Sunday, 20 May 2007

Fruits and vegetables, and all our excuses

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Fruits and vegetables are good for us, we all know that. So why do we have so much trouble getting enough of them? By some reports only 11% of people get the recommended number of servings on a daily basis, that's an embarrassingly low number!

Excuses, excuses, that seems to be the problem. Common excuses include it's just not convenient, veggies and fruits don't taste good, they cost too much, or they spoil too fast. Solutions? Keep fruit out where you can see it so it is convenient, try new kinds of fresh produce to see if you can't find something you like (or add it into foods you already enjoy like), buy frozen or (when possible) in-season to reduce cost, and drink juice or try dried fruit for longer-lasting options.

That's just a few of the several common excuses many people find themselves using, but thankfully there are also ideas on how to overcome them!

Corporation apologizes for false breast cancer test results

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Newfoundland based health care corporation, Eastern Health, released a public apology for failing to fully disclose faulty results on hundred of breast cancer tests. The corporation knew that over 300 women received incorrect results from testing conducted during 1997-2005. However, the corporation previously only publicly mentioned 117 cases where treatment options were changed after the false test results were uncovered.

The tests in question were conducted after removal of a malignant tumor or tissue in the breast. The test results (which show if the cancer cells have estrogen or progesterone receptors) help determine the best treatment methods. The women who received false negative test results may have had additional treatments withheld. Of the hundreds of women that received the bad results, 36 have since died. It is unknown if different therapies could have helped these women.

Eastern Health no longer processes its own breast cancer tests; all tests are now completed at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital.

Motor moms and dads

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A special education teacher designed the Motor Moms and Dads program after seeing a pattern with the children at the Brighton, Michigan school she taught at. Many of the kids had difficulties with balance, gross motor skills, and visual motor skills. Often, these kids also struggled in the classroom. The program, designed to build motor skills and subsequently improve learning ability, began using existing school equipment and parent volunteers.

The program is now utilized in more than 400 elementary schools and preschools. In 2005, it was honored with the Michigan Association of School Board's award of excellence. Parents and teachers alike have noticed the children's improvement and their readiness to learn in class. The program is cost effective for schools; parent volunteers are trained in the program's principles and run it in the hall outside of a classroom (eliminating the need for designated space). Many schools have much of the necessary equipment already and what they don't have is low cost. Groups of three or four children are excused from the classroom for a mere five minutes to participate in Motor Moms and Dads, so interference with classroom time is minimal. The volunteers help the kids through activity stations, giving them a break from the classroom environment and building motor skills.

The program is designed for younger children -- ages 3-7. As a parent, I think Motor Moms and Dads is a wonderful idea. Letting kids be active for just a few minutes gives them the chance to refocus their energy. They're working on motor skills, but my guess is the kids just think it's fun.

Lyme disease difficult to diagnose

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Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria transferred to humans by a deer tick. Symptoms include a rash, fever, fatigue, and headache. Left untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that in the states where Lyme Disease is most common (northeastern and northern mid-west states) there is an average of 31.6 diagnosed cases for every 100,000 people.

Despite its prevalence, Lyme Disease can be difficult to diagnose. The symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Once diagnosed, most cases of Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics.

If you're going to be in an area where exposure to deer ticks is likely, the American College of Physicians offers the following tips for prevention:
  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts to minimize skin exposure to ticks.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks to form a barrier to tick attachment.
  • Wear light-colored clothing to help see ticks on your clothing.
  • Check for ticks, looking particularly for what may look like nothing more than a new freckle or speck of dirt.

The best and the worst states for strokes

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According to a nationwide survey of over 356,000 adults, Mississippi has a higher number of strokes than any other state. The results are based on a phone survey where participants were simply asked if they had ever been told by a doctor that they had had a stroke, and it didn't include people living in nursing homes or institutions. Oklahoma and Washington tied for 2nd place, and Louisiana rounds out 3rd place. The state with the fewest strokes? Connecticut.

The study also gathered some other interesting facts, such as fewer than half of stroke patients make it to the hospital within 2 hours of the onset of symptoms, and that the rates of strokes for men and women are roughly the same.

Female teenage drug use up in last two years

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A new report from Medco Health Solutions states that the quantity of female teenagers (and some males as well) taking prescription drugs for diabetes, sleep issues and other ailments is on the rise.

Should be be surprised? Not really -- the lifestyle embodied by the media and culture marketed to this segment of society is a nice trigger for all these girls to lighten themselves up with prescription drugs of all shapes and sizes. Have an issue? A drug will fix it.

This is a scary precedent really. Drugs are for when there are no other options (like harder, most effort lifestyle changes), and unless they are medically necessary, are really not worth it. What do you think?

Fit Mama: Getting back in the ring

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Whew! Well, it's officially been seven weeks since I gave birth to my son. It's also taken six weeks to collect my thoughts and be in the frame of mind to rationally present them to you, let alone think about hitting the pavement for my first post-partum run. For those of you who don't know, I chronicled my efforts to remain fit during my pregnancy with my bi-weekly column, Fit Pregnancy. Now, nine (ten) months later, I am challenged with getting back in shape.

I've gotten back in shape before, sure. There were those years when I ate a little too much, drank way too much and toyed with the idea of being a runner rather than really challenging myself. At one point I realized it was up to me to be as healthy as possible if I wanted to live a long, happy life. When I considered getting pregnant I knew inherently that for me, being fit would help me be a better mommy. During my pregnancy I did everything in my power to stay as healthy and mobile as possible.

The results? My son arrived right on his due date and in perfect health. I didn't develop any of the pregnancy nightmare conditions I'd read up on and been warned about. I didn't gain an astronomical amount of weight. In fact, my pregnancy was essentially textbook in every way. My delivery was as smooth and enjoyable as it could possibly be (at least for me). Did any of that have to do with the fact that I stretched and walked almost every day? Maybe not but I like to think so.

Continue reading Fit Mama: Getting back in the ring

Airbags not all that safe for tall and small people

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Almost all cars these days come with airbag protection to ensure passenger safety if vehicles get into an accident. However, a recent study of crash information determined that airbags may be harmful for short or tall people.

Airbags are wonderful as a preventative measure to help keep vehicle occupants safe, but can have a few small downsides as well (skin imprints and the inhalation of chemicals inside the airbag). If you're under five feet tall or over six feet, three inches, airbags may actually be dangerous.

Why? Well, because the positioning you have when an airbag deploys is paramount to how useful it is. If you're short or tall, that position changes. Hence, more potential damage from the deployment and its results themselves.

An unexpected treat: Grilled fruit

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Brats, burgers, and baby-back ribs are the frequent fare on my neighbor's grill. While I enjoy the smoky aroma that comes wafting through my window, I prefer to grill healthier options. Some of my favorite foods off the grill are portobello mushrooms, salmon, and asparagus. While I have long grilled pineapple to top my turkey burgers, my new favorite treat is grilling fruit for dessert.

Spread a very thin layer of butter on halved peaches, plums, or pears. (For fewer calories, you could also experiment with non-stick cooking spray.) Place over a low flame and stay close -- fruit doesn't take long to heat through. The natural sugars will begin to caramelize and you'll be left with the most delectable and rich dessert -- and it's healthy to boot! It's a yum-factor of 100%. My favorite is grilled peaches sprinkled with cinnamon and topped with a dollop of lite whipped topping. You can also grill bananas (peeled for a soft, sweet treat or grilled longer and slower in their peel for a consistency similar to custard). Small fruits, like strawberries, can be speared on kabobs or grilled in tin foil. Fruits with very high water content (like melon or grapes) probably wouldn't hold up under the heat, though, so be choosy with your fruits.

The next time you fire up your grill, be sure to try out some fruit. It's a delicious addition to the classic backyard cook-out.

It really is your DNA versus your diet

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Different diets work for different people, but it may be about more than just personality type and food preferences. New research suggests that your biology may have a lot to do with having more success on some diets over others. In a study looking at individuals on low-glycemic-load diets, those who secreted more insulin naturally lost much more weight than those who secreted lower levels of insulin. But those same people who were so successful on the low-glycemic-load diet lost a lot less weight when on a low fat diet instead. But the lucky ones are the people who generally have less insulin in their systems, because they did equally well on both diets.

Although this study was obviously very limited regarding the diets it looked at compared to how many options are out there these days, it does take a little of the wind out of the sails on the "it's all your fault" ship. If you're having trouble, and you don't think willpower is an issue, have you considered that maybe you're just on the wrong diet for your biology?

Zagat's survey rates the country's top fast food spots

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By now we all know that fast food isn't really the best dietary option especially for those trying to live fit. However, I think that most things are fine in moderation so while it's best not to opt for the drive-thru window everyday, it's ok to indulge in burgers, fries and shakes once in a while as a treat.

So for those of you out there who can't or won't give up their fast food fix, the restaurant guide gurus at Zagat's have conducted a survey on the nation's favorite fast food options. Categories include Top Mega-Chain, Best Burger and even Favorite Mascot.

Check out this article for a quick summary of the winners as well as some hilarious outtakes from those polled. Unsurprisingly, the top concern when eating fast food among those who responded to the survey was the amount of calories and fat in their meal, and the article points out that Applebee's received the top spot for Best Healthy Options. You can view the survey results in full here, and keep them in mind the next time you decide that salad and soup just isn't going to cut it for dinner.

Forget your body at the beach

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I just returned from a short beach vacation with my family and had a little epiphany. As I walked along the gorgeous coast on a perfectly clear day with a bright sunshine, fluffy clouds and lovely breeze I thought about what a wonderful gift the ocean is. The enjoyment one could have on a day like that is endless.

With fitness never far from my mind it made me a tad sad to think that anyone would feel stress at such a beautiful place. So many people work so hard to 'prepare' for swimsuits. I understand that, because it's nice to feel proud of your physical accomplishments. What I'd hope though, is that all of the folks who don't adore their bodies can just let it go for the day.

We are NOT our bodies. We are great minds, big hearts, and helpful friends. We are entitled to just forget about flat abs and just have fun. So please do that. Next time you're fortunate enough to visit the beach enjoy yourself. Pretend that no ones watching! The people that are with you would prefer to have unrestrained fun with you, and the people you don't know don't count anyway!

Continue reading Forget your body at the beach

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Still single? No worries, there are benefits to marrying later

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For a lot of single people in their late 20s-and early-30s there is a moment when you suddenly realize, "Oh my God, my friends are all getting married and all I've got to keep me company as I grow old is a cat!" It's not a fun realization as, when we were younger, a lot of us -- especially women -- imagined that we'd be cozied up with a mate by now.

It may not seem like it when you've received invitations to three or four weddings in as many months but most people are waiting until later in life to tie the knot. Whether you're happily unmarried and find yourself constantly explaining to everyone else (especially your mother) why you're not ready to settle down, or whether you're wishing you could hurry up and find that perfect person as soon as possible, you're definitely not alone.

Here are some great reasons to support your single status. The benefits listed range from a bit silly -- if you get married older both you and your mate will have a better collection of stuff to pool together -- to very significant. With age comes the kind of wisdom and reason that will help deal with the arguments and problems that could come up in a marriage. So next time you find yourself in a Bridgit Jones-esque situation explaining your unmarried status, you can add the points here to your arsenal of pro-single arguments.

Birding: It's not just for your backyard

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Years ago, when I was just out of college and broker than broke, I moved in with my brother to save some cash. My brother had multiple bird feeders in his backyard. He also had a pair of binoculars and a guide conveniently placed next to his recliner. He loved to see the different species as they migrated during the spring or fall. It was a relaxing hobby for him and I came to enjoy it, too.

But birding isn't just an armchair sport. In fact, advanced birders tackle difficult terrain in search of more elusive species. In the right locale, birding can be serious exercise cleverly disguised as a relaxing afternoon. Many organizations sponsor tours -- sign up for one in your own region or incorporate a birding expedition into your next vacation. Guidebooks can be found at your local library; once you become familiar with the birds in your region you can hike along fields, trails, marshes, and wooded areas. Be sure to bring a pair of binoculars and keep your ears perked for the whistles and whoops of the birds you're seeking. Depending on the location you choose, birding can be a fun activity for the whole family.

How young is too young for cosmentic surgery?

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Cosmetic surgery is a hot topic these days with all the talk about liposuction, botox injections, breast enhancements and more, being popular among both celebrities and regular folks. Various topics have been covered here at That's Fit, with Rigel's posts on getting the facts before going under the knife as well as the continuing popularity of facelifts. I have covered the topic before as well with a post on aging gracefully versus finding the answer with cosmetic surgery.

To be honest, I really don't have a problem with plastic surgery in general. If an adult with the means to pay for a little nip or tuck feels that their self-confidence would benefit from a procedure or two, then that is completely up to them. I feel there is such a thing as going overboard (has anyone seen a photo Michael Jackson lately?), but in general I think that cosmetic surgery is just fine.

However, I read this article about parents giving their teenagers plastic surgery as a commencement gift and think the idea is completely absurd. Not only does it give these young adults the wrong message -- that rewarding intelligence and hard work with good looks is appropriate -- I also think that teenagers are way too young to decide whether or not to permanently alter their bodies. While there are always exceptions, most don't have the life skills or maturity to make that kind of decision. I think that they should give it a few years and wait until their bodies are finished growing. By the time they reach their 20s, they'll have a much better idea of who they are and what they value. At that point, if they're still desperate for a nose job or a breast enhancement, at least they'll have the time and experience to fully think it through.

Rosario Dawson admits she's not obsessed with thin

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Small, shivering chihuahuas. That's what actress Rosario Dawson thinks of when she sees most of the super slim 'it' women in Hollywood. The star of movies like Rent, Sin City and 25th Hour says she's not so obsessed with being thin that she starves herself -- that's what airbrushing is for. And while looking slim and fitting into size zero jeans might seem important now, it's not worth the damage you might do you your health in the long run, she tells Elle magazine.

She sounds pretty grounded, but at the same time I can't say I've ever seen her with a muffin top hanging out over her jeans so maybe she's one of those 'I swear I eat like a pig and never gain weight' actresses. What do you think?

Really love yoga? Teach it!

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If you're a real yoga fanatic, then why not consider sharing your enthusiasm and help others by becoming a yoga instructor? And even if teaching isn't your thing, going through an instructor course can take your personal workout to a whole new level by improving your knowledge of anatomy, philosophy, sequencing, and alignment.

If you're interested in something like this the best place to start is your nearest yoga studio. Most offer yoga teacher-training programs, and if they don't they should certainly be able to point you to someone who does. It's important to filter out phonies by making sure the training program is Yoga Alliance certified. And if you're having trouble finding something in your area, you can always check out the Yoga Alliance website.

Yoga training can be expensive, and you may not make much money as an instructor once you've completed it, but the rewards can still be worthwhile. Even if just for you!

How should parents teach teens a responsible attitude toward alcohol?

There seems to be two different camps among parents when it comes to teenage drinking. There are those who, like my parents, are completely against their kids drinking before reaching the legal age limit (21 years-of-age in the United States and 18- or-19 years-of-age in Canada depending on the province). There are also parents who feel that the trick to raising a young adult with a responsible attitude toward alcohol is to allow them to have a glass of wine with dinner and make sure that if their kids are drinking, they do so at home where they can be monitored.

As Vicki wrote in a blog earlier this year, teenage drinking is on the rise making the discussion an important one. Many school districts and parent groups out there are discouraging kids from drinking at all, citing a number of valid reasons including the fact that alcohol has a different affect on their still-growing brains, as well as the greater likelihood of teens being in a deadly drunk-driving accident.

Still, there are those that think allowing teens to drink at home is the answer and the study reported on here backs this up, reporting that teens who drink at home are less likely to binge drink. I admit that I don't know which of these is the right answer. I don't know if there even is a right answer. So what does everyone out there think? What was your experience growing up?

North Carolina gym offers free summer memberships for teens

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Approximately 300,000 North Carolina teens are overweight. Statistically, this puts the state right at the U.S. average (about 15% of teenagers being overweight). Australia native, Geoffrey Dyer, has opened the doors of his Lifestyle Family Fitness gyms in North Carolina's Wake and Mecklenburg counties to teens. Dyer is offering free two-month summer memberships to kids from age 12-17.

Dyer recalls his own youth when he struggled with weight. He hopes the gym memberships will help teens feel good about exercise -- whether they continue to work out at his gyms or exercise on their own. The free membership program initiated last summer and Dyer saw a number of kids come back to the gym after the free period had ended.

As a parent, I read this article and initially thought it was just a clever marketing ploy. After mulling that over for a second or two, I thought... who cares? Even if it is a marketing ploy, what a beneficial thing to do. Kids have more free time in the summer, so it's an ideal opportunity to encourage physical activity. Anything that motivates teens who are currently inactive and reinforces healthy habits for those that are already into fitness is a great thing in my book.

New York restaurants fret over calorie ordinance

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Is the New York City ordinance that requires restaurants to publish the calorie counts of menu items to harsh? Sure, that level of information may require quite a bit or work (and expense) and an addition to those menus, but is it really that difficult of a thing to do for restaurants? Wendy's, the hamburger chain, won't be complying since it has not voluntarily included that information to customers.

My question is this: with many chains restaurants (see Wendy's nutrition facts here) already having this information available, why is it such a drag to be proactive about it with customers? Because, it may slow down sales of certain items, possibly? The "made to order" reasoning Wendy's gives, for example, does not cut it. The pre-defined selections the chain offers is not really "made to order" at all (unless a customer requires a deviation). Sorry Wendy's, that bluff isn't working with me.

Who knows. Smaller and independent restaurants may have a harder time trying to piece together all the caloric information, but with the ordinance set to take effect in July, they will have little chance going forward.

Are you more likely to get sick after a flight?

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About a month ago I took a long haul flight from Sydney to San Francisco, and then continued on to my home in Canada. I have been sick ever since. It started with a cough that I thought was brought about by the shock of returning to a very dry climate after spending two months on Australia's humid Eastern shores. But the cough was followed by random aches as well as a runny nose, plugged ears and extreme pressure in my head.

I know I can't prove that being on that flight is what made me sick. I could have gotten this cold anywhere, right? However, the fact remains that almost every time I've been on a long flight I've ended up sick afterwards. When I tell people about my experience, they all seem to have similar stories. While nowhere is germ-proof, there seems to be an increased risk of getting a nasty cold after spending several hours in a cabin with hundreds of other people breathing re-circulated air.

I know I can't personally prove my little theory, but I'm obviously not the only one who thinks this way. Check out this humorous post on the extreme fear of getting sick because of a flight. There are a bunch of tips on staying healthy, contributed by readers, at the end of the article and I think that one of the most important is to remember to wash you hands as often as possible -- without getting obsessive about it, naturally. Does anyone else out there have tips they'd like to share?

Heroes star is first male Weight Watchers spokesman

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Heroes star Greg Grunberg lost 35 pounds by following the Weight Watchers Core plan, and now he wants to let you know that Weight Watchers isn't just for "soccer moms" (his words, not mine) any more. Not only is Grunberg the new face of Weight Watcher's, he's also the first male spokesperson for the company. Grunberg started the program shortly after the Heroes pilot aired to control weight gain from stress eating and because his wife had lost weight with the program in the past. One of his goals is to change the image of the 40-year-old Weight Watcher's program and to let people -- especially men -- know that anyone can follow their plan.

To take of the pounds, Grunberg also carries a jump rope everywhere he goes (and uses it), keeps celery sitting on his counter top, relies on other WW members for support, and squeezes in exercise around his 12-hour a day shooting schedule.

Flat-rate surgery, with a warranty?

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Okay, so here's a thought from the health care industry: flat rate surgery, with a warranty? A hospital group in Pennsylvania is doing just that, charging a flat fee for services that includes 90 days of follow-up care. This approach to health care encourages medical professionals to give better care as opposed to more care, since the less follow-up a patient requires the better for everybody. The way the health system currently works in this country hospitals are almost rewarded for errors and sub-par care by needing to see the patient again, and billing for even more services.

I think this is a great idea, although do you think hospitals would start to get choosy about who they performed certain procedures on? It might make things difficult for high-risk patients and people with complicated mixes of health conditions.

The ADHD and stuttering link

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The Stuttering Foundation released a new brochure to help parents with two issues that often go hand in hand: ADHD and stuttering. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder affects 3-7% of U.S. kids; estimates suggest that as many as 26% of which also stutter.

Some ADHD medications may exacerbate stuttering. For children who struggle with both ADHD and stuttering non-medication therapies or non-stimulant medications (such as Strattera) may be better options. Trial results indicate that, when combined with speech therapy, non-stimulant medications may actually reduce stuttering. The Stuttering Foundation offers the following tips for parents of children with ADHD:
  • Maintain a consistent, organized schedule
  • Personalize therapy by focusing on the child's interests
  • Keep instructions simple and have your child repeat them back to you
  • Provide visual cues and/or concrete examples to help your child with comprehension
  • Use praise or a reward system to motivate your child
  • Work with your child on improving his/her self-monitoring skills
  • Encourage appropriate communication skills (eye contact, volume, pace of speech, etc.).

Artist makes meatballs from his own fat

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They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but this artist's masterpiece came from another body part. Marco Evaristti, a Chilean artist, had fat liposuctioned from his own body, then used it to create meatballs which he then put on display in an art gallery.

The piece, which Evaristti and 12 friends eventually ate, was meant to draw attention to modern-day people's obsession with food and with weight loss. Evaristti says:

"You eat, and when you're fat, you go to a clinic, have an operation, have your fat removed and you start to eat again."

The artist is no stranger to shocking displays. In 2004 he painted an iceberg red, and in a different display he filled blenders with water and goldfish and invited visitors to make their own "fish soup."

Fun fitness classes in New York

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I live in a fairly small city where interesting and unique gym classes are hard to find, so I always get a kick out of reading what they're doing other places. In New York the 'Bounce-n-Slide' class sounds particularly fun because it appeals to a person's inner child: you get to jump on a trampoline, slide on a giant mat that mimics ice, and then do some ab and mat work to finish things up (okay, not so much 'inner child' on that last one).

These classes were designed to take some of the boredom and tedious repetition out of what most people think of when they imagine taking a class at the gym, and although the 'Bounce-n-Slide' is my favorite of the bunch, the article also covers a Pilates class that incorporates cardio work and a parent-child class designed for parents to bring their kids with them.

Honestly they all sound awesome! Makes me wish I lived in New York.