TIME Exercise/Fitness

11 Training Tips for Running Your First Half-Marathon

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Remember: every run has a purpose, so don't skip any

Running a half-marathon is all the rage these days, especially among women. In fact, a recent Running USA Report revealed that 13.1 is the fastest-growing race distance. What’s more, in 2014, the ladies made up 61 percent of the field.

So why are women rushing to the starting line?

“We are seeing an exciting time for women’s running in general,” Knox Robinson, coach at Nike+ Run Club NYC, publisher of the international running culture journal First Run, and co-founder of the Black Roses NYC running collective told Health. “It’s a combination of everything from women having more disposal income as consumers, companies giving more attention to women’s gear, and the ability, through social media, to see women of all shapes and sizes running, which is empowering.”

Adds Jenny Hadfield, founder of CoachJenny.com: “The training is the new way to socialize and catch up with friends. Plus there are a host of women’s specific races that provide a friendly, non-competitive environment for newbies.”

Thinking of tackling 13.1 in the near future? Consider these tips from top running pros before you lace up.

Know it’s possible

“From the beginning, I try to communicate in all ways— visually, literally and coaching-wise— how possible it is to reach this goal through intelligent training and preparation,” says Robinson who also notes that the half is a manageable distance for everyone to train for and wrap their heads around. “But you have to believe in yourself” to really succeed.

Be selective about your shoes

Your feet are your foundation, so give them the respect they deserve by investing in a good (good doesn’t always mean super pricey) pair of kicks that are comfy and truly fit your feet. Look to your neighborhood specialty running store for help, advises former Olympic runner John Henwood, founder of TheRun, a boutique treadmill studio in New York City. Here, they’ll perform a gait analysis to help decode what style of shoe is best.

Build your base

A running base is the number of miles and weeks of running you have in the bank before you being training for a race, and it is essential to a successful training season. “It’s like the foundation of a house,” says Hadfield. “The stronger the base, the more easily the body can withstand the demands of a training program.”

Find the right training plan

Before you settle on a regimen, ask yourself what your goals are, and then work back from there. “Long distance running is about being able to run faster, longer and better,” says Robinson, “so your training must be oriented in the same way.” Choosing a plan that suits your style and fitness level is also key. “When you start from where you are, you progress more readily and enjoy the journey,” explains Hadfield.

Give yourself enough time to prepare

Not only does the body need time to adapt to the progression of the mileage, but sometimes life gets in the way, so it’s wise to have a little extra cushion. Look for training schedules that fall between 14 and 16 weeks. “This gives you weeks to play with in case something happens along the way, time to live your life and have vacations and plenty of time to build up the longer runs safely,” says Hadfield. “Plus, the shorter the season, the higher the risk of injuries as well as burn out.”

Remember: every run has a purpose

So don’t skip any. The long runs on the weekends are the bread and butter and build your endurance and ability to run far. The shorter, faster workouts build speed and fitness. And the easy mid-week runs bridge the gap between these two. “Get into the habit of training by your breath, like in yoga and tuning into how it responds to the workout on the given day,” says Hadfield. “Some days will feel easier, and some harder, but when you train your body, you’ll always be in the optimal zone.”

Whatever you do, don’t neglect the long run

For some, long runs, for lack of a better word, just suck. Regardless, it’s important to get in a handful of them for the length of time you expect to be out on the course. Just as important as getting comfortable with the amount of time you’ll be on your feet, is training your mind for those miles, too. “The challenge for distance runners is that you have to give your mind something to do,” says Robinson. “Our minds aren’t used to occupying that amount of time, and after an hour or so it begins to wander.” And a idle mind is a breeeding ground for negative thoughts that make the urge to walk or stop that much harder to resist.

Hit the weight room regularly

You may think you just need to pound the pavement to prepare, but keeping your body strong through weight training is a big factor in your success. Stronger muscles improve not only your running skills, but help ward off injuries too. Build strength days into your training one to two times per week, along with another day of cross-training in some form of cardio, such as spinning,” advises Henwood. And don’t forget to work that core; a strong one can improve running biomechanics, making you more efficient at pounding that pavement.

Get on a Roll

All that running (and strength-training!) can leave muscles super tight; loosening them up with daily self-massage can go a long way in terms of keeping you injury-free, says Henwood. In fact, research shows that it can boost tissue repair, increase mobility and decrease soreness. So grab a foam roller and get down to business; your muscles will thank you on your next run.

Mix it up

You may feel a sense of comfort sticking to the same route day in and day out, but it could lead to burn out and overall resentment of those miles. For the sake of your sanity, and to keep things fresh, Henwood suggests opting for a change of scenery or surface (track, trail, treadmill) every once in a while. Other ways to hit refresh: creating a new playlist or buddying up if you are typically a solo strider.

Have fun

“Running is an emotional experience; it’s a whole body experience,” notes Robinson “Take time to have fun, as you build toward your goals.”

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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TIME Exercise/Fitness

6 Moves That Burn More Fat in Less Time

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Here's everything you need to know about plyometrics

 

There’s an in-vogue specialized training method that many people are using to get crazy results, and it is one of the fastest methods to get fit in a short amount of time: plyometrics.

Plyometrics are explosive movements that combine power, speed, and strength by working several body parts at once. Since they recruit more muscles than your average exercise—compare a bicep curl, which isolates only that one muscle, with a move that activates your arms, legs, and core simultaneously, like many of the ones below—you burn more calories not only during your workout, but up to eight hours after you’ve finished.

While plyometrics are well-known in the world of sports as a way to help athletes improve their game, they’re starting to take the rest of the fitness world by storm, and for good reason: In addition to toning and sculpting your legs, booty, arms, and abs, plyometrics help to build strength, increase balance and coordination, and improve cardiovascular health.

Before you jump off the couch and head to the gym, make sure you’re ready to handle plyometrics; since the difficulty level is somewhat advanced, being able to perform a proper basic squat and lunge first is important. Once you’ve mastered those moves, you’re ready to move on. Here are 6 plyometrics that will burn fat in no time:

Squat Jumps

Start by getting into the bottom of a squat position. Your legs should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and slightly turned out. Your chest should be out, shoulders back, and core engaged. From here, explode straight up in the air, allowing your feet to leave the ground. Make sure to land softly on your toes when you come down. Doing this will protect your knees and hips. Complete 10-15 squat jumps.

Lunge Hops

Start in a lunge position with your right foot in front and left foot behind you with your left knee about an inch from the floor. From here, explode straight up out of the lunge, switching your legs mid-air and landing softly on your toes. You will now have your left leg in front and right leg behind you. Repeat this until you’ve completed 10 total lunge hops.

Skaters

Start at the bottom of a squat position. Jump to the left, landing on your left leg, while bringing your right leg behind your left ankle. From here, jump to the right side with your right leg, bringing your left leg behind your right ankle. This completes one rep. Complete a total of 30 skaters.

Toe Taps

Find a stable medicine ball, step, or bench. This will be your base for the toe touches. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms by your sides. Bring your right toe to the edge of your base. From here jump and switch your feet so that your left toe is at the edge of the base and your right foot is now back on the floor. Repeat this for a total of 30 toe taps.

Medicine Ball Squat Thrusts

Grab a medicine ball and stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold the ball at belly-button height and slowly squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor or lower. (Do not let your knees extend past the tip of your toes.) From here, explode upwards and toss the medicine ball straight in the air. Keep your eye on it so you can catch it and drop right back into the squat position. Do 12-15 medicine ball squat thrusts.

Medicine Ball Burpees

Grab a medicine ball and stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Squat down to the floor and place the medicine ball between your feet while keeping your hands on the ball. From here, jump back into a pushup position, making sure your hands are placed securely on the ball. Jump your feet forward until you are at the bottom of a squat again, then stand up straight. Try to do 10-12 medicine ball burpees.

Liked these moves? Check out A 5-Move Workout To Get Your Butt In Shape

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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TIME psychology

How to Manage Stress

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Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

Exercise can become your best medicine

For any of you who have experienced a ‘runner’s high’ or endorphin rush while exercising you know how powerful the feeling can be. But there are many more chemicals at play than just endorphins and they can do much more than just make you temporarily feel good. Regular exercise can help you combat high levels of stress and anxiety.

In Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain the authors explain how exercise can become your best medicine.

Aside from elevating endorphins, exercise regulates all of the neurotransmitters targeted by antidepressants. For starters, exercise immediately elevates levels of norepinephrine, in certain areas of the brain. It wakes up the brain and gets it going and improves self-esteem, which is one component of depression.”

“Another factor from the body that comes into play here is the atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP). Produced by the muscles of the heart itself when it’s really pumping, ANP travels through the bloodstream and into the brain, where it helps to further moderate the stress response and reduce noise in the brain. It’s a potent part of a cascade of chemicals that relieve emotional stress and reduce anxiety. Along with pain-blunting endorphins and endocannabinoids, the increase in ANP helps explain why you feel relaxed and calm after a moderate aerobic workout. When you talk about burning off stress, these are the elements at work.

We all know that chronically high levels of stress is very unhealthy but did you know that it can actually destroy the connections between nerve cells in the brain?

If mild stress becomes chronic, the unrelenting cascade of cortisol triggers genetic actions that begin to sever synaptic connections and cause dendrils to atrophy and cells to die; eventually, the hippocampus can end up physically shriveled, like a raisin.

But this process can also be reversed.

Studies show that if researchers exercise rats that have been chronically stressed, that activity makes the hippocampus grow back to it’s pre-shriveled state

It’s important to note that while a lot of stress is bad, a little stress can be very good. Physical fitness is one discipline which has always advocated introducing controlled stress to your system. That is, after all, how we break down and build up our muscles. The neurons in our brains benefit from a bit of stress in the same way our muscles do.

What’s gotten lost amid all the advice about how to reduce the stress of modern life is that challenges are what allow us to strive and grow and learn. The parallel on the cellular level is that stress sparks brain growth. Assuming that the stress is not too severe and that the neurons are given time to recover, the connections become stronger and our mental machinery works better.

To get the most mental benefit from your exercise program ideally you need to spend some time pushing yourself and getting a bit outside of your comfort zone.

Psychologically, this is where you ‘confront the self,’ in the words of my colleague Robert Pyles… By going beyond where you thought you could, straining and stressing and lingering in that pain for even just a minute or two, you sometimes transcend into a rarefied state of mind, in which you feel like you can conquer any challenge. If you’ve ever experienced the phenomenon of runner’s high, it probably came in response to a near maximum effort on your part. The euphoric feeling is likely due to the mixture of extremely high levels of endorphins, ANP, endocannabinoids and neurotransmitters pumping through your system at this intensity. It’s the brain’s way of blocking everything else out so you can push through the pain and make the kill.

You also need to build a routine. The stability of a routine can have dramatic effects on your mood and motivation.

Exercise immediately increases levels of dopamine and if you stay on some sort of schedule, the brain cells in your motivation center will sprout new dopamine receptors, giving you new found initiative.

Lastly, exercising at a moderate intensity serves another important function; it helps take out the trash.

Inside your brain cells, the higher activity level triggers the release of metabolic cleanup crews, producing proteins and enzymes that dispose of free radicals, broken bits of DNA, and inflammation factors that can cause the cells to rupture if left unchecked.

Okay, maybe I won’t skip yoga tonight.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY freebies

Anyone Can Work Out for Free at Planet Fitness on Thursday

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The "Judgement Free" gym is actually free for a day

Planet Fitness is opening its 1,000th club this week, with a new location in Washington, D.C. To celebrate, the fitness chain — which operates in most states — is opening up the doors of all 1,000 locations in the U.S. and Canada to anyone and everyone, free of charge, on Thursday, June 11.

Planet Fitness bills itself as a “Judgement Free Zone,” where “members experience a hassle-free, non-intimidating environment.” On Thursday, this environment is being opened up to nonmembers as well, who are under no obligation to become members.

That doesn’t mean that Planet Fitness isn’t actively encouraging visitors to sign up, of course. A company press release is pumping up a “special one-day sale” on Thursday of $10 down and $10 per month for new members. But be warned, based on the membership prices listed on the Planet Fitness site, there is nothing special about Thursday’s “special” pricing. Basic membership usually starts at $10 per month.

Just as importantly, take note of the research that shows two-thirds of all gym memberships go unused even as those membership fees get charged month after month. At least with Planet Fitness, there are some very special bonus perks for showing up every now and then: Locations host a free pizza night for members on the first Monday of every month, and give away bagels on the first Tuesday of each month.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Surprising Ways To Help Your Memory

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Here's how to get your brain blood flowing

A recent study alleviated fears that statins—taken by 1 in 4 adults over the age of 40—cause memory loss. But how do you strengthen recall in general? We asked Dr. Majid Fotuhi, chairman of the Memosyn Neurology Institute, to share the latest research-backed insights. “People don’t appreciate that such simple factors have an impact on your brain health, but they do,” he says. “They’re more powerful than any medicine you can take.”

1. Have a sense of purpose in life. In one study published earlier this year in the journal Stroke, scientists studied autopsied adult brains and found that the odds of having a stroke were reduced by half or older people who had a high sense of purpose, compared to people who reported a low sense of purpose.

2. Go dancing. It’s a brain-building triple threat, he says: physical activity protects the brain, learning lets it grow, and socialization helps it thrive. (Fotuhi recommends the tango.)

3. Learn something new. Pre-GPS, cabbies had to learn their cities’ streets and traffic patterns—a challenging mental exercise that over their career actually grew the part of the brain associated with spatial memory, one study found.

4. Take omega-3s fatty acids. The combo of DHA and EPA increase blood flow to the brain, reduce inflammation and help repair neurons, Fotuhi says. His research also suggests that DHA may slow cognitive decline.

5. Exercise. In a study published in the journal PNAS, people who exercised every day for a year had 2% growth in their hippocampus—a part of the brain that plays a role in short- and long-term memory—while people who merely stretched saw shrinkage. Increasing blood flow to the brain helps it grow, Fotuhi says. “You need to be physically fit below your neck in order to have a fit brain above your neck.”

TIME Exercise/Fitness

You Asked: Is It Better to Sleep In Or Work Out?

Peter Oumanski for TIME

Sleep and exercise are both vital. But if you can’t seem to fit in both, you can sometimes substitute a little of one for a little of the other.

When it comes to your health, there are few absolutes. But that’s not the case with sleep and exercise. You need both, period.

“I couldn’t choose between the two,” says Edward Laskowski, MD, a resident and professor of physical medicine at Mayo Clinic. “Sleep and exercise are like food and water.”

Not only are both necessary, but it’s difficult to get healthy doses of one without the other. “When you look at the research, regular physical activity is important for high-quality sleep, and high-quality sleep is important for physical performance,” says Cheri Mah, a sleep medicine researcher at Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco.

But when pressed to choose one that’s more important, Mah grudgingly decides on sleep. “Sleep is foundational,” she says. While specific needs vary from person to person, she says most of the scientific literature suggests adults need a minimum of seven hours of good sleep every night. “Lots of individuals think they can operate on less, but when you test them, you find they’re not performing at their best,” Mah says. “They get used to feeling tired, and they think that’s the norm.”

Sleep is the base on which a healthy mind and body stand, she explains. From your immune function to your mood, energy, appetite and dozens of other health variables, if that base is wobbly, your health will suffer.

But let’s assume you’re getting your seven-plus hours every night. Can you sacrifice some zzzs a few times a week in order to fit in regular exercise? Yes, but with caveats, says Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University.

Regularity is very important for sound, restorative sleep. Mess around too much with your sleep and wake schedule, and all of your body’s circadian rhythms can be thrown out of whack. Not only will you feel sleepy at odd hours, but you may also struggle to fall asleep at night, and your appetite and energy will fluctuate in unhealthy ways, Zee says.

Say you typically go to bed around 11:00 p.m. and rise at seven. Zee says the midpoint of your night would land near 3 a.m. As long as you’re maintaining your seven-to-eight-hour average and that midpoint lands between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., Zee says you’re fine skipping a half hour of sleep a few days a week in favor of a morning run or gym visit.

Not fine: Rising two hours early to attend a morning yoga class or to fit in a lengthy bike ride.

“Even on weekends, you want to keep that regularity of when you go to bed and when you get up,” Zee stresses. Your body doesn’t understand what a weekend is, so it doesn’t react well if you stick to one schedule during the workweek and adopt a radically different schedule on Saturdays and Sundays. The same goes for your workout days.

But if you’re falling short of your seven hours a night, Zee, Mah and Laskowski all say the same thing: It’s time to reorganize your schedule in a way that makes room for both adequate sleep and regular exercise.

There may be some exceptions for people with insomnia or those who can’t seem to sleep at night. For them, rising at the same time each day and incorporating regular exercise might help alleviate sleep woes, even if it means sacrificing a little sack time in the short term.

But for the rest of us, making time for sleep and exercise can come down to cutting out activities that aren’t as important.

“Almost everyone could forgo 30 minutes a day of internet or TV time,” Mah says. Both the CDC and American Heart Association recommend a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week. Along with your seven-plus hours of sleep, those are you bare-minimum goals when it comes to healthy rest and physical activity.

“There are so many unique benefits that each have, it’s hard to pull them apart,” Laskowski says. “The real danger is when you only make adequate time for one of them.”

TIME Exercise/Fitness

6 Summer Activities That Will Work Out Your Abs

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Beach volleyball will tone your abs fast

Crunches, planks and bicycles are all effective at working your core. But so do some way-more-fun summer activities (think hula-hooping and stand-up paddle boarding) that just so happen to tone your abs in a similar way. Both routes to a six-pack can be effective, but personally, I’d rather get some serious enjoyment out of the process too, especially when it’s nice out.

Check out these sports that secretly strengthen your core—chances are, you won’t even realize you’re getting an ab workout as you’re doing them (though the burn the next day will probably clue you in).

Hula-hooping

You’ve got to really move your middle to keep the hoop spinning, so it makes total sense that this seemingly silly activity might seriously target your tummy. And a new, small study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research proves just that. Thirteen women were asked to use a weighted hula hoop for five days a week for six weeks, for two minutes on the first day and then for longer and longer stints until they were hooping for 15 minutes a day starting in week three. The result: The women lost 3.4 centimeters from their midsections and 1.4 centimeters from their hips, on average.

Stand-up paddleboarding

All you have to do is get on a board and you will understand how your core is involved—it’s all about balance, and to stay upright your core is engaged the entire time,” says Chris Freytag, a fitness instructor in Minneapolis and founder of gethealthyu.com. If you’re a newbie, Freytag suggests starting on your knees, which lowers your center of gravity and still works your middle, and then moving up to standing when you feel comfortable for maximum perks.

Kayaking

Just because you’re sitting doesn’t mean you’re not working your stomach. “The majority of your body’s strength while paddling comes from the core, so while it feels like an upper-body exercise, it begins in your abdominals and lower back,” says Ramona Braganza, celebrity fitness trainer and creator of the 321 Training Method. Plus, your body rotation when paddling targets your obliques, too.

Beach volleyball

This classic summer sport is all about moving side-to-side and up-and-down to get the ball. All that quick lateral movement works your middle like crazy. On top of that, “the unstable surface of the sand gets your stabilizing muscles activated,” Braganza notes. Try playing with only a few people, rather than seven or eight folks on each side, which will force you to move more—and burn more.

Treading water

“Treading water, or really doing any water sport in general such as swimming or snorkeling without fins, can improve your core and provides a lot of cardiovascular benefits,” says Braganza. And that’s important, she says, because it’ll burn off any fat hiding sculpted muscles underneath.

Rollerblading

To stay balanced, you have to rely on a strong midsection to keep you upright. You’re also burning lots of calories as you roll, which is great for fat-melting purposes, Braganza says.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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MONEY Workplace

How ‘Sweatworking’ Can Help Your Career

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The high-intensity way to bond with work contacts.

Forget stuffy conferences, cocktail parties and coffee dates.

When it comes to meeting and mingling with career contacts these days, be prepared to show up in your gym attire for a little “sweatworking”—the trendy practice of connecting with clients and coworkers over a workout.

To get the lowdown on why this concept is gaining momentum now, we called up career coach Jenn DeWall, MBA, who spent a decade working at Fortune 100 companies before launching her own business.

She takes us through the ins and outs of this new way to network—and explains why it could be your next great career move.

Why Now?

These days everyone is more mindful of optimizing their time, DeWall explains, and sweatworking helps professionals tackle two important to-dos at once—advancing their careers and keeping fit.

But the trend is more than just clever time management. It can also nurture more meaningful connections—something many crave in our overstimulated culture.

“At times, networking events can leave you feeling less connected because you’re feeling ‘sold’ to,” DeWall explains. “But physical activity creates a shared experience that helps build trust and likability early on in a relationship.”

How to Make It Work for You

While sweatworking is particularly suited for people in such client-facing roles as sales and public relations, DeWall insists that employees in any field can use fitness classes to create team bonds with colleagues, or form relationships with potential mentors.

Plus, if you’re the type who isn’t a fan of more formal networking, a group workout can be an ideal way to gain confidence.

“Sweatworking can alleviate the nervousness that networking newbies often have,” DeWall says. “You can use the activity as a start-up for conversation—reducing the stress and anxiety that come with meeting someone new.”

To get a session going, research what opportunities your company gym might have on tap. L.A. Fitness, for example, now offers free passes for corporate members to use with clients, as well as classes that cater to businesses.

If you’re a freelancer, DeWall recommends searching Eventbrite.com for organized meetups in your area. And look into local business organizations too. Levo League, for instance, coordinates many group sweatworking opportunities geared toward professional women.

Most important? Keep it low-key—and have a good time. After all, it’s about taking the stiffness out of networking.

“Sweatworking is the professional equivalent of an outdoor kickball or volleyball league,” DeWall says. “It’s about people coming together for a fun, challenging experience they can bond over.”

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TIME Research

Preschoolers Aren’t Getting Enough Exercise, Study Says

Plenty of exercise is essential for a child's development and to prevent obesity

Even very young children in the U.S. are not active enough, says a new study.

Preschoolers only get about 48 minutes of exercise on average each day, according to a paper by the University of Washington and published in the journal Pediatrics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends kids get at least one hour of daily physical activity.

After documenting children’s daily activities in 10 preschools in the Seattle area over a period of 50 days, researchers found that they were only exercising 12% of the time. The rest of their day was spent napping (29%), eating or generally being inactive.

On average, the children were outside for just more than half an hour a day, the study found.

“It’s just not enough,” Pooja Tandon, lead author of the study and assistant professor at the University of Washington, told USA Today.

Getting plenty of exercise at a young age, she said, was essential for a child’s development and for preventing obesity, which has risen dramatically over the past 30 years. According to the CDC, nearly 18% of children ages six to 11 are obese, compared to 7% in 1980.

To get kids more active, some health experts advocate combining academic activities in the classroom with exercise.

Debbie Chang, vice president of Nemours Children’s Health System in Delaware, says even reading a book, such as The Wheels on the Bus, can become part of a child’s daily exercise as they can get up and moving by acting out the scenes.

[USA Today]

TIME Innovation

How the Navy is Taking the Lead on Maternity Leave

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Here’s how the U.S. Navy is leading the way on maternity leave.

By Alexander LaCasse in the Christian Science Monitor

2. What if growing up “color-blind” means white millennials don’t see racial injustice either?

By Mychal Denzel Smith in the PBS Newshour

3. Jailhouse informants are a leading cause of wrongful convictions. It’s time for them to go.

By Jordan Smith in the Intercept

4. Spend two minutes per hour walking — just walking — to cut your risk of dying by one third.

By Christopher Wanjek and LiveScience at Scientific American

5. Fruit and vegetables worth billions are left to rot because they’re ugly. Now we can eat them at a discount.

By Lorena Galliot in Grist

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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