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How to Start Sleeping Better

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man (or woman!) healthy, wealthy and wise.

sleeping better

It’s a quote, or even a proverb, that’s been thrown around for years, and almost seems cliche nowadays.  I remember hearing it from family members and others I looked up to from a very young age, and it’s always stood out as important in my mind.  But just because it’s important, it doesn’t mean it’s always easy live by.  Just because we understand it intuitively doesn’t mean that it is a top priority, or even comes easily.  In a world that is so connected, with schedules so packed, and social media feeds so enticing, getting quality sleep tends to often times take the back burner.  We tell ourselves we can will catch up on it later this weekend, but it doesn’t work that way.

How many times have you stayed up late into the night watching your favorite Netflix series.  Helping our children with last minute science projects is another frequent thieve of our sleep quality.  What about semi-mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds, liking and commenting on photos and updates, and casually stalking on what our distant friends, relatives, and contacts have been up to?  It’s enticing, and downright enjoyable, but often times we end up unconsciously sacrificing our sleep for it.

This is a huge problem.

Dozens of studies are finding that sleep quality is absolutely critical for our long term health and well-being.  We live in a society that seems to glorify burning the candle from both ends, but it’s a surefire way to burn out our health much quicker than any of us would like.  When we don’t give our bodies adequate rest, it leads to weight gain, increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, a weakened immune system, and negative affects on our hormone levels.

If you aren’t living with the health, vibrancy, and energy that you once did, the quality of your sleep is the first thing you need to address.

Use these simple strategies to ensure that your body is getting the time to rest and recover that it truly deserves.

Stick to a schedule

Go to sleep at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time each morning.  Even on the weekends.  Whether you’re a night owl, or an early riser, do your best to maintain the same schedule day-in day-out so your body can adjust to it.  We truly are creatures of habit, and our sleep patterns should be no exception.

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Power off an hour before you go to sleep

Our phones, computers, screens, and electronics emit blue spectrum light, which tricks our brains into thinking that it’s actually day time.  It tends to mess with our circadian rhythm.  Shut off all of your electronics an hour before you plan to go to sleep.  If you are going to still use your computer, use an app like flux to have your devices cut down on the blue light.

Watch your diet

When you have trouble getting to sleep, or staying asleep throughout the night, your diet could be the culprit.  Minimize caffeine consumption after noon, because caffeine can stay in the body for up to 12 hours after you ingest it.  Avoid having a large meal right before bed time because your body uses energy to digest your food, which can make it difficult to have high quality sleep.  Do everything you can to cut back on your sugar intake, because it causes spikes in blood sugar, which leads to cravings and crashes throughout the day.

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Bedtime Ritual

Make a process that you can stick to each day as you wind down and get ready for bed.  Take a hot bath.  Have a cup of caffeine free tea to put you into a state of relaxation.  Curl up on your favorite chair with a book that will capture your imagination.  Meditate and process what happened throughout the day, so your mind isn’t racing and running through a mental to-do list as your trying to drift off to sleep.  Whatever elements you want to add to your ritual, make it a habit to stick to them so your body knows what to expect as you’re winding down.

Supplement with Magnesium and Melatonin

On average, more than half of us are deficient in magnesium, a micronutrient that’s fights insomnia, helps our bodies relax, and cuts down on cortisol, the “stress” hormone.  Take a serving of it prior to bed to help your body relax and get ready for a restful and rejuvenating sleep cycle.  A great product to start with is Natural Calm – find it on Amazon, or at a local health foods store.  If that isn’t doing the trick, supplement with melatonin as well.  It’s a hormone that’s secreted by our pineal gland, and helps regulate our natural sleeping and waking cycles.  Staring at screens too much, especially at night, is one way that our melatonin levels get out of whack.

Optimize your Bedroom for Sleep

Your bedroom should be your tranquil and peaceful place.  It’s that area of the house that is our personal sanctuary.  It should be reserved only for sleep, and intimate times.  When we try to use our beds as a place to rest, and also a place where we watch tv and browse social media, it sends our bodies mixed signals.  At night time when you’re trying to sleep, make the room as dark as possible.  Drop the temperature a few degrees.  Use essential oils like lavender or chamomile to promote restfulness and relaxation.  Use a noise canceller or a fan for white noise to block out the sounds of creaks in the house, distractions from outside, and anything that could easily wake you from your slumber.

Turn your Devices on Airplane Mode

Most of us sleep with our phone within a few feet of where we lay our heads down to rest.  Many of us use our phones and devices as alarm clocks, rather than the traditional clock on the bedside table.  The last thing we need is a social media notification or text message waking us from our sleep, so turn your devices on airplane mode (or do not disturb mode) if you’re going to keep them in your room next to your bed.

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Exercise regularly

Go for a run.  Practice yoga.  Lift weights.  Swim.  Bike.  Hike.  Dance.  The world is such a rich, vibrant, and bustling place, and it’s very conducive to our physical well being.  We evolved for millions of years as hunters and gatherers – a lifestyle that was not sedentary, and filled our days with exercise, and led to restful and peaceful sleep.  Make a point to get your heart pumping because it will directly improve how quickly you fall asleep, and the quality of your restful time.

Sleep is a daily necessity for all of us.  Guard the quality of your sleep as best as you can.  When the quality of your sleep, or your life overall isn’t where you want it to be, look at the daily habits and practices that could have negative affects.  The recommendations are all simple, but when compounded they are a powerful tool we all have access to have more restful and rejuvenating sleep.

Getting Back in Shape After Fifty – A Complete Guide

Getting back into shape is an exciting time.  Just envisioning walking or running around with minimal fatigue or pain can be invigorating.  How many times have you thought to yourself, “if only I had the flexibility, strength, or mobility that I had ten years ago, everything would be so much better.”  Well guess what, you can!paddleboarding

There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second best time is now.”  This same wisdom applies to health and fitness.  Of course it’s optimal to always live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, but if that hasn’t been the case for the past month, year, or decade, you have the power to make a change.  Now is the time to make a change.

Understanding Willpower as a Finite Resource

On your fitness journey, it’s essential that you understand the difference between willpower and habit. It will make your life so much easier.

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Using Willpower to Get Back in Shape

There’s nothing quite like taking your pair of running shoes or workout gear on it’s first training session.  You’ve been reading health and fitness articles for weeks, perhaps you even made the painstaking decision to sign up for your first 5k as a motivator to get back in shape, and now you’re ready to go out on the first training session.

It’s an exciting time, no doubt.  Chances are you’ll remember those first few workouts in your newfound training program for weeks and months to come.  Maybe you’re not even preparing for an event, but are training so you can move around with youthful vigor and spend higher quality time with your loved ones. Envisioning living life without the day-to-day pains that have crept up over the years can provide you with the energy to make great progress with your fitness.

When just getting started, improving your fitness is exciting because it’s a new experience, and a change to the routine you’ve become accustomed to.  But then, a conflict gets in the way.

When Excuses Get in the Way

What about the times when it’s the busy time of year at work, you have a packed schedule, and the in-laws are in town?  You work long hours, come home exhausted, and still have to run errands, prepare dinner, and do the laundry.  Don’t forget about those favorite Netflix episodes you can’t miss either!

Well what happens when it’s the dead of winter, it’s freezing outside, it’s rained or snowed for weeks on end, and your mood is as grey and bleak as the weather?  Thinking about lacing up the running shoes and getting a workout in may not seem quite as exhilarating as it did during those first few sessions.  When we rely on willpower to achieve our fitness goals, we can tend to burn out, because we only have so much of it.  When conflicts come up, our fitness routine can be one of the first things to go out the window.

Think of your willpower like a tank of gas.  When you continually use it, the tank depletes and needs to be refilled.  Our willpower is a finite resource – throughout the day, all of the decisions we make slowly deplete the tank.  When it runs really low, you may experience what’s known as decision fatigue.  Have you ever told yourself you’d eat healthy, but then find yourself eating fast food after a long day at work because it seemed so convenient?  If so, you’ve experienced first hand the challenges of relying on your willpower to achieve your goals.

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The Power of Habit in Terms of Fitness

If our willpower is a finite resource, and we know that our schedule is busy, we’re short on time, and still want to live a healthy and fit lifestyle, then how to we go about getting back into shape?  The answer is simple: fitness needs to become a habit.

It’s essential that you make health and fitness a part of your every day routine.  It needs to become a habit if there’s any chance of you following through over an extended time frame.  Habits can help us, and they can hurt us.  Think to yourself about one of the habits you have in your life that has a negative affect.  Drinking, smoking, or watching too much television, perhaps?  Now think of one that has a positive affect.  Is it walking, running, biking, or lifting weights?

Habits can help us, and they can hurt us.  When fitness becomes a habit, it leads to better health, longer lives, and more energy.

How to Make Fitness a Habit

Starting small is the key.  You want to focus on the process rather than the outcome.  If we set small and sustainable goals, then fitness will become a habit after a few months of consistent effort.

Let’s take a hypothetical example.

Mary went to the doctor for her annual check up. Her doctor told her that her cholesterol levels were elevated, and she needed to make a change.  Her doctor asks about her diet and exercise, and they have a frank discussion about her lifestyle.  Mary was honest and told her doctor that her schedule always seems so busy, and that she feels there aren’t enough hours in the day to get all her errands done as it is.

When she eats sometimes its an easy meal that requires little to no cooking. Mary’s doctor acknowledges how difficult it can be to fit everything you want done into a day, however he also recommended that she try to eat more balanced meals and exercise more regularly.

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Getting Started

How should Mary take her doctor’s recommendation into practice? She can make fitness a habit by starting with small, achievable and measurable goals.

Mary is early to bed and early to rise. She commits to going on a walk around the neighborhood for 30 minutes, after her morning coffee, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  The first couple days into her routine, she finds that it’s an adjustment, but loves the sense of accomplishment she feels after executing on her goals.

Six weeks into her routine, Mary has now learned to love her weekly walks.  She finds that on days she goes walking, she has more energy throughout the day.  It’s a time that she’s able to exercise, and it’s also a time she’s able to reflect on all the great progress she’s made.  What’s better, is she’s actually met a few of her neighbors who are also up early each day, and she’s shared her goals with them.

Over time, Mary decides to add more days to her walking routine, and after 6 months, she finds herself walking almost every day.  It’s become something that she looks forward to each day, and it’s a habit that’s she’s grown to love.  Walking also inspires her to make healthier food choices, because she wants to fuel her body with proper nutrients that taste great and make her feel even better.

All of the great progress Mary made was the result of starting with a small and achievable goal, walking for thirty minutes two times per week.

Finding Your Why

In our hypothetical example, Mary wanted to get back into shape because her doctor discussed with her the risks of her high cholesterol and sedentary lifestyle.  Thinking about her family and loved ones, she knew that she owed it to herself and to them to make a change, to take a step in the right direction.

Think about the loved ones that you have in your life.  Your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends and colleagues.  Think about the activities that you loved participating in when you were younger and had vibrant health and energy.  Envision ten years from now, how you’ll look, feel, and act if you continue on the same trajectory that you’re currently on.  What is it that truly excites you?  What is it that motivates you?  What’s one of the driving forces in your life that you care about above all else?

As Simon Sinek explains in his groundbreaking Ted Talk, Start with Why, people make decisions based on their “why.”  They don’t just choose to get back in shape, they choose to live a better lifestyle because their health is suffering.  They make changes because they want to be around for their family for longer.  They make positive habits because they want to meet their great grandchildren.  Watch the 18 minute talk to develop a better understanding of why we make the decisions we do.  I promise you it’s time well spent.

The Pillars of Getting Back Into Shape

Instead of focusing on “getting back into shape,” it’s helpful to break fitness down into smaller sub categories so you can make progress on each of the different pillars.

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Pillar Number One: Exercise

Exercise is the first pillar to focus on in your fitness journey.  The great news is exercise is a broad term that encompasses a whole range of activities.  It could be taking a walk around the neighborhood like our hypothetical Mary.  It could also be playing tennis, golfing, practicing yoga, or taking dance classes.

Make it Enjoyable

Whatever activity or exercise you choose, make it enjoyable!  It’s so much easier to stick to a routine and activity that you enjoy, rather than one you can’t stand.  Think about which activities you’ve practiced in your life that invigorate you.  Was there a sport you played, or an activity that you loved that stands out above all the rest?  How would it feel to have the energy and flexibility to participate again?  Whatever the activity is that you’ve loved, use it as a way to get back into shape.

Make it Consistent

Build your exercise or activity into your routine.  Whether it’s a daily practice, or just a few times a week, be as specific as possible with when you will do it.  That way, it’s not something that you rely purely on willpower to achieve.  When it’s in your schedule each day or each week, it’s much easier to stick to the process.  Over time, it will become something that you look forward to.  It’s time that you’re dedicating for yourself, so you can live a longer and more enjoyable life.

Get an Exercise Buddy

Everyone has days where they feel low energy, low motivation, or are just simply feeling under the weather.  Having a partner that holds you accountable on your journey can be an invaluable motivator.  On days that you just don’t feel like sticking the the process, a companion can help you get through that workout or activity.  Sometimes your buddy might not feel like sticking to their workout – then the tables are turned and you are able to serve as a motivator for them.

Evaluate Progress on your Goals

When you’re as specific as possible on the activities you use to get back into shape, it helps you track progress over a given time frame.  Keep a diary, journal, or log of the workouts you complete, that way weeks and months down the line, you can look back on the progress you’ve made.

Pillar Number Two: Diet

cutting board

Our bodies are comprised of the foods that we put into our body.  “We are what we eat,” sounds cliche, but has a lot of truth to it.  When we consume foods that are high in sugar and low in nutrients, it doesn’t give us the proper fuel we need, and our health suffers from it.  When we eat a diet full of vegetables, complex carbs, healthy fats, and lean meats, our diet helps support our health and fitness goals.

Practice Portion Control

At the end of the day, weight gain and weight loss comes from the amount of calories we consume.  When we take in more calories than we burn each day, then our body stores the excess as body fat.  On the other hand, when we burn more energy than we consume, our body uses some of the fat stores to make up for the deficit, meaning we lose weight.  Weight can and weight loss all comes down to total caloric intake over time.

Listen to your body each time you eat.  What’s key is eating until you are satisfied, not until you absolutely can’t consume another bite.  If you feel so full after a meal that you need to lay down or take a nap before doing anything else, you’ve eaten too much.

Adequately Hydrate

Many of us are chronically dehydrated.  Water comprises about 60% of our body, and is critical to vibrant health and energy.  An easy method to follow is the rule of 8.  We need about 8, 8oz glasses of water throughout the day to maintain proper hydration.  It amounts to about half of a gallon.  Whether you have a large water bottle you keep with you, or you keep track of how many glasses you drink, make sure your body has the proper amount of water that it needs.

When you’re hydrated, you’re body is more effective at digesting food, leveling your blood pressure, detoxifying your body, and fighting disease and infection.

Limit Sugars and Processed Foods

Sugars and processed foods should not take up a large amount of your daily calorie intake.  Consuming too much causes spikes in blood sugar which can lead to diabetes, weight gain, irritability, inflammation, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and more.  Cutting sugar out of your diet is one of the single biggest positive changes you can make to better support your health over the long term.

Don’t Drink Your Calories

An easy change to make for a better diet is to not drink any of your calories.  Cut out the juices, sodas, and sugary drinks.  One can of Coca Cola has 140 calories, and 39 grams of sugar.  That’s the equivalent of 16 sugar cubes.  The soda may taste great in the short term, but it’s wreaking havoc on your overall health.

Instead of drinking sodas and sugary drinks, replace them with water, tea, and coffee.  They’ll help you hydrate your body better, and will add no calories to your daily intake.

Pillar Number Three: Sleep

Sleep is the third pillar to pay attention to on your journey to better health and fitness.  Adequate sleep is essential to our health because it’s the time when our body is able to rebuild, repair, and detox.  It may seem like it’s almost glorified these days to sacrifice sleep for productivity, but burning the candle at both ends is something that will do more harm than good in the long run.

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Set a Schedule

Go to sleep at the same time each evening, and wake up at the same time in the morning.  Yes, even on the weekends.  Humans are creatures of habit, and that’s especially true with our sleep cycles.  when we have consistency in our routine, it allows our circadian rhythm to function properly.  Our bodies perform best when they have a set schedule.

Avoid Screen Time Before Bed

When we stare at our screens before going to sleep, it messes with your circadian rhythm.  Screens emit what’s known as blue-spectrum light – the same light that’s emitted during the day.  Our brains can’t tell the difference between the light the sun provides, and the light that our screens emit.  When we use our electronic devices immediately before going to sleep, it sends our brains mixed signals because our brain processes the light and tells our body it’s daylight outside.  Do your best to limit the use of electronics within one hour of going to sleep.

Supplement for Better Sleep

On average, more than half of us are deficient in magnesium, a micronutrient that’s fights insomnia, helps our bodies relax, and cuts down on cortisol, the “stress” hormone.  Take a serving of it prior to bed to help your body relax and get ready for a restful and rejuvenating sleep cycle.  A great product to start with is Natural Calm – find it on Amazon, or at a local health foods store.  If that isn’t doing the trick, supplement with melatonin as well.  It’s a hormone that’s secreted by our pineal gland, and helps regulate our natural sleeping and waking cycles.  Staring at screens too much, especially at night, is one way that our melatonin levels get out of whack.

Get Started Today

Your health and fitness is completely in your control.  Sometimes it may not feel like it, sometimes it may feel like our body is craving sugar, wants to lay down, and do nothing.  These are purely signals that your body sends, but you are the one that acts on the signals.  At the end of the day, nobody is as invested in your health as you are.  Not your doctor, your spouse, or your loved ones.  It’s your health, and your body, and your life.  Even if you’ve spent years or decades with the wrong habits, it’s never to late to make a change.

Getting back in shape is one of the absolute best things you can do for your health.  You’ll live longer.  You’ll be happier.  Moving around will be easier.  You’ll be able to spend quality time with loved ones, and will get more satisfaction out of the time you have on this planet.

It’s not always going to be easy.  There will be days when you just don’t feel like sticking to the routine.  There will be meals that are full of sugar that just seem too resistible to pass up.  Some days you may not even want to get up from the TV.  That’s ok.  It happens to everyone.  What’s most important is making slow and consistent progress, and taking steps in the right direction.

If you miss a workout, or have a cheat meal, it’s not the end of the world.  Just don’t let it derail you from your progress over the long term.  Even when it doesn’t feel like it, it’s all within your control.

Meditation and Mindfulness – Why You Should Start

Meditation. When you hear the word, does it bring up imagery of tie-dye, long hair, and questionable hygiene?  How about cross-legged practitioners wearing flowing robes and chanting with eyes closed for hours on end.  This may be what comes to mind when you think of meditation, or what media has led you to believe, but there are plenty of reasons to change that perception.

Meditation is a practice that’s been around for thousands of years, and has been present in nearly every civilization around the world.  It has has substantial health benefits, and is something anyone can practice.  Scientists at Harvard studied the affects of meditation over a two week time frame, and found it to measurably increase the amount of grey matter in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is closely associated with learning and memory.

The Benefits of Regular Meditation and Mindfulness

In addition to improving the capacity for learning and memory, meditation has a whole host of benefits; they’re right at your fingertips.  It’s been known to decrease depression, pain, and stress.  Meditation benefits practitioners by instilling a greater sense of life satisfaction.  It fosters a peaceful and calm demeanor that’s noticeable throughout the day, and can help you with more control, presence, and awareness with all of your thoughts and emotions.

What is Meditation Anyways?

There are plenty of ways to go about it, but at the very core, meditation is the act of sitting calmly and quietly, clearing your mind, and focusing on your breathing.  When thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them, then slowly let them pass.  Some folks like to chant a mantra over and over to stay focused, others prefer to pay close attention to their breathing.  Some meditators sit cross legged on the floor, others sit comfortably on their beds or in their desk chairs.

The great news is there’s no right or wrong way to meditate, it’s a very personal and subjective experience.  There’s no need to worry about posture, position, or what you’re wearing.  Try to find a method that is enjoyable, and is easy to build into your schedule for the day.   

Start Small

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Commit to dedicating just two minutes per day.  Within the first hour of waking in the morning is a great time to do it, and so is in the evening before bed.  How about right now.  Let’s silently meditate for two minutes together right this very moment.  Sit back in your chair so you’re in a comfortable position.  Take a few deep breaths, and let your eyes slowly close.  Focus on your breathing, and just contently sit in place for two minutes.  Do it now.  Breath in deeply through your nose, and out slowly through your mouth.  Count your breaths slowly up to ten, then count back down.  Pay attention to any aches and pains in your body, any signals that might be getting sent, signals that you may be ignoring in your day to day life.  Relax and clear your mind, and just sit contently in place.

Am I Doing it Right?  Don’t Worry!

One of the easiest pitfalls is when practitioners worry whether or not they’re meditating correctly.  Don’t get caught up in this trap, because there really is no right or wrong answer.  Just go through the motions, and focus on the process and the journey, rather than a specific outcome.  The benefits of meditation come through consistent practice over a longer time frame, so learn to appreciate the couple minutes of peace and calm.  Focus on your breathing, try to quiet the voices in your mind, and pay attention to how your body feels as you relax and meditate.

Come Back to Your Center

When you’re meditating, it’s inevitable that your mind will start to wander.  Learn to be aware of these tangential thoughts, and come back to your peace and calm.  Think of each time your mind starts to wander as a chance to practice self awareness.  Acknowledge the thoughts as they come up, then let them slowly pass.  Each time you are able to become aware of your wandering thoughts, and refocus on breathing and clearing your mind, it gives your brain more control and awareness.

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Be the Observer of Your Thoughts

You are not your thoughts, you are merely the observer.  A metaphor that’s always helped me, is to think of your mind as a vast ocean.  Envision it as you meditate.  The ripples and waves on the top level of the water are your thoughts, but you go much deeper than that.  You are not your thoughts.  You are the vast body of water, that goes seemingly infinitely deep, and spans for miles and miles, farther than the eye can see.  Sometimes there’s a quiet peace and calm, and the water may be still as glass.  Other times, there may be a torrential downpour with tidal waves that could capsize an ocean freighter.  Quietly observe, and come back to your center each and every time.

Smile and Be Grateful for the Moments of Calm

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Whether you set an alarm each time you meditate, or you end your practice when it feels right, take a few moments to reflect on the experience.  Smile.  Breathe deeply.  Say something you’re grateful for, it can be big or small.  Today you woke up happy and healthy.  You have a community of family and loved one that care about you.  You dog was excited to see you in the morning.  There is so much to be grateful for all around us.  Meditation helps us focus on the blessings we have all around us, and helps us live with more appreciation and gratitude throughout the day.  Learn to appreciate the time that you dedicate for your practice, because it’s a time that’s truly yours, and will help your mind and body become more aware and present throughout your waking life.

Resources

There are tons of resources out there that can help you get started, or refine your practice and take it the next level.  A few of them which I personally recommend because I’ve used them consistently, are:

ZenHabits

Headspace

10 Motivational Tips For When the Weather Outside is Frightful

Our lovely fall weather seems to be wasting away quickly into plain ol’ yucky rain and pre-winter crud. There is a good reason bears and other creatures go into hibernation during this kind of weather. To help you not fall into hibernation mode and to make the most of even the dreariest weather, we have come up with some great motivational tips to stick with your fitness regimen in the months to come.

  • Getting up out of your warm flannel sheets can be a bear when the house is cold. Set your programmable thermostat to heat up the house 15 minutes before you wake up so that you can get up and get going with one less excuse to hold you back. If your thermostat isn’t programmable, investing in a new one is just a few dollars and could just be the thing to keep you going through the winter…in addition to the energy savings you will see!
  • Set out all of your workout clothes, water bottle, and gear the night before. Pack your gym bag, set up your yoga mat, dumbbells, kettle balls, or Bosu ball so everything is ready to go and calling your name.
  • Write up a variety of messages on colorful slips of paper with reminders of how good your feel after a workout, pics of yourself at your fitness best, motivational quotes, or the many health benefits of working out. Whatever you know are YOUR greatest reasons for working out, jot those down. In the morning, pull one slip out at random and surprise yourself with your “Workout Inspiration of the Day”
  • If it is the cold weather that is keeping you inside, have your coziest hoodie waiting to go in the dryer and warm it up just before leaving the house for the gym.
  • Re-create morning sunlight with a Wake-up-light to help set your inner clock to get moving even when it is still dark these winter mornings. Setting your body clock to get going these dark mornings is a huge help.
  • Plan your workout breakfast the night before so you are less likely to cast about for something to eat in the morning. When you start off your day in “healthy mode” you are more likely to continue it by not skipping out on your workout.
  • The night before, check out a few workout videos on YouTube for some fresh inspiration. Just one new idea is all it takes to get you excited to try it out the next morning.
  • Get a workout buddy. Even if some days your schedules prevent you from working out together, just agreeing to a text check in and knowing your partner will be counting on you to also check in, will keep you both going strong.
  • Set up a fresh, new workout music playlist so that the next day you have new tunes to get you jazzed.
  • Print up a pic of a great holiday outfit you will reward yourself with, that awesome new bike, or the entry form for that spring triathlon or Tough Mudder race you have been meaning to enter. Keeping your eyes on the goal (literally) can keep up your motivation and focus

Whatever floats your boat (especially for you kayakers); learn to adopt the tricks and motivational tips that keep you in the game and on top of your workouts these dark, cold months ahead. Let us know what motivational tricks work for you!

Featured photo credit Wikipedia Commons.

Tips for Weight Lifting and Body Building as You Age

As we age, our bodies naturally begin to lose muscle and bone density.  Continued bone loss can lead to osteoporosis, muscle and joint pain, and injuries as well as increased risks of developing chronic metabolic diseases. However, it is no reason to throw in the towel, as there are things we can do daily to slow down or even stop that process.  Studies long have shown that weight training not only slows down muscle and bone loss, but it can increase your body’s protein and metabolite levels; both of which stabilize the immune system. According to the Journal of Applied Physiology, performing prolonged resistance type exercise training improves functional performance as well as increases skeletal muscle mass in the elderly.

If you have not done much weight training before, it can be intimidating and even bewildering to head to the gym and just start. We highly recommend setting up an appointment or 4 with a certified personal trainer.  Most gyms have them on site or asking around can get you some good recommendations.  Weight training can do amazing things for your health, but can also cause life long injuries if not done correctly.  Do NOT assume that badass muscle-bound individual is lifting correctly or with good form.

Life long legendary body builder Ric Drasin has some great tips to weight training in your 50’s and beyond. He has learned as he is aging to do lighter weights and more sets, as well as using more machines and less free weights than what he used as a body builder.

Screen Shot 2014 01 18 at 3.23.32 PMOnce you have met with a trainer to gain a basic understanding of how to lift safely and with good form, how repetitions and sets work in your favor, then here are some tips to get you started with confidence and success for body building as you age. Check out this article for more details and tips from a pro.

  • Set a regular schedule and you are more likely to keep it. Put your weight training into your calendar as appointments and schedule other events around them. It won’t be long before it is a regular part of your week and you will miss it when you skip it.
  • Avoid mini workouts! Yes, it is possible to get a full body workout done in 20 minutes, but this should be saved for when you are in a pinch, not a regular routine each week.  Especially when you are first getting started building your fitness through weights, it takes months of regularly planned routines to be comfortable and familiar with what works for your body.
  • Make sure you have comfortable, moisture wicking clothing and quality workout shoes for support. They may cost more up front, but proper support will help prevent injuries and protect your joints.
  • Don’t forget a good warm up, stretching, and cool down.  Weight training on “cold” muscles can directly cause injuries.  No short cuts!
  • Leave the ear buds behind-at first.  When you are first learning the movements and form, you need to have full focus and concentration.  It can be too easy to get lost in your tunes and also lose good form.

Here is a motivational video with training tips for real life women ages 50 and over.  Joe Hashey has some great tips for getting started, preventing injuries, and understanding repetitions and sets.

What are some things that have worked for you as you have started or continued your weight training programs in these years over 50?  We would love to hear your stories.

5 Ways Fitness Improves your Relationships

Unless you have been living under a rock, all the health benefits, disease fighting, and mental sharpness as reasons to stay fit are pretty clear to most of you.  Those are pretty motivating factors in themselves.  But just in case those are not quite enough, how about considering the ways that fitness improves your relationships.

  • Improves your sex life! A more fit body tends to make people feel sexier and gives increased confidence.  As we increase in our fitness, we are becoming more in tune with our bodies and more focused. Both of these benefits will help our ability for sexual arousal. We also have more energy, stamina flexibility, strength, and endurance.  We’ll let you connect the dots on those benefits and specifically how they improve your sex life 😉

  • Buddy system bonds together with friends: Team bonding is not just for pro athletes. Not only does having a workout partner help you to keep accountable and on track, opportunities to connect and talk, share in a friends’ life will deepen those friendships.
  • Playing with grandchildren: Studies have long confirmed that families that play together form deeper bonds and learn better communication. When you stay active and share in those activities with your grandchildren, it opens up opportunities to talk and listen, getting a deeper connection into their lives.  Your grandchildren will view you with different eyes when they see you venturing out and having fun in their world.
  • Staying active with your adult children keeps you relevant in their lives. Often times during your children’s high school and college years, they pull more into their social circles of their friends more than their families.  As your relationships with your adult children change, working out together can bring closeness and communication back into your relationships on a different level than when they were younger.  Simply going on walks or hikes and connecting is all it can take. Taking on a new, challenging activity together, like training for a cancer fund raising run can help you bond with common goals.
  • Fitness with your spouse improves your marriage: Beyond the benefits found in the bedroom, Opportunities to make time with each other in your busy week is crucial to a strong marriage, why not spend that time getting and staying healthy together? Teaming up to encourage each other will offer not only more opportunities to communicate, but deepen your connection on many levels.

Getting fit and healthy improves your physical, emotional, psychological outlook.  When your stress is reduced, all your relationships are affected in positive ways just because your view on things can be different due to reduction of stress in your life. Get fit, reduce stress, and relate better with all you come in contact with.

We would love to hear from you some ways that you have seen positive changes in your relationships due to fitness in your life.

Safely Intensify Your Workout Routine

You may have found yourself at a place in your workouts where you are not feeling as challenged as you once were, or perhaps you just want to turbo-charge things and see more results faster.  If this is the case, then increasing the intensity and method in your workouts is for you.  The trick is to intensify your workout routine safely so that you don’t risk injury that would side line you and defeat the whole purpose of increasing your workouts.

Combo Training: Combo training is when you combine an assortment of aerobic exercises and resistance training. This a very demanding form of intensity training and can lead to over training and/or injury, so use caution and even a personal trainer to coach you through until you gain a safe understanding of how to proceed.

You will perform a resistance training set and follow it with a short burst on moderate intensity aerobics for 30 seconds.  You then repeat for another two sets. For example, perform a set of squats, and then do a 30 second burst of burpees, and then back to a set of squats/burpees. This cycle should be done in three “sets” (squats/burpees as one set). Combo training really torches fat and whips you into great cardio conditioning quickly. Here is a sample You Tube workout to get you started.

Supersets: If you are weight training, one method to increase intensity and strength results is known as Super Sets.  A superset is when two exercises are completed in sequence without a break in between them.  It is important to pair up two agonist/antagonist muscle groups in the set pairs.  For example: quads/hamstrings or back/chest.  This technique will noticeably increase muscle strength and result in your ability to train at higher intensity levels.

You will be more efficient if you set up agonist/antagonist stations before you begin so that once starting, you can go from pair sets to the next station with only a 30 second rest in between.  Here is a great YouTube superset workout to get an idea of what is involved.

 

Photo source, Wikipedia Commons.

Photo source, Wikipedia Commons.

HIIT Training for runners: Runners who desire to increase both speed and endurance, do so with interval or HIIT training.  It is important to already have solid base of mileage as well as speed work before starting this type of training.

Run nearly full out for 10 to 60 seconds, followed by a rest/walk (or jog) period. The rest period should be one to four times the length of the high intensity burst.  Essentially, your rest period is just enough so that you are recovered to do the next repeat at the same speed with good form.  This challenges your cardio system to get stronger and pushes oxygenated blood through your body, making it available for you muscles. Be sure you are warmed up and flexible before starting these workouts.

This same idea of HIIT training can be applied to cyclists, rowers, and even hiking.

Mixing it up challenges your body and can jump start you out of that plateau or even boredom you may have hit in your workouts.  At the very least, you will find yourself in better conditioning! Do you have a tried-and-true method to intensify your workout routine safely? Please share it in the comments area below! We’d love to hear from you and share your experience with the Fit After Fifty community.

Happy training!

Personal Trainer vs. Independent Fitness Regimen

When starting a new fitness program or even going for a change in your current plan, oftentimes people wonder the benefits/drawbacks to doing a fitness regimen on your own. There really are pluses to both approaches, but it helps if you consider who you are, what motivates you, and where you have already been in your history of working out.

Before you decide if you would benefit from a personal trainer or an independent plan on your own, it is important to ask yourself some questions to determine the best fit for you.

Considerations:

  • Are you not a self starter and need a certain level of motivation that you have a hard time finding on your own?
  • Are finances a factor?
  • Is your schedule such that you can adhere to the schedule offered in a gym or with a private trainer?
  • Do you belong to a gym where personal training is either included in your membership or offered at a discounted rate for members?
  • Do you work well on your own, but want fresh, new idea and challenges that you typically don’t have the time to search for and implement?
  • Are you training for a specialized event (Tri, Iron man, Cross fit competition) and could benefit from a trainer with that specialization in their professional certification/experience?

If you answered yes to many of the questions above, then maybe a personal trainer is a good option for you at this time.  Keep in mind, people can rotate in and out of scheduled time with trainers and can employ them on a weekly basis, to even just once quarterly.  When I was working out with a trainer regularly, I contracted with her on a weekly basis with a specific event in mind.  Once I got through that event, I then continued with her once a quarter to shake up my routine and clean up any bad habits.

Some people know that meeting with a trainer once a week or month is needed to keep them on goal and moving forward.

Benefits of working with a trainer:

  • Certification and current training, especially in your area of focus (training for Triathlons, etc.)
  • Fresh ideas and approaches to get you out of that workout rut so you can continue to see results.
  • Motivation and accountability much like a coach to push your butt when you need to be pushed
  • A trainer who is an independent contractor can have the flexibility of schedule and location to meet you when and where it works best for the both of you.

Benefits of working out independently:

  • Set your schedule and workout locations as is best for you, no coordinating with another person’s calendar required.
  • Save considerably on costs paying for a trainer.
  • You are a self starter and love looking into new workout ideas and starting new plans on your own.
  • You have a specific event or training method in mind and it is difficult to find a trainer who is skilled and advanced enough for your needs. You can fit that bill yourself.

Regardless of whether you decide to work with a trainer or plan and execute your workouts on your own, the important thing is to find an approach that works for you and keeps you in the  game and active, living life with passion and health!

Which method do you find more effective for your fitness? VOTE on our Facebook page!

5 ways to age better than your father did

By Kia Zarezadeh, Sponsor contributor from HealthwaysFIT.com (Silver Sneakers)

Most of us grew up idolizing our fathers. It wasn’t just in our nature; Dad was stronger, smarter and had more know-how than we ever did. It might seem like sacrilege to suggest you  can live better than dad did. But one way to top pop is by living a longer and healthier life. Here’s five ways to age better than your father did…

Ditch diabetes

About 25 percent of Americans 60 or older live with type 2 diabetes, so there’s a good chance your father has or had diabetes. The good news is you can eliminate most risk factors by taking better care of your body. Most people with type 2 diabetes are obese, so aim to keep your body fat lower than dear old dad’s. Focus on eating nutritious, low-fat, minimally processed foods that are moderate in calories. This is especially important if you’re a woman: Weight gained after menopause can put you at even higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

Avoid arthritis

Like diabetes, arthritis carries a hereditary risk. But that doesn’t mean you have to grin and bear it like Dad. Rest, combined with a healthy weight and a nutritious diet, can help reduce the severity of arthritis symptoms. And, though it might sound contradictory to dad’s advice, exercise is great for reducing joint pain associated with arthritis. That’s because building muscles around your aching joints takes the pressure off those joints.

Photo source: Wikipedia Commons.

Photo source: Wikipedia Commons.

Take care of your ticker

Heart attacks unfortunately cost many of us a few extra years with our fathers. But heart health has come a long way in the past few decades. Now we know exercise and the types of food you eat can greatly reduce heart disease risk. When it comes to food, do better than dad and look for recipes designed to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. As for working that heart muscle into an invincible piston, try aerobic exercises that raise your heart rate while helping you burn fat.

Defeat dementia

Dementia is a bit trickier than other health problems that may have impacted your father as he aged. Not much is known about diseases like Alzheimer’s, but what we do know is leagues beyond the information available just a few decades ago. The latest research suggests everyday activities, such as walking, can help protect your memory. Of course, in addition to working your body, you should work your brain. From crossword puzzles to online games, people today intentionally are working their minds  stay sharp.

Prevent falls

How many times have you seen an accidental fall devastate the life of an otherwise strong and capable father? Of course, you can’t stop accidents from happening. But powerful core muscles and good balance can cut your chances of taking a spill. Plus, they actually can reduce the severity of injuries you suffer when you do fall. Recovery time is greatly improved in people with fitter bodies. And here’s something we’re pretty sure your dad never dreamed of doing to help prevent falls: video games. New research suggests video games can boost your balance, rejuvenate the brain and even lift your mood.

Starting to Exercise: Steps to Take After Years of Inactivity

Perhaps you found yourself here because now you are retired and have more time on your hands and you spent a few too many years on the career path without making time for good health and fitness practices.  Your family and doctor are all saying you need to make some changes. That time is now.

Are you hesitant to start this late in the game after years of relative inactivity? Many recent studies are showing that seniors who start exercising show improvements in all major physical areas and report an improved quality of life.  Not to mention that they are just having more fun!

Whatever the reason, we are glad you are here and we can help encourage you to a vibrant, healthy lifestyle. There are a few things to keep in mind to help you get a good start and not be sidelined with injuries.

Before you start First and foremost get a complete medical check up that includes blood pressure, cholesterol, joints and back evaluation if you have had pain in these areas. Your weight should be evaluated as well as a bone density scan if osteoporosis may be a concern, skin cancer screening, and a cardiac stress test. You and your doctor may not feel you need all of these, but this is a pretty comprehensive list.

If your doctor detects blood pressure or other heart issues, it may be helpful to get a heart rate monitor to help you to know how much you should or should not push yourself when first starting out.

Depending on what type of activities you plan to go for, make sure you have the right gear, especially shoes.  A poorly fitting shoe or one designed for running when you plan to play court sports can get you off to a painful start or worse, cause injuries.

Check out Silver Sneakers, the nation’s leading exercise program for active older adults. They offer access to more than 11,000 locations nationwide, guidance, encouragement and info to keep you exercising in the years to come.

The Sky is the limit! There are almost endless opportunities to choose from when deciding what to do to be more active.  You can join classes at a gym, join a hiking club, neighborhood walking groups or park and rec sports teams such as softball. Try out some new activities such as kayaking, stand up paddle board, and show shoeing.  Stop and think of the activities over the years that have caught your interest, but you have never tried.  Try one!  Or two, or ten!

Let’s get moving!  Now that you are cleared to go, keep the pressure off yourself and just get out and move.

Consider joining a gym for support and a source of certified instructors and classes to get you started. Many gyms offer senior discount rates as the aging population of boomers is rapidly growing. Personal trainers offer not only motivation, but are an excellent source for guidance in moves, safety, realistic goals.

Check into your local park and rec department for classes and activities that offer not only outlets for challenging yourself physically, but a community of people who are doing the same.

If you are not taking a class or joining a gym, start with some power walks at a pace that is a challenge for you, but won’t leave you in muscle pain and soreness for days after.

  • The American Heart Association recommends that inactive people gradually work up to exercising three to four times a week for 30-60 minutes at 50%-80 % of their maximal heart rate.
  • Increase your activity level gradually over the course of 6 weeks. 20% a week is a recommended.
  • Incorporate exercise into your daily life by taking the stairs instead of elevators, park in the farthest spot. Vacuum more often and do it vigorously! Shovel your own snow and mow your own lawn.
  • Learn good, basic stretching and practice daily whether you workout or not.

Regardless of what you choose, remind yourself that this has been a while.  It may take a bit for you and your body to get used to one another and challenging it to new and strange movements.  Be patient with yourself and remind yourself every day that you are making a difference.  Go for it!