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The Saturday Smoothie: Fall Tips to Achieve Better Health

Creating an Active Lifestyle

Who says that staying fit has to be be a pain?  Guess what, IT DOESN’T!  One of the great things about living a healthy and active lifestyle is you can choose any activities you like.  Enjoy riding a bike?  Great!  Love going on long runs in the mornings before the world wakes up?  Fantastic!  Find something that actually excites you.  Something that puts a smile on your face, rather than something you dread even thinking about.  Use these practical tips for incorporating fitness into your daily routine.  In no time, you’ll learn to love it.

Learn How To Create an Active Lifestyle (click)

Healthy Lifestyle

Practical Ways to be More Present

When we’re so in our own heads, and with our own thoughts, it prevents us from actually contributing much to the world.  In fact, it’s a great way to let life slip you by.  Instead, focus on being present.  Well, what does that even mean?  I hear the term thrown around a lot, but how is it actually applicable to me?  When you’re present, that little voice inside of your head is silenced.  You’re one with your surroundings, and your attention is completely focused and receptive to everything around you.  Sound enjoyable?  It is.  It’s such a great way to live.

Learn How to Be More Present

Be Present

Being Healthy and Satisfied with Less

 Just how much food do we really need?  When you see some people that constantly are eating, taking in 3,000, 4k, or even 5k calories per day, do you ever stop and think, is that really necessary to eat as much as you can get away with?  Well, what if we looked at it from the other side of the coin.  What if we ate as little as possible in order to remain healthy, fit, and productive?  Learn all about Mark Sisson’s approach to diet and health.  He has plenty of great reasons, as well as some tips and tricks, for how to stay lean and fit with a healthy diet.

Learn How to Be Content With Less

Satisfied with Less

When Was Your Last Fitness Event?

Think back to the last time that you set a physical goal and trained for it consistently.  Was it this year?  Was it 5 years ago?  Has it really been more than a decade?  Well, there’s still some time left in 2016 to finish the year healthier than you started, and what better way to do so than to sign up for an event.  It may sound a little daunting at first, but like anything in life, it’s well within the realm of possibility if you take things step by step.  Give it a shot, and you’ll be well on your way to newfound youth and vigor.

Learn How Easy it is to Run (or walk!) a 5k

Compete

How to Stay Healthy at Work

One of the biggest contributors to obesity is a sedentary lifestyle.  We sit while we eat, when we’re watching television, at our desks at work, and when we catch up with friends.  Add some stress from the workplace into the mix and it’s no wonder why many of us are overweight, or weigh more than we’d like.

Use these simple tips to ensure you can keep off the unwanted pounds, stay healthy at work, and continue ever forward on your journey towards better health.

Don’t Drink Your Calories

Many people (myself included) love and need to start their day with caffeine.  Coffee is fine, but those caramel blended Frappuccinos or similarly sugar-filled drinks will make it downright impossible to stay in shape.  Instead of the dessert-like blended drinks, try a green or black tea, or even a black coffee.  If you don’t find black coffee too appetizing, try adding a bit of cinnamon – it works wonders.  If that combination is still too much to handle, try adding a splash of cream, but leave the sugar aside.

Sugary Drinks

Drink Water Throughout The Day

Keep a large bottle of water on your desk.  Fill it up.  Drink it.  Rinse and repeat.  It is a pretty simple concept, but even just having water in plain sight and within arms reach will substantially increase your water consumption.  If you want some variety, add a bit of lemon, lime, grapefruit, or carbonation to your water.  Worried about the increased number of trips to the bathroom?  Guess what, that’s a bit more exercise you would not have gotten in otherwise.  Often times when we snack, it’s actually because we’re dehydrated, not hungry.  So make it a priority to continually drink water throughout the day.

Take Short Breaks

Ideally you are utilizing a standing desk and trying to sit as little as possible, but if that is not the case or a standing desk is not available, take intermittent pauses in your day to take a stroll around the office, down the street, or up and down the stairs.  I’m personally a big fan of walking meetings.  If there is a meeting that does not require the use of in-office technology or the use of a whiteboard, try to have the meeting while walking around the block.  It gets you out of the office into fresh air, and lets you get a bit of exercise in during your workday.

Stopwatch

Pack Your Lunch

Think veggies, fats, and lean meats.  Ideally grass-fed / free range / wild caught, but that’s a whole different conversation. The key takeaway is that when you pack your lunch, you know exactly what you are ingesting, how fresh it is, and where it comes from.  Not only will it help you look better, feel better, and perform better, it also will be a bit easier on the wallet when compared to eating pricey takeout from the restaurants around the block.

Exercise Regularly

A great way to achieve this is by building it into your schedule.  You don’t even need to go too crazy, you just need to go consistently.  It is not about what you do, it’s about consistency.  Weight lift, run, practice yoga, take dance classes – whatever physical activity you prefer, just make sure it is something that you can do on a regular basis.  If possible, try to get some exercise during your lunch break at work, then eat at your desk afterwards.  It will break up your day, and you may even notice a newfound energy throughout the rest of the afternoon.

Snack Healthy

I love snacking.  I could eat dark chocolate and candy bars all day, but I opt for the healthy snacks.  Try a piece of fruit, a handful of mixed nuts, some carrots, or some yogurt and granola.  Ideally you want to keep the snacking to a minimum, but that is not always possible.  When you do feel that urge, go for the healthy choice.  Often times, realize that the snacking may actually be out of boredom, not out of hunger.  If that is the case, refill that water bottle we talked about earlier and take a quick stroll to clear your head.  You will find yourself back in that productive workflow in no time.

healthy snacks

Sit less, stand more, reward your body with healthy and nutritious food that will serve you, and get some exercise in each day.  If you cannot pronounce the ingredients it probably doesn’t belong in your body. It sounds simple, but it comes down to all the small choices you make on a daily basis.

The key to making these lifestyle changes is keeping your eyes on the bigger picture – your personal well being; realizing that it is all about the journey rather than any one destination.  Make changes and improvements continually along the way, and you’ll find your fitness and wellness goals are easier to achieve.

bedroom

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.

scheduel

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.

slow-cooker-root-vegetable-stew-1

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.

airplane

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

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.

mountain top

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.

roadblock

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.

walking

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.

pillars

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.

koala

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.

meditating

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

small ladybug

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.

ocean
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

smiling man

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

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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.

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Fabulous Fall Recipes for Fitness

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed with a lovely, long fall harvest season with our temperate climate. Many veggies are readily available locally and organic and it is a great opportunity to stock up, try new recipes, and enjoy the bounty.

Here are some fantastic fall recipes that are friendly to your fitness regimen, as well!

Nothing says fall faster than soups. This simple, yet hearty Autumn Chicken Stew features some of fall’s top offerings: carrots, apples and parsnips. This one is easy to prep the ingredients the night before so that it is all ready to put together the following evening ready for dinner. In addition to its high vitamin A count, this soup is low calorie, low in cholesterol, and appropriate for diabetics. Serve with cheese sandwiches on the side for a full meal.

One of the healthiest squash you can try is pumpkin. It is action packed with beta-carotene, vitamins A and C, and lots of antioxidants. So start those brisk fall mornings off right with Spiced Pumpkin Maple Baked Oatmeal, it is high fiber, gluten free, good for your cholesterol, easy on the budget, preps really well the night before, allowing you to spoil your family and yourself with the yummy scents and flavors of spices and pumpkin with a hearty, warm morning meal.

This oh-so-easy-to make Roasted Fall Vegetables recipe takes full advantage of the abundance of organic squash and root vegetables available. The red potatoes are a great source of iron and vitamin C. Rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants, the butternut squash makes this a winning side dish to any entrée.

The abundance of apples each fall is a great opportunity for cooks everywhere. Put your fall apples to good use with this Apple Sangria recipe for your fall gatherings. Lower sugar content in white wine keeps this one a bit more in the “healthy” category than most drink recipes. Everything in moderation, right? 😉

 

In the comments section below, share some of your favorite fall recipes and how they are helping you in your healthy and fit lifestyle.

Photo source.

Keep Up with Calcium!

One doesn’t need a degree in nutrition to know that calcium is important in our diet. But maybe all the “reasons” have gotten a bit fuzzy in our brains over the years?  Well here is a refresher on why calcium is important for bone health, the various “drains” on calcium in our bodies, and some ideas on getting more calcium into your diet.

Calcium is a key in preventing and treating osteoporosis as well as other health benefits. Other than our bones, calcium is critical to many other functions in the body. It is used by our hearts for healthy blood vessels and regulates blood pressure, proper nerve and muscle function, and for adequate blood clotting.

As we get older, we also lose bone density.  The natural aging process causes our bodies to lose bone density at faster rates. However, even in our aging years, our bodies can and do build new bone. The trick is to adopt strategies to increase bone density faster than it is lost.

Photo source: Wikipedia Commons.

Photo source: Wikipedia Commons.

Getting enough

Individuals who had low calcium intake throughout their lives also have lower bone mass and higher fracture rates as they aged.  The vast majority of people in the US do not consume enough calcium needed for growing and maintaining healthy bones. The recommended calcium intakes in milligrams for various age groups are as follows:

  • 51-70 year old males: 1,000 mg/day
  • 51-70 year old females: 1,200 mg/day

Although many dietary guidelines state 1,200 mg/day as the maximum, rheumatologists recommend that those with a high risk of osteoporosis or over the age of 70 can take up to 1,500 mg/day.  Too much of a good thing can be…too much of a good thing, however. Over 2,500 mg/day can cause kidney stones and other health issues.

Calcium drains: Even for those who take enough daily calcium, there are factors that not only inhibit calcium absorption, but also deplete our bodies of calcium.

  • High levels of protein and sodium in the diet can cause the body to increase secretion of calcium through the kidneys.
  • Women in menopause experiencing hormonal change begin to lose bone density at a faster rate. Bones become more brittle as they naturally lose mass.
  • People with lactose intolerance may not be taking extra steps to insure enough calcium intakes.
  • Neglecting to consume vitamin D along with calcium inhibits absorption of calcium. The recommended daily does for vitamin D is 3,000-5,000 IU. Check this out for an explanation as to why the recommended dosage has increased. Better yet, get out in the sun for 15-20 minutes a day and gain your vitamin D3 directly into your bloodstream. If you will be out longer than 20 minutes, put on your sunscreen after that time.
  • Consuming colas and other carbonated drinks: The Phosphoric acid as well as the high sugar levels in colas dissolve calcium in your system.

Calcium and exercise: We know that resistance training strengthens our bones, right? But resistance training combined with strenuous endurance exercise such cycling or running can leave the blood with depleted calcium levels. To combat this, athletes who take their calcium supplements 30 minutes prior to a workout experience less of a decrease in calcium blood levels. So by no means should you decrease your workouts, just workout smart and take your calcium before hand.

Calcium rich foods:
½ cup firm tofu, calcium enriched with calcium sulfate   860 mg
Oatmeal 350 mg (sweeten your oatmeal with blackstrap molasses for an additional 137 mg)
1.5 oz. shredded cheddar cheese   324mg
1 cup Non-fat milk                     302 mg
1 cup plain low fat yogurt      300 mg
1 cup cooked soybeans           261 mg
½ can of canned salmon (with bones)    232 mg
½ cup firm tofu, calcium enriched with calcium sulfate   860 mg
6 oz. calcium fortified orange juice    200-260 mg
2 cups raw, chopped kale       188 mg
Approx. 1/3 cup almonds    150 mg

So now you have your why’s, why not’s, and how’s on calcium, it is up to you to determine your when’s.  What tricks and tips do you take to sneak more calcium in your diet? Do you have any favorite recipes?

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A Balanced Nutritional Approach that Supports Your Exercise Plan

You are staying faithful to your commitment to an active and healthy life in your fifties and beyond. It takes work and discipline, but too often, it is more fun to choose an activity and pay less attention to the foods you are consuming since you have “earned it”.

Studies have shown that what we eat and how much of it will have a more direct effect to weight loss than exercise alone.  Human nature tends to give more thought and energy to one healthy habit over another.  We are not suggesting that people should diet only and forget your workouts or exercise plan.  Just make sure you don’t buy into thinking that one is more important than the other.

What should your balanced nutritional approach include for food choices when you are exercising and staying faithful to your fitness plan? There is no one particular diet for workouts, but when you remember the Pilates approach to mind and body balance, that will help you choose the foods that result in feeling better and more balanced. Strike balance with the major food groups and learn to listen to your body, it will make it clear what it needs.

Photo credit: Sweet on Veg

Photo credit: Sweet on Veg

Have you been counting calories and restricting yourself? Instead, look around at all the healthy choices available to you. Nutritionist Lily Nichols, has written an information-packed post discussing the negative calorie track and how to get off of it with 11 tips to a healthier approach to food and nutrition. It is about finding balance nutritionally when you listen to your body and pay attention to the flavors of the foods you eat. Take time to educate yourself on healthier choices and also allow for indulgence in your favorite delights so you are not in depriving yourself all the time.

Here is guide for some great options that support your commitment to a fit and healthy lifestyle and nutritional balance.

  • Oatmeal: Start your day with this power-packed slow release gold mine and you will burn more fat since slow release carbohydrates don’t spike your blood sugar
  • Almonds: A 2-ounce serving of almonds requires chewing and leaves you feeling satisfied. Chewing more causes a greater fat release from the almonds, triggering the hormones that curb hunger.
  • Apples: With only 95 calories, this gem is packed with fiber and phytonutrients to regulate your blood sugar as well as having a positive impact on digestive bacteria.
  • Soup: People who start a meal with vegetable soup tend to keep the rest of the meal in balance in regards to caloric intake, nutrients, and fiber.
  • Mushrooms: These guys served as an entrée leave you feeling just as satisfied as if you had beef, but are packed with important nutrients such as niacin, selenium, vitamin D, riboflavin, and potassium.
  • Hot Chile Peppers: consuming one of these 30 minutes before a meal leaves people less hungry and cutting down on unnecessary intake.
  • Eggs: not only high in protein, but eggs leave you feeling fuller longer and support muscle gain

You certainly will not maintain balance if you run out of energy in mid-workout, so plan to have a small meal or snack of complex carbohydrates and lean protein. There are also some great recipes out there for healthy pre-workout protein shakes. It is best to begin your workout with glycogen-rich muscle and a stable blood sugar. Make sure to start with filtered water for your liquid:

  • 1-2 Tablespoons of omega-3 sport oil such as chia, flax, or fish
  • 1-2 servings of whey, hemps or soy protein isolate
  • ½ to 1 cup of low glycemic, organic fresh fruit

At the end of the day, opt for approach that emphasizes the great choices you have for flavorful and healthy options instead of one that focuses on restrictions. This results in a balanced approach supporting your commitment to a healthy lifestyle. Please share with us tips and tricks that you have adopted to improve your nutritional approach.

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!