The kids in the neighborhood call me Macho Mom. Part of me is embarrassed about that. Another part of me is proud to be recognized for my hard work.
I don't have a 6-pack. I'm not sure I could. But I do have a relatively flat stomach. My arm muscles had some definition (before my broken wrist made me have to give up weight lifting for a while); my leg muscles have huge definition. (OK, they're just huge, but there are some strong muscles in there!)
<-- (PS- That is a picture of my husband and me riding in a 160-mile bike ride.)
The bottom line, when it comes to exercise, is that you need to break down your muscles and let them be rebuilt. That's the basis of your metabolism. Your metabolism is basically a measurement of how much energy your body uses at rest. Energy comes from heat, and heat is what is given off by work. So what is the work your body doing when you are at rest? Rebuilding muscles that you have torn during a work out. (Boy, I love physics!)
That sounds bad - tearing muscles. But it isn't. That's actually what you are doing when you exercise and push yourself. You are causing your muscles to go beyond what they are used to and creating tiny tears in them. This is not a problem, because your body works to rebuild them into stronger muscles so the next time, the muscles are able to withstand the stress you put on them. (Only, next time, you should test your muscles even farther so you can get even stronger. You are basically tricking your body each time to be prepared for more and more stress.) All this work your body is doing releases heat as a by-product. That's why we say we are "burning calories."
So the trick is to keep tricking, and keep challenging your body, as described below.
Muscles are active. They are already ready to move, always working. Fat is sedentary and does not work. So get burning!
1. Time of Day
Some people swear by their crack-of-dawn workouts. I am not one of them. When I was teaching, I tried a few times to do my gym workouts at 6.a.m., before school started. But I found it made my day drag and nearly impossible to get through. (Not good, when you are standing in front of a captive audience and trying to sound like you know what you are talking about.)
Studies do show that morning workouts could be slightly better than later ones, but really, it depends on your body. If your body works better at night, you should make a point to work out at night. For me, I could ideally have my best runs at 11:00 at night. That's just how my body works. Experts recommend shutting down your workout at least 3 hours before bed, but my body recovers so quickly, I could go to sleep a half hour after coming back in. But, it isn't realistic for me to go out running late at night. So, I go to the gym in the middle of the day, when my schedule allows for it.
Bottom Line: Work out when it is best for your body and your schedule because that's when you will be able to commit to it. As long as you make sure to actually do it!
The easiest way to burn a lot of calories. Also called H.I.I.T (High Intensity Interval Training), this is really a quick workout. I usually get mine done in 20-30 minutes. Basically, you warm up in your chosen cardio exercise, then do an all-out burst for about a minute, cool down with another minute or two of slower exercise, and then repeat the cycle 4-8 times. You get a lot of work done, but in half the time of a more regularly-paced workout.
Bottom Line: Make sure you throw in some HIIT once or twice a week to mix things up and challenge your body.
Weight-bearing exercise needs to be a core element of your workout regimen. Exercises that cause impact of your body against an outside force (such as your foot against the ground when you are running, or your muscles against a weight while lifting) cause the muscles around your bones to strengthen, thus protecting your bones.
This is the brunt of the muscle-tearing I described above. The more you challenge your muscles with weights, the more they tear, the more they are repaired to be stronger. (And of course, the recovery time in repairing those muscles is where you will see all the calorie burn.)
You should ideally lift weights at least 2-3 times a week to help with your metabolism.
Bottom Line: You absolutely need to include weight training in your workouts.
People can easily get hung up on the amount of time spent exercising. But we need to look at the quality of your workouts, not the length of them. A 2-hour jog is just as good as a 20-minute sprint session, as long as you're including both in your regimen. Most apps will tell you that you burn more calories on the long run, but that really depends how hard you are working. A 2-hour run for some (about a half-marathon) will be a lot of work because they will push to make it a challenge. Someone who does not push himself through the discomfort, who takes breaks to walk when it's too hard, actually might not be getting as a good a workout as the sprinter. But also, if you do the same 2-hour run everyday (I don't recommend this), until it becomes so easy that you don't even have to think about it, you are not improving your body any. Your muscles will adapt and not work as hard. (Your body is always looking for the easy way out.) You need to mix it up and throw in a few workouts of varied speeds.
Bottom Line: You need both long, slow cardio workouts and short, fast workouts each week.
5. Don't Stop
There will come a time when you don't want to work out. You just don't feel like it. A lot of times, this happens in the winter when it's just too cold to get changed into workout clothes. Or even think about a shower after! But do it anyway. You may be surprised. You never know when a great workout is waiting inside you.
Bottom Line: Just do it. Don't think about it, just get out there and do it.
Yes, I know what I just said above. You want to make sure you exercise as regularly as you can, including rest days. However, there comes a time when your body says no. Usually, when you're sick, your body will tell you something's not right. That's the time you want to add extra rest time and let your body fix itself. It's going to want to spend most of its energy fighting illness and won't give you a good workout anyway. So give yourself extra rest days when you're sick, and you can come back fresh. (Warning: it might be hard to get back into the swing of things again, but remember! It will get easier again after you get a few days in. Much better than giving up altogether.)
Bottom Line: Listen to your body. If you are sick or in pain, you need extra rest.
7. Change it up
Here we go back to the whole idea of challenging your body. If you do the same thing over and over, everyday, you will probably notice it getting easier. Although, you might think that you have just become that much stronger, sorry, it just means that your body has adjusted and become more efficient at doing the work. That means less muscle tear, which means less muscle building, which means your strength in that area has been maxed out and you will not burn more energy rebuilding it.
How to fight this? Change your routine. Even if the only routine you have is running laps around the neighborhood, every other day, run the route in the opposite direction. Ideally, though, we are talking about cross-training (with a different activity) and using completely different muscles on different days.
Bottom Line: Your body is tricky. You need to stay one step ahead of it to keep it challenged.
This is probably the MOST IMPORTANT thing in your exercise routine. Think about what I said about how your muscles get stronger - your body rebuilds the little tears from your workout. If you aren't stopping and giving your body a chance to repair those tears, it will continue working and continue tearing instead. Where do you think that will lead you? That's right - bigger tears. When a tear is too big, you have an injury - forced rest, and no working out. Then, when you are all healed, you have to start at the beginning again. No one likes starting over.
Bottom Line: Your metabolism increases during the time your body is allowed to focus on rebuilding itself (rest).
9. Spot reduction
There's no such thing, really. Say you don't like the size of your butt. So, you do all the butt-blasting exercises you can find. Will it give you a smaller backside? Yes, no, and maybe. Here's the "no": When you work a muscle (or muscle group), you are not shrinking it. You could be toning the muscle, which could make it look leaner (there's your "yes"), but you are not combatting any fat in that area. After exercising any part of your body, you are burning the calories you need to rebuild your muscles. But since every body is different, you never can tell which store of energy it will choose to burn! That's your "maybe," it can come from butt, or from your toes, or from you elbows, or from your neck!
Bottom Line: Don't stop exercising, but don't think you have any control over how your body changes.
Experts have gone back and forth about stretching, but this latest trend (backed by several studies) seems to be one that will last. During a workout, there are 2 times to stretch, as I'm sure you know- before and after. BUT the trick is to do the right stretches at the right time. Before your work out, you need dynamic, or active stretches to warm up your muscles. You can't just grab an appendage and pull - that does not warm you up. And if you happen to pull too hard, you're injured before you start. A light jog, jumping jacks, or a quick walk for a few minutes is a good way to "warm up" your muscles before exercise.
However, when you finish, and your muscles are already warm and loose, this is a good time for static stretches. (Pulling appendages.) Since muscle fibers are already broken down, breaking them just a little further will lengthen them and increase your flexibility. (Increased flexibility helps lessen your chances of injury during activity.)
Bottom Line: Stretching is important, but only helpful if you do it right.
Don't think you are doing yourself any kind of favor by skipping a post-workout snack. After burning a bunch of calories, your body wants to start right away on repairing those muscles, so it needs calories to burn almost immediately- within 30 minutes if you can. Protein and fat calories are what your body will use to do that, so feed it to boost your metabolism! If you are looking to burn calories, it may seem counter-intuitive to eat, but you can't build a fire (to burn calories) without the proper fuel! I like to think of post work-out calories as not counting. (Even if that is a little off the mark.) It reminds me not to skip them. However, do keep in mind this is only necessary after a hard or long workout. I'm sorry, but a 15 minute walk does not earn you a milkshake.
Thank you for indulging me in one of my favorite topics - exercise! Although I am not an expert, I will always be happy to give you my opinion on the subject. Now, get off the computer and go run a few miles. Happy trails to you!
In our family, the rule is to focus on being "healthy" and not "skinny/fat." No one is allowed to complain about being "fat." And if you are worried about being "unhealthy," there's an obligation to look at how you can fix that.
A common problem in society today is the oversimplification of the idea, "Calories In < Calories Out = Weight Loss." That does not equal health. It may not even equal weight loss. There are different kinds of calories. (I know this goes completely against what we learned in 7th grade science, that a calorie is the amount of energy required to raise one gram of water one degree Celcius. Thanks Mr. Schaeffer! I will never forget that.) The difference here is that the calories in some foods need to work harder to attain that amount of energy.
Remember, again, I am not preaching these tips as an easy way to lose weight. I am NOT a professional nutritionist. I'm just a person who, though not a toothpick, considers myself to be relatively healthy. But I struggle too (mainly with #7).
So, here I present you with part 2 of my stay healthy tips:
Food and Drink.
You might think you are perfectly hydrated, but the truth is, whenever you feel thirst, you have reached a severe level of dehydration. You can actually be dehydrated without feeling thirsty at all.
The solution? Drink water whenever you can. If possible, replace your regular daily drinks with water (with the exceptions below.) Always start with a cup of water before you brush your teeth in the morning. I also try to drink one glass before each meal and one after. Warm water helps to break down the food you just ate, rather than cold water, which causes food to clump and be a little harder to break down.
This is all in addition to anything your body absolutely needs during exercise. Without enough water during a workout, I can tell you that you will get a killer headache. (Your body will also need special nutrients with the water after an hour or more of exercise.)
Beyond preventing dehydration, water will help you have more energy, keep your systems working regularly, and give your skin a healthier look.
Green tea has plenty of benefits to your body (among them: benefits to blood pressure, cholesterol, heart health, and skin tone), and it's fine to have one or two cups in a day. If I'm looking for something to drink, and I just don't want water, I go for green tea. Hot is better, but iced is good too.
Recent research is showing that a cup of coffee every day actually has benefits to your heart. However, keep in mind that while adding sugar is okay, adding milk or cream will negate the benefits. Also, there is a max to this benefit, so don't think the more coffee you drink, the healthier you are.
Drinking your cup of coffee 30-60 minutes before exercise can give you the caffeine boost needed to pump up your workout a little bit. (I can vouch for that.)
I have become a protein-aholic. And not necessarily in just meat. Due to my high cholesterol, I only eat red meat once a week, sometimes none. (My body, however, tends to run low on iron. And while I eat a lot of spinach, red meat works the best.) Nuts are my favorite way of getting protein (see #10). Why do I love protein so much? Two main reasons. #1- It makes you feel like you have really eaten and keeps you from snacking. (So protein is especially important at breakfast.) And #2- It's what the body uses to rebuild the torn muscles you have used while working out, therefore essential for eating after a workout. When you eat protein, you can build your muscles. When you build your muscles, you raise your metabolism (because muscle uses more energy- heat- calories than fat). When you raise your metabolism, you can relax about how much you are eating. So, go ahead and eat that chicken.
Fat, basically, makes everything stick around longer. That is why it is not necessarily a bad thing. Fat, combined with protein, will help your body get the best use out of the protein in the muscle-building process (see above.) This is why drinking chocolate milk or eating peanut butter are great ways to recover after a workout. However, fat also makes sugar stick around longer. And sugar that stays around too long and is not converted into energy (in a non-diabetic person) will just latch onto the fat and stick around on your body. So, consuming sugar and not working it off leads to more fat on your body, thanks to the sugar. (Because fat is substantial and contributes to the weight of your body. Sugar does not.) This is where the Calories In > Calories Out = Gained Weight theory is actually true.
You might hear that carbohydrates are bad. But the realm of carbohydrates is so vast, it's hard to make such a generalization. There are simple and complex carbohydrates - simple ones break down easily in your body and are converted quickly into the sugar you use for energy. Your body NEEDS carbohydrates, because you NEED energy. There's a diet out there (that starts with the letter A…) that does not allow consumption of any carbs. Do you lose weight from it? Yes. The principle is that your body eats away at your fat and muscle instead of sugar (which is a carbohydrate) for energy. If you stick with this diet for too long, however, it is very dangerous, as I have seen firsthand. When your body has to use muscle for energy instead of sugar, it gives off an acidic by-product. Too much acid in your blood will eventually rot your body and cause it to shut down. (This is also a complication Type 1 diabetics can suffer when they don't get the insulin they need to allow sugar into their cells to make energy, or basically not getting proper use of the sugar. My daughter went into a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis, where there was too much acid in her blood, and she came within a centimeter of her life.)
Bottom line? Eat carbs for energy (especially beneficial an hour or two before a workout), but not more than your body will use, or the carbs will metabolize into sugar that sticks around… see below.
Evil, evil sugar. Sugar is used for energy, so you do need some. But if you have more sugar than expended energy, the sugar will stick around and settle. The biggest problem with sugar is that the more you eat, the more you want. It's a craving that does not resolve. So the chances of not eating more sugar than your body needs are not good. This is why it's better to get your sugar from simple carbohydrates (like fruits and whole grains) or complex ones like whole grains rather than the complex ones we think of as desserts.
Fad diets don't work, and here's why. Any diet that says you are going to lose weight quickly is most likely causing you to lose water weight. Water weight comes right back. So, if you want to lose 5 pounds over a weekend to look good for one event, and to do so by drinking beet juice for 3 days, fine. You will meet your goal. But you won't fit in that dress forever. As soon as you go back to normal eating and drinking, it will come back.
Also, diets that eliminate entire food groups are not balanced or healthy. Your body needs protein, and it needs carbs, and limited fats are important too. (You can do away with refined sugar forever.) You may lose weight by using some of those diets, but your body will not be healthy.
I will admit that after I had my children, I modified my eating and lost some weight. I did not use a fad diet, but rather an eating modification plan (from which I learned a few of these tips!) I kept it off because it was a plan that included protein, simple carbs, and a lot of water all arranged in a special order with a certain exercise routine specifically made to fire up my metabolism.
Any plan to lose weight needs to be a way of including good stuff, excluding bad stuff, drinking lots of water, and exercising. It might take a while, but it should work.
I find smoothies to be a fantastic way of getting so many of the nutrients I need all in one sitting, in a way that tastes really good. Here's a favorite recipe of mine:
1 cup protein milk
1 handful of fresh spinach leaves
2T almond butter
1 cup Greek yogurt (I use coconut flavor)
1 cup frozen berries (I use blueberries & cherries)
ice to fill the blender
The above recipe gives me iron, plenty of protein, vitamins, at least one serving of fruit for the meal. I have a glass of this after my workout, and it doubles for my lunch too. There's enough protein in it to make me full and keep me from snacking too much before dinner.
I love nuts. They are one of my favorite sources of protein. Almonds are my favorite, and they are considered a super food because they contain antioxidants (which fight cancer-causing cells). Nuts not only contain protein, but also good fat to work with the protein. The question becomes, should you eat salted or unsalted nuts? That depends on your blood pressure. Salt is widely considered to be bad in excess because it raises your blood pressure. Since I have exceptionally low blood pressure (don't hate me), I need to eat salted nuts to keep from getting dizzy.
Chances are, you are already doing a lot of things right with your eating. (Or if you aren't DOING them yet, you are at least aware of them.) Chances are also good that I hit a sore spot for you. The good news is that your health is a journey, not a one day fix. Pick one thing on the list that you know you struggle with, on work on that until you need to move on. (If you pick #7, I'm right there with you!) Each step you take is one closer to better health.
Also, obviously, there are more than 10 ways to work on eating healthy. Feel free to comment below to other readers what YOU do to make your diet healthier.
I just turned 41 years old. (THAT'S why I have 41 tips. No other reason for that stupid, odd AND prime number.) "They" may say that 40 is the new 30, but still. I am aware that this body has logged in more than 4 decades.
My health is important to me because I want to be around for a while. I look forward to grandchildren someday, and would like to have to energy to play with them.
And for now? Well, I work hard to look and feel my best. Every year for the past several years, I have visited the age guesser on the boardwalk to hear a stranger's honest assessment of my appearance. OK, yes, it's vain, but I believe looking younger (naturally) on the outside is an indication of how healthy you might be on the inside. I'll be giving up this year, because after turning 40 last year, I was finally satisfied to hear I looked like I was 31.
I may not be the best health guru to follow. I have no degrees in health-related fields, but I do read a lot. I have been able to lose all the weight I had gained from giving birth to 3 children (including that last stubborn 10 pounds). My actual weight is a bit of a scary number, but due to the amount of muscle I have, my doctor has told me my weight is optimal.
Truth be told too, I am not rail thin. This is because I don't always adhere to what I know is right. (Another reason this is all just good "advice." I am not a health professional and my job is not on the line here.) I eat wayyy too much processed sugar. Ice cream is my nemesis. If I could fix that, I would have a rockin' body. I'm satisfied with what I have for now, so I'm not quite ready to cut the cord on my little addiction yet. In the meantime, I do the best I can with everything else.
I have been asked why I haven't changed much since high school. Following most of what I'm giving you is my secret. Well, maybe not so much a secret. I love telling people what I know will help them!
This is the first of a 4-part blog post. Today, I share general tips to have a healthy body and mind. Next week, I'll talk about food, then exercise. Finally, I wrap up with 10 good habits to keep to stay healthy. So stay with me! If you pick just one new thing to try from each list, you'll be on your way to a healthier self in no time.
Body & Mind:
1. Stress Outlet
Always have a go-to (non-destructive) way to let out stress. Exercise is good; eating is not. Walking, talking, writing, punching a heavy bag are all good ways to lower your blood pressure. Seeking revenge is destructive.
Talking helps. For me, once I let it out through my mouth, it isn't stuck in my brain anymore and I can forget it. Also, your friend might be able to tell you about similar situations in her life, which helps you feel less alone.
Stroking a cat or dog has been proven to reduce stress levels and lower blood pressure. That's why pets have been allowed in nursing homes and hospitals. My daughter had a visit from the "therapy dog" when she was in the PICU last year, and honestly, it's all she remembers about the hospital. Now she seriously wants a dog. (But that's another story.) Try it. I have nearly pet the hair off many a cat when I really wanted to strangle a kid.
Why is fiber important if you are not 80 years old? First of all, it helps you feel full, so you don't have the need to gorge yourself in meals and snacks. Also, it helps keep everything from hanging around in your stomach or intestines. It kind of encourages trash collection and moves out what doesn't belong. Keep everything moving! Waste that is sitting around slows you down.
You could eat the exact same menu of food one day, and have a completely different calorie output for the day than eating it in a different order on another day. Does that make sense? Probably not, because you are thinking Calories In - Calories Out = Weight Gained/Lost.
Don't forget to factor in metabolism. Your metabolism does not have a number, because it is constantly changing. Your rate of burning calories is greater after a workout (MUCH greater after an intense workout - no matter how long you were working out.) Therefore, eating a cheeseburger right after an intense workout will burn more calories than after a period of being sedentary. After a workout, your body is SEARCHING for calories to turn to energy for rebuilding the muscles your just tore and need to repair.
Feeding your body the RIGHT TYPE of calories after an intense workout is also a bonus. Feeding your body protein at this point is a better help to building muscle. Adding fat actually helps to support the protein and keep it active for you, getting it TO the muscles. (Carbohydrates and sugar at this point do not go to muscle repair. They go to energy usage. Therefore, carbohydrates are the best thing to have BEFORE a workout, so that you have plenty of energy to complete a good workout.)
So, you need a snack? Think about what your body is doing or will be doing. If you aren't doing anything but sitting around, that's the best time to eat light food, like fruit or veggies. Save the "meaty" food for after your most active time of day.
Our bodies have so many needs. It's hard to meet them all with the food we eat. And as we get older, our needs change. So even if we think we have found a way to get everything our bodies need through food, suddenly, our needs change. Vitamins might not be the best way to get the nutrients we need, but they're better than not getting them at all. Talk to your doctor about what you need most.
7. Chiropractic care
Necessary? YES! Especially to those who stay physically active. Pounding your body on a treadmill, on the road, or anywhere else will likely put your alignment off. When that happens, you put stress on other joints and risk injury by overusing and overcompensating. Also, when everything is aligned properly, all your systems WORK properly, by not getting crammed into awkward positions. Insurance will likely cover this preventative care, because companies are starting to realize its importance.
8. Avoid Carbonation
I was never a big soda drinker, but on occasion, I used to like a Diet Coke. Knowing that there was no benefit whatsoever in soda, I decided to switch over almost completely to water. But sometimes, I still wanted some fizzy sweetness to go with my pizza. (Don't judge.) So, I moved over to carbonated water drinks. I'll still have one if I really need it, but not frequently. You see, oesteoperosis runs in my family - strongly - and since I have oesteopenia already, I must be careful about things that eat away at my bones… such as carbonated drinks!
Sounds funny, doesn't it? To be healthy, you need to breathe. Because, really, to stay alive, you need to breathe. What I'm talking about here is taking time on occasion to think about your breathing. Take some deep breaths. Hold your breath and let it out. All of this helps to regulate your heart rate and reduce your blood pressure, even if just for a moment.
Yup, it's been proven. I've seen several studies that show practicing your faith makes you a healthier person. People who pray DO get over sickness more quickly than those who don't. And it is just hard to explain the stability you feel in your life from walking rightly with God. I recommend it.
So which of the above is new to you? Or which did you already know and are now moved to try? Don't forget to come back next week to see what I think about food!
Because I love even numbers and lists!