Inside PT
Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet

This time of year, we're used to seeing dancers embodying the flavors of The Nutcracker's magical Land of Sweets. But the real-life equivalents of those seasonal treats are more than just holiday guilty pleasures, and have benefits that could help you get through a crazy month of performances. Here are a few reasons to indulge in the spices and flavors of the season—now, and all year long.

Peppermint: This powerhouse herb has an abundance of benefits to help you get through a busy performance season. It's been known to aid digestion and help calm anxiety, and one study found that inhaling its vapors may improve athletic performance. Smelling peppermint has also been found to increase focus. You don't just have to get it from candy canes: Try brewing a hot cup of peppermint tea between rehearsals, or to wind down after a long day.

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Inside PT

Valentine’s Day All Year Long

On February 14, you’re likely to nosh on chocolate. But here are five dancer-friendly reasons to enjoy one to two small squares of dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao daily.
1. Your mind: The flavonols in dark chocolate help increase blood flow to certain parts of the brain, which may make you more alert in class and onstage.
2. Your heart: A German study found that eating a square of dark chocolate daily reduced heart attack and stroke risk by 39 percent and lowered blood pressure.
3. Your overall nutrition: According to a University of Copenhagen study, dark chocolate is more filling than milk chocolate. This means when you opt for dark, you’re more likely to eat healthier, since it lessens cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods.
4. Your stress levels: A study by Swiss scientists found that when anxious people ate dark chocolate, their levels of stress hormones significantly decreased.
5. Your skin: Eating chocolate high in flavonol has been found to double the amount of time it takes to develop the redness indicating sunburn

 

Quick-Take Cardio
If you’re trying to squeeze cardio into your busy schedule, look no further than jump rope. Stick one in your dance bag for short aerobic bursts between rehearsals. Though simple, jumping rope gives you loads of benefits: It sharpens coordination and balance, tones the legs, gets your heart pumping and burns up to 13 calories per minute.

 

Power Up
If you have a long afternoon of rehearsals ahead of you, add half of an avocado to your lunchtime salad, soup or sandwich. Avocados are packed with fiber to keep you full, and a recent study published in Nutrition Journal proved it: Those who had half an avocado with their lunch felt 26 percent more satisfied three hours later when compared to those who didn’t. Say good-bye to the four o’clock slump!

 

Love Your Adagio
The next time your leg is trembling during an agonizingly slow développé during adagio, consider this: According to research from the University of Cincinnati, physical activity that focuses on breath and gentle movement helps relieve stress later on.


Your Cross-Training Soundtrack
If anyone knows about pushing their bodies to the limit, it’s dancers. But what if you could work past your own perceived threshold? New research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that music can be a good motivator, not just when you’re going for an easy session on the elliptical, but when you’re working at high-intensity, muscle-exhausting intervals. In the study, participants did 30-second bursts of stationary bicycling, pushing themselves as hard as possible. When they cycled while listening to a soundtrack of their favorite music, the workout still felt difficult, but they were able to work harder than when they pedaled in silence. So be sure to charge your iPod before hitting the gym—you’ll get more out of your workout when you jam to your favorite tunes.

 

Smell to Excel
Ballet dancers are sensory experts: hearing the nuances of music, adjusting their eyes under harsh stage lighting, feeling their feet working against the floor and negotiating the touch of a partner’s hand. But have you considered how your sense of smell might help your dancing? Research shows that certain scents evoke different psychological reactions. Applying scented lotion or giving yourself a spritz of perfume just might help you take your dance game to the next level.

To calm pre-audition nerves, try lavender. Studies show it can lower stress hormones.
If you’re feeling sluggish and need a boost before rehearsal, try citrus scents like orange or grapefruit, which may increase your energy.
Trying to find your own unique take on Juliet or Kitri? Cinnamon-vanilla scents seem to be linked with creativity.
If your muscles are aching, peppermint oil may help relieve tension.

Looking to shed a few pounds? Try eating chocolate more often. Yup, you read that right. A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who frequently eat chocolate tend to have lower body mass indexes. They are roughly five to seven pounds lighter than people who keep away from cocoa. Researchers think the effect might be due to polyphenols, the antioxidants found in chocolate that increase muscular performance and lean muscle mass and possibly reduce weight. Chocolate's sugar, fat and calories are offset by its boost to your metabolism. But don't wolf down that entire Easter bunny yet—gorging on a lot of chocolate in one sitting will pack on the pounds. The key is to eat a little bit more often. If you nibble on a square of dark chocolate about five days a week,  it just might help whittle your waist.

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