For the past two years, I have challenged my friends and clients to exercise every day during the month of December. Everyone has really enjoyed the challenge, so I decided to create a challenge for each month during 2015.
My first challenge was a lofty one. I decided to challenge my friends to reduce their "added sugar" intake. This challenge proved to be challenging to say the least! The recommended amount of added sugar is 25 grams per day. This does not include sugar that is found naturally in foods like fruit and vegetables. So really, what we were watching was the amount of sugar we are consuming in processed foods.
Many of my friends told me how difficult this was for them, but that it really increased their awareness of the sugar they are eating. I found it difficult as well. It seemed that many of the breakfast foods that I like to eat had a lot of added sugar in them and I could easily be half-way to the 25 gram mark before lunch! I learned to eat more eggs and veggies for breakfast. It was better for me to stay away from processed foods as much as possible. It was nice because I wasn't cutting any food group out of my diet. Yogurt, granola bars, breads and cereals were the real culprits to my added sugar intake. I didn't meet the challenge goal every day, but it definitely made me think more before I ate.
I'm not sure what I'll choose for next month's challenge, but I hope to try to continue watching my added sugar intake. You should definitely give it a try. Even if you can't reach the goal everyday, I think you will find an added awareness to your dietary habits!
I've been meaning to blog about activity tracker for some time now. I have had three different trackers, and I have enjoyed all three for different reasons. Here are the three I have used and what I liked about each one:
The Nike Fuelband was my first tracker and I was obsessed with it! I had the first version of the Fuelband, and I loved keeping track of my steps without having to wear a pedometer clipped to my pants. I loved that it was a watch, but it doesn't track your sleep habits, so I took it off at night. I also liked the graphics on the app when you reached your goals. I enjoyed the Fuelband until they came out with the newer version. At that time, there was a software update for the old Fuelbands, but after I updated it, it was much more difficult for me to meet my goal than before the update. It was very depressing! Needless to say, I wasn't enjoying wearing it because the goals that I was able to meet consistently before the update were impossible to meet after the update.
After becoming disillusioned with my Fuelband, I started hearing more about the Fitbit. I decided I wanted a Fitbit Force because it also designed to be worn on your wrist and it had a watch feature. I also liked that it tracked my sleep habits, and I could track food and water intake as well. I had fun connecting with my friends who had Fitbits online. It is motivating to compete with your friends! However, not long after I received the Fitbit, the recall was announced. I was going to keep it anyway, but ultimately, I decided I didn't want to have an obsolete tracker.
Finally, I have settled on the Garmin Vivofit. I did a little research after deciding to send my Fitbit back, and I liked the heart rate monitor feature of the Vivofit. I had always worn a heart rate monitor when exercising prior to owning an activity tracker. Being a personal trainer, I like to know my heart rate while I'm exercising. The Vivofit allows me to wear the pedometer on my wrist, it has a watch feature, and I can wear a heart monitor strap when I want to record an exercise session. It's the best of all worlds! I can still track my steps all day, and it does record my sleep habits. It is also water proof, so I can wear it in the shower or in a pool. I don't have any friends with a Vivofit, but online, Garmin has challenges with other Garmin users, so I can virtually compete even though I don't know the people I'm competing against. Probably my favorite feature of the Vivofit is that it automatically increases or decreases your goal. It changes based on the amount of activity you engage in each day. If you are very active, it continues to increase your goal. If you are inactive, it decreases your goal. Your goal is never too easy or too hard. It is always within reach!
I know there are a lot of different activity trackers out there now, so hopefully this review will help guide you on what features you want or don't want in your activity tracker.
Many of us like to walk for exercise. I love going outside in the fresh air to get my cardio workout. I I've been walking a lot on my treadmill lately with the cold temps, and without my 75 pound lab dragging me down the street, I'm able to focus more on my body while I'm walking.
I think any walk you take is a good walk, but what if you are wanting to get more out of that walk? If you are looking for a way to take your walk up a notch, this blog will tell you how. I'm going to start at your head and work all the way down to your feet, and I will give you tips on how to take your walk from a liesurely stroll to an effective calorie burning workout.
First, if you really want to get the most out of any exercise, you should focus on what you are doing. Don't think about what you are going to do when you get home, your grocery list, or anything else. Think about that moment, what you are doing, and what muscles you are using. You should connect your mind to your body! It will really make a difference. With that said, here are the parts of your body you should be thinking about and what they should be doing.
Starting with your head, you should be looking straight ahead while you walk. Your head should not be looking down at the ground or your neck will ache before you get home!
Next, your shoulders should be relaxed and down. Many of us have a tendancy to get our shoulders up by our ears without even realizing it. This creates a lot of unnecessary tension in your neck and shoulders. Pull your shoulders down away from your ears. This lengthens your neck and stabilizes your shoulders. Your shoulders should also be back and not rounded forward. It's common for people to round their shoulders forward. This creates a tightness in your chest, and it stretches the muscles in your back. Counterbalance this by opening up your chest and bringing your shoulders back in alignment.
Your arms should be swinging at your sides. If you bend your elbows, the blood will be less likely to pool in your hands. Also, you can use your arm swing to help propel you forward. Drive one elbow back while you swing the opposite fist forward, then switch. This movement in your arms actually helps you move forward. Don't let your arms swing from side to side. Think about it - you are trying to move forward, not sideways. If your body is the center of a clock, your elbows will swing back to about 4 & 8 o'clock, while your fists swing forward toward 12 o'clock.
Your abdominal muscles should be pulling in - yes, the whole time. You should have that sensation of zipping up tight jeans, but don't hold your breath! Just contract your abs and try to keep them contracted while you walk. This will help protect your lower back. If your abs are not contracted, then your lower back muscles will tighten and this creates low back pain.
When your foot strikes the ground, it should be your heel first then you roll through the rest of your foot. If you have a tendancy to get shin splints, focus more on the push off when the ball of your foot is behind you. Try to take quick small steps.
If you can practice encorporating all of these steps, you will find you feel lighter on your feet and can walk faster. Walking faster means traveling more distance in a shorter time period, and that means burning more calories! If you can't keep up the fast pace, try intervals. Push yourself to walk fast for one minute, and then walk a little slower for the next minute and so forth.
So go out there and give it a try!
We've all done it - set goals for the New Year, and then we don't follow through. It leaves us feeling defeated and depressed. Why not start your year out with goals that you will actually attain? How do you do that? It is very simple if you take the time to think it through. I once read an article from IDEA about setting SMART goals. The acronym SMART will help you make sure you are setting goals that you will actually meet.
First, you need to set goals that are Specific. You can't just set some ambiguous goal and expect to meet it. For example, many people would like to lose "some" weight. That is a good goal, but you need to be specific about how much you want to lose and how you are going to do it.
Next, your goals should be Measurable. If you can measure your goal, you will know if you met it! Instead of "some" weight, say exactly how many pounds you want to lose, or how many inches around your waist.
Better yet, make your goal focused on an Action. Instead of saying, "I'd like to lose some weight," think of what action will you take to meet that. It would be better to say, "I'm going to walk every day." That will help you lose weight, and it takes the focus off losing pounds which isn't always the best measure. If you are new to exercising, you may gain weight because you are building muscle mass which will in turn boost your metabolism and help you burn more caloires. If you are focusing on pounds, this can be very depressing! Instead make your goals focus on the action you are going to take to meet your goal of losing weight. It is a much more positive way to look at your goals. Here are some examples of goals that would be better than saying "losing weight:"
Walking/running every day
Eating 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day
Eating only foods with less than 10 grams of sugar
Strength training 3 times a week
The R stands for Reasonable. You want your goals to be reasonable. It isn't reasonable to say that you will exercising for 3 hours every day. Make sure you have confidence in the goal you set. If you think it is something you could actually do, then it is reasonable. Don't set the bar so high that you know you cannot meet it. It is better to meet your goal and feel confident and good about yourself. You can always make a new goal or add more challenges to your original goal.
Finally the T represents Time. Make sure your goal has a deadline. Start off with something like, "I'm going to walk every day for 30 minutes for 1 month." Then, when that goal is met, set a new goal. Increase the time or distance of the walk for the next month or keep the goal the same except try to do it for 6 weeks instead of 30 days. Take baby steps. Don't take on more than you can handle and you will find yourself feeling good about yourself and motivated to take on more.
It is important to remember that no one is perfect. We will have bumps in the road. Don't let one little bump keep you from achieving your goal. If something gets you off track, get right back at it the next day. Missing one day of exercise in the scope of a lifetime isn't a big deal. It is when we let that one day keep us from getting back on track that creates the problem. Don't beat yourself up. Get right back in the saddle and keep going!
Hopefully, this acronym will help you set SMART goals for this new year that you can achieve!
I love teaching Pilates! And I love doing Pilates! It is one of my favorite forms of exercise, but I feel like many people just don't know what it is. I think the best way to discover Pilates is to work with an instructor and really feel what it does for your body. Since I can't get my hands on each and everyone of you, I thought I would write a blog about Pilates in hopes I would inspire a few more people to try it.
I've been reading Ellie Herman's Pilates Wunda Chair book, and in it, she gives a brief history that I will share. She begins by describing the man for whom Pilates is named after. Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Germany in 1880. His health was not always the best and he suffered from asthma. He overcame his health problems and became an active athlete enjoying activities such as skiing, diving, gymnastics, yoga and pugilism. He developed a series of exercises designed to strengthen the core performed on a mat. He went on to invent pieces of equipment to further enhance the exercise series. Legend has it that he was a nurse stationed in an English internment camp during WWI. In a light bulb moment, he decided to rig springs above hospital beds to help rehabilitate patients while lying on their backs. This set up is very similar to what we use today called the Cadillac.
Later in 1923, he settled in New York City, where he started training and rehabilitating professional dancers including George Balanchine and Martha Graham. He wrote a book called Return to Life in which he outlines how to improve overall health including the mat Pilates exercises he designed earlier. He called his work "Contrology", but it has been coined Pilates after the man himself. He went on to invent over 20 pieces of equipment designed to enhance the exercises.
So, what is Pilates? I like the way Ellie defines it: "Pilates exercises as a whole develop strong abdominal, back, gluteal, and deep postrual muscles to support the skeletal system and act as what Pilates called the "Powerhouse" of the body." She goes on to say that Pilates will strengthen your core, lengthen the spine, increase body awareness, build muscle tone and increase flexibility. Pilates can be used to rehabilitate the back, knee, hip, shoulder and help with repetitve stress injuries. Finally, Pilates is designed to treat the body as a whole, to correct imbalances and weaknesses to prevent injury and bring balance to the body.
Hopefully, I didn't lose you with the history and you have a better understanding of what Pilates is and what it can do for your body. If you get the chance to try Pilates, you will really see how wonderful it is!
My new favorite app to help with healthy eating is Fooducate. It is a great way to see if the foods you are buying at the store really "meet the grade" when it comes to healthy eating. With this app, you can scan the bar code on the foods you want to buy. The app then gives the food a "grade". Just like the grades you received in school an "A+" is the best. So, when I am shopping, I may scan an item to see if it meets the grade. If it doesn't, the app will suggest other similar items that may have a better rating. It's great because many food items we buy that we think are "healthy" may not be as healthy as we would like. Food labels and packaging can be very decieving so it is important to read the fine print, but who has time when they are trying to get their food shopping done! This app makes it very quick and easy. The app has other features that I haven't used as much but also look great. There is a health tracker that allows you to keep a food and exercise diary. I think this is great because keeping a diary is a super way to be more aware of how much food you are eating and how much time you spend being active. You can search for foods by typing the name in or by scaning the bar code. It also has a Daily Tip that gives you advice on different nutritional topics. Finally, you can personalize your settings so that you can set weight loss goals. You can also set a goal to lower your carb intake or eat more real foods. It will send you motivational tips if you keep your food logged in the health tracker. Overall, I think this is a great app even if you just use it at the grocery store for food shopping.
Just read a very interesting article titled, "Navigating Restaurant Menus" in the IDEA Fitness Journal. It had some shocking statistics about eating out. One thing that I found intersting was that just one meal at a restaurant adds an average of 134 calories to your daily energy intake. So, if you eat out once a week, you could gain 2 pounds per year. The article also stated that most Americans eat out an average of 5.8 times per week! With that in mind, it would help to have some strategies to eat healthy while dining out. The article had some great suggestions. For example, you can visit a website called www.HealthyDiningFinder.com which is a dietician driven website that sorts name brand restaurants by zip code and identifies healthful menu choices. Another suggestions was to set goals like not eating any restaurant desserts for a week or ordering a side of vegetables at all dine-out dinners for a month. Certain words on the menu cue you to know that items are less healthy. Words such as battered, buttery, scalloped, crispy, creamed, creamy, fried, rich, in cheese sauce, hollandaise, bearnaise, tempura, with gravy, au gratin, Alfredo, breaded, croquettes, a la king, Newburg, and deep fried. Another concern for eating out is the portion sizes. Consider sharing an entree with a friend or taking half home with you. The article listed many more great ideas for healthy eating out. I've saved it to my library if you want to read the whole thing. It is a busy time of year, and eating out is something we often do when in a hurry. Just make sure you are making the right choices to avoid those excess and unwanted calories!
I've been falling behind on my blogging, so I wanted to make sure I wrote something today. And, here it is!
I just read an article about why we overeat, and I find it so fascinating! It is something we have all done from time to time - ok, maybe a lot of the time! Especially with the holidays coming, the temptation to overeat will be ominous. There are many things we can do to help us keep from overeating. Much of the time it's just an awareness that we need. So often, we eat while we are watching TV or working on our computers, lap-tops, or cell phones. If we stop and pay attention to our food, rather than mindlessly eating, we will do a much better job of control our portion sizes and we will feel more satisfied by the food we do eat.
What I found interesting in the article I read, which was entitled "Portion Distortion" by Matthew Kayey, MS, RD in IDEA Food & Nutrition Tips, was that research has shown that our plates, bowls, and drinking glasses contribute to our portion control problems. I've noticed myself that the plates I use to serve my family are much larger than the dishes I was served on as a kid. I often will serve our food on the salad plates because we just don't need to eat off such a large dinner plate. The bowls we use are huge! I found some bowls that matched our dishes, and they are supposed to be "ice cream bowls". If you eat ice cream out of these bowls, you are going to have a large serving! We used them for cereal, and even for that, they are too big.
I used to encourage my clients to actually measure their food with mearsuring cups for one week, just to get used to seeing the correct size of the serving of food. It helps so much to see the correct serving size of food on your dishes. You might be surprised to find that you've been eating 2 cups of cereal rather than just one.
Once you are serving yourself the correct portion sizes, you can use one of the many apps that help record what you are eating. My Fitness Pal and Lose It! are two of my favorites. They help you record how many calories you are consuming as well as the calories you expend from exercise & activity. It really helps you to be more aware of how much you are eating and whether you need to get moving to meet your set calorie requirement for the day.
Make sure you are reading food labels on packaged food to see what a serving size is. Again, it's just being aware of how much and what you are putting in your body. It's much better to pour yourself a serving of what you want to eat, than just mindlessly eating it straight from the box or bag. Sure it is a pain in the neck to measure it out, but it is worth it when you see that you are not overeating and feeling bad about it later.
The article I read also mentioned that people ate less when they cut up their food into smaller bites. Instead of cutting a large slice of pizza, cut what you would have eaten in half. You can still eat the other half if you want it, but you'll feel like you are eating more!
To sum it all up, here are some tips to remember to help you with portion control.
1. Eat with smaller plates, bowls, & drinking glasses.
2. Read food labels to determine appropriate portion sizes.
3. Measure your portions to make sure you aren't eating to much.
4. Cut servings in to smaller sizes.
5. Eat slowly. Chew your food thoroughly before you swallow it.
6. Turn off the TV, computer, or any electronic device that might distract you.
7. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. We overeat when we are tired.
8. Keep extra food away from the table so you'll have to get up to get more.
9. Eat home cooked food so you are in control of the portion size.
10. Get the majority of your calories from the food you eat rather than from high calorie drinks.
I've told my friends and clients for years that if you want to maximize your work-out you should use interval training. We no longer hold on to the belief that you should work-out at a low intensity to burn fat. The bottom line is burning calories. The best way to do this is to incorporate interval training in your workouts. Interval training is when you work hard for a short amount of time (i.e. 1-2 minutes) and then work at a slightly slower pace to recover (i.e. 2-4 minutes). When you do this, you can work harder and push yourself more knowing it will only be for a brief period. Then, you give your body a chance to recoup, and do it all over again. So, if you are a new exerciser, and you want to incorporate interval training to your walk, here is an example of what you could do. Start your walk with a brief warm-up (3-5 minutes). Then, start your first interval by walking fast or jogging for 1 minute. After that, you would walk at a slightly slower pace (don't stop!) for 2 minutes. You would continue to do this for the duration of your walk, and end with a brief cool down of slower walking (3-5 minutes). This is a great way to burn more calories and increase your aerobic capacity without having to push hard for the entire workout. Go out and try it today!
I've been playing with this new app called Challenge Loop. It is designed to motivate people to try different health habits by challenging them and their friends. When you join, you can scroll through a list of suggested challenges which range from walking 10,000 steps in one day to a 30 day weight loss challenge to 1000 push-ups in 10 days. The idea is to get people motivated to try something new or different or just something they've been wanting to do and haven't. By committing to the challenge with a group of people, you'll be more likely to give it your best effort because you know others are trying it too. I think it is a fun way to get people to make healthy choices and adopt new health habits. I'm going to be trying some different challenges myself, and I hope it will inspire you to join me!