Health and Fitness

Give Yourself Permission

I have the very best doctor. I found her through a Google search for, "best doctor in (my city)." Patients had given her amazing reviews online and so I called and got a spot as a patient. Even though I've now moved about an hour away, I still go to her. She's awesome in so many ways. She never makes you feel like she's got somewhere else to be, even though I know she's got a full schedule of patients. She has a sign above the scale in her office that says, "It's Just a Number." And she shares my first name :-) 

During one of the first appointments I had with her, I was lamenting my weight. How it had gotten out of control and how hard I was trying  to lose it without success. I was tired. And stressed. And basically just miserable. 

She asked me about my schedule. How much sleep did I get? What did I eat? What was going on at work? How many hours was I working between my two jobs? What was my commute like? What kind of social support did I have? I answered all of her questions and then prepared myself for the diet and exercise recommendations--the tough love--I was sure was on the way. 

But instead of a lecture. Instead of warnings. Instead of a prescription for Weight Watchers or the local gym, she said...

Sleep. She told me my only job right now was to make sure I got 7-9 hours of sleep every night and then figure out which quantity of hours made me feel my best. That’s it. I didn’t need to worry about changing my diet. Or getting up at the crack of dawn to exercise.

Just sleep. 

And when I had done that consistently for a few weeks, I could add in one other healthy activity. Just one.

She gave me a tremendous gift in that moment—the permission to be kind to myself. I am telling you, when she said “just sleep” I felt like crying, I was so happy. And relieved.

Sleep? Sleep I could do. Take everything else off the list for now and just focus on sleep? Yes. Yes, please.

I had to trust that if I did that one thing, that I would know when I was ready to add more.

And I did. One day I woke up and felt like trying to exercise again.

I had to reset a couple of times. I tried to do too much, too fast. But I caught myself each time and went back to the basics. Back to sleep. Then adding one thing at a time.

There are good reasons why my doctor had me focus on sleep first. There is not a single function of the body that does not rely, in large or small part, upon getting adequate sleep. Here are just a few:

  • Sleep helps to regulate your hormones, including the hormone that generates feelings of hunger (ghrelin) and the one that gives you the signal of being satiated (leptin). If you don’t get enough sleep, the former goes up and the latter goes down. So, you feel hungry more often and have trouble feeling full, both of which can lead you to eat more.
  • Your body repairs itself during sleep. Your muscles, blood vessels, heart and other major organs use the time when you are asleep to fix damage and (in the case of your muscles) increase mass. If you exercise, sleep is when that microscopic damage you did to your muscles during your workout gets repaired and additional muscle fibers are generated.
  • Your immune system relies on sleep to function at its optimal level. Inadequate rest leaves you vulnerable to infections like the common cold, but also to chronic disease. Studies have found a relationship between insufficient sleep and an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
  • Your ability to complete basic and complex tasks at work, school or at home is compromised. Things can take longer, and you are more prone to making mistakes when sleep deficient. The National Institutes of Health reports that, “after several nights of losing sleep—even a loss of just 1–2 hours per night—your ability to function suffers as if you haven't slept at all for a day or two.” Your memory, athletic performance, creative powers and the ability to learn new things are all improved with adequate sleep.

Okay, so how much sleep is enough and how do we make sure we are consistently getting enough sleep? For adults ages 18-64, the National Sleep Foundation (yes, sleep is so important there are research foundations dedicated to it!), recommends between 7-9 hours per night. For adults 65 and older, the recommended range is 7-8 hours. They have a sleep duration recommendations chart, which you can access here.

The foundation also has tips for ensuring a good night’s sleep, including: sticking to a sleep schedule (even on the weekends); exercising regularly; avoiding caffeine, alcohol and using electronics in the hours before bedtime; and making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and not too warm or too cold.

Here's some homework for you, if you're up for it. If you aren't getting your 7-9 hours, commit to doing that and determining your magic number of hours. It's 9 for me. Come up with your own bedtime ritual to follow too. Maybe you light your favorite scented candle and read for an hour before sleep. Maybe you do some yoga (there are some great evening yoga dvds out there). Maybe you meditate, or journal or just sit and think about your day.

And let us know how it goes!

Health, Fitness, Beauty and Food Hacks You Need in Your Life

We love hacks that make life easier or less expensive, especially when it comes to health and fitness. Those things just feel so difficult sometimes, don't they? Anyway, here are a few little things we've discovered that make taking care of ourselves so much more doable. 

Swap out shave gel for conditioner. Depending on which brand you choose, it's way cheaper per ounce than shave gel. I love the scent of a particular $2.99 bottle of Herbal Essences conditioner and now I buy it exclusively for this purpose. An added bonus is that I've noticed that if I forget to put on lotion after shaving my legs, when I use conditioner, they don't get itchy and irritated. I think because of the moisturizing ingredients in the conditioner...Shampoo is a good substitute for more expensive body washes too. 

Build your workout one minute at a time. When you're new to exercising, maybe you can only do 5-minutes at a time. But try adding 1-minute each day until you reach 30. An extra minute usually feels doable and you'll be at your target minutes in no time.

Swap a music playlist for the clock. If you find yourself glancing at the clock every few minutes, willing your workout to get done faster, you know it does the opposite. It makes the time drag even more. Instead, build a playlist of songs that's exactly as long as you want to exercise and use it as your timer. It's way more fun to let songs mark the time than the secondhand on your watch.

Want your perfume to last longer? Spray it behind your knees, inside your elbows, behind your ears or in your hair to get the best wear time out of your scent. 

Want to sneak some movement into your work day? Try walking meetings. How many Friday afternoons did I spend trapped in an office or conference room for meetings that could have just as easily been mobile? Too many. Get outside, breathe some fresh air and get some work done. 

Dry your hair with an old t-shirt instead of a towel. It dries faster, I swear. 

Tennis balls and frozen water bottles make great foot massagers. Fill the water bottles about 3/4 full and then freeze them. Rolling your tired feet over tennis balls or frozen bottles of water is so soothing. 

Now for some food hacks...

Rotisserie chickens are your friend. Already cooked chickens are a great time-saver. Pull the meat off of them when you get home and store it in the fridge, ready to be tossed on top of a salad, rolled up in a burrito, or thrown in a stir-fry. Nikki does this a lot. 

Buy some bagged salad mix. You can get greens in your system in a matter of seconds. I used to take them to work with me and store them in the fridge for lunches. 

Swap pasta for spaghetti squash. This is a relatively painless way for those of us who struggle with liking vegetables to get more of them in our diets. If you've never tried it before, spaghetti squash is a yellow, oval-shaped squash that when cooked, can be scraped out into spaghetti-like strands. Smother it in your favorite pasta sauce and enjoy. 

Convenient food can be healthy food. There are so many healthy foods that are also easy to prepare. I often buy pre-cooked brown rice, so I can get a whole grain on my plate even if I haven't thought about dinner until I'm ravenously hungry and don't want to wait an hour for it to cook from scratch. Trader Joe's has a bunch of rice options in their frozen section that can be ready in minutes. I also love substituting riced cauliflower for real rice sometimes. And again, Trader Joe's sells that stuff already riced and ready to use. 

Any hacks you've found recently that you want to share for the good of the blog? You can do that below. Hope some of these were helpful! 

How to Treat Dry Winter Skin

I've gotten really into skincare over the last year or so. Maybe it's getting older--I don't know. What I started to notice over the last couple of years is that the skin on my face gets really dry about this time each year. It's uncomfortable and it makes me feel self-conscious because it's kind of flaky and scaly. I feel like everyone I come into contact with notices it, even if they don't.

I used to be able to get away with just pure coconut oil as a moisturizer (oh, the advantages of youth) But that stopped working a couple of years ago. So, I've researched a ton and tried several different approaches to preventing that and keeping my skin soft and moisturized even when Mother Nature is trying her best to destroy it. Here's what I've found works best for me. Where I could, I included both drugstore and high-end options. This is not a sponsored post and none of the companies listed below have paid me to talk about them. It's just the stuff I've tried and liked.

 

IMG_1209.JPG

Cleanse and Exfoliate. I exfoliate with a gentle exfoliator two or three times a week. My favorite is Philosophy's The Microdelivery Exfoliating Face Wash. I try to grab it when it's on sale because it's kind of expensive. But it's really gentle and it lasts a long time. Some of the drugstore ones are made of really harsh granules and I feel like they're scratching little holes in my face. If you've found a drugstore one that's good, let me know. Exfoliating just gets rid of any dead skin hanging around on my face and makes my moisturizer sink in better. I also use a good hydrating cleanser morning and night. The more expensive one I like is Philosophy's Purity Cleanser. But I also like CeraVe's Hydrating Cleanser and Neutrogena's Naturals Cleanser from the drugstore. Those are great too.

A Good Moisturizer. I put this on after I put on my serum in the morning and evening. The serum is really not for moisturizing, so I'm not going to talk about it here. But if you use a serum, that should go on before your moisturizer because the moisturizer is creating a barrier between your skin and anything that comes in contact with it. My favorite drugstore moisturizer is Garnier's Moisture Bomb. And then I love Ole Henriksen's Nurture Me Moisturizing Crème when my budget allows. A kind of middle of the road one, budget-wise, is First Aid Beauty's Ultra Repair Cream. I got it from Ulta last year, two for $20. And one tub lasted me 6 months. Worked really well too. 

 

 

IMG_1211.JPG

Facial Oil. I just recently started using facial oils, especially on the areas that get really dry. For me, that's my forehead and right next to my nose. I've tried only a few so far. The ones I like currently are: just pure Argan Oil (mine is from Moroccan Oil brand) and Ole Henriksen's Pure Truth Youth Activating Oil. (A warning about the latter--it does have an orange tint which doesn't dry translucent. So, I only use it at night for that reason.) Anyway, I got the Argan Oil as a gift. It's really expensive, so I don't know whether I'll buy it myself when this runs out. The good news is that this bottle will probably last a long time since I only use a drop or two at a time. I've heard that Trader Joe's has a facial oil and I've heard good things about Physician's Formula's facial oils as well as The Ordinary's line of products. All of those brands are WAY less expensive than the ones I'm using now. I haven't tried them yet though, so if you have, let me know. I'd love to find a cheaper option when the time comes for me to re-purchase.

Drink Water & Eat Good Food. I know that what I eat and drink has an effect on how my skin looks and feels. When I'm not getting enough water or when I'm eating lots of sugar and nutritionally deficient food, it shows. No matter what I slather on top of it, if I'm dehydrated then it's going to be an uphill battle to keep things looking good. I have also found that the more vegetables I'm getting into my system, the better everything looks and feels. So, I think it does really start from the inside out.

Anyone else struggle with dry skin? What works well for you? I'm always looking for recommendations, so feel free to leave them below.

I'm Giving Up & I Feel Alright About It

giving-up.jpg

Sometimes I like to play a little game. I make a list of all of the things I'm doing that I don't want to be doing. It is usually very long.  Then I tell myself for the hundredth time that I should write a book called, "The Year of No," because I keep saying yes to things without actually thinking them through--without actually considering whether I actually want to do them. And then I figure out which of those dozens of things I could give up, or back out of, without some really vital piece of my world falling down. And then I swear that I will never find myself in this position again. Even though I'm pretty sure I will. One day. Because I forget that because I don't want to, is often a valid enough reason not to do something, Most of the things that would fall somewhere between Not-Fun-Times, to Soul-Sucking Misery on my scale of dislike, are not have-to's. They are things I choose to do; things I choose to say yes to when I could say no; things that don't keep a roof over my head or food on my table; things that would result, at worst, in someone being disappointed with me. But sometimes I've said yes to things without actually realizing I'd said it. Some things just worked their way into my life more sneakily than others; without my realizing I'd agreed to them.

I gave up a couple of those kinds of things recently and the giving up of them has made my life so much better. They're kind of small things, but letting them go has made such a positive difference for me. Maybe you can give up on them too. Or maybe you can start a list of the things that aren't serving you well in your life and free yourself from those.

I took my work email accounts off of my phone. This was a hard one because I thought having my two work emails on my phone was helping me. It saved me from having to login to my email accounts on the computer every day, so super-efficient, right? Nope. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. What it did was keep me in work mode all. the. time. Evenings, weekends, holidays, lunch hours--by having my email on my phone, which is always with me, I was always mentally on the clock. Oh my gosh, you guys, the difference that made was huge and almost instantaneous.

I checked-out of Twitter and internet "news." This one was a bit more about the impact that it had on my psyche than it was about actual time spent. When I read stories about politics, nukes and adults who can't keep their hands to themselves, to name just a few of the highlights of the recent news cycle, it affects my mood and my sleep. It makes me worry about things I have no control over. It makes me take a way more cynical view of humanity than I want to take. And I believe that Twitter might be the absolute worst of all of the social media platforms in terms of the horrible things people say to one another behind the relative anonymity of their computers.

I stopped watching shows that feature violence and crime. And, to be honest, that eliminated a lot of what's on television :-) Not all of it, but a lot of it. Nikki actually gave me the idea. She did it a long time ago and I thought it was worth a try. Wow. Okay, first of all do you know how much of "entertainment" programming revolves around murder? Or more specifically, violence against women? Holy moly.

Took shopping apps off of my phone. Ugh, this was more difficult than I like to admit. When I stopped with Twitter and internet news, I replaced it with YouTube videos. Specifically the genre of YouTube that's makeup tutorials and beauty product reviews. And they were really fun at first! I learned lots of awesome things about applying eye-shadow that I wish I had known so much earlier in life. But, the YouTube app combined with the Ulta app on my phone was ultimately a bad combination. Fun fact, just because there are 50 different shades of copper eye shadow available doesn't mean you have to own them all. So, off of my phone went Ulta.

I've noticed a couple of really positive effects from all of this giving up. One is that I sleep better. And that's a huge one for me. I was really struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep.

I'm not walking around anxious all the time. Having knots in your stomach makes it really difficult to engage with life in any meaningful kind of way.

I feel more in-control of things. This is hard to explain, but having boundaries gives an order to my daily life that is comforting. I'm not in reactive mode--I'm managing things with more of a structured approach--and things just feel calmer that way.

I wish you all a 2018 that's full of the things that bring you joy, and free of the things that don't.

 

Little Miss Perfect

perfection-title.jpg

I fully admit to my need to have control over everything and to do everything perfectly always. And I admit that both of those things are impossible. And I further admit that those tendencies are annoying to the people closest to me. But I submit that no one suffers more because of that behavior than I do. Any of you nodding along now? Anyone comfortable raising their hand and admitting that they're part of the perfectionist club too? It's okay. I swear. This is a safe space for all of us to get real about who we are and the ways in which the qualities that make us awesome at one facet of life, hold us back in others.

And that's the deal with perfectionism, or any other "ism" we could name, right? There are great advantages to almost all ways of being, or else we would quit behaving that way.

Balance House

I'm a huge football fan and I often think about how we celebrate the aggressiveness of these guys on the field, but then shake our heads when they exhibit it after games or in-between plays. That's the dichotomy--what makes people cheer for them on the field is often the very thing that people criticize them for off of it. (Just to be clear, I'm not excusing  violent or criminal behavior here when I say aggression.)

But I am saying that compartmentalizing is hard. It's not always as simple as telling yourself the game is over, so now flip that internal switch. The struggle always is to moderate our behavior in the situations in which it's not advantageous.

Balance Rocks

My perfectionism has historically been rewarded. No boss has criticized me for putting in extra hours or effort to make sure a project was well thought out and lacking in mistakes. Ever. No professor ever graded one of my papers in college and wrote a note telling me not to put so much work into the next one. Ever.

Behavior reinforced.

But remember when I told you that no one is made more miserable by my behavior than I am? Well, my health and fitness efforts are a perfect example of where that perfectionism is draining and counterproductive. How, you ask?

Well...

I didn't stick to my calendar of workouts this week, so I've failed. 

Or how about...

I have to do the beginner modification of this exercise, so I've failed.

Or this oldie, but goodie...

This exercise really hurts my knee, but if I skip it then I haven't really done the workout the way I was supposed to and I've failed.

By that definition, perfect is doing every exercise at it's most challenging level and never missing a workout ever. That sounds crazy when I say it and when I write it. But that's the messaging I fight off on a daily basis. Fortunately I have facts and common sense in my arsenal.

If you have ever thought that missing a week or a month or a year of working out meant that you were a failure and why bother trying again, please, please, please hear this.

If you miss a workout, whether it's for a day or a year, just start again tomorrow. You haven't failed at anything. Nothing is over. Call it a rest day (or year) and move on.

If you take it easy in your workout today, that's fine. You'll have other days where you push yourself harder. You will.

And pushing yourself past the point of pain is a terrible idea. There's no quicker way to ensure you miss a whole bunch of workouts than by injuring a part of your body you need in order to move.

When I start to think one of those perfection-or-nothing kinds of thoughts, I remind myself of all of those things I just said. And I remind myself how many workouts I would have to miss in order to lose all of the strength I've gained--how long it would take to actually "ruin" my efforts. (Hint: it would take a while.) And I make myself begin and end my workout by saying something I'm grateful for about my body and about exercise.

And it helps. It doesn't fix it and it doesn't always prevent me from berating myself for not living up to my own expectations. Because physical exercise is a mental exercise for me in patience and in letting go of that need for perfection in all things. I have to practice it. Over and over again. Some days it comes easier than others.

I'd like to say practice makes perfect...but it won't.

If You're Afraid of the Pain

pain.jpg

There's something I was totally dreading this month because I knew it was going to be bad times for my muscles. All of them. And I was kind of scared of the pain that was headed my way. Not gonna lie. I wrote earlier this month about how much I've been struggling lately with working out. About how in the battle between exercising and not exercising, the latter was wiping the floor with the former. As in, kicking-you-know-what and taking names.

Fun fact: when you stop exercising for a month and then try to jump back into your normal routine at your normal intensity, your muscles fight back.

And they fight back in the form of soreness.

No, soreness isn't the right word.

Discomfort, you say?

Nope. Discomfort is totally a euphemism trainers use when what they really mean is pain.

Pain. Yep, that's a more honest description.

So, that's what I was afraid of. And you might fear it too if you've taken a similar break lately, either by choice or after being sidelined by injury, illness or some tough life stuff.

I can't really tell you how to avoid it entirely, but I do have a suggestion for making it more like standard working out soreness as opposed to soreness of the, I-can't-walk-up-and-down-the-stairs-would-someone-please-carry-me, variety.

And credit where credit is due. This was Nikki's awesome suggestion to me when I posed this little scenario to her at our meeting last week.

When you go back to working out, cut your workout by one or two-thirds. That applies to length of workout, reps/sets completed, weight lifted and other intensity markers (such as opting for the easier modification over the most challenging, even if you were doing the challenging one before).

Even if it feels easy in the moment, stick to this reduced intensity. And if one set feels like a lot? Stop after one set. That's totally fine. Get back into it and push yourself again when you're ready.

I'd also say, continue to respect your active recovery days. And make sure you're warming-up and cooling down properly. Include gentle stretching after your workout. Get plenty of sleep, and water.

And most importantly, don't worry too much. Be kind to yourself! Your muscles remember how to work and how to get stronger. So, even if you've taken some time off, you'll see improvements relatively quickly if you're consistent.

Your body has got your back. Literally and figuratively :-)

The One Thing That's the Main Thing

number-1.jpg

  I don't know about you but sometimes I find the sheer volume of information on health overwhelming. One article tells you never to do "x" and then in a month you read an article that says "x" is the key to it all. If you eat/drink/do that one thing, then the weight will fall off and you'll be shiny and beautiful and all of your dreams will come true.

Do cardio; no, skip cardio.

Do your strength-training first; no, save it for last.

Eat butter; no, don't let butter come within 10 yards of you, whatever you do.

It's confusing. It's frustrating. And often you just feel like ignoring it all and telling the health and fitness community to shove off.

I hear you and I'm with you. This blog post isn't about magic fixes, or demonizing one food group, or adding one more "have-to" into your day. It's really about getting back to basics. It's about expanding your idea of healthy behaviors beyond things that feel like punishment (exercise falls into that category for many people) and incorporating things that are simple and easy and that feel good.

Things like sleep. I've told the story before on the blog, but sleep was my gateway healthy activity. And when I find myself in an unbalanced place in terms of my physical health, sleep is the foundational activity that I return to in order to reset things and find my equilibrium again.

Not exercise. Not diet. Sleep.

Sleep is the only thing I make sure I do enough of when I'm stressed out and overwhelmed. I only add things like exercise back into my life when I've gotten back on track with my sleep. Sometimes that takes a day or two, other times a couple of weeks.

 

 

And here's why: there is not a single function of the body that does not rely, in large or small part, upon getting adequate sleep. Here are just a few:

  • Sleep helps to regulate your hormones, including the hormone that generates feelings of hunger (ghrelin) and the one that gives you the signal of being satiated (leptin). If you don’t get enough sleep, the former goes up and the latter goes down. So, you feel hungry more often and have trouble feeling full, both of which can lead you to eat more.
  • Your body repairs itself during sleep. Your muscles, blood vessels, heart and other major organs use the time when you are asleep to fix damage and (in the case of your muscles) increase mass. If you exercise, sleep is when that microscopic damage you did to your muscles during your workout gets repaired and additional muscle fibers are generated.
  • Your immune system relies on sleep to function at its optimal level. Inadequate rest leaves you vulnerable to infections like the common cold, but also to chronic disease. Studies have found a relationship between insufficient sleep and an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
  • Your ability to complete basic and complex tasks at work, school or at home is compromised. Things can take longer, and you are more prone to making mistakes when sleep deficient. The National Institutes of Health reports that, “after several nights of losing sleep—even a loss of just 1–2 hours per night—your ability to function suffers as if you haven't slept at all for a day or two.” Your memory, athletic performance, creative powers and the ability to learn new things are all improved with adequate sleep.

Okay, so how much sleep is enough and how do we make sure we are consistently getting enough sleep? For adults ages 18-64, the National Sleep Foundation (yes, sleep is so important there are research foundations dedicated to it!), recommends between 7-9 hours per night. For adults 65 and older, the recommended range is 7-8 hours. They have a sleep duration recommendations chart, which you can access here.

The foundation also has tips for ensuring a good night’s sleep, including: sticking to a sleep schedule (even on the weekends); exercising regularly; avoiding caffeine, alcohol and using electronics in the hours before bedtime; and making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and not too warm or too cold.

Here's what I recommend as a homework assignment of sorts. If you suspect that you aren't getting enough sleep, make it a project to get at least 7 and try for 9. See where you feel your best. For me, 9 hours is the key. That's where I feel like I have enough energy for my day and wake feeling well-rested. You may need less, but aim to get no less than 7.

Notice how you feel when you get that magic number of hours of sleep versus not. It really makes all the difference in the world for me, both in terms of how I feel physically and in my mood. I'm more patient, less prone to frustration and sadness.

So, give yourself permission to sleep even if that means that something like morning workouts have to go to the wayside for a bit. Not forever, just for now.

Trust that if you do that, eventually you will be ready to add purposeful movement back into your day. And this time, your body will be rested enough to support you.

 

The Myth of Feelings

myth-of-feelings-title.jpg

As many of you know, we launched a non-exercise class at the studio last month. The goal of the class is to provide people with some tools to boost their self-confidence and love their bodies as they are. (Click here to read more about the class.) I'm taking the class too, because I may end up teaching it in the future, but also because I knew I would get a lot out of it. Today I'm pretty comfortable in my body, but I definitely struggled for years with low self-esteem, a disordered relationship my body and with food and exercise. Those things are still close to the surface, if I'm honest. Closer than I'd like them to be. So, it's been good for me to explore those things and to practice the techniques Nikki is sharing with us.

The thing I've been ruminating on the last couple of weeks, but haven't articulated yet in class, is that for me the change in my relationship with my body involved a complete shift in my thinking. See, I always thought that I would wait until I felt confident before I attempted the things that I really wanted to do, but that were intimidating to me. Or that I would wait until I loved my body (when it was skinny enough, tan enough, well-dressed enough, whatever) before I treated it as though I loved it.

But then I realized that I had it backwards. That by doing those challenging things and either, succeeding or just surviving them, I would build the confidence that would make it easier to do more of them in the future. Through action I would build the feeling.

Similarly when it came to loving my body, it was by treating it in a loving way that I behaved my way into feeling loving about it. Here's what I mean.

Cinnamon Heart

I said kind and encouraging things about my body.

Waffle Heart

I nourished it with good food and movement.

Paper Heart

I wore clothing that fit well and was comfortable (whatever size that was).

Fire Heart

I joined in on exercise classes even when I was the largest student in the class.

Glass Heart

I wore a bathing suit and swam in the summertime because I love being in the water and there's nothing better on a hot day.

Scooter

I prioritized sleep.

Tulip Love

I pampered myself with the things I know make me feel relaxed and happy.

Fell In Love Sign

I went out socially and spent time with friends.

heart

I wore summer clothes in the summer, rather than sweltering in cardigans and long pants because I thought my arms or my legs were too big.

love

If there was something I really wanted to do and the only reason I was going to say no was because of some insecurity about how I looked, then I made myself say yes.

Jumping Woman

Some of you may be worried that if you do some of these things, that people might make mean comments to you about your body. The reality is that there is no way to prevent mean people from saying mean things. Hurt people often turn that hurt outward and try to cause pain to others. That's why you must be vigilant in ensuring that the things you say to yourself about yourself are positive; that you counter every criticism, every nasty discouraging comment (from yourself or someone else) with something good and positive and true.

Let's say I put on that bathing suit and heard someone say, "she has no business wearing a bathing suit when she looks like that." If I couldn't let that comment roll off my back (even though I should because who cares what someone else thinks about my body!), I would write an affirmation for myself that was the opposite of that statement. Something like, "My body is worthy of feeling the joy and freedom that comes from being and moving in the water. It is as healthy and strong as it can be today and it will be even healthier and stronger tomorrow." Then I'd put that affirmation somewhere I would see it every day and I'd make myself say it out loud at least once a day until I believed it at my core.

If I had waited for some feeling of love to wash over me before I did those things, I would have been waiting forever. Because loving my body ultimately had nothing to do with what size, shape or weight I was. Seriously.

There was a time that I thought if I could get down to a particular pant size, then I deserved to be confident, happy, loved, etc. And until then, no dice. But when I would get down to that size, it was never enough. There was no magic transformation in my feelings about my body. I didn't wake up that day as a size 6 and suddenly feel like I had permission to live a full life.

Because here's the problem with feelings: feelings are transitory and unpredictable. Relying on a feeling means waiting on something on whose arrival you cannot count, and on something that can disappear as quickly as it appeared.

But when you focus on the action; there is no waiting. You just do the thing. You have control over how you're going to behave toward your body. Trust that if you behave in a loving way, the feeling will follow.

This isn't to say that I never have a day or a week where I'm critical of my body. I do. But, even on those days, I still do the things I listed above. I still treat it with kindness and with love. And when you do that for long enough, it becomes impossible to hate it.

If you're struggling with negative body image, I want you to try something. I want you to ask yourself this question, "How would I treat my body if I loved it?" Maybe some of your answers will be similar to the ones I listed for you above. Maybe not. If you're struggling, think about how you treat someone you love--your best friend, your partner, your mother, siblings--and extend those same acts of kindness and grace to yourself.

Practice, practice, practice it. Keep doing loving things for yourself. Treat yourself the way you plan to treat yourself when your body is the size, shape, weight you've decided is acceptable. Do that now. Because your body is acceptable and worthy of love and kindness just as it is today.

None of this means that you can't strive to be healthier or to improve on the quality of the food you eat or the exercise you get. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be the strongest, healthiest version of yourself that you can be. I want that for myself and I want it for you too.

But you can and should love yourself at every step of your journey; from where you are now through all the variations you'll experience during your long life.

When Change is Good

field.jpg

A while ago I wrote a post about recovery days, aka active rest days and how important they are. And they are. And then...I promptly ignored my own advice.

I did it because I loved my workouts and didn't want to miss an opportunity to move.

Part of the fun of being a personal trainer is that I can play around with my workouts and see what my body can do. But I also know how to keep myself safe and the signs to watch for that indicate that a particular exercise or program isn't working for me.

Which leads me to the subject of this post.

Good Morning Sunshine

Several weeks ago I started to notice that I didn't feel right. I had trouble sleeping and was tired all the time. My muscles were sore constantly. I was irritable. I had been sick a couple of times in quick succession. My knee, which I had injured last year and recovered from, was starting to hurt badly again. My appetite was often nonexistent.

And I was starting to dread my workouts. Workouts that I normally loved. Exercises that used to be challenging but doable, now often seemed impossible. I wasn't feeling stronger. I wasn't having fun.

I suspected that I was overdoing things. Big time. So, I decided I needed to scale back. A prospect that in some ways I didn't relish, but in other ways was desperate to do.

Relax

I'm two weeks in to an 8-week scaled down, moderate-intensity program at this point and I gotta say...I'm feeling really good. My energy level is up, I'm sleeping well, and I'm enjoying moving through my workouts again. I'm following a program designed by another personal trainer that I really like, so I also freed myself from the responsibility of putting together my own workouts. I'm tracking things like my energy level, sleep, appetite, mood and how my body feels, which has been really helpful.

When the 8 weeks are over, I'll see how I feel and may bump up the duration or intensity of my workouts a bit. Maybe. Or maybe I'll change them up in some other way. I'm not quite sure yet. There are some classes I'm thinking about taking and they're a bit longer than my current sessions. If I take them, then I might decrease the intensity on other days. I'm just going to play around with different things until I find something that challenges me enough, while not draining me.

Keep Exploring

I encourage you to check-in with your body on a regular basis too. How are you sleeping? What's your energy-level like? How about your appetite? Your mood? Are you in pain?

How are your workouts working for you? Are you giving your body a chance to recover from activity? If you generally like exercise, do you find yourself looking forward to it each day or dreading it? Are you doing the same kind of workout, but not with the same amount of enjoyment? Have the gains you were making in strength, endurance, flexibility or balance slowed or plateaued? Are you bored? Are you feeling overwhelmed or too challenged?

We often stick to routines out of habit, or out of the fear that if we change things up whatever the new thing is won't be as effective as the old thing and we'll lose whatever gains we've made. And we very often don't pay attention to the signals our bodies are sending us that it's time to scale down, scale up or just change our activity.

When you've done your own self-assessment, feel free to change anything that isn't working for you. There are tons of great personal trainers who can help you figure out a great plan, and I'm always happy to share the name of the program I'm doing now with anyone who's interested, with the caveat that every body is different and what works well for me might not work for you and vice versa.

There are so many ways to move your body, that finding something that works for you is a matter of trial and error. And, in case I haven't said it here before, you can always break up your exercise time into manageable chunks. If your goal is 30 minutes a day, you can do three 10-minute sessions instead of one 30 minute block. Do what works for you, both in terms of content and time.

Take care all. Until next time...

Boxing 101 & A Team for Hunger Walk!

boxing-class-twitter-post.png

Hi all! A quick post to tell you that we've got two new things happening at the studio at the moment. In addition to our body image class and our stretching class, we've added a boxing class designed for beginners and we're putting together a team for Tacoma's Hunger Walk 2017.

Boxing 101 will meet on Thursday evenings, from 7pm-7:45pm at the studio. This class is a great introduction to the fundamentals of boxing workouts. You'll  improve your physical fitness, clear your mind and relieve stress.  And if you're not a beginner? We encourage you to join us too! We can modify movements to keep you challenged. The class will be fun for everyone!

We will provide boxing gloves and the other equipment you'll need. Wear comfortable workout clothing and athletic shoes. You can purchase a monthly pass, which gives you access to all of the classes for that month for $60. If you don't want to sign-up for the monthly pass, you can drop-in for $20 per class. Click here to purchase your pass.

 

Hunger Walk 2017 Facebook Event Cover

We are putting together a team for the Hunger Walk 2017. This event is a fundraiser for Tacoma's Emergency Food Network, which provides food to our neighbors in need. It will be a fun morning walking around beautiful Fort Steilacoom Park for a great cause.

There are two options--a walking event and a 5K timed run event. We're open to putting together teams for both, depending upon interest.  Friends and family are welcome to join the Lean Body Lifestyles team. But, we need at least 5 people in order to form an official team and receive the discounted group rate.

So, if you'd like to join us, comment on this post OR send me an email no later than 5pm on Friday, May 5th. You can find our contact information here.

 

When Hiring a Personal Trainer...

sarah-consultation.jpg

Happy Monday, friends! Today's post is for those of you who are thinking about hiring a personal trainer but aren't sure what to look for.

Hiring a trainer is a great investment in your health, but it can also be a significant personal and financial one. The idea is to find a trainer who will keep you safe, help you in achieving your goals and be someone you enjoy spending an hour at a time with.

Most trainers will do a free consultation with you. This is a chance for the two of you to meet and for each of you to ask questions that will help you determine whether or not you're a good match for one another. I hope the following tips will help you structure your side of that conversation.

So, here we go.

Triceps NS and SH

Verify their qualifications. Personal training is an unregulated industry in the United States. Anyone can call themselves a personal trainer regardless of their level of experience or educational background. So my first tip to you is to make sure that any trainer you consider hiring has earned their personal training certification through a nationally recognized, accredited program and/or has a bachelor's degree or higher in kinesiology, exercise science or related discipline. I earned my certification through the American Council on Exercise (ACE), but there's NASM, ISSA, ACSM and others. The key is to make sure that wherever they earned their certification, that it is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Ask the trainer with which agency they're certified and then go to that agency's website and look up the trainer by name to verify. Just because a trainer is employed by a gym (even a large one) does not necessarily mean they are certified. Some gyms don't require it.

High Five

Tell them about your goals. One of the advantages to working with a trainer is that they design programs that are appropriate to your fitness level, that are responsive to your exercise history, and that support you in meeting your goals. If they don't ask you about those three things, or don't seem interested when you bring them up, that's not a good sign. They can't design an effective, safe and fun program for you if they don't take the time to get to know you.

Nikki Instructing

They should be able to articulate their style and philosophy. I am not the right trainer for everyone. Neither is Nikki. Neither is Sarah. And that's okay. One of my goals in consultation is to give the prospective client a clear picture of how I approach health and fitness, and how I structure workouts. Because the truth is that if someone wants a boot-camp-style workout experience, they aren't going to get that by working with me. And that isn't a knock on trainers or clients who like that approach. It's just not how I prefer to work.  So, make sure you leave with a clear understanding of what makes that trainer unique. Do they specialize in the kind of exercise you want to do? In the past, Nikki has helped prospective clients find a different trainer, after realizing that she wasn't the right fit for them.

Spotting Chest Fly

Ask them about their continuing education efforts. Specifically ask him or her to tell you about the last 3 classes they took or books they read, related to health and fitness. Ask if they have any specialty certifications. These things indicate a commitment to, and passion for, their industry and learning. It also tells you something about their personal interests within the fitness industry.

Ab Twists

Ask them how they track client progress. At our studio we never weigh or measure clients. We set quality of life goals. We celebrate increases in the amount of weight a client can lift. We track improvements in endurance and strength; in flexibility and balance. And we think this is the best way to approach health and fitness. That's why we do it. If that approach appeals to you, then you aren't going to want to choose a trainer who sees the scale/measuring tape/calipers as the be-all-end-all of evaluating health and fitness. And vice versa.

Working with a trainer can be a wonderful experience and a great way to kick off or enhance your exercise program. I hope these tips help you as you interview prospective trainers. If you ever have questions or need advice on this or any fitness-related topic, feel free to post in Comments.

See you later this week!

Stretch & Unwind Class

facebook-event-green-and-blue.png

Well, it's the month for new classes at the studio! In addition to our positive body image class, Boost Your Body Image: Confidence at Any Size, we are also launching a stretching and relaxation class called, Stretch & Unwind. Stretch & Unwind will be 45 minutes of gentle stretching, relaxation and breathing exercises. In addition to relieving stress and decreasing tension, the class will enhance body awareness and flexibility.

It will be a great way to unwind at the end of the day, and to improve the connection between your mind and your body. Modifications will be demonstrated, so Stretch & Unwind is appropriate for all fitness levels.

Stretch & Unwind happens on Wednesday evenings, from 8-8:45pm at our studio in Tacoma. The cost for the class is $60 for a monthly pass, or you may drop-in for $20 per class (payable by cash or check when you arrive).

You'll want to wear comfortable clothing, that's easy to move around in. If you have an exercise mat that you use at home and like, plan on bringing that too. But if you don't have a mat at home, no problem! Let us know ahead of time and we'll make sure we have enough mats for everyone. You can find our contact information here.

You can click here to register.

Hope to see you there!

PS: If you sign(ed) up for the Boost Your Body Image: Confidence at Any Size class, we'll give you 50% off of the first month of Stretch & Unwind (at the monthly pass rate). Contact us to get your discount code.

Favorite Things: April

favorite-things.jpg

New month, new list of favorite things from the Lean Body Lifestyles team! As always, none of the people or products below compensated us for singing their praises. Strictly things we've found that we love. A hot bath could have similar benefits to exercise. Not a reason to scrap working out, but good to know.

The Motiv Ring Activity, Heart Rate + Sleep Tracker. It's a FitBit in ring form!

These gingerbread muffins. I swapped out the coconut oil for canola, replaced the yogurt with pureed pumpkin and used nutmeg instead of cloves. I skipped the sugar on the top.

I held off on including this one until I'd been using it for a while and could attest to its effectiveness. I've tried every brand of "natural," aluminum and paraben-free deodorant but have never found one that actually worked for longer than a couple of days. Native deodorant is amazing. It smells great and I rarely have to re-apply. It's way better than the drugstore brands I've used. And their customer service is great.

Roasted brussels sprout chips. Roasting vegetables totally changes the flavor and makes them delicious. These are no exception. I break apart the sprouts into individual leaves; wash and dry them; toss them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper; then bake them at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes.

This list of 11 health-related documentaries on Netflix. I've seen numbers 1-6, and those were definitely worth watching. Can't speak to the others...

For any of you looking for some at-home strength training dvd ideas, this one, by Jessica Smith, was recommended to my mom by a nutritionist and is my current favorite. Good information, scale-able exercises and quite effective for building strength. At one point, Jessica's co-star (and mother) makes a comment about a particular exercise making her waist look smaller, and Jessica is quick to jump in and say that it's really about feeling strong in your body and getting and staying healthy. That focus on health and strength over getting skinny is often lacking in workout dvds, unfortunately.

I found the Minimalist Baker blog through Pinterest (I think...) Anyway, everything I've made has been easy and really tasty. The recipe's all have 10 ingredients or less and can be ready in under 30 minutes. This is definitely not the case with all food blogs! Oh yeah, and the recipes are plant-based and gluten free. But even if you aren't vegetarian/vegan/gluten-intolerant, you'll get great ideas for healthy recipes you can add to your repertoire.

Avocado toast. I probably have some form of it for lunch several times per week. My current favorite is super simple. Sourdough toast, mashed avocado on top, sprinkled with some sea salt and red pepper flakes. Yesterday I piled on some bruschetta we had leftover from a party. So good.

You know how I love Ulta, right? Well, my one complaint lately is that they stopped stocking Philosophy's lip shine product. It's the only thing that keeps my lips from drying out and cracking at night. It's a little too sticky for daytime use (at least it is for me), but I need it at night. So, I'm getting it from Amazon lately, but you can also get it straight from Philosophy's website. My favorite flavors are: Fresh Cream, Coconut Frosting and Vanilla Birthday Cake. Would you ever guess that I have a sweet tooth? Didn't think so :-)

Okay, that wraps up April's favorite things! See you here again in a couple of days.

Body Image Class is Open for Registration!

planner-picture.jpg

Hello all! At long last we are accepting registrations for our first positive body image class and we are thrilled! Click here to register.

You may remember my interview with Nikki from earlier this year where she talked about why this class is so important to her. If you missed it click here to read it.

The class is called, Boost Your Body Image: Confidence at Any Size. Nikki is leading this 6-week course, held at our studio in Tacoma. The class will meet on Wednesday evenings, from 7:15pm-8pm, and will run from April 26th through May 31st.

During the course of the six-weeks of class, Nikki will walk you through proven strategies for re-booting and repairing your relationship with your body and cultivating a soul-deep appreciation for it.

It is possible to love your body, independent of how much you weigh, or what number appears on the labels of your clothing. You can look at your body, with all its curves, and its sharp angles, and its dimples, and its bits that jiggle, and appreciate it rather than catalog its imperfections. And you can have a relationship with food and movement that isn't about punishing your body for being too big, or too small.

Nikki's done it and she can show you how.

The cost for the class is $295. We expect the course to fill up quickly, and are limiting it to 10 students. So, you'll want to sign-up soon, if you think this class is for you.

Registration includes all six course sessions, a binder with printouts of all class materials and worksheets, and access to a private Facebook group for support and the exchange of ideas.

It's going to be challenging, and fun, and intense. So, come prepared to work hard and experience an amazing transformation in your relationship with your body.

Sign-up here!

 

Inside My At-Home Gym

I'm not currently working with a trainer or taking any exercise classes anywhere, so my workouts are exclusively home workouts at the moment. The good news is that you actually don't need much in the way of equipment to get a great workout in at home. There are lots of exercises you can do using your body weight, or common household items for resistance. When I was really new to exercise I used canned vegetables as weights. No joke. And they worked.

However, at a certain point you'll want to invest in a few items. Some will allow you to add challenge to your workouts, which is important if you want to continue to see improvements in your strength. But, the right equipment can make your workout life easier too.

So here's what I've got.

IMG_1032

Dumbbells. Generally speaking, you want a weight that's heavy enough that somewhere between repetition 8 and 12, you are feeling challenged but can maintain proper form. I'm using my 5-pound and 8-pound dumbbells for my current workout.

A mat. I have a couple. This one is a thicker foam mat that I use for floor exercises. IMG_1027

This one is a yoga mat. It's stickier and good for...you guessed it. Yoga.

IMG_1022

Some resistance bands and stretchy bands. I use the resistance bands for upper body stuff primarily, and the stretchy bands (the wider yellow and green ones) for leg work.

A ball. I use this to add challenge to some leg and glute exercises, such as bridges and heel presses.

IMG_1039

And that's about it for the necessities.

Now on to the splurges.

This is a BOSU. BOSU stands for both sides utilized. That's pretty self-explanatory. The BOSU is a piece of equipment designed to provide you with an unstable surface on which to stand, jump and/or complete exercises. Balance is such an important component of fitness. If you've worked out at our studio, you may have done biceps curls, rows, lunges, squats or push-ups on the BOSU. I liked it so much when I used it at the studio, I bought one for my home gym. It's fun and bouncy, but man-oh-man is it a challenge.

A stability ball.

IMG_1042

I love this for crunches and some upper-body exercises. Like the BOSU it adds a balance challenge to whatever exercise in which you incorporate it. But it's also a great substitute for your normal chair. Just sitting on it forces you to engage the muscles of your core.

If I had to guess, I'd say that all the items above (necessities and splurges) cost me a couple of hundred dollars. The BOSU was half of that, at $99.

So, that's it. That's what I use on a daily basis. I've had most of it for years and it's showing no signs of needing to be replaced. Pretty good for a $200 investment, I'd say.

Let me know if there's a piece of equipment you're thinking about buying, but aren't sure whether it's any good/necessary. I'm happy to give my two cents. I've tried all sorts of fitness equipment over the years. Some good (the BOSU). Some bad (anyone remember those belts that shocked your abs into shape? I sure do.). Even if I haven't personally tried it, I can probably tell you whether the claims have any basis in fitness fact or not.

Okay, that's all from me today. See you here again later this week!

Favorite Things

favorite-things.jpg

It's time for our monthly list of things we love! We aren't paid for sharing these, but if that ever changes, I'll let you know :-) Okay, here we go... This list of reasons to exercise that have nothing to do with losing weight.

My best friend got me hooked on these face masks from Ulta.

The 10 Happiest Instagram Accounts to Follow.

I love this Pineapple-Coconut-Cashew Rice recipe. I use crushed pineapple instead of pineapple chunks, but other than that I've followed the recipe to the letter and it is amazing.

This teenage ballerina shattering the stereotypes about what a "dancer's body" looks like.

7 Unknown Spots to Score Affordable Gym Clothes. I'd add Kohl's to this list. I've gotten a ton of stuff there.

This concealer from IT Cosmetics. Anyone else deal with dark under-eye circles? I've tried every concealer, from cheap to very much not cheap, and this is by far the best. It's really thick and sticky, so you only need an amount about the size of the head of a pin.

Are you cleaning your yoga mat regularly? If not, you probably want to start. I've been using this homemade version for years, taken from one of my favorite blogs.

This mouthwash. You use it twice a day, once in the morning and once before bed. No bad breath all day and no morning breath (well, very minimal). One of those rare things you hear advertised that actually works the way it says it will. Love this stuff.

Adding lemon juice to roasted veggies. Nikki told me about this and it totally transforms how they taste. My favorite vegetables to roast lately are brussels sprouts. I buy the shaved version from Trader Joes, toss them in some olive oil, salt and pepper and then cook them at 425 for about 10 minutes. When they come out of the oven, I hit them with a squeeze of lemon juice. So good. You can do it with any veggies. I swear it works on almost anything.

Hope you'll check them out!

 

Something Sweet

macarons.jpg

*Update to this post: I added some photos to the recipe at the end of the post. Enjoy! I love sugar. I really do. And I appreciate it. I savor it.

I can pass up savory stuff all day long.

If there are chips in the cupboard I am fully capable of forgetting they're even there. Cheese, crackers, bread, pasta? No thanks. Not interested.

But dessert?

Oh, dessert. Now that's a totally different story.

If I know there are cookies, cupcakes, candy, ice cream or pastries in the house; forget it. I'm actually distracted by the knowledge that something so wonderful is so geographically close to me.

And the idea of having just one? Of only enjoying one bite of cake? Or one square of chocolate? Or one spoonful of ice cream?

An impossible task.

I remember a few years ago hearing then-First Lady Obama say something to the effect of "dessert is fine as an occasional treat--like once or twice a week."

More like once or twice a day in my world. And I thought that was showing remarkable restraint.

The Balance

While I agree that indulging in treats occasionally is totally fine for most of us, I have a hard time controlling my sugar intake once I get started. The thing about refined sugar is that it's addictive. The more you consume, the more you want to consume.

The fact that we reach for it when we need comfort, or when we're looking for a little joy at the end of the day is no accident. Our brains have reward centers and the key player in getting that feeling of pleasure is a chemical called dopamine. Drugs like heroin stimulate that reward center, by causing a flood of dopamine to be released into the brain. And while the surge isn't quite as high, consuming sugar causes a release of dopamine in the brain too. So you aren't imagining that sweets are making you feel happy. They are. It's just that it's temporary. Check out this NPR story for more info.

My Go-To Sweets

While I love the temporary sugar high, I don't love the other side effects of too much sugar on my body. So, I've had to come up with desserts that give me something sweet at the end of the day but don't require I take a scary ride on the sugar roller coaster.

Here's my current favorite. Maybe it'll become one of yours too!

(N)Ice Cream. If you spend any time at all on Pinterest, chances are you've seen a variation of the Banana Nice Cream recipe before. I've tried a bunch of them and the one I like best right now is this one.

IMG_1008

Place half of a frozen banana (cut into 1 inch pieces) and about a cup of chopped frozen strawberries into a food processor. Pulse until the pieces are small and crumbly. Like this.

IMG_1009

Stream in some non-dairy (or dairy if you prefer) milk until the frozen fruit starts to combine and smooth out. Let the food processor run for a few minutes until it's the consistency of soft serve ice cream.

IMG_1014

Add 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon of non-alcoholic vanilla and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and mix until combined.

IMG_1016

You can mix up the fruits involved. If you don't like bananas, frozen pineapple works well too. Peach is a great mix-in. I've also done just banana, peanut butter and cocoa powder. That's really good. You can play around with flavors until you find something you like.

The bananas give it a creamy consistency, but if you're worried about the carbs in the bananas, you could try canned coconut milk and berries or peaches. Haven't tried that yet, but it would probably work just fine. If you try it, let me know how it turns out!

That's it from me today. Hope you have a sweet rest of your week!

 

 

We're on YouTube!

camera.jpg

Hi all! Just a quick check in from me to day to share that we have uploaded our first video to the Lean Body Lifestyles channel on YouTube! Yay! Cue the confetti and trumpets, or whatever celebration images you want to conjure up.

You can access it here.

Because our blog is about fitness, sometimes it just makes more sense to make a video than it does to write a long post. Especially when we're trying to describe an exercise or a stretch. A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

And, honestly, sometimes we just feel like chatting. So we'll probably have some video posts that are more social than instructive.

Anyway, we're aiming to do at least one or two videos each month. We'll see how it goes.

Push-ups are the focus of this first video. Some of us have a love-hate relationship with them. Push-ups are tough, but they are also a fantastic exercise. Here are the three things I love most about them.

They work many muscles at the same time. Lots of exercises incorporate more than one muscle, but push-ups? They are multi-tasking powerhouses. Done correctly, they can work your chest, biceps, triceps, back muscles, abdominal muscles, legs, glutes and shoulders. This appeals to my love for efficiency :-)

They can be modified to match your individual fitness level. That's the topic of our video, actually. By controlling how much of your body weight you are lifting up and down, you can make the exercise more or less challenging as needed.

You don't need any fancy equipment. All you need in order to do push-ups is you. No weights. No resistance bands. You can do them at home, at the gym, in your office. Anywhere, really.

Okay, on to the video.

You'll see Nikki demonstrate three variations of push-ups, in order of intensity. If you're first starting out, try the wall push-ups first. If those aren't challenging enough, move on to the bench/stairs version and so on. No matter which version of them you do, here are a few things to pay attention to form-wise.

  1. Place your hands about shoulder width apart.
  2. Keep your body in a stiff, straight line throughout the movement. The only things moving should be your arms. Keep the rest of your body stiff as a board and moving as one piece.
  3. As you bend and straighten your arms, keep them close to your torso. One of the most common push-up mistakes is flaring the elbows out to the sides instead of keeping them close to the body. More difficult, but safer and more effective.

Let us know what you think of the videos! We're taking requests, so if there are exercises you'd like to see demonstrated let us know that too.

Here's the link to the video again: Push-Ups

5 Fitness Myths

good-news.jpg

I wrote last month about the myth of spot-training, and then I realized that there were a bunch of fitness myths that deserve to be exploded. So here are my Top 5 Fitness Myths De-Bunked. Myth 1: If I stop working out, my muscle will turn into fat. Very, very much untrue. Scientifically impossible, in fact. Muscle tissue and fat tissue are two completely different kinds of tissue. One can no more turn into another than I can turn into, I don't know, a cute, fluffy kitten at will. If you stop training a particular muscle, you will lose muscle mass. That loss can cause your metabolism to slow, thus you are burning fewer calories overall. That can lead to fat gain. But it isn't your muscle transforming.

Myth 2: Crunches are the only way to strengthen my abs. Not only is this not true, but floor crunches aren't even the best way to strengthen your abs, in my opinion. Your abs are designed to engage when you are upright, so there are tons of great standing exercises you can do to strengthen your core, which includes your back muscles, incidentally. Here are a few from PopSugar. It's not a standing exercise, but planks are great for your core too, as are squats. Really, you can and should engage your abs throughout your workout to support your back.

Myth 3: How much I sweat is directly proportional to how many calories I burned. Sweating is the body's cooling system. How much you sweat is dependent upon a number of factors, but the lack of it is not an indicator that you aren't burning calories or vice versa.

Myth 4: If I'm not sore the next day then the workout was too easy. This is closely related to Myth 3. While soreness in the days after a workout indicates you stressed that muscle, the absence of soreness doesn't necessarily mean you didn't. Sometimes your recovery protocol--what you ate, how much sleep you got, how much water you drank--impacts how sore you are later.

Myth 5: No pain, no gain. This one has the most potential to actually physically harm you. Exercising can be uncomfortable. Sometimes your muscles burn. Sometimes they get a little shaky when they're fatigued. You may also experience soreness in the days following your workouts. But, exercise should not be painful. If you are in pain during an exercise, don't push through it. Stop and find an exercise that isn't painful, and possibly go see your doctor depending on the severity of the pain and/or how long it lasts. Pain is your body's way of telling you something isn't right. So, discomfort is okay. Pain is not.

Are there other things you've heard about exercise or health that you want to know whether or not they're true? We're happy to address them, so please submit them as a Comment and maybe you'll see them mentioned in a future post!

Balance

balane.jpg

I think balance ranks just above stretching in terms of important elements of the fitness equation that don't get their due. We spend an awful lot of time talking about the importance of cardiovascular and resistance exercise--and for good reason. But walking, going up and down stairs, getting up and down out of a chair, bending over to pick something up off of the floor--each of these activities relies on your body's ability to balance itself in space and through varying degrees of movement.

In addition to making the activities of daily living easier, practicing balance and engaging in regular stretching makes you less likely to trip and fall. Tripping and falling can be embarrassing. But more importantly, you can injure yourself with a fall. And badly. The consequences of a fall for seniors are especially frightening. So, the more we do at any age to improve and maintain our balance and flexibility, the better.

There are pieces of exercise equipment you can purchase, designed specifically to help improve balance. But there are also loads of free ways you can incorporate balance work into your daily life and your regular exercise routine. Here are a few ideas:

  • Stand on one foot. When that becomes easy, practice raising your lifted leg out behind you or out to the side. You can do this throughout your day. Waiting for something to heat up in the microwave? Stand on one foot while you wait.
  • Do some of your normal strength-training exercises on one foot. Try one-legged biceps curls, or try combining a lateral raise with a side-leg lift of the opposite leg.
  • Practice sitting down into, and getting up from, a chair without using your arms.
  • Walk while alternating high knee lifts.
  • Do walking lunges up and down your hallway at home.
  • Sit on a stability ball instead of a chair. (If you are particularly unstable, have someone there to spot you.) Once you can sit on it easily, practice doing hip circles or shifting side-to-side on it. The idea is to improve your ability to adjust to the dynamic surface and maintain your balance. Then practice rolling down so that the ball is under your shoulder blades and rolling back up to sitting again. (Only do this when you feel confident in your ability to maintain your balance.)
  • Walk a tightrope. Not literally. I just mean walk on the floor like you would walk if you were on a tightrope. One foot directly in front of the other. Why? Well, the closer your feet are to one another width-wise, the harder it is to balance. The most stable position is having your feet underneath your hips, as they are when you walk normally. Narrowing that distance increases the balance challenge.

The cool thing about balance challenges is that you get to see the connection between your brain and your body get stronger almost immediately. You can attempt a balance exercise at the beginning of your workout, and almost without exception, if you try it again later in the workout it will be easier and/or you'll be able to maintain your balance longer. Your brain is so amazing that even when you're working on other exercises, its figuring out what you need to do differently to balance better. Try it. You'll have a whole new level of appreciation for your body.