Posts Tagged ‘Health and fitness’

Compassion – A Key Secret to Weight Loss Success

Maria Menounos is one of many celebrities with a weight loss success story, and I happen to see yet another story about how she has learned the secret to staying slim and taking care of herself. So I am re-posting an article I wrote a number of years ago when she first put out her book about it.

Her story is intriguing – not by all that she did to lose weight, which was creating a healthy lifestyle, but by the way she changed how she saw and treated herself.

I first came across her story on the Huffington Post, called Maria Menounos’ Secret Weight Loss Trick. A great title but not representational of what she did for herself. She is like a lot of young people who have been athletic growing up and then stopped being so active when they started working as teenagers, while preparing for college and trying to excel and please everyone around them. In her case, working nearly 20 hours a day 7 days a week, fueled by junk food and pastries.

As she indulged in her new diet, she knew she was having foods she shouldn’t have and felt guilty. As she began to get heavier and criticized for her weight gain, she turned to more food. When others were indulging, she would indulge with them. And the worse she felt about herself and her choices, the more she ate the forbidden foods she knew she shouldn’t have. Sound familiar?

She refers to her struggle with food as emotional eating, after she finally realized that she turned to food to avoid her feelings, how she felt about her body and her need to please others at her own expense. As she began to find ways to care about herself, she began to love herself. And the more she loved herself, the more she took care of herself. And that is just how it works.

The less you like yourself or the more ashamed you feel about your body or your choices, the less you feel deserving of taking care of yourself. On the flip side, the more you care about yourself, the more self-esteem you gain, and the more you want to do things to take even better care of your body. This is only possible when you stop the judgment of your choices and have empathy and compassion for yourself.

Judgment leads to self-criticism, self-loathing and self-destruction. And that becomes a spiral that spins out of control, pulling you deeper into a place of denial and excessive eating. When you judge yourself, you can only see your failure, your inability to be perfect and your shame. You can’t see anything else, and you remain stuck in the belief that you are unlovable, unworthy and undeserving – even if you don’t know you belief this. In that place, food is comforting and a means to minimizing the pain and loathing. It also proves that you are as bad as you believe you are, and it feeds on itself.

Maria talks about how being a people pleaser and working insane hours led to malnutrition, a forty-pound weight gain, and poor health. She struggled to care enough about herself to do anything about it. Fortunately a loving, compassionate friend helped her to start making positive food and life choices. And the more she began to be good to herself and feel better, the more she appreciated herself and her struggle. And the more compassion and love she had for herself, the more she began to take better care of her body, make healthier choices and remove herself from negative relationships. The better you feel emotionally, the less you turn to food for emotional comfort. And that is what helped Maria break free of her struggle with food.

Maria learned through her journey that the key to being in control with food is to be in touch with your own physical and emotional needs without judgment. And that is indeed the key to success. It is the first step to having compassion for yourself without apology, listening to what your body needs and wants, and honoring yourself. In the process, you begin to shift into a healthy lifestyle and from that a healthy and sustainable weight loss follows. You also shift your emotions about your weight and your body, which reduces your stress and the hormonal production of fat that occurs when stress is present. It isn’t really a trick, yet it is the secret.

8 Strategies for Regular Exercising

Exercise. For most people, that word conjures up unpleasant thoughts and feelings because of past experiences when they struggled with exercise or got hurt, or what they believe it takes to meet the minimum requirement of exercise to lose weight that doesn’t seem realistic for their current lifestyle. For others, it reminds them of a time when they loved being active and having the benefits associated with being fit and healthy. What does the word exercise bring up for you?

It is easy to assume that when you don’t exercise regularly, you are somehow lazy, bad, undisciplined or a couch potato. These are judgments that don’t reflect the real reasons for not exercising. The real reasons are likely tied to one of eight different obstacles, that once understood can be addressed with strategies.

Low Motivation
A common obstacle to exercising is not feeling motivated enough to do it. You won’t be motivated day-in and day-out to exercise if you haven’t identified what it is you want to be able to do or feel as a result of regular aerobic and strengthening activities. It often isn’t enough to want to lose weight or avoid a disease. It takes wanting something that really matters to you enough to exercise, even if you aren’t in the mood, such as being able to keep up with your kids, having the stamina to follow your dreams, participating in a team charity walk, wanting to feel self-confident in your relationship or wanting to feel good about yourself.  Sometimes it is simply wanting to avoid the regret of not doing it.  It also helps to choose activities you find so energizing and fun that you can’t wait to go.

Low Priority Planning
Not having enough time is really a result of not putting exercise higher in your priorities. Anyone can find time to exercise if it matters enough to them, and if they can find the motivation to stick with it. A way to make this easier, is to find an exercise or a group class you love so much, you will find ways to fit it into your schedule. Another is to look at your calendar for the week and see where you can fit in time for exercise and schedule it. This will also help you set goals based on what is realistic, and if you can find someone to be accountable to, you will be more motivated to reach those goals.

Too Much, Too Soon
In the excitement of starting a program, when you feel highly motivated to get started, it is easy to overdo it and find yourself giving up because you can’t sustain the pace or because you’ve gotten injured. Try starting off with smaller goals and less intensity, so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed and can experience your ability to succeed in reaching your goals. With each weekly success, you can stretch your time, distance and effort a bit more and continue to have successes. In time, you will be doing more than you once thought possible, and you may surprise yourself by discovering you have a passion for being fit and participating in fitness events. It happens to many people, including me.

Compliance Perfectionism
Feeling you have to measure up to someone else’s expectations or attain perfection in reaching your goals is the fastest way to failing and giving up. No one is perfect, and no one knows better than you as to what you can do each week, what is motivating or how your body is feeling. Instead of trying to comply to unrealistic expectations or someone else’s rules and goals, focus on what you want for yourself, what your body is telling you, and what works to keep you moving and on track.

Inflexible Beliefs
Another way people sabotage exercise is with the belief that doing anything less than x days a week or x number of minutes isn’t worth doing. For example, you may believe that if you can’t do 4 days of exercise a week there isn’t much point, or if you can’t work out for at least 30 or 45 minutes, that you won’t get enough benefit to make it worth your while. Any exercise counts, even if it’s for 15 minutes, and the more active you are, no matter what it is, it all adds up. You may have other beliefs about what you need to be wearing, what your significant other will or won’t do to support you, what constitutes as exercise, or countless other requirements that are keeping you from being active and fit. Stop and identify what your “excuses” are and see if you can change your beliefs so you can achieve success.

Emotional Rebellion
Most people think emotions are just tied to food, but they also impact exercising. Think about it; you do have feelings about exercising, and if you’ve had bad experiences or anxiety about exercise than this can impact your behavior. If are resistant or ambivalent towards exercise, become curious (without any judgment) about how you feel about exercise and why that is. Most likely, you will find there are good reasons for your feelings, and once you acknowledge and validate them, you can start to look into ways of exercising that can address these feelings. For example, maybe you were called a klutz in grade school and have an aversion to gym-based exercise. Maybe you were forced to exercise and hated it. Maybe you had a bad experience with a trainer or fitness program. Are there other ways of being active that you feel confident about, or can you find a class that interests you that offers a safe environment for becoming proficient?

Derailment Resistance
There is nothing worse than finding yourself derailed from your fitness routine and struggling to get restarted after an illness, injury, vacation or period of just not wanting to do it. Once you get derailed, it can seem too hard to get re-motivated again to exercise, and often this short period of non-exercise can turn into months or years of inactivity. An easy way to get restarted is by taking it slow and setting very low goals the first week or so. Let yourself gently re-engage into exercising by doing what feels easier and doing it at a slower pace. Then you’ll find your motivation as you get back into a groove, and you can increase your goals and effort within a couple of weeks. You’ll probably be surprised how quickly you bounce right back to where you left off.

Extreme Associations
If you’ve participated in extreme fitness programs and boot camps that you didn’t enjoy or that left you with an injury or bad taste in your mouth, you may be dealing with conflicting beliefs and emotions around exercise. On the one hand, you may believe that anything less than extreme fitness isn’t worth doing because of the quick results, and on the other hand you may cringe at the thought of signing up for another program. While these programs energize some people, most don’t do well with them. It is better to choose exercise options that you find motivating, enjoyable enough to sustain, and fit your personality. The majority do best starting off with baby steps and doing just one small thing at first, which easily leads to doing more because it feels good, it boosts your confidence, and it motivates you to stretch yourself further.

To create a regular exercise routine in your life, pay attention to what feels best to you, what motivates you, and what is really getting in the way of being consistent. We are all different, and our reasons for not exercising are all valid. Respect that you have a good reason and try to understand what you really need to do to get moving and to develop a consistent exercise lifestyle.

How Being Good on Your Diet Hurts Your Long-Term Success

I learned something that really surprised me when I discovered what it really took to successfully stick with healthier eating and regular exercise. It is doing what feels good, rather than striving to be good. It has become one of my tried and true secrets to long-term success that I have seen work over and over again with my clients.

The Struggle to Be Good Enough
When you focus on being good on a diet or in doing your prescribed exercise, you are rarely able to be good enough often enough to feel successful. Instead you end up feeling badly about yourself when you fail to eat the right thing or fit in all your exercise, and then you probably question your ability to be successful. This mindset leads to the inevitable conclusion that you can’t do it right and can’t stick with your program. At that point you give up, and it may be months or years before you try a healthier diet, an exercise program or whatever it was you were trying to improve about yourself. How many times has this happened to you?

One of my clients, Clare, used to check in each week by saying, “I wasn’t good this week, I only exercised three times”, “I was really bad last week, I overate at least twice”, “I tried to be good, but I ended up being bad”, “I’m so bad, I don’t know if I can be good”, and “I failed at doing what I know I should, and I don’t think I can do this”.

Seeing Success Differently
And yet, when we talked further, in nearly every case there was a lot she had done that was successful. She had exercised those three times, she had stopped eating before getting full more than ten times, and she was making great progress. She was surprised to hear that she wasn’t doing as badly as she assumed. She discovered that each time she had been “bad”; they were the result of situations she couldn’t easily control without a better game plan. Instead of being bad, she had done well in light of what she was dealing with, and she could create strategies for the future by having the hindsight.

We as a society are conditioned to see what didn’t go well, instead of what did. We see our failings and ignore our successes, as if having a perfect score or grade is all that matters. But when it comes to eating, exercise and self-care, you don’t need a perfect score. Good is good enough. Since you don’t have to be perfect, you can instead focus on all your successes, and that is a great feeling and a powerful motivator to continue making progress.

What Clare and all my clients have learned is that being successful is actually about honoring yourself. It has nothing to do with the judgment of being good or bad. When you can’t exercise as you planned, you end up feeling less energized. When you overeat, you don’t feel as well afterwards. When you drink too much, you lose control of your choices and don’t feel well the next day. When you are out of control around food, you don’t feel good about yourself. The repercussions of not doing something healthy affects how you feel and your chance to take good care of yourself, and that is it. The only one to beat you up is you. You weren’t bad; you missed an opportunity to feel and look better.

Focusing on Feeling Good Rather Than Being Good
When you see it that way, you start to focus on ways to feel good. For example, it feels reallygood to eat healthy food that is satisfying and to move enough that you have more energy and want to do even more activity. It feels great to have more confidence in yourself, to be in control around food, and to see your body get stronger and leaner. And it feels absolutely wonderful to become healthy and fit.

To make this shift, you need to know how you actually feel. Most of my clients have no idea how they feel when they get full, eat unhealthy food or push their bodies too hard, because they have never paid attention. Many of my diabetic clients don’t really know how it feels when their blood sugars get low or high, and even fewer clients really know how they feel emotionally. Once they learn how to check in with how they feel, they have an easier time making healthier choices because it feels so much better than being unhealthy and inactive. And the better they feel, the more of that great feeling they want.

So the secret to long-term success is doing what feels good to you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually instead of striving to be good.

Which Type of New Year’s Resolution will Work for You?

Every year just after Christmas and before New Years I would make my list of all the things I was going to improve on or do once January started. I still have some of those crazy lists, and few of the things on them ever got done. It wasn’t for lack of putting in the effort those first few weeks, but the list was too big, the expectations too unrealistic, and the reality of real life too demanding to ever succeed.

I could have been like most people and totally given up on the idea, but I didn’t. What about you? Have you given up on resolutions? Or do you still hold out hope you can make some changes this year?

Thankfully I discovered there are two ways New Year’s “resolutions” can work to inspire you and help you take action, so you can become more of the person you want to be.

  • The first takes advantage of your frustration and desire to fix something in your life, and that angst fuels your resolve (as in resolution) to make a change and takes advantage of a new year, with its clean slate, to get you into action. But the action is open-ended. You don’t have to reach a specific goal. You simply need to get started by taking the first small step and then learn what feels best and is inspiring to you to keep the action going. No long lists, just one step in the right direction.

and

  • The second way focuses on what you intend (as in intention) to have more of in your life or what you want to experience in the new year, but it doesn’t have to happen immediately and it doesn’t come loaded down with fixed goals. With an intention, there is no burning drive or catalyst to take action on January 1st, instead there is a strong desire to experience it at some point during the year in whatever way that happens.

Resolutions and intentions are important distinctions, and they give you flexibility and openness about how you will achieve positive changes in your life. Most importantly, they need to be driven by inspiration, moderation and what truly feels good to you, or you won’t stick with them.

Here’s how these two approaches have worked for me. Thirteen years ago when I was 43 and struggling with my health and my weight, I had a wake up call. I knew if I didn’t make some changes and start taking care of myself, I was going to have even more health problems and might not be able to lose the weight. I was resolved to start using my unused Stairmaster down in my basement beginning on January 1st 2001. I didn’t set a weight loss goal. I didn’t set any specific goals, such as how long I had to use the Stairmaster each day or each week. I just resolved to get on it and not stop until I got back into my wardrobe of size 6 clothes, however long that took.

At the time I was a size 16 and extremely out of shape, with cellulite down to my knees. It took me nearly two years. Because my only objective was to get on the stairs, I allowed myself to start where I was (at a few minutes) and to gradually increase my time, my frequency and then my intensity. I then started to set weekly goals, and if I came close I celebrated. If I missed a day, I moved on and didn’t let that bother me. I discovered that by giving myself permission to simply do what I could and to stretch myself a bit each week or so, that I had continual success and felt inspired to do more and more and more.

That one New Year’s resolution was all about taking my first step on the Stairmaster, and now 13 years later I am celebrating what that one step has done for my life. Had I resolved to use that equipment 4 days a week for 30 minutes right up front, or set a goal of losing 30 pounds by June, I would have seen myself as a failure and given up. But I only had one goal – get started and don’t stop. It worked.

Then on subsequent New Year’s, I would pick one new fitness activity that I would like to pursue at some point during the year. It didn’t have to be on January 1st, it was simply an intention. One year my New Year’s intention was to add in Pilates. In April I ran into a neighbor who was studying for her Pilate’s exam, and soon afterwards she started coming to my house to instruct me in Pilates. She instructed me for nearly four years. Another year I set an intention to learn kickboxing. I wanted to have the right type of trainer for this, and it wasn’t until the following fall that I met the perfect gal to teach me how to kick box. I worked with her for nearly a year, and I still do kickboxing.

A few years ago, I intended to shake up my routine to get my body out of its metabolic plateau, and in August that year I had coffee with a girlfriend who was doing P90X. I hadn’t seriously considered doing such an extreme program. But with her reassurance I could do it, I began the 13 week program on my 53rd birthday and amazed myself that I completed the 90 days. I would never have guessed at the beginning of the year that my idea of shaking up my routine would have included P90X, but I did know I was looking for something new and demanding. I got it.

This past year I was dealing with the menopause belly so many women get going through this biological change, and it has been getting worse over the past few years despite all the exercising I do. I realized I needed to kick up my metabolism more often during the day to amp up my fat burning, so I took some courses on metabolism last winter, and in the spring added 2 minutes of high intensity exertion 3 times a day, and within months the belly fat was gone.

What about you? Is this the year for one simple resolution or an intention that fulfills one of your desires?

Do You Need Variety to Stay Motivated?

Ellen was finding she felt more excited and enthused when she was trying something new or mixing up her exercise activities. She realized she had always known that variety was important to her, but she had discounted it as being a flaw in her personality. Ellen felt she needed to be more serious and dedicated to specific exercise workouts and had to stick with them for years to come to reach her goals. Yet inevitably she would get de-motivated and quit just weeks after starting a new program. She came to me to find out how to increase her motivation, so she could stay on track long-term.

The answer was in the very thing she was fighting: variety. If variety made her excited and enthused, then this was the perfect thing to leverage as a motivator. Instead of seeing it as a flaw, she could instead see it as an advantage. To accept this, she also had to change her belief that the only worthwhile exercising was structured, specific and needed to be done at least 3 times a week. That was easy; she was delighted to give up this belief. The idea of doing the same routine over and over was unappealing and de-motivating.

Ellen is one of many clients who have this misconception that worthwhile exercise is a specific and rigid work-out routine, which comes from the fitness industry. Even though a personal trainer will mix things up when they meet with a client, the recommendations from trainers for those working out on their own is usually a fixed cardio and strength training routine they can do at home or outdoors several times a week. The reason is you need a trainer’s knowledge to know how to substitute strengthening exercises appropriately and organize them in the most effective order. When they can’t be there to guide you, all they can do is provide a structured set of exercises. This is why in magazines, the routines are very specific and you are given the recommended number of days a week you do them.

Yet, it is ideal to mix up your aerobic and strengthening activities. Our bodies adapt fairly quickly to doing the same exercise in the same way routinely, which means you get less return for your effort the longer you do the same thing. So, to the amazement of Ellen and many of my clients, variety works to their advantage.

The same is true with food. Most people who like variety in their fitness activities, also like variety in their meals and snacks. Again, this can be used to your advantage. Plan for more variety and let the desire to try new things help you to expand your healthy choices.

 

3 ways to tell if you need variety to stay motivated:

  • Do you get bored doing the same activities, whether it is exercise-related or elsewhere in your life?
  • Do you feel energized when you aren’t stuck in a routine and get to have lots of variety?
  • Do you have more fun when you are mixing up your activities and foods or trying new things?

3 ways to mix up exercising to be motivated and more effective:

  • Give yourself permission to get aerobic exercise by being active for x minutes or x days a week. Allow yourself the freedom to decide which activity you will choose based on your mood or what works best on a given day. For example, Karen likes to bike, walk, kayak, swim and do Zumba, and she can pick from any of these to reach her weekly minutes goal. She doesn’t have to commit to doing any one of them regularly. Instead she will go with what feels good that day, without the burden of worrying about what she should do in the future.
  • Pick a few types of aerobic activities you want to be good at and do each of them at least once a week. One of my clients is doing Taekwondo, racquetball and walking her dog. She is working toward new belts in Taekwondo, and she is learning how to play racquetball so she can do this with friends. Each week she learns new things and pushes her body in new ways that feels really good.
  • Train for a triathlon, which requires mixing up swimming, running and biking throughout the week and adds in greater intensity levels as the training progresses.

Take advantage of whatever it is you prefer to do to reach your goals. If something doesn’t work for you, don’t assume that makes you a failure. Instead see what does work and how to turn it into a motivator that will keep you jazzed for the long term.

Inspired to Keep Your Resolutions

How often have you made New Year’s resolutions that you struggle to keep because they were just too much work? I remember making my lists each year of all the things I should change about myself and the things I should start or stop doing. By the end of the first week in January, I was always failing to keep up with my expectations, and by the end of January, I had given up on my resolutions all together. How often have you had the same experience?

I now do resolutions differently. Instead of focusing on what I should do differently, I focus on picking a few things I would like to experience or do more of in the coming year, and I don’t set a specific date for getting started. I set an intention that I would like specific things to happen and then wait to be inspired to take action. For example, I decided five years ago that I wanted to try Pilates. A few months later, I was running errands in town when I ran into my neighbor, Adrienne, who taught Pilates. I didn’t know she was teaching Pilates, and I was excited to find out she was working with clients in their homes and didn’t need equipment to do it. This was perfect, and I was inspired to work with her. I loved it, and I’ve been doing Pilates ever since. It wasn’t a struggle; it wasn’t a chore. It was so easy and effortless to get started and stick with it.

A few years ago, my New Year’s intention was to add kick boxing to my fitness activities, and I wanted a certain type of instructor who could either work with me in my home or who had their own facility. Nearly eight months later I was introduced to Heidi, who was exactly the person I was looking for, and I trained with her for nearly two years. I loved working with her, and again it wasn’t a chore to me. It fit my lifestyle and my personality. It is possible that a whole year could have gone by without meeting her, and if that had happened, I would have re-evaluated if that was still a resolution I wanted that next January.

Very often, just the act of setting resolutions and feeling excited about a new year can be the inspiration you need to make a change in your life. When I started exercising eight years ago, it was the desire to take advantage of New Year’s that inspired me to make January 1st the date I began my commitment to fitness. There is something inspiring about a new school year or the beginning of the calendar year, and if you feel this way, it is the perfect time to take action.

The challenge is often narrowing the list of improvements down to just a couple of things, or just one thing, so you don’t lose your inspiration. A change to your routine or way of thinking isn’t easy to maintain at first, particularly if you’ve decided to make several changes at once. Very often, people who want to get healthy and fit attempt to add exercise and a change to their diet all at once. While some people do fine by combining these changes, many others find making several changes at once too overwhelming and difficult to keep up with. For them, it is better to pick one change at a time and to pick the one they are most inspired to do first. Then as they assimilate that change, they are encouraged by their success and have greater desire to add another change to their lifestyle.

There is nothing wrong with taking small steps and doing them in the order that feels most enticing to you. In fact, you have greater chance of success if you set small resolutions. You can always add to your resolutions at any time during the year. When you resolve to do something for yourself to improve how you feel or how you live, you are the one in control of your expectations. Give yourself permission to set more realistic and enjoyable expectations. A great way to do this is ask yourself on a scale of 0-10, how confident are you that you will achieve the resolution you’ve created. If your confidence is anything less than a 10, reduce the goals to the point you can say you are fully confident at a 10 on the confidence scale.

Resolutions and their start dates don’t have to be carved in stone. They can be fluid and adjustable. They can also be chosen to accommodate what you want to experience so they feel good, instead of being a “should” that is measured against a rigid expectation. This year, set yourself up for success instead of disappointment.

Are You Setting Yourself Up for Holiday Weight Gain?

Ahhhh another school year. Whether you have kids or not, the change in temperature and shorter days reminds us all that is time to get refocused and back to work – or back to the gym and regular workout routines. But just like kids, you don’t want to go back and you put it off for a day and than one more day. And the next thing you know it is the holidays and you never did start exercising or eating better. And of course you can’t get started once the holidays begin, so you wait until New Years when you feel more uncomfortable, overweight and disappointed in yourself. Is this a familiar story? It doesn’t have to be.

Why not create healthy routines that you look forward to instead of dread. To succeed long term in getting back into shape, maintaining your health and achieving a great feeling in your body means creating a lifestyle that fits your life, not the other way around. Forcing something to work that you really resent or is more than you can really take on isn’t likely to last. The first time your schedule gets disrupted it will be the first thing to go and the last thing to add back in. Think of what usually happens for you and if this is generally true. Do you really want to get back on that treadmill or start that diet? I didn’t think so.

Determine instead what is realistic for you and your body. Start by creating small realistic daily or weekly practices that slowly change your lifestyle so that eating better and regular exercise get easily incorporated in your planning and schedule. It is better to start with just a few changes and a small commitment – maybe exercising a few days a week doing as much time as you can and working up to five days for 30-40 minutes. What is most important is incrementally increasing the days, time and intensity in a way that is best for your fitness level and schedule. This isn’t a race or a comparison game. It is a process of incorporating fitness for a lifetime.

The same goes for food. When we feel fat, we start a diet. But diets have less than a 4% success rate. Almost no one can keep the weight off a year or more after the diet, but that doesn’t stop us from trying what everyone is doing. This is particularly alluring for us as women. We are compelled to do the next diet. It is far better to select healthy options from among foods you enjoy, and to eat when you get hungry and stop before you get full. You will be more successful long term if you enjoy what you eat, feel free to eat what you love without being deprived or judged, and creating a routine that isn’t driven by the latest diet. This is easier than starting something new every six months.

And know what is right for you. Decide what is realistic and sustainable in your daily life. Everyone’s goals, abilities and schedules are different, so it is best to focus on your situation and not someone else’s. If you push too hard, you can get burned out, frustrated, injured or impatient for results. If you cut too far back on food, you will lose your muscle mass, reduce your metabolism and end up overeating when the diet is done. It is better to start with moderation and healthy choices with enough variety to keep you interested and your body supported, so you have successes and feel motivated to stay on track.

Focus on choosing things you think you will enjoy most of the options you have available to you. Sometimes that means trying new things, such as new foods or new types of activities. You may find that you really like some of them. This is how I came to love Pilates, kick boxing and even P90X. Listen to your body and what feels best to you. You might find that a new way of eating or activity grows on you because of how good it feels to your body.

So now that fall is in the air, what simple steps can you take that are appealing and realistic to boost your aerobic levels, balance your meals and take care of your health, so you can avoid that holiday weight gain?

Overcoming a Fitness Lapse

It happens to all of us at one time or another: the inability to exercise for a few days or even weeks as a result of illness, injury, an emergency, extra work, vacation or any number of situations. It has happened to me twice in the past three months. In December I couldn’t do any aerobic exercise for almost three weeks due to bronchitis and holiday travel, and then I tore a muscle in my arm that has been slow to heal. Yet unlike the past when I would have felt I’d failed and it was too much to get restarted, I was able to easily get back on track. But for most people getting started again feels too hard and challenging, yet it is easier than you may think.

The biggest issue is the perception about a derailment, regardless of the cause. Too often it is seen as evidence of failure, even if it is totally outside of your control. You aren’t in control of getting sick or injured. You can’t avoid times when you have to step in to deal with a family emergency or address an issue at work. And you wouldn’t want to skip going on vacation or taking time out for other types of activities in your life. And none of these make you bad or a failure if you aren’t able or don’t choose to exercise during these times.

There was nothing I could do about getting sick or injured, and the best thing for me has been to rest, take it much slower or lower the intensity when I am active, and let myself fully heal. Under these types of circumstances, you can look at non-exercise as another way of taking care of yourself, equally as beneficial as exercising. Then when you are ready to be active again, you can start back into your routine gently at a slower pace.

This is the safest and most successful way to get back on track without overwhelming yourself or your body, and within a short period of time you will be in full swing as if you hadn’t missed a day. Looking back a few weeks or months later, you would have a hard time even remembering that you had a week or two off or had a week of doing a bit less – sort of like when you take a vacation.

Feeling like you have to start all over again is one of the most common reasons many people don’t resume exercise after a period of inactivity. It feels like too much effort to start over, and from that perspective it looms over you and zaps your energy. Yet you aren’t starting over at all; even if it feels that way. You are just resuming after a short break. And surprisingly, you will bounce back very quickly once you get going, and you don’t have to start back at the same frequency, pace or exertion level you had before the time off.

So why not give yourself a break and start back with lower expectations and a gentler pace? There is nothing wrong with that. This is the best way actually to regain your motivation, re-establish how good it makes you feel to get moving and get your body back up to speed. It doesn’t matter if it takes you a few days or a few weeks to regain your former fitness levels.

Instead of seeing a break in your fitness routine as a setback or derailment, see it as an expected part of your fitness lifestyle that will occur from time to time and one that you can easily accommodate and work with.

You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Get a Great Body

How many times have you given up on your diet or fitness routine because you weren’t good enough, didn’t do it all right or couldn’t exactly follow or complete what you had to do? My guess is more than once. The average person has given up close to a dozen times on their eating and exercise goals, and those experiences affect their self-confidence and an ability to succeed in the future.

The Truth about Perfection
Few people can perfectly follow a diet or a fitness program for weeks on end, unless they are professionalathletes or those who have the rare ability to be extremely self-disciplined. That leaves nearly everyone else who is trying to fit healthier habits into their busy and often unpredictable lifestyles.

What the contestants have been learning is that the goal isn’t to reach perfection or to be good; it is to gradually make healthier choices that leave them feeling good and setting their own new and realistic goals they honestly think they can reach each week. There is no diet or fitness agenda they must follow. Instead, they are learning to incorporate more and more healthier foods and activities into their day-to-day life as each week goes by. And despite all they are doing well, sometimes they overeat, choose unhealthy foods, over drink or can’t meet the fitness goal they had for themselves. Yet even when that happens, they can still say they had successes during the week. In fact, I make it a point to have them share their successes each week, and they all have them regardless of whether they fully met their goals or not.

Focus on What Went Well and Learn from the Challenges
When you acknowledge what went well, you get to see that the journey to a fit, healthy and great body is not about what you didn’t do well. Yet that is what most people focus on, which leads to feeling like a failure and feeling it is impossible to succeed. Instead, the journey is about celebrating all the little successes along the way as well as getting to see what didn’t go so well – and looking at those things without any judgment. Judgment is the quickest way to kill your motivation.

When things don’t go so well, that gives you an opportunity to look at the obstacles, challenges and inner issues with curiosity. There are always good reasons (vs bad reasons) for not following through or quite doing as you hoped. Looking at this way, you can see that in each case you can learn something and create a strategy or change in mindset to address it.

In the past couple of weeks, what didn’t go so well for a number of the group members were: limited exercising because of the heat and humidity, eating less well at summer parties, doing a bit more drinking, losing focus because of family distractions, and either being derailed by an injury or an illness.

Creating a Change in Mindset
To address these challenges, we talked about strategies and changes in mindset.

  • For heat and humidity, the opportunity is to figure out ways to be active indoors, in the water or at cooler times of the day. You don’t have to use the heat and humidity as an excuse.
  • For summer parties, bring healthy foods like a salad or vegetable side dish so you know you will have healthier foods to choose from. You don’t have to overeat because others are. You can throw out food if it isn’t that healthy and will be a temptation for days afterwards.
  • For drinking, consider ways to drink less alcohol and still enjoy yourself. Maybe have seltzer water or make spritzers. You don’t have to get drunk to have fun or drink because others want you to.
  • For an injury, consider getting physical therapy if it isn’t healing quickly or is an older injury. Most of the contestants have been seeing Bryan Labell PT & Associates in Rowley to address or prevent an injury. I will be writing more about PT in a future post. You may also be able to do activities that don’t impact the injured area, or you may just need a few days to recover from an overuse injury. You rarely have to stop being completely active when you get hurt for weeks at a time.
  • For an illness, focus on getting well and being gentle with yourself. If you feel you can do light activity that is great, but the main thing to focus on is taking care of yourself and giving yourself time to recover. You are not guilty for giving yourself a break or resting when that is best for your body.

It is so easy to beat yourself up when things get in the way of keeping you from doing as you planned, but real life ebbs and flows and throws you curve balls. Things always get in the way or interfere with our best laid plans. Get over the judgment and look at what you can learn from the situation so the next time you have a game plan that makes it easier to adjust, accept or address the situation.

For more information about the contest, visit www.aHealthyLifestyleWorks.com/contest.
Have a fit and healthy week,
Alice

How to Stretch Yourself and Love the Results

It can be so easy to get into a routine where you start to eat a bit better and get in some aerobic activity, but that is as far as it goes.  You are doing enough to get a bit healthier, but not enough to really change your body or your attitude.  And while a small change for the better is a success; it will likely lead to disappointment.  When that happens, it won’t be long before you go back to old unhealthy habits.

To help the group participants avoid settling into a lifestyle that is less than what they had hoped for, I asked them to consider what it is they want to improve and how they want to stretch themselves further.  Because they set their own goals and I don’t force them to do any particular activity, what they decide to do is up to them.

This contest and program was set up deliberately to emulate what it is like to create and maintain a healthy lifestyle.  In real life, there is no one to tell you what you should do or force you to stick with it.  The drive to do more has to come from within, and what I have learned – and now they are learning – is the more you do, the more you can do and the more you want to do.  Those who are doing the most activity are the ones pushing themselves and trying new things.  And they are the ones who are the most enthused and seeing huge changes in their attitude and bodies.  They are almost giddy with how great they feel and how much fun they are having being more active.

I remember having a similar experience during the two years I went from sedentary to fit, and I found myself wanting to do strengthening exercises, try Pilates, go to new classes and check out new types of equipment.  I amazed myself by what I was discovering I could do and my new interests.  At the end of two years I was even more shocked to realize I had a passion for fitness.  Yet I am not alone.  Read almost any fitness or weight loss success story, and you will see that this happens to most people who are active long enough that they want to do more and more and more.  It is the reason for the record number of older adults now doing races and triathlons.  They love how great it feels.  But it takes doing enough fitness activities and then sticking with them long enough to get that great feeling.

For some people, even some in the groups, there can appear to be limitations in what they can do to be active.  These can come from a physical ailment, a preference for doing certain types of activities, only wanting to be outdoors or indoors, a tight schedule, having kids at home, having a poor body image, or any number of things.  Yet very often this is a perceived limitation and not an actual one.

Consider instead:

  • Ways to address an ailment with physical therapy, a visit to your doctor or seeing another type of healing practitioner.
  • Finding new groups or programs you weren’t aware of, such as outdoor MeetUp groups at www.meetup.com.
  • Easy-to-follow and fun DVD or OnDemand fitness programs.
  • Local specialized classes and programs listed through Adult Education or the Chamber of Commerce.
  • Who can watch your kids or which local fitness facilities have a good place for kids, like the YWCA.
  • Any judgment about how you look or how capable you are trying a new activity is your own self-judgment and a perception of what others think.  If you refuse to be judged, no one can judge you.
  • How you can stretch yourself and try something totally new, like rock climbing at MetroRock.

In our group discussion, these were the things we talked about, and a number of people got ideas about what they could do to increase their level of activity, and they left feeling excited by the new prospects.

Read What the Participants Have to Say

Find out what else the group participants have to say about stretching themselves to feel even better, when they add their comments to this blog.  And please share your own insights about what works for you.  It may be just the spark that helps another person reading this blog.

For more information about the contest and contestants, visit www.aHealthyLifestyleWorks.com/contest.

Have a fit and healthy week,
Alice

The 4 Tricks to Sticking with Healthy Choices

 

 

 

Healthy Lifestyle Changes Aren’t Easy
It is easier to make a change than it is to maintain it. That’s why so many people can do a diet or a fitness program for a while and then find themselves derailed and back to their old unhealthy and inactive habits.

Here are 4 Ways to Make Healthy Choices Easier:

1. Having Healthy Options Nearby
If you have healthy foods that are just as easy to grab as junk food and a beautiful place to exercise right outside your door… then it is much easier to make healthier choices as you go through your day. Most people gravitate to the healthier option if it is just as easy as an unhealthy one.

This has been the lesson many of the group participants have learned. They now make sure to shop ahead so they have enough healthy snacks and foods during the week. This makes it easier to pick healthier choices at work, at home, in their car or in a bag if they out and about, because they are making sure they are well stocked in all these places. They are also making sure they have water bottles or ways to get at water, rather than skipping it or having something else like soda.

And many of them are enjoying the new Coastal Trails in our town. They find it much easier to want to get out for a walk, bike ride or jog, because the trails are easily accessible, nicely maintained and inviting. I’m noticing how many people are using the trails, so clearly this readily available option for getting exercise is making a big difference in motivating our local residents to do much more walking.


2. Staying Conscious to Be in Control

The second way to stay on track while making a lifestyle change is to be conscious of what works to keep you motivated and making healthy choices and what sabotages your good intentions. If you aren’t fully conscious as you overeat, grab an unhealthy snack, skip your exercise plans or excessively drink, you can’t make a different choice. You only have options, if you are conscious enough to recognize what it is you are doing at the time you are doing it and what it is that is driving you to make an unhealthy decision.

Staying conscious enough to make a different choice is easier than you might imagine. Those in the New You 2010 programs stay aware by tracking their hunger levels during the day, which is simply marking on a scale from 0-10 where their hunger levels are whenever they eat – and any other observation they have.

They also use a fitness journal, which helps them see their goals (which they create for themselves) and the days they hope to achieve them. They then track how they feel afterwards and how they did in meeting that goal. And, they can see their progress week-to-week. As with the food journal, it isn’t about being good or perfect, it is about having a way to stay conscious of what you are doing and having some accountability.

3. Focusing on Feeling Good, Not Being Good
We aren’t taught to focus on how we feel physically and letting that be our motivation; instead we are encouraged to focus on meeting specific goals, doing as we are told and being good. Yet the secret to success is doing what feels good, not striving to be good.

When you first start a diet or an exercise program, you are motivated to comply and be really good. But it usually doesn’t take long before it isn’t so easy to be good and fully do everything you’ve been told you have to do. By the third or fourth week, most people struggle to follow the diet or do all the exercise they have been instructed to do, and that creates a feeling of being bad and failing. It isn’t long after, that people give up with the belief they can’t be successful.

When you focus on choices that feel good to do, like a satisfying healthy meal that is easy to prepare or going for a walk that leaves you feeling fantastic afterwards, you want to do more of these things. The emphasis isn’t on being good or perfect, but on doing what feels good to your body and your state of mind. The New You 2010 participants have discovered how true this is. The more they focus on what is in their best interests, what feels really good to them and what makes them feel good about themselves, the more they want healthier foods and to increase their activity levels. They have stopped trying to be good; instead they are discovering just how good feeling good can be.

4. Having Just Enough Accountability
Staying conscious, having access to healthier options and focusing on feeling good doesn’t happen over night. So it really helps to have someone or a group to account to, in order to stay on track until this does become second nature.

This can take different forms, and for some it really helps to fill in a journal and submit it each week to someone who can provide positive feedback (rather than what wasn’t good enough). For others, all they need is to share what they’ve accomplished on a regular basis to a group or person who is simply supportive. And for some, it helps to have a partner who does it with them.

The best type of accountability is done without any judgment. You don’t need judgment; you need support, positive encouragement and someone with whom you can celebrate your achievements. And that is just what we do at our meetings each week. Everyone shares their successes when they check in, and we look for what is working for them and why. This gives them just enough accountability and greater motivation.

Read What the Participants Have to Say
Find out what else the group participants have learned about what helps them stay on track, when they add their comments to this blog. And please share your own insights about what works for you. It may be just the spark that helps another person reading this blog.

Have a fit and healthy week,
Alice

Six Ways to Become Self-Motivated

There are many different ways to keep yourself motivated to make healthier choices and stick with exercise intentions. To find out what is working for those in the New You Groups, I asked them to share what was keeping them motivated each week. We heard lots of different answers, and that was my point. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another, and what seems to work for you can stop working after a while. Then you have to find something else that works. The good news is there are lots of things you can try and many ways to stay motivated.

Motivated by How Good It Feels
A common motivator that a number of people shared was how good they felt from being active and eating healthier foods, which inspired them to do more of it. Whether it was feeling good from having an accomplishment or feeling good physically, this further motivated their desire to eat well and exercise. Those who are starting to see a big difference in how their bodies feel are getting really excited about the possibility of doing things they haven’t been able to do for a long time, like skiing, playing tennis, hiking or doing a round of golf.

Motivated to Reach an Accomplishment
Another motivator some folks mentioned was the desire to accomplish a particular goal, like walking a 5k in an hour (specifically the Coastal Rail Trail 5k this coming Sunday), running 5 miles by the fall, doing a 10k walk in July, participating in a bike-a-thon next September or going skiing next winter. This provides a vision of an achievable goal and the incentive to do a certain amount each week in order to reach that physical challenge.

Having a longer term physical goal can be extremely motivating, yet not everyone is inspired by that. A couple of weeks ago I had encouraged everyone to consider making a 3- or 6-month fitness goal, and many weren’t ready to do that or didn’t feel any interest in it. I totally understand, because I am not motivated that way. I’m more like one of the gals in the contest group who is motivated by checking off and tracking her day-to-day and weekly fitness goals.

Motivated by a Daily or Weekly Goal
Some in the groups are motivated by having a daily or weekly goal to get in a certain number of minutes or steps, like 8,000 steps using a pedometer or at least 30 minutes walking or biking. By looking back and seeing how much they’ve done, they then find they want to push themselves a bit more with a slightly higher goal. One of the contest winners has done this with great success. She started off walking for just a few minutes six days a week and each week she’s added a minute. Now she has just passed the 30 minute mark and doing more than she thought was possible. She’s even adding in some hills and increasing her exertion levels, and that is exciting for her.

Motivated by Just Doing It
Sometimes you just don’t feel motivated by any of the things I’ve mentioned, and then you have to Just Do It. We all have those times when we just don’t want to get up and exercise or make a healthy meal. We may be feeling ambivalent, tired or super busy. Yet, these are the times when very often you will feel so much better if you overcome the mental excuses and just go do it anyway. That worked for one person in the group, who had been derailed by plantar fasciitis. She got out on a friend’s bike instead of letting her foot be an excuse, and she felt so much better afterwards.

Motivated to Get Better
One fellow in the contest group was in a serious auto accident about a month ago, and he has been told walking will make all the difference in how well his body will heal. The more he can do now, the better chance he has of staying healthy and being able to have an active life long-term. That is pretty motivating. Others have seen their blood pressure, stamina and energy improve, and that inspires them to keep doing even more.

Motivated from Realistic Successes
A couple of the guys in the groups shared what they’ve learned is de-motivating, and that is having a goal that doesn’t seem achievable or failing to succeed right off the bat. At that point, their feeling was why bother doing it at all if you can’t succeed, and then wanting to give up entirely.

For one of the guys, the excitement in having a realistic way to get from the couch to a 5k and actually run again for the first time in years was lost by seeing someone else run it at a speed he knew he couldn’t attain. It completing deflated his motivation. Yet when he could see that he didn’t have to run that fast and didn’t have to compare himself to others, that he regained his motivation to running a 5k at whatever pace he could. Another one of the guys pointed out that if you set the goal very low and have a success, you want to see how much more you can do. So instead of pushing yourself to do too much and feeling like a failure, you can start off slow and become motivated by what you can do.

Explore What Motivates You
As you’ve just read, everyone is motivated differently and can be motivated by a number of different things. What matters is recognizing what does and doesn’t work for you, and then being open to trying something new when you find yourself losing interest.

Read What the Participants Have to Say
Find out what else the participants have learned about what does and doesn’t motivate them, when they add their comments to this blog. And please share your own insights about what works for you. It may be just the spark that helps another person reading this blog.

Have a fit and healthy week,
Alice

Winning Strategies for Staying on Track

 

 

 

The past couple of weeks have been particularly challenging for a number of people in the groups. When I asked them to share any success they had despite the difficulties, they each found one they could feel good about.

When you focus on successes, you stop focusing on what you didn’t do, should have done or your perceived failures. Instead you see what did go well, what worked best for you and that you can succeed. This is critical to being able to stay on track.

For many of them in the groups, the one thing they found that really helped them to have some success was their awareness. For example, they stayed aware of when they got full, so even if they were triggered to overeat, they were able to stop before they lost control. They listened when their body started to hurt and took time off without feeling guilty. And they were conscious of their desire to turn to comfort or junk food, and if they did have some, they were able to keep it to a minimum. They shared honestly without beating themselves up and could see that by staying conscious of what was going on and how they were feeling, they didn’t revert to old habits which would have been so easy to do.

There will always be days or weeks when they will struggle with issues in their lives, don’t meet their goals or feel like they’ve gotten off track. It happens to all of us. A month ago I had vertigo for several weeks. Life isn’t predictable or easy to manage. Plans get changed, emotions get stirred up, injuries happen and illnesses will catch you off guard. Or worse, as in the case of one of our contestants, who has been out for weeks from a bad auto accident, you can get derailed for long periods of time.

Instead of judging yourself or getting caught up in the disappointment, what everyone in the groups are discovering is they can learn from these experiences and get right back on track. In fact, these are golden opportunities to create strategies for similar future situations. You can look back and see what might have worked better for you, which would have left you feeling good physically as well as mentally and emotionally. The objective isn’t to look back to see how you could have been better at being good, because that isn’t the issue. It is not about being good or bad. It is about doing what leaves you feeling good and about respecting your body and yourself.

Here are some strategies that resulted from our discussions:

  • If you have worked your way up to walking for 25 minutes – or whatever amount you can now do, avoid taking a much longer walk even if a friend invites you to walk the length of our new rail trail or any other great walk in the area. Know your limits and speak up, letting that person know you’d love to walk but that after x number of minutes you’ll have to turn around.
  • Remind yourself that 10 minutes, one mile or one loop around the block is enough exercise, if that is all you think you feel up for. It is better than nothing, and who knows, you may find you want to do more once you get started.
  • If you begin to notice some aches or pain in your feet or legs, don’t push through it or pretend it isn’t there and continue with your goals for the week. Instead to take it as a warning signal that you may need to back off the exercising, do some icing, add in more stretching, see a practitioner or do an activity that doesn’t put exertion on that area.
  • If you are making dessert for company that is visiting, you don’t have to serve big pieces or an 1/8th of a pie. You can make the servings much smaller, so each person doesn’t feel compelled to eat more than they want or need.
  • Notice if you are really enjoying the food you are eating and if it is really all that satisfying. If you aren’t satisfied or don’t really want any more of it, to throw it away – even if it is ice cream.
  • Buy one meal and split it three-ways with the kids instead of a full meal and two kid meals.
  • And last, but not least, sometimes you have to tell yourself to “Just Do It”. We all have times when we come up with excuses and resist doing something we know will feel good once we get started, and it helps to give yourself a strong nudge to just go do it anyway. When I first started exercising, that is exactly what worked for me. I would say to myself, “too bad, no discussion, just go it”, and that would be enough to get me in my sneakers and downstairs.

Read What the Participants Have to Say
Find out what else the group participants learned from talking through ways to create strategies from their challenges.

Have a fit and healthy week,
Alice

Keeping Exercise on Track

 

 

 

 

Food is Getting Easy, Exercising is a Bit Tougher
After two months of doing this program, the harder issue for most people in the groups is doing more exercise, yet they are all making incredible progress and feel they have improved their fitness since starting. What is interesting is that almost everyone feels they have a good handle on portion control, are easily choosing healthier foods and planning balanced meals and snacks. And I would agree looking at their weekly journals. This is one area they are getting down, and yet it was the area most of them felt they had their greatest struggles when applying for the contest. At this point the bingeing, cravings, addictions, over eating, unhealthy choices and imbalanced selections are getting to be a non-issue.

In fact, I’m now encouraging them to stop tracking foods and to go back to tracking hunger levels by type of meal, unless they have occasions when they struggled with balance or over eating of a specific food. Then that is a good time to write out the actual foods involved. Otherwise, I want them to go back to focusing on how they feel and keeping the journaling process very simple. In doing that, they will remain conscious and stick with their new changes easily.

So this week, I had them all share what they were most pleased about in their fitness progress and choices. They shared how much more energy they had, how much better they were feeling and how well they were doing in staying active each week. As important, we heard again and again how motivated they felt to move a bit more during the day, to get out and walk when the weather was so gorgeous and to choose exercising when they normally would have felt too tired to consider it in the past. Across the board, everyone was fairly pleased with their accomplishments and felt they could do even better.

Addressing Exercise Obstacles
Now is the time to put more of the focus on establishing a solid exercise routine and building up aerobic levels. To do that, I addressed the most common types of exercise obstacles and how to deal with them this week. It is easy to judge yourself when you don’t exercise as being bad, lazy or undisciplined. But those are rarely the real cause of lack of movement. Without understand what is really keeping you from exercising you won’t resolve your inactivity.

The 8 reasons for struggling with exercise are the following:

Low Motivation: A common obstacle to exercising is not feeling motivated enough to do it. You won’t be motivated day-in and day-out to exercise if you haven’t identified what it is you want to be able to do or feel as a result of regular aerobic and strengthening activities. Once you have a focus for why you really want to be more fit, then you can focus on finding ways to stay motivated day-to-day. The trick is knowing what fuels your desire to do more, such as looking forward to a fun activity, tracking steps or calories burned and seeing them go up, or seeing progress as you check off your accomplishments on a calendar.

 Low Priority Planning: Not having enough time is really a result of not putting exercise higher in your priorities. Anyone can find time to exercise if it matters enough to them, and if they can find the motivation to stick with it. A way to make this easier to is to find an exercise or a group class you love so much, you will find ways to fit it into your schedule. Another is to look at your calendar for the week and see where you can fit in time for exercise and schedule it.

Too Much, Too Soon: In the excitement of starting a program, when you feel highly motivated to get started, it is easy to overdo it and find yourself giving up because you can’t sustain the pace or because you’ve gotten injured. Try starting off with smaller goals and less intensity, so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed and can experience your ability to succeed in reaching your goals.

Compliance Perfectionism: Feeling you have to measure up to someone else’s expectations or attain perfection in reaching your goals is the fastest way to failing and giving up. No one is perfect, and no one knows better than you as to what you can do each week, what is motivating or how your body is feeling. Instead of trying to comply to unrealistic expectations or someone else’s rules and goals, focus on what you want for yourself, what your body is telling you, and what works to keep you moving and on track.

Inflexible Beliefs: Another way people sabotage exercise is with the belief that doing anything less than x days a week or x number of minutes isn’t worth doing. Any exercise counts, even if it’s for 15 minutes, and the more active you are, no matter what it is, it all adds up. You may have other beliefs about what you need to be wearing, what your significant other will or won’t do to support you, what constitutes as exercise, or countless other requirements that are keeping you from being active and fit. Stop and identify what your “excuses” are and see if you can change your beliefs so you can achieve success.

Emotional Rebellion: Most people think emotions are just tied to food, but they also impact exercising. Think about it; you do have feelings about exercising, and if you’ve had bad experiences or anxiety about exercise than this can impact your behavior. If you are resistant or ambivalent towards exercise, become curious (without any judgment) about how you feel about exercise and why that is. Most likely you will find there are good reasons for your feelings, and once you acknowledge and validate them, you can start to look into ways of exercising that can address these feelings. For example, maybe you were called a klutz in grade school and have an aversion to gym-based exercise. Maybe you were forced to exercise and hated it. Maybe you had a bad experience with a trainer or fitness program. Are there other ways of being active that you feel confident about, or can you find a class that interests you that offers a safe environment for becoming proficient?

Derailment Resistance: There is nothing worse than finding yourself derailed from your fitness routine and struggling to get restarted after an illness, injury, vacation or period of just not wanting to do it. Once you get derailed it can seem too hard to get re-motivated again to exercise, and often this short period of non-exercise can turn into months or years of inactivity. An easy way to get restarted is by taking it slow and setting very low goals the first week or so.

Extreme Associations: If you’ve participated in extreme fitness programs and boot camps that you didn’t enjoy or that left you with an injury or bad taste in your mouth, you may be dealing with conflicting beliefs and emotions around exercise. On the one hand, you may believe that anything less than extreme fitness isn’t worth doing because of the quick results, and on the other hand you may cringe at the thought of signing up for another program. It is better to choose exercise options that you find motivating, enjoyable enough to sustain, and fit your personality. The majority do best starting off with baby steps and doing just one small thing at first, which easily leads to doing more because it feels good, it boosts your confidence and it motivates you to stretch yourself further.

To create a regular exercise routine in your life, pay attention to what feels best to you, what motivates you and what is really getting in the way of being consistent. We are all different, and our reasons for not exercising are all valid. Instead of beating yourself if you find you can’t quite get moving, respect that you have a good reason and try to understand what you really need to do to get active and to develop a consistent exercise lifestyle.

Read What the Participants Have to Say
Find out what the contestants have to say about what gets in the way of their fitness goals and how they are learning to address them, which they usually add the Monday after this post goes live. Please feel free to add your own comments as you follow along.

To participate on your own or in a group, check out the contest website for details and tools at www.aHealthyLifestyleWorks.com/contest.

Have a fit and healthy week,
Alice

Knowing How to Choose & Safely Progress with Fitness

 

 

 

Everyone in the groups have been making their own choices as to what type of aerobic activities they are doing to get exercise the past six weeks, and each week they are reaching most if not all of their goals.  I have guided them to set goals they know they can reach, to pay attention to how their bodies’ feel with the level of activity they are doing, and to avoid overdoing it or trying to add too much more too fast.  I’ve told them to stretch the goal no more than 5-10% after reaching the previous week’s goal, and if they feel they want to stay at their current goals to go with that. 

Starting Off Slow with Enjoyable Activities
Several people were so motivated by their initial successes, they got extremely ambitious and exercised for much longer periods of time, exercised every day, or both.  When I saw that, I encouraged each one of them to be careful and to scale back considerably.  While this is not the advice you would expect from a fitness expert (or personal trainer as I am), it is good advice.  Here’s why.  When you overdo it, you set yourself up for an overuse injury, stressing your immune system or feeling overwhelmed at having to keep it up, and any of these can lead to getting derailed and losing your motivation to get going again.  I’ve seen this happen too many times with my clients, and I have learned that it is better to build up slowly and safely to maintain enthusiasm and consistency. 

A number of other people were picking activities they felt they should do, and while they have been motivated by the group accountability to stick with them it isn’t enjoyable for them.  Doing exercise you don’t like won’t keep you motivated for long, so it is important to find activities you do enjoy.  Sometimes it is hard to know what that might be, especially if you are so out of shape you can’t do much.  One gal finds exercise boring and uninspiring, but she loves sports like tennis.  So she is looking into getting Wii Sport to renew her tennis passion and get moving in a way that is safe for her current fitness levels.

Learning How to Pace Progression
At this point the groups need more guidance as they become more active, so that was the theme for this week’s sessions.

I showed them a way to know how much exertion they were doing, so they could safely and effectively increase their fitness levels and progress from moderate paces to the point they can increase their aerobic capacity.  I introduced the chart below, which shows a commonly used scale for determining Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).  This is subjective based on a talk test, yet it works really well when you don’t have or don’t feel motivated to get a heart rate monitor. 

As you can see, when you are below an 8 on the RPE scale, which corresponds to 85% of your maximum heart rate (on the blue band), you are in the moderate zone.  And between 60-85% of your max heart rate (or between 3-8 RPE) you are in the fat-burning zone.  At the moderate and moderately easy levels, this is considered heart healthy, and this is where you want to start when first exercising.  It is also the exertion levels where you get some of the greatest improvements in cholesterol, blood pressure and insulin sensitivity.  Whereas, as you move up to difficult and very difficult intensities you get the greatest fat loss benefit.  When you get into the anaerobic zone, above 85% of your maximum heart rate, you begin to overload your heart and increase your aerobic capacity.  This is a good thing, but only when it is done in bursts of very short intervals followed by longer recoveries back in the aerobic zone.  These bursts are called intervals, and they are very effective at increasing fitness levels and accelerating fat-burning. 

But, as I cautioned the groups, the goal isn’t to just do interval training and higher fat-burning.  The goal is to build up to that point and then mix up the cardio with both days of moderate and longer periods of exercise and days of more difficult interval-based exercise.  You benefit from both and it allows for a mix of activities that are both intense and more moderate.  Furthermore, the body will adapt to whatever you do repeatedly, so it is best to mix it up with different intensity levels, types of activities and lengths of time. 

Everyone in the groups will now add their RPE levels each time they are active in their fitness journals, so they can see where they are and pace themselves to do a bit more every couple of weeks until they are able to sustain more difficult levels.  They can even start doing some periodic intervals in their current routines that will move them up a level or two in RPE, by adding short bursts (either by increasing their speed or their incline – like a hill) whenever it feels right to do so.

Balancing Core Elements of Fitness
There are four primary areas of fitness: cardiovascular, strengthening, flexibility and balance.  While there are different schools of thought as to which is most important and which you should start doing first, I explained to the groups that our primary goal is to establish a lifelong cardio foundation as the basis of a healthy lifestyle.  The health benefits of maintaining aerobic exercise are too numerous to list here, yet they aren’t limited to just reducing the risks of diabetes and heart disease.  Moderate levels of aerobic exercise improve arthritis, depression, energy, stamina, sleep, osteoporosis, mental focus, stress, digestion and more. 

It is too easy to take on too much too fast, when you try to do cardio, strengthening, stretching and balance all at once, and very often it gets too overwhelming or too time intensive to maintain.  That doesn’t mean that at some point, they won’t be doing all of this – as I now do in my weekly routine.  But first I want them to develop a consistent aerobic practice they will stick with before adding in much more.  The only exception is stretching, which is important for them to begin adding in now if they haven’t already done so. 

In time, they will also add in core strengthening (which often goes hand in hand with greater balance) and full body strengthening.  Some are doing a bit of this now, which is fine if it doesn’t get in the way of having enough time for being aerobic.  I know many personal trainers would disagree with this approach, suggesting strengthening should come first or along with cardio, but I am a realist and focused on making sure everyone has long-term success at maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle.  I am less focused on having them build muscle now or achieve rapid changes. 

Those changes will come in due time and it won’t hurt them to wait until they can successfully and incrementally add new things into their routine they can sustain.  I know from my own experience this works, even in my 40s.  I started off with cardio my first year until I had it down, and then I added strengthening the second year, and the third year I added Pilates.  Years later, I am doing all of them regularly, have maintained my lean body mass and continue to stay fit.  Sure I could have built up my muscles and gotten leaner faster, but I didn’t lose anything by waiting a year.  Instead I found a way to incorporate strengthening into my routine because I didn’t get too overwhelmed, and I’ve stuck with it into my 50s.  Not many can say that.

Preventing Injury Before it Happens
One other thing I addressed was injury prevention, which becomes a greater concern the older you are and the more out of shape you’ve become.  There is nothing worse than being derailed for months once you feel you are finally on track and making progress.

Again I had to learn this first hand by having an exercise-related injury from strength training, and I’m not alone in getting hurt exercising.  The problem is muscle imbalances, where some of your muscles are very tight and short and others are weak and long, creating imbalances around joints and across the body.  Some of the weakest areas are in the upper back and core.

When you have imbalances, which often occur from poor posture, prior injuries or being sedentary, you are prone to tearing muscles, ligaments and tendons when you become active.  This is most common with weekend warriors, but it also happens doing any new activity that pushes you more than your body is prepared to do. 

I am hoping to find a physical therapist in private practice who can offer preventive full body evaluations, so we know where their imbalances are and what physical therapy exercises can be done in preparation for strength training.  I used to have someone who did this for my clients, but that PT is no longer available.  So if anyone reading this blog knows of a PT who would be interested, please have them contact me. 

Read What the Participants Have to Say
Find out what the group members are doing with their fitness and how they are doing in making other healthy changes in the comments below.  Please feel free to add your own comments as you follow along.

To participate on your own or in a group, check out the contest website for details and tools at www.aHealthyLifestyleWorks.com/contest.

Have a fit and healthy week,
Alice


Alice Greene
Healthy Lifestyle Success Coach

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