You've probably heard the term superfoods—it's often applied to things like brown rice, spinach, yogurt, tomatoes and other healthy fare—but have you ever wondered what makes a food super? It's about efficiency: Superfoods not only pack more nutritional punch per bite than other foods do, they also have other properties that directly support the immune system, cut down on inflammation in the body, support mental health, and boost energy, stamina and longevity. You can't ask for much more than that from a single food.
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But here's a reality check: No food is super unless it tastes good, too, because otherwise you wouldn't be willing to eat it. With that in mind, here's my top 10 list of energy-boosting superfoods that everyone should eat on a regular basis.
These are arguably the most perfect superfood because they're high in fiber, protein, potassium, magnesium and other minerals. Oats are best eaten at breakfast because the fiber they contain is digested slowly, which stabilizes blood sugar levels all day. Oats have been shown in large-scale studies to lower cholesterol, which is why they're considered a heart-healthy food. If you're not a fan of oatmeal (I confess: I don't care for it), you can sprinkle them onto a bowl of cold cereal or yogurt, sneak oats into turkey meat loaf, or toss them into salads or casseroles for a nutritional boost.
This gluten-free grain has more protein than any other grain or rice. It's so rich in amino acids (such as lysine, cysteine, and methionine) that it's actually considered a complete protein (generally, complete proteins are only found in animal products). The amino acids help with muscle repair after exercise, while the folate, magnesium, and phosphorus in quinoa support energy levels.
Try serving it up as a curried "risotto."
In addition to being loaded with powerful antioxidants and energy-boosting carbs, blueberries contain vitamins A and C, folate, potassium, magnesium and fiber. Research suggests that these nutrients, along with the phytochemicals (health-promoting compounds that give plants their pigment) in blueberries, boost immune function and lower depressive symptoms by stopping the buildup of free radicals. This helps the body and mind recover from stress and cellular injury faster.
Loaded with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (in particular, docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, and eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA) that improve heart health, salmon is also a stellar source of protein. The American Heart Association recommends having fatty fish like salmon at least twice a week. Dietary intakes of fish and omega-3 fatty acids have been found to reduce depressive symptoms and improve cognitive function. Salmon's energy-boosting effects are related to improved metabolism, including the more efficient use of oxygen in the body during exercise.
Just be sure to avoid farmed slamon.
A source of healthy fats, avocados are full of fiber, potassium, vitamins A and E, and folate. They're also a good source of an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid, which improves the metabolic aspects of heart health including levels of oxidative risk factors, blood fat levels and inflammatory markers (like homocysteine, which is often elevated in fatigue-causing conditions like diabetes, arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome).
Not only is it low in fat and a good source of protein, but turkey contains the amino acid tyrosine, which elevates levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, brain chemicals that keep you more alert and focused. (Don't worry that eating turkey will make you sleepy because of its tryptophan; turkey doesn't have much more of this amino acid than chicken or fish does.) It also contains vitamins B6 and B12, which have been shown to ease insomnia and depression and boost energy.
Used for 5,000 years in Chinese medicine to stimulate energy and mental acuity as well as lower stress, goji berries are believed to increase bloodflow, causing energy-enhancing oxygen to flow more freely throughout the body. These bright orange-red berries are concentrated sources of antioxidants; they can be eaten raw, cooked or dried like raisins.
Packed with protein and fiber, almonds also contain calcium, potassium, phosphorus and vitamin E. What's more, they're a rich source of magnesium, which plays a key role in converting sugar into energy. Having low levels of magnesium in your body can drain your energy and cause sleep problems and leg cramps.
These legumes are powerhouse sources of low-fat protein, fiber, iron, potassium, zinc and folate. They're also rich in selenium, a mineral that may be a natural mood enhancer; studies have linked low selenium levels to poorer moods and lower energy levels. The fiber in these petite legumes stabilizes blood sugar.
Here's how to cook lentils.
Loaded with vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, iron, and potassium, this leafy green vegetable is also a solid source of protein and fiber—and it's very low in calories. In addition, it's packed with flavonoids, phytochemicals with antioxidant properties, which is why kale earns one of the highest ORAC ratings among vegetables.
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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