BPF Blog

All-or-nothing thinking gets you NOTHING

I see this all the time. A client comes to me, excited and ready to go. This is the time they will finally get everything together and get in amazing shape! They will work out for an hour and a half every day (even though they've been a couch potato for the last 3 years), survive on lettuce and cottage cheese (even though they currently have a major fast food addiction) and in no time at all, they will have the Perfect Body (TM). This, by the way, will solve all of their problems and make them Happy (TM). 

I talk to them a little and find out that this is not the first time they've made such a resolution. It's a familiar pattern, because for many years, I lived it. 

Here's what happens. We are dissatisfied with the way things are and decide we need to change it. We want instant gratification, so we decide to take massive action and change all of our habits at once, rabidly pursuing what we think we need to do to get the perfect version of what we want. We write or plan out elaborate schemes and get very excited about the whole prospect. For a short period of time, we are all over it. We work out daily and eat nothing but whole grains, veggies and lean protein. Then, after a few days, or a week or two, it catches up to us. We're too tired or sore to do a workout. The girls are going out for martinis and we just can't stand it anymore. A hiccup occurs in the plan, and we are horrified. We have just blown the whole thing! We will never be able to change, we are just lazy, gross and will be fat and out of shape forevvaaarrr. Our plan is derailed and we feel like absolute failures, so we say "screw it, I may as well eat anything I want, and screw exercise, it's not like I can change anyway." 

This is all-or-nothing thinking. If we could step outside ourselves for a moment and observe the thought and behavior patterns, we would think it came from an overdramatic teenager! We need to grow up a little here and reform our unrealistic expectations. We need to be able to live with imperfection, because it's part of being human. Human beings don't change instantly. It takes time, and patience, and self-forgiveness when we mess things up. 

If you're contemplating a new nutrition or fitness plan, think about sustainability. Is it something you can live with? Are you trying to make everything happen at once? Look at your past behavior. Have you often started a new plan only to wash your hands of it in frustration in a few days or weeks? 

The only way to truly build sustainable health and fitness is to get past all-or-nothing thinking. Don't expect yourself not to make mistakes. When you do make a mistake, let it go and get back to your goals as soon as possible. Recognize that you don't want to live your life without pleasure and that you shouldn't try to deprive yourself of everything you enjoy in the pursuit of some unattainable perfect you. 

Believe me, I've been there, and I don't want to go back anytime soon. Besides being miserable, I was terribly unhealthy.

Eventually, with some patience and support from the people close to me, I got over myself and learned to take small steps to improve over time, working through setbacks without beating myself up. The less all-or-nothing thinking I do, the happier and healthier I am. 

That's not to say I don't still do it sometimes. All-or-nothing thinking is a hard habit to break, and society reinforces it constantly. 

But with patience, self-forgiveness, and small steps, I've managed to banish it from my life most of the time. If you decide to, I know you can too. :)

Intensity: the key to faster weight loss

If you're trying to lose weight, which about 50% of the American population is doing at any given point, you probably already know that exercise and diet are key. You might not know that just *any* exercise will not necessarily get your the results you want. 

Numerous studies have shown that the old way of thinking about cardiovascular exercise - slow, sustained activity at 65% of max heart rate for optimum effectiveness - cannot hold a candle to interval training, which mixes very high intensity with lower intensity recovery periods. The problem with high intensity interval training is that not everyone can do it. However, more people can do it than think they can. Even if you are significantly overweight, as long as you don't have uncontrolled high blood pressure, heart disease or some other health problem that would contraindicate vigorous exercise, you can probably work much harder than you think you can. The reality shows such as Biggest Loser are proving that even very obese people can work much harder and longer than previously thought. Do ask your doctor if you are at all concerned about your ability to perform intense exercise, but if your health is good other than your extra weight, it's probably time to try a more intense approach to exercise. 

Another piece of the older thinking about intensity is the max heart rate calculation. According to the equation, your max heart rate should equal 220 - your age in years. For example, if you are 50 years old, that would make your max heart rate 170. The problem with this is that everyone is different, and the research has found that everyone is different enough regarding max heart rate that the equation means very little. I think it's a great idea to keep track of your heart rate while you exercise, but only as a tool to help you keep your intensity high. The combination of old thinking about the "fat-burn zone" existing at 65% of the maximum heart rate and fears of heart attacks, etc, seem to combine to make people want to keep their heart rate low and panic when it rises. A higher heart rate in most cases is a good thing! It means you are working harder and burning more calories overall, and thus more fat than if you were to work at the lower rate for sustained periods of time. 

Rather than focusing on heart rate, fitness professionals are turning more and more on the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). On a scale of 1-10, 1 being lying in bed relaxing and 10 being afraid of impending death due to exertion, how do you feel when you exercise? If the answer is generally between 1 and 5, you would do well to get in at least a fewer intervals that bring you up to 7, 8 or 9. 

Higher intensity not only increases your calorie burn during exercise, but also for hours afterward. This is known as the afterburn effect. Slow, sustained exercise has very little afterburn. High intensity exercise has a considerable afterburn, meaning you will keep burning calories at an increased rate even hours after your workout ends. This makes higher intensity much more effective than slow, sustained exercise by a LOT. 

Basically, the rule of thumb is this. If your body is comfortable, it will not change. Your body generally wants to stay in the state it's in - it got into that state for a reason. Higher intensity exercise is not very comfortable. Because the body is working harder than normal, it will respond by changing; dropping body fat and building lean muscle (as long as you are getting proper nutrition and not a starvation diet). If this is what you want, you're going to have to push it. 

Again, ask your doctor first if you have any cause for concern about high intensity exercises. Try starting with one of these 1-3 times per week and see your body begin to respond:

Major Muscle Training Intervals: 

Warm up for 5 minutes by walking or jogging. 

Run or Jog for 1 minute. 
Sprint (run as fast as you can) for 15 seconds. 
Perform 10 pushups, 10 situps or crunches and 10 squats. 
Repeat 5-8 times. 

Cool down for about 5 minutes by walking or jogging slowly. Stretch when done. 

Cardio Machine Intervals: (bike, elliptical, treadmill, etc.)

Warm up for 5 minutes with a RPE (rate of perceived exertion) of about 3. 

Go for two minutes with a RPE of around 5. 
Go for 30 seconds with a RPE of around 7-9. 
Repeat 6-10 times. (Increase the number of intervals as you become more fit). 

Cool down for about 5 minutes by walking or jogging slowly. Stretch when done.

Weight Loss After Menopause

I have had lots of women in their 50s comes to me saying "I've just started gaining all this weight, and it's in my stomach now - I've never gained weight in my stomach before! And I just can't seem to lose it!" 

Weight gain at menopause freaks women out. Their bodies don't react the way they used to. It's like going through puberty all over again, but with consequences that threaten not only their self-view, but their heath and well-being. You've probably heard the bally fat contributes to diabetes, hypertension, some cancers including breast cancer and heart disease. Scary stuff! 

Hormone replacement therapy is an option some women choose to pursue, and can be helpful in many cases. But many women can't or don't want to take this step. That doesn't mean you're doomed to gain a lot of weight or feel horrible all the time. Here are some steps to take. 

1) Reduce your calories, within reason. I'm always cautioning people not to eat too little (under 1200 calories per day) because it will stall the metabolism, making your body into a fat-hoarding system. But as we age, we need fewer calories, and most women do not take this into account around the age of menopause. Take a good look at your diet and how much you're really consuming. Use a food diary to help you, and acquaint yourself with portion sizes. Even too much of something healthy can cause weight gain! You may have been able to get away with a lot of indulgences when you were younger - that doesn't mean you won't see the effects now. That doesn't mean you should never have a treat. Just plan for it and don't go overboard. Pay attention to how food makes you feel. If you feel guilty or physically sick after a treat, how much of a treat is it, really?

There's an awesome calorie needs calculator here that takes your age and activity level into account. Check what you should be getting and start adjusting if you're been getting too much (or too little!!). 

2) Women tend to exercise less as they get older, when we need it more than ever! You've got to move if you want to maintain a healthy weight past menopause. This can take the form of things you like doing, like gardening, riding your bike, walking, bowling, golfing, tai chi (try it, it's awesome!), yoga... whatever you like to do that involves moving, do more of it! Weight training will also help. Muscle burns more than fat even when you're not moving, so keeping your muscles working will help you keep the fat off. It will also help you maintain a healthy bone density. Don't worry about getting bulky. Women have to work a lot harder than men to get big muscles, and more than likely you won't be embarking on a hardcore weight training regimen. Just start doing some strength training 2-3 times a week. You should try to get in some form of exercise every day. Yes, every day, whether it's taking a walk, strength training, doing an activity you enjoy, or something more high intensity like the elliptical machine. We're made to move, so stop thinking of exercise as something you only have to do 3 times a week. Move as much as you can and learn to love what your body can do!

3) Eat better foods. If you're limiting your calories but constantly eating crap, your body will continue to have metabolic problems, resulting in being unable to lose weight or even continuing to gain weight. So: eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Increase your fiber intake. Avoid packaged foods and foods high in fat and processed sugar. Lay off the caffeine. Drink plenty of water. 

4) Adjust your attitude. Menopause is often a time of depression, of self-doubt, of "giving up" on health and vitality. It doesn't have to be that way! Get support from family and friends and spend time every day thinking positively about your life and what you want to get from it. If necessary, get professional help from a counselor or life coach. Consider hiring a personal trainer to help you get your fitness goals on track. Reexamine what you're doing that makes you happy, or not, and start moving toward the things and behaviors that bring you joy. Happier people are healthier people, so figure out what you need to be happy, and pursue that!

Weight gain during menopause can be frustrating and disheartening, but it can be dealt with. Take a good look at your lifestyle and make changes where needed. You've got the rest of your life to look forward to, so make it good!

40 miles into the woods, 40 miles out

My boyfriend is a martial arts and kickboxing instructor and this is one of his favorite phrases. When he's talking to people who come to his class and work hard for a few weeks only to get frustrated by their lack of immediate progress, he gives them this speech. "40 miles into the woods; 40 miles out. It took you how long to get out of shape? Probably years. Don't expect to get yourself into shape in a few weeks." 

One of my personal favorite phrases is a quote from Aristotle. "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." So too with fitness. We can't make an epic effort for a short period of time and be fit. We have to make a sustainable effort for a long period of time. We have to be consistent. Our bodies and health will reflect our long term habits. 

So don't give up if you're only 5 miles along on your trip out of the woods. Keep going. You'll get there.

Who's taking care of you?

One of the things I hear constantly, especially from women, is that they can't take the time to exercise, eat right or take care of themselves in general because they're too busy taking care of everyone else. Children, aging parents, needy spouses or demanding jobs always take precedence over personal needs, because as women we are supposed to be everything to everyone and if we're not, we're somehow failures. Here's the problem with this. If we take care of everyone else all the time and never get our own needs met, we are setting ourselves up for total system failure. Whether physically, mentally or emotionally, something eventually gives, no matter how strong we are. At that point, we're in no position to care for anyone else until our own lives are rebalanced. Even if you manage to give yourself enough self-care not to break down but still constantly short yourself on needs like sleep, proper nutrition and exercise, you'll never be at your best. If you're not at your best, then what you have to offer is reduced. We can take the best care of out obligations and the people in our lives when we are at our healthiest and happiest. Thus, it is ESSENTIAL that we make the time to care for ourselves. That might mean learning to say no to some obligations. It may mean asking for help sometimes. It may mean admitting that we can't be everything to everyone. At the same time, it will mean being the best versions of ourselves that we can be, making the relationships and tasks we choose to spend our time and energy on are much better than if we weren't somewhat selective. So if you want to improve your relationships, job, parenting or whatever and have been neglecting yourself to make it work, try shifting your focus and meeting some of your own needs for once. This will almost always improve everything else in your life along the way.

Indulge Yourself; Be Healthier!

Talk about fitness tends to be all about what you have to give up or the grueling work you have to do to get in shape. Some fitness habits seem downright indulgent though! Here are a few to think about:

1) Get enough sleep. Adults need 6-8 hours a night to function best. Getting less not only makes you cranky and less productive; it can also hamper weight loss by depriving you of essential hormones that are released while you sleep. 

2) Get a massage. Massages can help ease muscle soreness caused by working out, assist in mitigating physical imbalances, and just help you feel healthy, full of vitality and ready to conquer the world. 

3) Eat high quality food. Fresh, juicy fruits, lean meats and veggies cooked to perfection and small amounts of dark chocolate are all good for you and delicious! Eat the best quality food you can. Your body and your taste buds will thank you. 

4) Make exercise your "you time". Yoga and tai chi are relaxing and de-stressing. Running and walking can be a stress-free, solitary time. Team sports can be a ton of fun. Whatever your preference, find something you enjoy and focus on your enjoyment while you're being physical. Exercise will stop being a task and start being something you can look forward to.

Help! My Partner is Sabotaging my Diet and Exercise Plans!!

The easiest way to get healthier, lose weight, etc. is to do it with support, especially from those closest to you. If you're ready to get healthy and your partner isn't, though, no amount of nagging or pleading will get them involved in a wholehearted, healthy way. 

All too often, I hear frustrated husbands, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends complain about getting no support at all, or worse, active sabotage from their partners in their efforts to get healthier. 

Romantic relationships are complex and generally delicately balanced. There are several different things that could be happening if you feel like your partner is wrecking your efforts. Here are some things to think about. 

1) You may need to take a hard look at whether you are using your partner as an excuse not to do what you know you need to in order to achieve your goals. I know I've fallen into the trap of eating junk food simply because I see my boyfriend doing it, or skipping my evening workout because snuggling on the couch in front of the tv seems so much more appealing. In this case, take a good hard look at your goals and ask yourself if you're really ready to commit to them. If the answer is yes, talk with your partner and let them know you're having a hard time sticking to your goals and ask for their help. Let them know when you plan to exercise and ask for their encouragement. Have them keep their junk food somewhere you don't often tread, or somewhere you don't know about (and aren't likely to find). It's unrealistic to ask that your shared home be completely free of triggers, but you can ask that they be minimized as much as possible. Remind yourself that you're doing this for yourself, and that your partner and other loved ones will benefit from a healthier, happier, more energetic you too. Reaffirm your commitment as often as necessary and when you have a setback, get right back on track. 

2) Is your partner feeling threatened or insecure about your fitness plans? Perhaps they feel that if you get fit and look better, you will seek out another mate. If this might be going through your partner's head and causing them to offer you junk food or pout / throw a tantrum when you go to exercise, you need to reassure them, and probably more than once. Tell them you want to be around for a long, healthy life with them and that you have no plans to seek greener pastures. Now, if you ARE looking to get out of your relationship, using fitness as an exit route is not the most direct or healthiest way to go. Talk, be honest and straightforward, and go from there. 

3) Does your partner feel bad about him or herself and feel reminded of his or her own faults while you improve yourself? If this is the case, again, you need to communicate. Let them know that you need them to stop projecting their insecurities onto you and start focusing on what they need to do to feel better about themselves. Support them in whatever way you can, but as I've said before, don't nag. It doesn't work and usually only makes people feel worse and more driven to hide from their problems. 

4) If communicating just isn't working, you may need to seek professional help in the form of couples counseling (or individual counseling if your partner will not consider it). Above all, don't give up on your goals. In a healthy relationship, both parties feel free to grow and improve themselves without fear that this will destroy the connection. 

Reaching your health and fitness goals without the support of your loved ones is difficult and discouraging, but it can be done. Do what you can to get the support you need and deserve; beyond that, persevere. 

Good luck!

My Nutrition Philosophy

My nutrition philosophy seems like an odd mix at first, but I think it is one of the best ways to eat for a sustainable, healthy and delicious lifestyle. 

Two systems inspire my philosophy. The first, and the one I think it is important to start with, is called Intuitive Eating (see www.IntuitiveEating.org to learn more). According to Intuitive Eating, there are no forbidden foods except any that make you feel physically sick, those that are medically contraindicated for you, and those that you hate eating. This philosophy requires that you discard all conventional thinking about "good" and "bad" food. It requires that you trust yourself and your body to know what your physical needs are and to fill them. Once you are used to trust and acceptance of your own wants and needs in the context of food, and separating these from judgments and unrelated emotional states, you'll begin to be able to feed yourself as you need to be fed for health, enjoyment and satiety (fullness). 

The second system that inspires my nutrition philosophy is the Clean Eating Diet (http://www.eatcleandiet.com for more information). Despite its name, which is unfortunate, it's not really a diet. It's more like a set of preferences for eating. It advocates eating every 2-3 hours to avoid spikes in hunger that lead to ravenous eating and out-of-balance blood sugar and hormones. It recommends avoiding over-processed foods, white flour and sugar, chemicals and artificial sweeteners. The most useful concept, in my opinion, is that of planning ahead and packing a cooler full of healthy and tasty foods for use throughout the day. This way there's no snack attack at 3pm leading to stale candy bars from the vending machine that make you feel physically and emotionally crappy, leading to more unhealthful eating that continues to make you feel crappy physically and emotionally. 

I do recommend reading more about both systems. The most important concept running through both is thinking of good nutrition as a permanent change, not a temporary "diet" that's miserable and to be ended as soon as a goal is reached (or when you can no longer stand it). Numerous studies have proven that dieting in cycles does not work when the dieter eventually returns to previous ways of eating. Any weight lost is put back on, and then some, causing feelings of hopelessness and low self-esteem while being hard on the body. 

No one likes dieting. It means eating less than you want, feeling hungry, cutting out foods you take pleasure in. Good nutrition as a lifestyle does not mean dieting. It means making consistent good choices that outweigh occasional "bad" choices. It means accepting your individual needs and preferences, and accepting the shape and weight your body naturally settles into at the peak of health. That does not mean you have to accept being obese - this is not a healthy state for the body to be in. It does mean that if you're at your healthiest weight and still have big hips (like me) that you don't try to diet yourself down to skin and bones chasing the "perfect body" image you have in your head. 

Changing your lifestyle when it comes to food means eating enough but not too much, making good decisions most of the time and eating for both health and enjoyment. It means that you aren't caught up in the endless deprive / binge cycle. It takes awhile to perfect the eating habits that work best for you - and that's ok, because you literally have the rest of your life to figure it out. 

Following is a list of my most recommended behaviors when it comes to eating for health, vitality and optimum body composition (which for many, means weight loss and maintenance). Try them and embrace what works for you. You can try one or more at a time. Don't try to do everything right away. Small steps lead to sustainable change and a better outcome than allowing yourself to become overwhelmed with too many changes at once. 

1) Keep a food diary. Carry it with you throughout the day rather than trying to remember everything at night. You can use your smartphone if you hate using paper. Or your computer. Or whatever works for you. Record the date, time, what you ate, quantity, and if you like, calories, fat, or whatever other nutrition info you want to keep track of. Record on a scale of 1-10 how hungry / full you were before you ate and immediately after. Then, record any observations or feelings you have when you eat. I.e. "I was starving because I hadn't eaten for 6 hours" or "I was ticked off and wanted something to crunch on." Look over what you've written at the end of each day and figure out how you can improve your eating experience. If you're eating emotionally, figure out what you need to do to get those needs met without using food as a crutch. If you're not planning well and it's leading to binges, figure out how you can do better. Learn what works and what doesn't. Keep the diary for as long as you want, but for at least 2 weeks. 

2) Get a small cooler (but not too small!). In the morning before you leave the house, or the night before if your mornings are hectic, fill the cooler with meals and snacks that you will eat throughout the day. Every week, think about what you want to eat that week, make a shopping list, and get what you need so you have tasty, convenient things to put in your cooler each day. 

3) Eat breakfast, and eat often enough that you don't feel famished at any point in the day. Some nutritionists recommend eating 5 or 6 times a day and some people are put off by this. Try not to go more than 4 hours without eating something - going longer makes the metabolism sluggish. Think of it like a fire - you want it to burn hot and steady. That means putting a couple logs on as often as needed, not a bunch of logs on first and the waiting for it to die down before adding more. 

4) Drink water throughout the day and aim for at least 64 oz. It keeps you feeling more satisfied, boosts metabolism, flushes out toxins and keeps everything lubed and running smoothly. 

5) Each time you eat, try to get some protein, some healthy fat (unsaturated) and some healthy carbohydrates (whole grains and veggies rather than refined sugars and flours and items made with them). Ideally, the balance throughout the day should be approximately 20% protein, 20-30% healthy fats and 50-60% healthy carbohydrates. 

6) When you are tempted to eat something you know is not nutritious for your body, ask yourself why you want it and how you will feel after you eat it. If you decide to eat it, check in with yourself often to see if you've had enough instead of automatically eating however much you have available. 

7) Practice self-forgiveness. Don't freak out if you eat things you don't intend to. Learn what you can from the situation and move on. Ruminating and self-blame only leads to further poor eating choices. 

8) As much as possible, shift to whole grains, brown or jasmine rice, veggies and small, waxy potatoes (instead of big, floury potatoes) as carbohydrate sources. If you don't like these things at first, try mixing them - i.e. half brown rice with half white rice. Shift to healthier fat sources by cooking with olive and canola oil and olive or canola oil based cooking spray and avoiding hydrogenated oils in your margarine peanut butter and other foods (this stuff turns to trans fat in your body which wreaks havoc on your arteries). Overall, avoid packaged cookies, cakes and snacks as these tend to contain lots of white flour, sugar, hydrogenated oils and salt. (Once in awhile is ok... just not every day). 

9) Don't go crazy on the salt. Much of our food has salt in it to begin with. Adding more at the table doesn't help. Start with shaking a little less if the idea makes you shudder.

10) Try to build your social life on experiences other than food. Most gatherings involve a meal, snacks, cocktails, etc. Start planning events that center less on food and more on fun (even active!) activities.

I hope these help you start to consider your eating habits and how they can be improved without feeling you have to go on a deprivation diet. For more info, besides the websites above, here are some good resources on creating positive change in your food choices for life:

The Eat-Clean Diet by Tosca Reno
Overcoming Overeating by Hirschmann & Munter
Intuitive Eating by Tribole & Resch

Housekeeping, Habit Forming, and Small, Easy Steps

I am a terrible housekeeper. I make no apologies for it; I live (technically) alone with my dog, and the dog doesn’t care. I accepted years ago that my home would never be as pristine as my mother kept our house while I was growing up, WHILE working a full-time job no less. Her standards were much higher than mine when it came to acceptable living space conditions. However, I have since also realized that I enjoy being in neat, organized and non-filthy surroundings. Living in squalor is stressful and I don’t particularly like it. Unfortunately, with my hatred of cleaning and my general lack of time, squalor tends to be the state of my apartment much of the time. 

In an attempt to help me fix this problem, the boyfriend (who only sort of lives here) suggested that when I can’t stand the mess anymore but can’t fathom cleaning the entire apartment, I set the microwave timer for 20 minutes, clean for that 20 minutes, and stop at the end. He’ll clean for 20 minutes too if he happens to be here when this happens. Then, we repeat daily or every other day, and soon the living space is far more tolerable and functional. (Ideally, this will become a regular habit, and I will never have to be frustrated by the mess in my living space again!)

I have found this works astonishingly well. When I just start on cleaning instead of ruminating over reasons why I don’t want to, it goes pretty quickly and I’m always impressed by what I can get done during that time. It’s not overwhelming because I only have to do it for 20 minutes, not until EVERYTHING is clean. (I would be working forever!!!)

I think we can apply this trick to nearly anything we want to make a habit of. Of course you knew I was getting there… including exercise! If you hate to exercise but don’t like the state your body’s in and know you need to do something about it, don’t start planning the diet of all diets, and decide you’ll jog for hours every day until you weigh exactly what you think you should weigh. Doing that instantly overwhelms us and makes us reaaaally not want to do it. Even bound and determined as you are that first day, by a week at most you’ll most likely have slacked off and decided you just can’t stand it so you will go back to doing nothing, until you are upset by the state of your body again, and the cycle continues. 

Try the 20 minute trick. If you’re a rank beginner or REALLY despise exercise, try setting the timer, turning on the tv and just marching in place at first. It’s better than nothing, and it’s something manageable. 

We all so often forget that not everything we do has to be perfect. A multi-billion-dollar diet and weight-loss industry is doing its best through marketing to make us feel out of control and overwhelmed so we will buy their products, which doesn't help. We all would do well to take a deep breath and start where we are, with what we have. Imperfect as our efforts might be, they are better than the paralysis of doing nothing because we are afraid to start.

Do it anyway.

To all my clients and friends who want to get in shape but can never find the time, I’m going to call you out right now. I’m talking to myself here, too. 

This is not about guilt or feeling bad about yourself. 

It's about moving forward

The time will never be just right. There will always be a party or a birthday or a work deadline or a mother visiting or a sick child. Life is never static and your schedule will not suddenly stand still for a magic hour for you to get your run in. If you truly want to exercise, you will make time. 

You brush your teeth every day, right? Here’s the thing: exercise is so vital to our health and quality of life that we need to think of it like basic hygiene. Your goals for exercise don’t matter here, though it helps to have a reason that resonates with you. I’m not telling you that you need to lose lots of weight or become a crazy muscle machine or run a marathon. All of us need regular exercise, preferably on a daily basis, whether we’re doing it to look our best, feel our best, perform our best or just to be able to keep living and functioning. Your goals will determine the time you spend being active – even a little bit will improve general and mental health and help ease problems like diabetes and high blood pressure and reduce the risk of a variety of cancers. 

There are lots of resources out there to help you find some exercise you don’t hate, to connect with others to make it more fun, to motivate yourself by tracking and to develop step by step plans for specific goals that ignite some spark of passion in you. That’s not what this entry is about. 

The bottom line is this: unless your excuse not to exercise on a given day is something that would prevent you from brushing your teeth or showering if you needed one, do it anyway. I don’t care if it’s 5 minutes of stretching or 20 minutes of strength training or a half hour on the treadmill – whatever scheduling snafu has messed up your plans, go to plan B and do it anyway. I don’t care if you’re not in the right headspace or don’t feel like it – the only way you’re ever going to start feeling like it is if it’s habit and you’ve done it enough times that it starts to feel good (which will happen), so do it anyway. I do care if you’re injured, but if your ankle’s sprained you can always get in the pool or on a bike or at the very least do some stretching, so come up with an alternative and do –something- anyway. I do care if you have an exercise addiction or eating disorder and need to tone it down, but that’s not most of us. Most of us need to stop talking ourselves out of being active and start talking ourselves into it. 

How long have you been “trying” to get it together and develop a regular exercise habit? How much of that trying has entailed waiting for the “perfect time”, waiting to “feel better”, waiting to have “enough energy”, waiting until you have “more time”, waiting until the house is clean or you can afford a gym membership or your kids are old enough to entertain themselves or your back stops hurting or your divorce is final? How much of your life do you want to waste with “trying” when you can and should be “doing”? 

Anything can be worked around if we really want to do it. Ask any athlete who’s lost a limb and kept doing their sport. There are a million stories out there of people who rose above every challenge to come out better, stronger, happier people who have achieved amazing things. Chances are, in comparison to some of those stories, your challenges are not so very large after all. So figure out what your goals really are, stop trying to be anyone you’re really not (like a marathoner if you really just hate running and would rather go golfing), and ditch the excuses. You’re smart. You’re resourceful. There is someone in your life who cares enough to help you if you need it, and if not, you can pay or barter for someone to care. You’ve gotten this far in life and even if you feel like a kicked dog right now, you can take control of your body and your health, and it doesn’t have to be as big a bloody deal as most people make it. In the time you’ve spent listing the reasons why you can’t exercise, you probably could have taken a walk around the block. 

So take the initiative. Stop fighting so hard against yourself. Take a deep breath and decide today, and every day, to accept all the challenges and excuses and inconveniences and feelings, figure out what you CAN do, and despite all the reasons you might not, do it anyway

 

How to get the most out of personal training

Hiring a personal trainer is a great way to help yourself achieve your fitness goals. The trainer can educate, motivate, encourage and correct you, and nothing will guarantee you actually get your workout in like a paid appointment. Here's how to get the most out of hiring a trainer: 

1) Hire a qualified trainer who jives with your goals and personality. Your trainer should have a certification accredited by the NCCA like the ACE, NESTA, NASM, ACSM, NCSA, etc. Find out if your trainer is certified and do some research on their specific cert - there are a lot of cheap, fast and poor-quality certifications out there. Ask the trainer what kinds of clients they specialize in. If you want to lose 100 pounds and have diabetes and bad knees and your trainer specializes in fitness models, you may not be a good match. See if your trainer offers a free consultation and make use of it if so. At the least you should be able to try out a few sessions before committing to anything long term. Sometimes even a very good trainer might not be the right one for you. Trust your gut. 

2) Be honest. We can't help you get the results you want if we're not aware of your full situation. If your trainer asks how you ate this week, don't say "fine" when you had a two-day binge. We can help you problem solve these issues, but we can't help when we don't know what's going on. We also need to know your health issues, even if they're embarrassing, including things like pregnancy even before you might tell everyone else you know. 

3) Follow advice and do your homework. Why pay a professional to plan for you when you have no intention of following through? 

4) Arrive on time and ready to work. If the trainer is coming to your home, be dressed and ready with the area cleared and distractions minimized. This will give you the best use of your time and make the trainer feel their time is valued, making them more willing to work hard to get you the results you're looking for. 

5) Respect your trainer's time. Don't make a habit of rescheduling at the drop of a hat and at the last minute. If you respect our time, we will go out of our way to help you. 

6) Ask questions. If you don't understand something, let us know so we can explain. 

7) Minimize whining. You can vent, and most trainers will not even be offended by a little swearing, but if it's a constant litany of stalling and complaining, neither of us will have an opportunity to enjoy the session. 

8) Communicate. If you are in pain (actual pain, not muscle fatique), feel that something might be dangerous for you to do, or are about to pass out, let us know so we can help. Most trainers are pretty good at picking up on nonverbal cues, but we're not telepathic. 

9) Remember we are not therapists. Most trainers love to get to know their clients and it's part of our job to help you problem solve health and fitness issues. But we aren't qualified to help with your relationship, job or kid woes and most of the time if you try to tell us all about these, you're stalling on doing the exercise that you're paying for. If you really need help with these types of issues, many trainers can refer you to good doctors or therapists. 

10) Have a positive attitude or at least be open to having a positive experience. If you're focused on how much you hate exercise or how angry you are about whatever else happened in your day, your workout will never be as good as when you applied yourself in a positive way. Leave your bad attitude at the door, remind yourself that this is a way of taking care of yourself, breathe deep and enjoy!

Exercise & Diabetes, by guest blogger Lauren LaLonde

It’s hard to ignore the prevalence of diabetes in our society. An estimated 25.8 million people in the U.S. had the disorder as of 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But there is a silver lining: When it comes to the most common type of diabetes, type 2, physical activity can assist with both prevention and management.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterized by high blood sugar; it’s a leading cause of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and high blood pressure, among other conditions. With type 2 diabetes, the body is resistant to the insulin it needs to remove sugar (glucose) from the blood.

How to determine your risk for type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is caused by a combination of lifestyle factors (BMI, diet, physical activity) and genetic factors. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) website has a risk test that you can take to determine your level of risk for the disease; use it as a platform for discussion with your doctor.

Regular physical activity aids in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.
The good news is that type 2 diabetes can be successfully prevented and/or managed with a combination of healthy eating and physical activity (and, in some cases, medication).

According to the ADA, physical activity lowers blood glucose by making your body more sensitive to the insulin you make, and by burning glucose (calories). Other possible benefits of exercise include lower blood pressure, increased good cholesterol (HDL), lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides, lower risk of other health problems, increased energy, improved sleep quality, and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression--all of which aid in the prevention or management of type 2 diabetes.

Try to fit in 30 minutes of movement a day.
The ADA recommends that adults aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days, and general recommendations from authoritative sources are for about 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week spread out over three to five days. That doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to the gym; any activity that gets your heart rate up and causes a light sweat will count: walking, gardening, yardwork, cleaning, swimming, dancing, sports, etc. (In fact, recent studies have indicated that people who walk regularly have a lower risk of diabetes.)

The ADA also recommends strength training exercises twice a week in order to build muscle, which will in turn burn more calories/glucose, even when you’re resting.

If these recommendations seem overwhelming, start small at first. Even 10 minutes of activity here and there will provide some benefit.

Make physical activity enjoyable.
Experiment until you figure out which kinds of activities you like best. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you love the outdoors: Try walking, biking, gardening/yardwork, hiking, canoeing/kayaking, or sports.
  • If you prefer staying at home: Purchase consoles/games aimed at physical activity; use a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical machine in front of the TV; try DVDs or exercise programs on demand.
  • If you need social interaction: Walk with a coworker on a lunch break; meet up with friends for backyard sports or racquetball; join a class or runner’s group.
  • If you like to get down: Have dance parties with your music collection; sign up for dance lessons; try fun dance-fitness fusion classes like Zumba, Nia, or Barre Bee Fit.

If you’re stumped as to what you might like, experiment! Many gyms/rec centers offer trial periods for classes, and you can ask friends and family what types of activities they’d recommend.

Find ways to work around physical limitations.
If you have a medical condition or physical disability that restricts movement, discuss with your doctor the types of movement that would be safe for you to try. Popular low-impact activities include walking, swimming, water aerobics, yoga, and pilates. Many gyms and rec centers also offer classes specifically geared toward low-impact aerobics or strength training.

References 

http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/factsheet11.htm?loc=diabetes-statistics

http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/fitness-management/top-10-benefits-of-being.html

http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/fitness-management/be-active-but-how.html

http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/ideas-for-exercise/just-how-much-exercise.html

http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/ideas-for-exercise/types-of-exercise.html

http://www.acsm.org/about-acsm/media-room/acsm-in-the-news/2011/08/01/exercise-can-help-tame-type-2-diabetes-say-new-guidelines http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/28/health-diabetes-idUSL3E8HS5BR20120628

Movement-Centered Social Outings, by guest blogger Lauren LaLonde

One common misconception about exercise is that it has to be work—"no pain, no gain," as the saying goes. But the truth is, moving your body in any way, shape, or form will provide you with physical and emotional benefits. So, why not turn it into play? In particular, focus on movement as a social outing. This way, you can spend more time with friends and family while still feeling good about your health.

Instead of making dinner and movie plans one weekend, try one of these fun activities:

  • Dancing/clubbing
  • Bowling
  • Rollerskating/rollerblading
  • Swimming (pool or beach)
  • Canoeing/kayaking
  • Indoor rock climbing
  • Water fight!
  • Lawn games: bocce, darts, badminton, volleyball, etc.
  • Frisbee
  • Bike ride
  • Hike
  • Sightseeing around your city
  • Charity walk or run
  • Any kind of sport

An Introduction to Restorative Yoga, by guest blogger Lauren LaLonde

Even if you’re a novice to yoga, utilizing simple restorative poses is an easy way relax and stretch your tired muscles after a long day. In restorative yoga, props--such as a folded blanket or your bedroom wall--support your body and allow you to hold a pose for an extended period of time, which opens your body through passive stretching and gives you a chance to unwind and collect your thoughts.

One of my personal favorite restorative poses is viparita karani, also known as “legs up the wall.” All it requires is a wall with enough space to accommodate your legs, and a floor that you don’t mind lying on for a while. A yoga mat or blanket will provide extra padding.

  1. Sit with the side of your body against the wall. In one movement, swing your legs up against the wall and bring your lower back to the floor, using your elbows to support your weight. If there’s too much strain on your hamstrings, move away from the wall until you feel a comfortable stretch.
  2. Gradually lower the rest of your back, as well as your shoulders and head, to the floor.
  3. Rest your legs against the wall in a relatively straight position, but don’t strain yourself. You should be able to comfortably hold this pose for at least several minutes. If you feel like you need back support, you can place folded or rolled-up blankets or towels under the arch of your back as needed.
  4. Hold for 5-15 minutes, breathing deeply. You can try holding different positions with your legs, such as touching the soles of your feet together or bending your knees.
  5. To come out of the pose, bring your knees to your chest and roll to one side.

Breathe and enjoy!

Teaching Your Kids--and Yourself--to Love Movement, by guest blogger Lauren LaLonde

It's easy to get so caught up in the whirlwind of child-rearing that regular exercise gradually slips through the cracks until it disappears completely. It's certainly normal, understandable, and admirable for parents to put their loved ones' needs far in front of their own; that's what being a parent is all about. But it's important to teach kids to love and move their bodies in ways that are enjoyable to them, and that teaching process can serve to remind you of the very same thing!

Show your kids as many possible ways to be active as you can.

Remember the ways in which you had fun as a kid, and share those experiences with them. Heck, even show them the activities you didn't like as a kid; maybe you'll like them now. The options are practically limitless: sports, dance, trampolining, sledding, martial arts, hiking, jumping rope, using playground equipment, hopscotch, biking, bowling, swimming, playing catch, flying a kite, walking the dog, gardening, hula hooping, etc.

Make an outing of it.
You can plan an activity based on sightseeing or some other purpose and still build in tons of walking time (e.g., zoo/museum trips, scavenger hunts, geocaching).

They're never too young.
Work on rolling, crawling, dancing, and ultimately walking with your infants. Have dance parties with your toddler and provide her with space in which to run. Chase, swing, and toss your kiddo. Utilize toddler play structures, indoor play places, walkers, ride-on toys, and kiddie pools.

Remember that it's supposed to be fun.
Your child shouldn't feel pressured into something; he's playing, and playing should be enjoyable. Encourage anything that he shows an interest in, and help him find new ideas if or when his interest wanes.

Use the time to bond.
Not only is family bonding time a great idea in general, but your child will also likely associate specific physical activities with happy memories for a long time!

Basic Maintenance

Seriously, people. Let's set aside all the craziness about getting skinny, and what you're supposed to look like, and guilt, and extreme exercise programs. There's a place for some of that, and that's not here right now.

Let's get real for a second.

Everyone has a body.

Everyone wants their body to work, today, and for as long as they're alive.

Nobody wants to be in pain, or unable to move.

Everyone wants to have enough energy to do what they need and want to do in a day.

You brush your teeth because you don't want them to fall out, and because you don't want toothaches, or bad breath. You do this every day. It is considered basic maintenance. You get your oil changed, because you want your car to keep running smoothly and last a long time without giving you problems. This too is basic maintenance.

Exercise is basic maintenance for your body.

It doesn't have to be hard. You don't have to get super sweaty. You don't have to hate it. But you do have to move to keep your body working. Period. There's no way around it. This needs to be part of your daily routine.

Yes, daily.

There is no reason for an able-bodied person to ever spend 24 hours not moving beyond couch to desk to bathroom to bed. You can walk, you can dance, you can stretch, you can bounce on a trampoline, you can ride a bike. You can also do the harder and more intense things, if you're interested in doing so or have fitness goals beyond "survive and feel good and live a long life without my body breaking down on me." But if you do not move on a daily or nearly daily basis, your body will stop working as well as you'd like it to, and eventually it will break. Just like your teeth will rot if you do not brush them, and your car will break down if you do not change the oil.

So if nothing else, make sure you spend an hour a day (not necessarily at once - you can add up five or ten minutes here and there) moving. Out of your seat, out of bed, off the couch. Walk around the office, go outside, ride your bike, turn on some music and dance around, clean your house, dig in the garden, play with your kids or pets... do something. Anything. This is basic maintenance, bare minimum for survival and general health.