The Many Benefits of Resistance Training

We all lose muscle as we age, and we’re not talking the decline of middle age. Muscle mass begins to wane as early as 20. The fast-twitch goes first, followed by the slow-twitch, which makes sense since most of us are better at endurance than speed as we get older.

In an effort to lose weight, many of us think cardio is best, and give less of our attention to resistance or weight training. But it’s important to stay strong, and reap added benefits to our waistline and health.

Here are some reasons why:We Can Do It!

  • As we age, when we gain weight, we gain it as fat. When we lose weight, half of what older adults lose is muscle.
  • Research has shown that strength training is more effective than cardio at melting away intra-abdominal fat (aka belly fat that surrounds our organs). Besides being aesthetically undesirable, belly fat is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
  • When we stop exercising we lose muscle rapidly. The good news is that we can gain most of it back in as little as 3 months.
  • Strength training boosts metabolism. Since muscle is metabolically active tissue, the more muscle you have, the more calories you can consume without gaining weight. (For every 10 lbs. of lean muscle, you’ll burn an additional 25-50 calories a day.) The shift in metabolism some see as they age is partly due to gradual muscle loss.
  • Joint pain and connective tissue problems (aching knees, shoulders, ankles, hips) are pretty common complaints. When we build muscle we also strengthen our connective tissues, keeping our bodies balanced, strong and less susceptible to aches and pains.
  • Resistance training combats bone loss because weight-bearing exercise increases bone mineral density. In fact, exercise is better than osteoporosis drugs for offsetting bone loss. This is true for athletes as well as sedentary folks. Since falls are a growing concern as we age, staying strong protects our bones if we topple.

Now for the HOW:

In order to maintain your current level of strength, you only need to do resistance training one day a week. To build strength, give your muscles a workout 3x a week. Do 3 sets with 8 reps each set, lifting enough weight to bring your muscles to exhaustion. Better to not be able to finish your sets than to breeze through them because you’re not challenging your body.

You may be thinking this all sounds too complicated. You don’t know how to use those  machines. Maybe the weight room intimidates you, or you don’t belong to a gym. Sorry to say those excuses won’t fly, because you can fit ten minutes of strength training into your day almost anywhere with little or no equipment.

plankIf you’re just beginning or if you’re short on time, start with plank. You get a lot of bang for your buck with this move. It’s the single most effective exercise to strengthen abs, shoulders, arms, legs and glutes,

Support your body on your toes and forearms, keeping your shoulders directly above your elbows, and arms shoulder-width apart. Your head, neck, back and legs should form a flat, straight line. Keep your core and legs engaged and hold the position for 30 seconds, breathing normally.

Repeat every day, increasing the time little by little. By challenging your body, you’ll be impressed how quickly your plank time increases. Muscles worked are primarily the abdominals and the erector spinae (running the full length of your back), Shoulders, chest, and the thighs also benefit.

Remember, small changes stick. Don’t revamp your routine all at once. Instead add or increase strength training bit by bit. Stay strong and live long!



American College of  Sports Medicine, Resistance Training and Injury Prevention.

American Fitness, “Getting Older, Day by Day,” by Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD. March, April 2014.

Women’s Health Magazine. The Best Strength Training for Women: You may be missing out on the best body shaper exercises out there. by Lauren Aaronson. March 9, 2009.


Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpeas

I regularly find amazing recipes on the blog Simple Veganista. I tried this one, doubling it for dinner for six, and hoarded the leftovers since it seemed to taste even better two, three days later. I had attempted roasted chickpeas before. I’m hooked!

1 can (14 oz) garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed, drained and patted dry
1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets
olive oil
1 cup quinoa (I used red)
1 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper

Mustard Dressing
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
juice from 1 lemon
1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil

Roasted Cauliflower Chickpea Quinoa and Mustard Dressing

photo and recipe from Simple Veganista

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare cauliflower and chickpeas, toss together in a large roasting pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and dash or two of salt. Roast for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so.

In a medium pot, add quinoa, water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove cover and let set 10 minutes and fluff with a fork.

In a small bowl, prepare your mustard dressing and set aside. As the original recipe suggested, I doubled the dressing recipe and added a little extra to each portion.

Once roasting is done, let cool a few minutes. While still warm, place cauliflower and chickpeas in a medium size bowl, add dressing and toss. Add in parsley last. Tastes great warm or at room temperature.

Six Things to Remember When Feeding your Kids this Summer

I’m very happy to have a reprieve from packing school lunches every morning. But with the kids home for more meals and wanting constant snacks, the new challenge is providing healthy options.  Growing kids need plenty of quality calories and many want lots of choices, yet they’re often picky. Here are a few ideas to help them pack in the nutrients this summer.

1)  Take Advantage of the Extra Time – Summer brings longer days, fewer commitments, and more down time. Take advantage of a looser schedule to spend more time in the kitchen preparing fresh food. It’s easy to fall into the trap of eating out when we’re busy, but eating at home is the healthier choice. (Read more about this in It’s Cool to Cook at Home.)

Boy Eat Watermelon by Miroslav Vajdic courtesy of Creative Commons/ Flickr

Boy Eat Watermelon by Miroslav Vajdic courtesy of Creative Commons/ Flickr

2)  Enjoy More Fresh Produce – Vegetable gardens are usually yielding lots of delicious produce over the summer.  If you don’t have one, consider taking on the project with your kids. Farmer’s markets, near home on while you’re traveling, will be in full swing. Bring the kids along and get creative with what you bring home.

Melons like cantaloupe and watermelon are at their peak, not to mention anti-oxidant filled berries. Mangoes and Pineapples are everywhere. Cut them up and put them in glass containers where they’re easily seen. Serve them as dessert.

3)  Get the Kids Interested in Cooking – Whether you’ve got little ones or teens, teaching them to find their way around the kitchen is key. You might put an older child in charge of preparing one meal each week.

4)  Be the Example – You’ve got to walk the walk. Unfortunately kids are bombarded by bad food choices at the mall, on TV, and even at school, so what they eat, and see you eat, at home is really important. Good eating habits, good choices, start at home.

5)  Prepare and Eat Food Together – This is the best way to be the example (see #4). It’s a simple concept but has huge benefits for your health, waistline, and your family. Your goal might be a minimum of one meal a day eaten together. This is easier if you don’t allow teens or middle schoolers to take food back to their rooms, or eat a meal in front of the TV.

6)  Clean out the Pantry with your Kids – Talk to them about processed and packaged foods and the overuse of sugar (it goes by 41 different names on food labels) trans fats, and other preservatives. You might want to take them to see Fed Up. Then challenge them to round-up any foods that have these ingredients and toss them. Although the FDA has instituted a gradual ban on trans fats, some products still contain them. Look for “partially hydrogenated oil” on the labels of things like microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, refrigerated dough (biscuits), and ready-to-use frosting.

So with all of those easy-to-grab processed snacks out of the picture, what are you going to feed your hungry kids? Here are some snack ideas.

  • Hummus and Vegetables – Think baby carrots, sliced celery, jicama, red pepper
  • Fresh Fruit Popsicles – Outshine by Dreyer’s is a good product, but if you want only organic fruit and no added sugar, try making them at home.
  • Whole Wheat Tortillas – Keep them on hand and fill them with fresh options like red pepper, fresh spinach or arugula, avocado, tomatoes, salsa, beans or my favorite, leftover grilled vegetables.
  • Trail mix – Packaged granola bars are easy and some brands are healthier than others, but consider mixing your own trail mix with healthy nuts  and seeds, dried fruit, and maybe even some chocolate thrown in there. (Remember to put these in glass jars so you and your family see them.)
  • Hard Boiled Eggs – Plain or prepared as deviled eggs or egg salad, all options are a good cooking project to get kids started.
  • Homemade Protein Bars – This is one recipe kids really love.
  • Whole Wheat Pasta – Cook more than you need next time, and then reheat with some pesto, red sauce or olive oil.
  • Fruit – Grapes, apples, berries, cherries, pears, papaya, bananas, melon, apricots…the possibilities are endless.
  • Nut butter – Whether made from peanuts, almonds, or cashews most kids love nut butters. Look for brands without added sugar and oils. My favorites are 365, Woodstock and Kirkland.
  • Smoothies – If you’re not already in the habit of making fruit smoothies, summer is an ideal time to start. As long as you keep the fruit (fresh and frozen) on hand, and maybe some yogurt and even some greens, the kids can whip up a cool creamy snack with ease.

Kitchen Consultation with Barclay SchraffIf you need more help, sign up for a Kitchen Consultation  with me! I offer lots of information and advice on eliminating processed foods, introducing more plant-based options, preparing easy, healthy meals, label reading, and the impact of good nutrition on your health.

Last but not least, I’d love to hear your ideas for healthy meals and snacks. Please post them in the comment section below.

My Sister’s Almond Milk

I visited my sister this spring, and she taught me how to make almond milk. This is one of those recipes that has quickly become part of my regular rotation. I like it mixed with coconut water. It’s a perfect post-workout snack since it has protein and electrolytes, and it’s not loaded with fat or calories.

If you’re already a nut milk drinker, you’ll love it! The homemade version is so much tastier and helps you avoid the gums, thickeners, and stabilizers of packaged varieties.

My sister uses her Nutribullet to grind the nuts. A Vitamix is another great option. My blender is not up to the task, so I use my juicer. Either way, almond milk is kinda messy to make, but worth the clean up!


3-4 cups raw almonds
lots of water
9-10 cardamom pods
3 cinnamon sticks
maple syrup or honey
3 Mason jars


Soak the almonds in a Mason jar overnight, or for at least 10 hours. Drain the water, rinse the almonds, and fill the jar with fresh water.

If you’re using a juicer, run the almonds and water through the juicer using the same setting you would use for carrots. Transfer the almond meal to another container, then add enough water to saturate the meal, plus a little extra. Run this mixture through the juicer again. The result will be foamy rich almond milk on one side, and fluffy, dry almond meal in the juicing refuse bin. (A friend of mine roasts her meal and add it to her homemade granola! Use it for baking too.)

If you’re using a powerful blender instead of the juicer, be sure to blend on high speed until you’ve gotten a nice smooth consistency. You’ll want to add more water as you go. Run the milk through a nut bag or cheese cloth to separate out any bits and skin that remain. You can also use a metal sieve and the back of a spoon to move the liquid through the mesh.

almond milkDivide the milk into Mason jars. Spice each jar with a small pinch of salt, a small dash of turmeric, one cinnamon stick, 3-4 cardamom pods, and 1-2 tablespoons of maple syrup or your favorite natural sweetener. Allow the mixture to chill. It keeps for about 4 days. Make a smaller batch if you won’t plow through it as fast as we do.

Ideas for Enjoying Homemade Almond Milk

  • Use it in your coffee instead of a creamer. Trying to ween herself off of half-and-half is what prompted my sister to come up with this recipe. It worked!
  • Combine one part almond milk with 2 parts coconut water, over ice. So refreshing!
  • Warm it up and add more spices for a great nightcap.
  • Great nutrition boosting ingredient for any smoothie
  • Try is anywhere you would normally use milk, on cereal and in baking

Nutritional Information

It’s hard to be precise here because the milk can be different concentrations. Batches from this recipe are similar to 2% milk. If you want a thicker consistency, run it through the juicer only once, or if you’re using the blender, add less water.

An 8 ounce glass of UNSWEETENED almond milk has about 1 g of fiber, 30-40 calories, and 2.5-3 grams of fat. Almond milk is a great source of protein, calcium, iron, vitamin E, selenium and magnesium, and heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

For more on what my sister is up to (she’s a talented writer and teacher), check out her website.