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Yoga could be as beneficial for the heart as walking, biking

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Good for the mind and good for the body: Scientists say doing yoga can improve your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and, most importantly, your heart. 

The health benefits of yoga have long been known, but a review of 37 previous studies claims it can be just as effective as biking and walking.

One lead researcher of the study, Paula Chu says, "This finding suggests that [people] who are physically limited in some way do not have to 'pound the pavement' in order to improve their cardiovascular risk profile."

The study was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology and shows both healthy people and those with health risks saw similar benefits from yoga.  

Researchers believe yoga's health benefits might come from a reduction in stress. 

The American Heart Association says stress can lead to an increased heart disease risk, and high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It can also affect eating, drinking and smoking habits. 

Yoga is becoming more and more popular in the U.S. A 2012 study by Yoga Journal found about 20.4 million Americans practiced yoga nationwide, up from an estimated 15.8 million four years prior. 

And Women's Health points out there are plenty of different styles of yoga to choose from.

Still, even though the study looked at about 2,800 people, the researchers say not to draw any "definitive conclusions" from the study, mainly because there are so many different forms of yoga. The amount of practice needed for these health benefits to happen is also a factor. 

This video includes images from Getty Images. 

Must-read fitness, health, and happiness books for 2013

With the new school year in full swing, it’s time to bury our heads in the books. But we’re not here to assign you any nap-inducing texts — instead we’ve put together a list of 24 books that will keep you up and reading way past your bedtime. With plenty of pictures, humor, and hardcore science, these books tackle topics as varied as sex, nutrition, and endurance running. Check ’em out and put good old-fashioned learnin’ back in style.

It’s worth noting that there are tons of health and fitness books out there, and we had to be extremely choosy about which ones to include on this list. All the books here have come out in 2013, or are due to come out in 2014. The authors offer new and insightful takes on subjects in health, fitness, and happiness, and most are pretty influential on social media or on a personal website. Read on and don’t forget to let us know your favorites in the comments section!

Food and Cooking

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von BremzenAs almost everyone knows, food is more than just sustenance. The smell of certain meals cooking takes us back to our childhood, making us feel comforted or scared. Food writer Anya von Bremzen grew up in the former U.S.S.R., where food had a special significance, representing everything she could and couldn’t have. In her latest book, she and her mother Larisa take on the tremendous project of cooking their way through their own history. Each dish — fish pie, Georgian stew, blini — represents a different time of their life, and with each recipe von Bremzen tells an equally captivating story about her memories from that period. — SL

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays by Ree DrummondEven city slickers can get plenty out of Drummond's frontier-themed cookbook. After meeting and marrying a rancher (yep, an honest-to-goodness person who wrangles cows), the author moved from L.A. to rural Oklahoma and learned to cook for a crowd. In her latest cookbook, Drummond covers 12 holidays, from New Year’s Eve to Valentine’s Day to Thanksgiving, and all the traditional foods that go along with them. We’re talking glazed Easter Ham and caramel apples for Halloween, each recipe complete with step-by-step directions. Most of the recipes are hearty rather than healthy, with plenty of dishes that work well for a crowd. Best of all, perhaps, is Drummond's storytelling voice. At the same time warm, goofy, and competent, she comes across like a combination between your best friend and your favorite aunt. — SB

The Taste of America by Colman AndrewsWhat's so special about eating in America? Colman Andrews, a noted food writer and editor of The Daily Meal, explores distinctive foods made in the U.S. of A. in his new book. Taste of America features 250 hand-picked food items, from Blue Point oysters to Junior Mints. Andrews explains the cultural, regional, and culinary significance of each entry in the anthology, accompanied by beautiful illustrations. You'll never be curious about the provenance of beef jerky again! — SB

The Oh She Glows Cookbookby Angela LiddonFive years ago, Angela Liddon created her blog, Oh She Glows, as a platform to share how nourishing, plant-based meals that actually look and taste good helped her recover from an eating disorder. Now the enormously popular blog is killing it with hundreds of healthy recipes and drool-worthy pictures of hearty salads, homemade energy bars, and raw dessert bars. Due out early 2014, "The Oh She Glows Cookbook" is an extension of the blog with original breakfasts, snacks, entrees, and desserts. Most recipes are allergy friendly with many gluten-free and soy-free options. — NM

The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes from My Parisian Kitchen by Clotilde DusoulierJulia Child may have made mastering French cuisine accessible, but many of those meals centered on meat, fish, and poultry. "The French Market Cookbook" is all about shifting that focus to the fresh, colorful, seasonal produce France has to offer. Written by Paris-born food writer, Clotilde Dusoulier, this book includes 90 seasonal recipes — many of which are vegan — as well as 75 beautiful color photographs. From ratatouille to gnocchi, "The French Market Cookbook" goes to show, vegetables can be the main act of any meal. Check out Dusoulier’s accompanying blog, Chocolate and Zucchini, to continue the discussion about plant-based eating, food ethics, and food and the environment. — NM

Forks Over Knives: The Cookbook by Del SroufeThe adjectives “vegan,” “oil-free,” and “low-fat” don’t exactly conjure up images of mouthwatering cupcakes and ice cream. But Del Sroufe and his collaborators (including Isa Chandra Moskowitz) are here to prove that healthful, plant-based eating can be tasty, too. "Forks Over Knives" is actually a food movement that inspired a 2011documentary film, and the new cookbook is full of classic recipes from around the world for all three meals. There's breakfast quinoa with apple compote, grilled eggplant steaks, polenta pizza, and apricot fig squares. Best of all, there’s no slaving away in the kitchen or emptying our wallets: All the recipes are relatively easy and affordable to prepare. — SL

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm GladwellThe age-old tale of David and Goliath teaches us that underdogs can win. But it's not always as easy as throwing a stone. Malcom Gladwell, staff writer for the New Yorker and author of other bestselling psychology books, challenges modern perceptions of obstacles and setbacks. After he breaks down the story behind the giant and the shepherd boy, Gladwell asks the question: "When it comes down to the underdog versus the favorite, who really has the advantage, and why?" To tackle this topic, "David and Goliath" examines heavy topics from the minds of cancer researchers, murderers, and civil rights leaders to poor education, disability, and loss. — NM

Before Happiness by Shawn AchorSome people are blonde; some are brunette. Some people are happy; others are doomed to a lifetime of misery. Right? Wrong, at least according to Shawn Achor, a psychology researcher who’s written and spoken on cultivating happiness in the workplace. In his latest book, Achor talks about changing the way we perceive reality so that happiness actually becomes a legitimate possibility. It’s all about the small stuff — think keeping a daily gratitude journal or starting the workday by listing everyone’s successes. "Before Happiness" is not only an uplifting read — it’s also an impressively well-researched book that’s still a breeze to read. — SL

For a list of 24 must-read fitness, health, and happiness books for 2013, go to Greatist.com.

How to manage stress during the holidays

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of health care is spent on stress related disorders, including anxiety and depression, autoimmune and allergic disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, and body aches and pains.

Although stress is a part of life, there are numerous ways to avoid letting it get the best of you, states therapist, author and positive living expert Diane Lang (www.dlcounseling.com) who offers some tips on how we all can have a more balanced and happy holiday season.

• Remember what the holidays are about - spending quality time with family, friends and loved ones, and giving to others. Watch your expectations, and make sure they are realistic.

• Take good care of yourself. Everyone deserves some down time. Something as simple as a 15-minute nap can make a noticeable difference in your energy levels. Try distancing yourself from the telephone, computer and television when possible; treat yourself to a massage; curl up with a good book; or take a relaxing bath.

• Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you are planning a holiday get-together, most people are happy to bring a covered dish or dessert to share. Don’t feel guilty about asking family members to help with chores or planning.

• Watch for signs of burnout and listen to your body. It’s time to make changes if you notice any of the following signs: feeling irritable, moody or unhappy; exhaustion and fatigue; panic attack symptoms like dizziness, heavy chest, heart racing, headache, feeling nauseous, hot and cold flashes; changes in sleeping or eating habits; physical signs such as headaches, stomachaches, joint pain and low immune system (catching frequent colds and illnesses).

To help manage symptoms like those above, use these techniques:

• Practice deep breathing exercises. When you are under stress, your breathing changes, becoming more shallow and rapid. Be aware, and focus on taking longer, deeper breaths.

• Exercise. One of the very best ways to combat stress is by being physically active. For those who feel agitated or angry when they are stressed, intense forms of activity like punching a ‘heavy bag’ or going for a long run can do wonders for releasing pent-up energy. For others, feelings of fatigue, sadness or hopelessness arise when stressed. In this case, exercise provides the perfect pick me up. The brain releases ‘feel good’ chemicals with activity, helping you to become naturally happier and more peaceful.

• Instead of keeping stress bottled up, share your thoughts with someone. Having a friend, family member, teacher, or counselor to talk to can help give you a totally different perspective. When circumstances arise that you cannot control, it also helps to identify (write down) the sources of stress as well as your responses to them.

• Spend time with your pet, or volunteer at a local animal shelter. Volunteering is an excellent way to get your mind off your troubles, helping you to focus outside yourself and put things into clearer perspective. Studies have shown that when enjoying the company of pets, people had a significantly lower heart rate and blood pressure while resting.

Fitness gifts for the athletes on your holiday list

Some folks might dream of sweater sets, cuff links or sugarplums, poor things, but we know the athletes on your holiday gift list really want stuff that makes them sweat.

We’ve rounded up a collection of goodies that’ll keep those cardio-happy hipsters moving at the speed of fitness. And unlike fruitcakes and eggnog, these suggestions will keep your loved ones healthy, too. What better gift could you ask for?

Rapha clothing

Mellow Johnny’s recently opened the only Rapha concept shop in the Southwest, where it peddles top-of-the-line, retro-themed clothing that’s more wool than Lycra. Think cyclo-cross jerseys with a single padded shoulder for carrying your bike across race fields or a fitted (not boxy) high-visibility cycling vest. Who knew cycling gear could be stylish, too? ($210 long-sleeved cyclo-cross jersey, matching $60 winter cyclo-cross hat, $160 women’s high-visibility pink vest at Mellow Johnny’s, 400 Nueces St.)

Bike bag

Want to cycle to work but don’t want to sling a backpack over your shoulders? Try this old school, eco-friendly, waxed cotton bag, perfect for stashing your laptop and lunch. Attach the bag to your handlebars with Velcro straps for the ride, then sling it over your shoulder once you arrive at your destination. ($35 at www.greatusefulstuff.com)

Running shoes

We love the cushy, loopy soles and snowy good looks of the Cloudsurfer Prism model of the Swiss-made On running shoes. Drenched in white, with three pairs of colorful laces, the shoes make you feel like you’re running on soft, shock-absorbing sand — except you don’t get bogged down on the push off. ($129 at specialty running stores including RunTex, or at www.on-running.com)

Event entry

Sometimes the best gifts are the kind that don’t take up space on the shelf — like entry fees for a local bike ride or foot race. Our favorites include the Livestrong Austin Marathon on Feb. 17 ($120 full marathon or $100 half, prices increase by $15 on Nov. 28, at www.youraustinmarathon.com), the BP MS 150 bike ride from Houston to Austin on April 20-21 ($100; tinyurl.com/a9vepd7) and the Statesman Capitol 10,000 on April 7 ($35; www.cap10k.com).  

“The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools & Techniques to Hit the Trail,” by Andrew Skurka

From trekking poles to sleeping bags, portable stoves to water purification systems, this book explains what you’ll need on the trail and what to look for when you’re gearing up. (Published by National Geographic, $19.95; available at Amazon.com or bookstores)   

 

Dog-E-Glow LED collar and leash

Sometimes the best exercise partners are the four-legged kind. Make sure your pup stays visible if you’re walking after dark - and show your school colors, too - with this light-up collar and leash. Choose from University of Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Texas Christian and other major college versions. ($25.99 for collars; $29.99 for leashes at University Co-op and www.futurepets.com or www.dogeglow.com)

Nutcase bike helmet

Protect your shell with a funky bike helmet from Nutcase. We like this yellow taxi-cab number, but who wouldn’t want to swath their head in pink leopard skin, tie dye, polka dots or even a watermelon motif? (About $60 at specialty bike shops including Eastside Pedal Pushers and Ozone Bike Dept.).  

Fitness classes

How about the gift of flexibility? YogaYoga offers an array of classes, from hatha to flow to relaxation (unlimited classes for $99 per month, a year of unlimited yoga plus a massage for $995 or 5 classes for $55 at www.yogayoga.com). Rogue Running offers training classes that will help get you ready for a 10K run, including one geared toward the Statesman Capitol 10,000 ($182 at www.roguerunning.com). Or heat things up with a Brass Ovaries pole dancing fitness class that’ll knock your socks off ($35 for a group class; $150/month for unlimited classes at brass-ovaries.com/).

Cycling magazines

To call Privateer and Rouleur magazines is like calling Whole Foods Market a convenience store. These publications read more like books (and cost as much), and they’re packed with beautiful photos and in-depth articles on mountain biking and road cycling. You’ll read every bit of text and display ’em on your coffee table. ($20 at Mellow Johnny’s, 400 Nueces St.)  

Timex Marathon watch

Runners can be obsessive when it comes to checking pace, distance and calories burned. This sweat-proof workout watch uses GPS to monitor both, and stores up to 30 workouts. Comes in black, turquoise or this chipper pink. ($99.95 at Hill Country Running, 9900 W. Parmer Lane or 215 S. Lamar Blvd., Amazon.com or REI.com)  

NiteRider cycling lights

Light up your commute with a Lumina headlight — it’s the size of a tamal, clips neatly to your bike handlebars and easily recharges by plugging it into a cable that attaches to the USB port on your computer. Or opt for the less-expensive, pint-sized Lightning Bug. (Lumina series starts at $89; Lightning Bug starts at $11.95 at Bicycle Sport Shop, 517 S. Lamar Boulevard, and Texas Cycle Werks, 5300 S. Mopac Blvd., No. 501) 

“Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die,” by Chris Santella

Have wheels, but need to know where to pedal? Bicyling experts including Steve Coyle, past president of the Austin Cycling Association, share their picks for the world’s greatest destinations. Among the recommendations? Through fields of tulips in the Netherlands, past giraffes in Botswana, and, yes, into the scrappy, undulating terrain of the Texas Hill Country. (Published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95; available at Amazon.com and bookstores) 

Texas Chip Seal Embrocation

Slather on this Hill Country lavender-scented warming cream that acts as your skin’s protective barrier from cold and wind. As the shop says, “It may be the dead of winter, but your legs are vacationing in Cabo.” Made by Mad Alchemy. ($24.99 at Mellow Johnny’s, 400 Nueces St.)

Clif bars

Can the candy canes and stuff your sweetie’s stocking with a handful of iced gingerbread, peppermint stick or spiced pumpkin pie-flavored Clif Bars instead. ($1.39 at grocery stores and sports stores)

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