, taking a morning walk, showering with your favorite body wash. It really is the simple pleasures in life that keep us going.

5Detach from technology — at night and in the morning.

Remember that relaxing buffer window I mentioned in tip #1? Did you notice there was no mention of checking email or watching television? That was on purpose. Try disconnecting from your devices an hour before bed and, if possible, eliminate them from your sleeping area altogether. Similarly, don’t reach for your smartphone as soon as you wake up. If you use it as an alarm, just turn it off, and get up without checking email, Facebook, or the weather. A friend of mine likes to say that her bed is used for three things only: sleep, sex, and reading. Not bad advice.

6. Get moving.

Morning workouts can be great motivators and leave you feeling energized. Even if you don’t want to – or don’t have time to – break a sweat first thing in the morning, getting some exercise over the course of the day can positively impact sleep and energy.

7. Cut caffeine.

That’s right— cut out caffeine altogether. Some people recommend avoiding it after a certain time or limiting the total amount of caffeine you consume in a given day. But I had the best results when I eliminated it completely and didn’t allow myself to rely on it at all. Once my body adjusted to the new sleep schedule, I was able to reincorporate caffeinated coffee and black tea for their taste.

8. Expose yourself to natural light and fresh air.

Do this as soon as possible after you wake up and throughout the day.

9. Make gradual changes.

If possible, shift your sleep/wake time in small increments. Waking up just 20 minutes earlier each week is easier than setting your alarm back a full three hours at once.

10. Be consistent.

Waking up early shouldn’t be a Monday-to-Friday chore. For sustainable changes, consistency through the weekend is key. Like caffeine, once your body adjusts you can play around with weekend sleep/wake times. But in the beginning try to stick to a schedule.

 11. Be patient.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to be a “morning person” overnight. It’ll take time and a bit of experimentation to find what works for you.

12. Don’t complain — and don’t force it if you don’t have to.

Shifting your sleep cycle requires a shift in mindset as well. Complaining that you’re tired or lamenting that you had to leave the party early doesn’t make the transition any easier. Focus on what you’re gaining — productivity, a dream job, a new baby, etc. — in exchange. And if you’re not getting anything out of waking up early, examine why you’re doing it. A very basic goal in life is to not be miserable. Don’t be a “morning person” if it makes you and those around you miserable. Naturally waking up early isn’t  “better” — it’s just different. Embrace your true nature by maximizing your productivity when you’re most alert. Time — morning, afternoon, or night — is what you make of it.

Tell us: Are you an inveterate early bird or natural night owl? Have you had to change your ways? Share your experiences and advice in the comments below or tweet us @ExperienceLife.

Maggie Fazeli Fard is a staff writer for Experience Life

Experience Life Magazine

PACT Underwear: Ethical Fashion

Ethical Underwear

My first pair of organic, ethically made underwear! They fit amazingly well and are cute too:)

Even though I tried to make a pair of my own underwear out of a T-shirt, they are one of the last clothing items I thought about when searching for organic, toxin-free, ethically made pieces.

Which is odd: It’s one of the first articles I put on every morning (OK, sometimes in the middle of winter I put my wool socks on first) and the material that’s closest to my skin. It turns out, though, that finding ethically made, organic underwear for under $40 a pair is quite  difficult. Which is why I was thrilled to find PACT.

According to PACT’s website, co-founder Jeff Denby came to designing a manufacturing process to “be good from seed to shelf” after working in the international manufacturing business and seeing working conditions and environmental policies that were less than ethical.

PACT is committed to 3 things:

1. Good Design: “We love good design. From our limited edition prints down to our perfect fits, we keep you stylish and comfortable all day long.”

2. Good Fabric: “No pesticides, no sweatshops, no nasty stuff at all. Just the world’s best organic cotton underwear so soft and comfortable you won’t want to put your pants on.”

3. Good Cause: “Each collection is inspired by a cause and for every pair you buy, you help PACT support that cause and make a positive impact on our world.”

Underwear details

A closeup of some of the details.

The pairs I got for Christmas (another shout out to my parents who continue to indulge my strange gift requests) support low-income entrepreneurs who want to start small businesses. This is all well and good, but the big question is: Are they as comfortable as my mainstream designer brands like GAP and Victoria’s Secret?

My answer is a resounding yes. I’d even go as far to say they fit better than other mainstream brands I own.

PACT also makes socks, shirts, baby onesies, and other basic clothing for men and women.

For more on ethical clothing: Math and Ethical Fashion, Garment Self-Sufficiency Followup: Sewing Underwear Out of T-Shirt, A Quest for Ethical Fashion: Down the Bunny Trail, Label Conscious

Tell Us: Do you have a favorite ethical underwear brand?

Casie Leigh Lukes is Experience Life’s digital content specialist.

Experience Life Magazine

Symptom Checker

Hi. I’m Heidi. I’m an online health-issue self-diagnoser. A symptom checker.

I’m not alone. You out there, you know who you are. The ones who use sites like Wikipedia, MayoClinic.com and WebMD to research health conditions and solutions. You’re probably fairly healthy and don’t see the point of running to the doctor each time you notice a nagging ache or pain.


According to a report from the Pew Research Center, 35 percent of Americans used the Internet for this purpose in 2013 and 95 million Americans used mobile phones as health tools or to find health information. (Read this link for more nifty digital health-related metrics).

It turns out that I’m pretty good at self-diagnosis, too. I correctly diagnosed a ganglion cyst (confirmed by my actual doctor during my annual physical and it is currently nothing to worry about), as well as what turned out to be plantar fasciitis.

I started having pain in my right foot after I stood up for the first time in the morning. For a while, because I’m me and because the pain went away after moving about, I ignored the warning signs. But, then one day after sitting for a while, a stabbing pain happened in my heel after I stood up.

Of course, my first thought was: “I’m dying!” But, after a few minutes of drama and thinking about all the worst possible outcomes, I was spurred to diagnose this condition that was becoming a real pain. I found out the knifing pain was likely a heel spur, a common side symptom for people experiencing plantar fasciitis.

It turns out my symptoms presented like plantar fasciitis even though I’m not a runner. I walk for long periods of time. I stand on hard surfaces a lot when I go see live music. And, I have tight calf muscles.


All of my online research indicated that the number one treatment for plantar fasciitis is a stretching routine. I figured it made sense to find a routine and try it for a while and see if it helped since my real doctor was likely to tell me to do the same thing.

Screen shot 2014-01-16 at 10.57.21 AM

So, I did more web research and found a few different routines and started doing them every day.  My symptoms got a lot better pretty quickly (after a few weeks) and the pain in my feet when I stand up is mostly gone now. It flares up occasionally, and when that happens I tend to pay attention to whether my calves feel extra tight for some reason. They usually do.

So, as is often the case for me personally, one of the biggest lessons I learned from my online research was to “live in my body and listen to it.” Our bodies send us some pretty powerful messages if we simply pay attention. (You can read more about my struggles to live in my body here).

(Check this article out for more thoughts on  ”What Your Body is Trying to Tell You”).

So, if you are having body trouble, check out our archives, it’s got 11 years of great health and fitness content that might help you. Or, feel free to send me a tweet @ExperienceLife or get in touch via Facebook. I’ll see if we have any information on a topic you’re interested in and share it with our other community members. Another lesson I’ve learned is that if I have a question or problem, likely someone else out there does too, and that is something I find very healing.

Heidi Wachter is the Community Engagement Specialist for Experience Life. 

Experience Life Magazine

Recipe Trial: Acorn Squash Stuffed With Chicken, Mushrooms, Onions, and Pears

After getting a sneak preview at managing editor Michael Dregni’s latest cookbook review earlier this week, I was inspired to try one of the recipes. The acorn squash was easy and enjoyed by all. I loved the mixture of sweet and savory flavors, the comforting smells, and just enjoying a hearty, but healthy winter dish.

Acorn Squash Recipe

My acorn squash, overflowing with pears, mushrooms, onions, and chicken, and seasoned with cinnamon, salt, and pepper.










A heads up, though: The squash took much longer than 30 minutes to bake. For the first 30 minutes, I placed it face-down in water as the recipe directed. For the next 30 minutes, I drizzled olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and baked it face-up.

Overall, I would highly recommend this recipe, and would substitute grass-fed butter for my olive oil next time. Because who doesn’t love butter?!

For more squash recipes, don’t miss Experience Life‘s: Winter Squash: Recipes, Techniques and More, Show Me How: Cutting Winter Squash (Video) and Winter Squash.

Tell Us: Do you have a favorite, fast way to bake squash? Comment below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife.

Casie Leigh Lukes is Experience Life‘s digital content specialist.

Experience Life Magazine

Beautiful Girl: A Book for My Daughter

Beautiful Girl by Christiane NorthropIt was about this time last year that I began the search for a special Valentine’s gift for our then 2-year-old daughter. I didn’t want anything kitschy and I didn’t want candy: I wanted something meaningful — something she’d keep for years as a message of our love for her.

I knew I’d found what I was looking for when I read about the new children’s book, Beautiful Girl: Celebrating the Wonders of Your Body, in one of Latham Thomas’s MamaGlow newsletters. Written by Christiane Northrop, MD, and Kristina Tracy, Beautiful Girl offers a positive and empowering message to help young girls develop healthy and loving relationships with their bodies. Although it may seem from the title that it’s about external beauty, it’s actually an introduction to all the amazing things that are happening within the body and that come with being born a girl. As Dr. Northrop writes in the forward:

“Most adult women have received some negative messages about their bodies, which can show up later in life as health problems or unhealthy behaviors. This needn’t be the case. When little girls grow up knowing that their bodies are perfect and miraculous, they are far more likely to grow into happy and healthy adult women.” [Hear more from Dr. Northrop about the book in the video embedded below.]

It was exactly the kind of body-image attitude I hoped to instill in our growing girl, and a topic I wanted to have open, honest conversations around in the coming years. I couldn’t wait to give it to her.

Well, Valentine’s Day came and my big girl opened her gift … and moved on. Such is the attention span of toddlers. I tried many times throughout the year to read Beautiful Girl to her, but was shut down over and over in favor of Curious George and Berenstein Bears. I knew, however, that someday she’d gravitate toward the book, initially for the art (French artist Aurelie Blanz’s illustrations are rich and vibrant) and then the words.

That someday was this past Sunday. As I popped my head in to her room to say good night, I was surprised to see her daddy reading the book. Yes, she chose it, he assured me. Then yesterday morning, she came padding down the stairs with Beautiful Girl in tow. ”Can we read this, Mommy?” YES, yes, yes!

My big girl may not fully comprehend the deeper messages in this book quite yet, but I firmly believe the more often we talk positively and openly about our bodies now — about how they function, about respecting ours and others, about knowing how to discern what’s real in the images prevalent in our media-centric culture — the better off she’ll be. In the short and long term.

For parents looking for a good way to start these body conversations, I highly recommend Beautiful Girl, whether your daughter’s a toddler, tween, or full-on-hormonal teenager. The written and visual message come together for a reading experience that celebrates the beauty of being a girl.

 TELL US: How do you encourage healthy body-image attitudes in your children — boys and/or girls? Leave a comment below, tweet us at @ExperienceLife, or tweet me at @JamieLMartin.

RELATED ARTICLE:Building a Better Body Image

Jamie Martin is Experience Life‘s director of digital initiatives, and the proud mom of two young girls. 

Experience Life Magazine

Pumping Up My Brain Power


Here at Experience Life we talk a lot about physical fitness. From strength training and cardio to mobility and relaxation, we’ve got the inside scoop on building and maintaining a strong, healthy body. My officemates have described me as a “jock,” an “athlete,” and a “gym rat” — a far cry from my clumsy, sedentary childhood persona — so, unsurprisingly, I soak all this fitness advice right up.

But while I’ve worked hard to get stronger, I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting the 3-pound mass of gray matter that sits atop my body: my brain.

It’s a shame not only because I was once an avid student (nerd pride!), but because research shows that much like my bones and muscles, my brain can be fortified and strengthened. Our brain capacity is not hardwired to peak in youth only to degenerate as we age, as some people believe; it’s actually possible to change existing brain circuitry and create new neural cells at any age.

As such, I’ve been trying to make brain health a priority alongside physical strength. I want brains and brawn. Here are some of the things I’ve been up to:

1. Continuing Education:


Coursera’s “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution.”

I’ve always loved school. Not the getting up early part, but the reading, writing, calculations, problem sets, class discussions, and even the tests were fun for me. I loved having my mind widened and blown on a daily basis. Sadly, after I finished grad school, I never made time to learn anything that wasn’t related to my work.

Recently, however, I discovered Coursera, a database of online, college-level courses that can be taken for free. Free learning is my favorite! (h/t to Facebook friend and weightlifting coach extraordinaire Tamara Reynolds of Asheville Strength for turning me on to this.) I’m currently enrolled in “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution” and “Modern European Mysticism and Psychological Thought.” A course on the highlights of modern astronomy will begin in a few weeks.

2. Games and Puzzles:


Lumosity games aim to improve memory, problem solving, and other skills.

Thanks to Lumosity, a web app that provides “brain training,” I’ve been working on improving my working memory, visual attention, computation, and other skills by playing simple computer games.

The science backing up the idea that brain training can improve IQ and stave off early dementia is contradictory and inconclusive. But given that the Lumosity puzzles are fun, challenging but not impossible, and short (less than 10 minutes each day), it seems like a worthwhile investment.

3. Unitasking. (Is unitasking a word? This probably doesn’t support my claim that I’m doing things to improve my brain power.)


Multitasking is not all it’s cracked up to be.

In other words, I’m multitasking less. I used to take huge pride in being able to juggle multiple things at once and do them all well. But over time I realized that 1) the juggling was exhausting; and 2) I probably wasn’t completing my tasks as well as I thought.

Well, it turns out that multitasking is actually impossible. All I’ve been doing is splitting my brain’s resources. (No wonder I felt tired.) Even though it’s a hard habit to break, I’m making a concerted effort to focus on one thing at a time, which will hopefully make all the new things I’m learning stick.

4. Exercise:


Strengthen your body, strengthen your brain.

Of course it comes back to exercise, you’re probably thinking with a roll of your eyes. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the brain benefits beholden in physical activity.

“Across the board, exercise increases brain function, memory retention and other key areas of cognition up to 20 percent,” Arthur Kramer, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told Experience Life in 2013.

Although Kramer and his colleagues don’t know exactly how exercise helps, they suspect the benefits are related to increased blood flow to the brain and the release of a biochemical that supports learning by helping our synapses store new information. They also found that exercise helps the brain make new neural connections and build new vascular structures. (Big muscles = big brain.)

Similarly, a 2013 study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that exercise had a neuroprotective effect among older men and women. Exercise also helps reduce stress, which has been shown to negatively impact cognition and prematurely age the brain.

5. Try New Things:


Novelty does a body, and brain, good.

Exercise is all well and good — I needed no convincing of that. The change I’ve made is to break out of my comfort zone and instead try new movements and activities. Novelty, it appears, spurs brain activity.

Among my recent gym-time discoveries are kettlebell snatches, Turkish get-ups, and the bench press. Outside the gym, I recently tried trampolining and have plans to take advantage of the snowy Minnesota winter by trying snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing for the first time. When the weather improves, I’m committed to face my fear and go skydiving.

I can’t say for sure if any of my brain-boosting tactics will benefit me in the long run. But for the time being, I’m having a lot of fun. Which, I’m certain, is also good for the brain.

Tell me: How do you give your brain a boost? Share your experiences in the comments below or tweet us @ExperienceLife. 

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