Five Simple Ways to Boost Your Heart’s Health

As we round the corner into spring, it is a great time to check-in and renew your commitment to a healthy year. A heart-healthy year. If you want to be healthy into your old age, it’s important to begin treating your heart well early on. The American Heart Association emphasizes maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and smoking cessation as primary steps towards preventing heart disease. Assuming you’re up to date on your most recent physical, blood work, and doctor recommendations, what are the biggest ways to impact your heart with your daily choices? Here are five simple ways to boost your heart’s health.Heart Healthy Tips

Avoid Processed Foods. Steering clear of processed foods not only limits hidden sugars, sodium, and fake ingredients that sneak into your diet, it also forces you to emphasize the foods that reduce inflammation, improve your immunity and are packed with fiber, protein and micronutrients that do everything from boost your heart health to increase your ability to recover from your last workout. Try switching your breakfast cereal to oatmeal, which can assist in lowering your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, or building your meals around five foods that benefit your heart to include more produce, lean protein and healthy fats in your diet.

Get Your Workouts Started. For overall heart health, get moving at least 150 minutes per week. That can be 30 minutes every day, 10 minutes a few times each day, or an hour a few times each week. If you are new to working out regularly, or have current heart issues, this is a good zone to stay in for a few months to build up your endurance and confidence. Once these workouts become easier to accomplish and part of your everyday routine, it’s time to start making them tougher. You can start by adding in a tough workout (see below) once or twice a week.

Toughen Up your Workouts. Including tough workouts in your program is one of the best ways to help you manage your weight, as well as challenge your heart to make it stronger. Working out hard means your workouts can be shorter, accomplishing more in less time on busy days. A hard workout also means you’re challenging your heart at a higher level, increasing your cardiovascular fitness, your post workout recovery demands (calorie burn) and building muscle. If your current workouts are bringing you into your aerobic threshold (about 60-70% of your maximum heart rate) and you’re in good physical health, you can start to bring in some interval training that increases your heart rate to between 85% and 100% of your maximum heart rate for brief periods (30 seconds to 2 minutes) during your training. You can do this by increasing either the speed or the resistance on your Vision home fitness equipment, or by using the interval setting provided on most machines.

Lift Weights. To keep improving your overall health and daily functioning, considering adding in some strength training. At a minimum, shoot for two strength training sessions each week, hitting the major muscle groups of your body. If you’re looking to start building muscle and improve your performance, slowly add in a third session to help you see results. (Just be sure to give yourself a day to recover between workouts.) To get even more out of your workout and increase the cardiovascular impact, combine movements to target multiple muscle groups at once, such as stepping into a lunge with a bicep curl or doing full body planks and push-ups to strengthen nearly everything in your body. Another idea is to including strength training as a part of a circuit approach, alternating 60-90 seconds of one exercise with the same period of time on your cardio equipment. Your body will be cashing in on the body changing benefits of a weight routine in no time.

Manage Stress. By choosing regular exercise and a healthy diet, you’ve taken some important steps towards controlling the stress in your life. You can add to those steps by including mindfulness, gratitude, meditation or yoga in your fitness routine. For more suggestions, check out the American Heart Association’s resources on understanding and managing stress. These steps can all pay you back with a happier life now – and better health in the long run.

Do you have a question about general fitness, goal setting, getting the most out of your Vision Fitness equipment, etc.? Our fitness experts would love to answer your question in an upcoming blog post on VisionFitness.com. Just leave your question in the comments below.

 

Healthy Holiday Tips That Won’t Leave You Feeling Deprived

Finding balance between your commitment to staying fit and well, reality, is tough and it only gets tougher in the holiday season. Close quarters and cold weather challenge our immune systems and unrestricted family time presents its own challenges to our mental health, not to mention the dinner table and the threat it poses to undoing our efforts to eat right and exercise. Here are six tips to stay on track this holiday season and beyond.

Have a good breakfast. While it’s tempting to skip breakfast to offset the damage of the feast to come, doing so sets up a cycle of plummeting blood sugar that leaves you likely to skip your workout, head into the festivities feeling cranky and unlikely to enjoy the party, and ready to put anything into your mouth to hold you over until dinner. Start your morning right with a protein-heavy meal that will hold you for hours to come. Including eggs in your breakfast is a great bet to support weight loss (or maintenance) and a healthy immune system. For just 70 calories per egg, you invest in a high nutrient food that is likely to leave you eating less throughout the day (as much as 400 calories less according to one study)!  You can offset the calories by including a quick workout that will rev up your metabolism and your mood for the rest of the morning.

Squeeze in a morning workout. You’ve already taken a big step towards making your daily workouts convenient and accessible through investing in your home fitness equipment. On days that you’re pressed for time, use your treadmill, elliptical or recumbent bike for a quality workout that packs a big impact in a short period of time. A High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) session is approachable for all fitness levels and will rev up your metabolism and improve your blood sugar in as little as ten minutes (though if you can go for 20 that’s even better). Start out with a short warm-up of 2-5 minutes, then alternate between period of maximum effort (45-90 seconds) and recovery (1-2 minutes). The shorter the recovery period and the longer the intervals, the tougher your training session, so base your approach on your fitness level.  Finish your workout with 2-5 minutes of recovery and enjoy the bragging rights that workout gives you at the day’s festivities.

Practice gratitude. From lowering your blood pressure to improving your mental health, the benefits of gratitude go far beyond lip service. As you head into potentially stressful days, take the time to really recognize the abundance that exists in your daily life. If you have the time, you can even complete this gratitude exercise and see the difference that bringing appreciation into your morning creates throughout the day.

Make plans. Even though family events and a full house can bring their share of stress, they might also be good for you in the long run. Research shows that strong social connections lead to happier, longer lives. Steer clear of those you know set you off and take the opportunity to really connect with someone you care about, whether that’s in person or taking the time to call or send a card. Including the right people in your life can also be a great opportunity to boost your commitment to a healthy lifestyle through supporting your diet and exercise plans.

Get outside. While you’re enjoying your social connections, why not grab your favorite cousin or sibling and head outside? Not only does this give you the chance to create some memories, you can also ditch family members who might be less than supportive of your healthy lifestyle. It’s no secret that spending time outdoors is good for you.  You’ll also receive benefits ranging from strengthened immunity, a healthy dose of Vitamin D (harder to come by at this dark time of year) and improved concentration (just the thing for cleaning up at the post-feast card game).

Enjoy your meal. Sure, the holiday table spread is loaded with caloric nightmares that start with butter and end with whipped cream, however, there are some seriously nutrient-dense choices that grace every traditional table as well. Enjoy your turkey, even the dark meat. Loaded with protein and iron, it’s filled with the stuff you need to build muscle and recover from your tough workouts. Whether you take them baked, in a casserole, or in pie form, enjoy your sweet potatoes and squash. They’re packed with beta carotene that can strengthen your resistance to the cold someone inevitably brought to the party, and maybe even help you to fight off cancer in the long run.

Wishing you a healthy holiday season!

Fitness Nutrition: Eating Right for Your Best Workout

It’s no secret that what you eat highly affects the quality of your home workouts. Without the right fuel, you lose performance and motivation, making you sluggish. Need help planning your nutrition strategy? Here are a few common nutritional challenges and a little advice on how to make them work for you.

Challenge 1: You’re working to lose weight and battling a tight schedule with work and family. You’ll be hitting the elliptical at 5 a.m. and really don’t have the time or appetite for breakfast. Besides, you’ve heard that working out on an empty stomach can help you burn fat.

Making it work: Although working out in a fasted state forces your body to burn fat as fuel, you won’t train as hard or burn as many calories, so you’ll lose ground by the time you eat breakfast. A better bet is an easily digested carbohydrate immediately prior to or during your workout. Great morning pre-workout snacks include juice, a sports drink or a banana smoothie. You may end up taking in a few more calories ahead of time, but you’ll burn them off with better performance during your workout and improved recovery following. Within an hour post-workout, top off with breakfast, including carbs and protein, for the most effective recovery and your best use of nutrients. Eggs and toast or a smoothie containing fruit and milk are both great options. On the go, try a nutrition bar containing both carbs and protein in a 4:1 ratio.

Challenge 2: You and your treadmill are meeting up for a 75-minute distance run after work as part of your half marathon training plan. You don’t want to run out of steam, but the afternoon snack you tried before your last workout left you with a side ache for your entire run.

Making it work: Your last snack probably didn’t work for you because of the timing or the content. If your workout is more than four hours from your lunch, you’re going to need a carbohydrate-heavy snack before you run. If you are one hour out from your workout, think simple carbs like those given above. Two to three hours out, you can probably tolerate something that has a little more fiber and even some protein to give you better nutrition and staying power. Stay low fat, since fat is likely to lead to digestion issues and stomach upset during your run. You might want to start by trying some low fat yogurt and a piece of fruit or some whole grain toast and jam about three hours before your run. Since your run is more than an hour, you’ll also want to experiment with adding in some easily digested carbs, such as a watered down sports drink, during your run.

Challenge 3: Building activity into your daily life has you looking forward to a laid back ride tonight with your favorite playlist and your indoor cycle after the kids are in bed. You don’t want to skip dinner with your family, but you know that a big meal makes for an uncomfortable workout. You also know that proper refueling is important, but you don’t want to overdo it before bed.

Making it work: Since your workout is low impact, you have a little more flexibility on eating beforehand, but you’re still better off keeping your meal light and low fat. Try reducing your portions by a third to half and skip the butter on your bread and veggies (great steps for losing weight, anyway!). You’re right that post workout you’ll need a little something before bed. Once again, concentrate on getting in some carbs and protein for the best recovery, although a little fat at this point won’t hurt you and might keep you satisfied through the night. You could try some pretzels and hummus, apples and peanut butter, or toast and a boiled egg.

The keys to fueling your home workout are to use your pre-workout window to emphasize carbohydrates that are easily digested with a bit of protein and fiber if you’re at least 2 hours out from your workout. For long workouts (more than an hour), you’ll need to add in a little something during the workout to keep you going. This should be easily digested and primarily a carbohydrate, such as sports drink, energy gel, or a banana and water. Post workout, concentrate on getting a meal within the next hour or two or a snack that contains both carbs and protein to help you protect the muscle you’re building and to help your body access its fat stores for better results. Following these few basic steps will make a big difference in the results you see from your workouts.

 

Why Running is Good for Your Health

The jury still seems to be out on whether running is really good for you, but I’m here to make the case that it is. With a well-balanced workout plan, running can provide tremendous health and emotional benefits for years (and years) to come.Vision Fitness running lifestyle image

Improve Cardio Health

Running is a fantastic way to improve your heart strength. As you run, your need for oxygen and blood flow increases, therefore making your heart pump harder and more frequently to supply the muscles with the energy they need to keep you moving. As you continue a running program, your heart, much like your other muscles, get stronger and more efficient. Also, running improves your immunity, which means less sick days.

Improve Muscle Tone

It’s a misconception among non-runners and beginners that running only works your legs and your heart. In reality, a proper running form engages a variety of muscles, helping you create tone and definition. Endurance running is great for achieving a lean look overall, but if you want to focus on different areas, you should try different workouts. Shorter intervals and sprint workouts can really help target more fast-twitch muscles, which are different from the slow-twitch muscles used in slow and steady long runs. Incorporating hill sprints will also target additional muscles you might otherwise miss. By its very nature, running also helps engage your core – how else would you stay upright? Pumping your arms triggers your back and shoulder muscles. So, focus on using everything you’ve got with every stride you take.

Lose Weight and Increase Bone Mass

Common sense tells you that in order to lose weight your calorie intake has to be less than your calories burned. If you naturally burn 2,000 calories per day, you have a lot more leeway than someone who only burns 1,200. Running is a powerhouse when it comes to calorie expenditure, even when walking the same distance.

“When you walk, you keep your legs mostly straight, and your center of gravity rides along fairly smoothly on top of your legs. In running, we actually jump from one foot to the other. Each jump raises our center of gravity when we take off, and lowers it when we land, since we bend the knee to absorb the shock. This continual rise and fall of our weight requires a tremendous amount of Newtonian force (fighting gravity) on both takeoff and landing,” says Runner’s World Editor Amby Burfoot.

It’s also worth mentioning that running, a weight bearing activity, is also great for increasing bone density, helping to decrease your risk of osteoporosis. As you run, your muscles pull on your bones to withstand the stress of the activity, thereby also making your bones stronger.

Improve Your Emotional Health                                                         

Being part of a social group may help decrease risk for depression. There is an enormous community centered on those who enjoy running. You may benefit from seeking out a run buddy, but even if you choose to run solo, you can be active socially with online and in-person running groups. Share your triumphs and tribulations with those who can relate.

Another positive aspect of running is the fund-raising sector. Train for and run in a community race that raises money for a cause you support. Running for a charitable event is a great way to feel a sense of worth and accomplishment. Plus, you may meet some new friends.

Running is also great for helping you sleep better at night, therefore giving you more energy during the day. It also increases endorphins, which are what prompts the runner’s high you may have heard of.

How to Prevent Injury

Running is an incredibly healthy sport, but as with all activities, there is always a risk for injury. Mitigate that risk with a few quick tips.

Follow a diet filled with lean protein and complex carbohydrates. Of course running is a great way to lose weight, but incorporating a healthy diet can also help get you to a manageable weight, reducing strain on your back, knees, hips and ankles.

Stay relaxed. While you run, try to focus on any tense areas, in your shoulders for example, and work on letting it go. Drop your shoulders, unclench your hands and relax your facial muscles.

Strengthen your running muscles. If you find you have achy knees, it may be an issue of hip strength. Try squeezing in a few sets of walking lunges, wall sits and planks into your non-running days. Increase foot stability and strength by spending some time barefoot and including some balance work. Also, try cross-training, like biking, which is a fantastic way to get stronger and faster.

Stretch and recover. What you do after and in between runs is just as important as your running and strength workouts. Warm up for a run with a fast walk, not by stretching cold muscles. You increase your risk for injury. Instead, save your static and dynamic stretching for after your run, when you’re warm and your muscles have loosened.

Also, use a foam roller – every day if you can – it will help you recover faster by getting at those really tight spots and reducing inflammation. Make no mistake; it will be painful – at first. But if you continue rolling every day, you’ll find the trouble areas will begin to melt a bit, and you will start to look forward to self-myofascial release.

If you feel a nagging pain, take time off from your workout. As always, prior to starting a new training program, check with your health care professional to make sure you are in good enough health.

So there you have it. If you have always wanted to try running, but have been afraid of the hype, fear not. Follow these tips for a healthy, happy running habit.

Sources:

http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/health-benefits-of-running

http://www.runnersworld.com/weight-loss/how-many-calories-are-you-really-burning?page=single

http://www.livestrong.com/article/368647-running-your-bone-density/

http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/rehabilitation-exercises/lower-leg-ankle-exercises/strengthening-exercises-foot

http://beta.active.com/running/articles/10-selfmyofascial-release-exercises-for-runners

Overtraining Symptoms, Causes and Recovery

Have you ever set a goal, created what seemed like a great plan and then proceeded not only to follow that plan but to do even more? Chances are you were highly motivated and wanted to cross the finish line in the least amount of time possible. Suddenly, you hit a road block, you burned out, you got tired, you lost motivation or maybe you even started to lose some of your early results though you continued working hard. If all of this sounds familiar, you may have experienced overtraining.

Although the “more is better” approach may work for a short period of time, it will often lead to unwanted consequences and setbacks. Below is information that will help you identify whether your burnout may actually be the result of overtraining, the causes and what you need to do in order to recover from overtraining.

10 Symptoms of Overtraining

  1. Fatigue or lack of energy
  2. Loss of strength
  3. Poor sleep
  4. Irritability and moodiness
  5. Loss of enthusiasm
  6. Elevated heart rate while resting
  7. Decreased immunity or getting sick more frequently than normal
  8. Decrease in performance
  9. Unwanted weight loss
  10. Persistent soreness in joints and muscles

What Leads to Overtraining?

Lack of rest and sleep will lead to fatigue, irritability and decreases in performance and increased resting heart rates. The harder your work, or the more intense your routine, the more rest you will require.

Poor nutrition – Not eating enough or eating foods lacking in nutrients that fuel your body’s recovery from the stresses of intense exercise. Without the right nutrients and calories, your body can not repair the damage done. The ultimate goal is to give your body enough good food to overcompensate for the increased loads of stress you are applying to it, and thereby becoming more fit.

Lack of variety in your training methods or regimen can lead to overtraining of specific muscles or joints resulting in soreness that does not go away with regular rest between workouts.

Recovering from Overtraining

Take time off. How long you should take off will depend on how long you have been overtraining. Three to five days off may be enough for most people, but if you have been overtraining for an extended period of time, you may need more time off.

Eat a healthy-balanced diet including lean protein, which is used to rebuild muscles. Carbohydrates are essential for replenishing your energy stores. Healthy fats are needed for energy and joint protection and the absorption of some vitamins and minerals.

Stay active but stay out of the gym. Great active recovery options include walking or recreational swimming. Movement increases blood flow, which is important for supplying nutrients throughout your body.

Get plenty of sleep. There’s a reason research continues to show six to eight hours of sleep is best.

The next time you begin to experience these symptoms as a result of your overzealous workouts, remember to incorporate some active rest and review your rest and nutrition needs. It will help prevent overtraining and help lead you to increased results in the long run.

References and Links to more information:

http://www.livestrong.com/search/?mode=standard&search=overtraining

http://www.acefitness.org/blog/493/what-does-overtraining-mean/

http://www.rice.edu/~jenky/sports/overtraining.html

http://www.livestrong.com/article/350412-signs-symptoms-of-overtraining/

http://www.livestrong.com/article/504336-how-to-combat-overtraining/

 

Tips for a Safe and Fun 4th of July

fireworksIndependence Day is easily one of the best holidays of the year. The 4th of July means honoring the founding of our country (awesome), no presents to buy (sweet), summer weather (finally) and food and drinks galore (YUM!). However, just as with the winter holidays, it can be too easy to over indulge and find yourself crying, “Uncle!” Too much sun, drink or food can lead to disaster. Not to sound like a bummer, but it pays to think ahead. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your July 4th holiday without regret.

Sunscreen

The summer sun feels incredible on your skin. However, it’s a buzz kill to wake up on July 5th only to discover you’re now burnt to a crisp. Prepare for a day in the sun by applying a moderate to high SPF sun screen every few hours, especially if you’re swimming or participating in other water sports. Just in case you get a little more red than tan, have a tube of Aloe Vera ready in the fridge. Aloe Vera has soothing properties, and the cold feels great on a sun burn.

Water

Summer beverages are some of the best, right? Crack open a beer, mix up a batch of sangria, maybe switch to margaritas. Suddenly you’re sweating salt. Plan for the “fun” beverages by drinking water in between. Aim for half your body weight in ounces of water, plus more if you’re out in the heat. Nothing ruins a summer bash like heat stroke.

Food

Grill outs and picnics rule the dining roost for the 4th of July holiday. Plan a menu filled with lean meats, vibrant veggies and healthy fats to give you energy so you can enjoy the festivities all day and all night. Steak and chicken kabobs are a great choice. If you prefer burgers, try making some chicken or turkey burgers. Or if you really want to celebrate your independence, go ahead and eat what you want, but keep it to a reasonable amount. Meat should be about the palm of your hand. Salads with a mayo-based dressing should be kept to a minimum. Enjoy fun, low-calorie desserts that also keep you cool, like watermelon or popsicles.

Fire Safety

There are two main events people gather around on the night of July 4th – Fireworks and campfires. At-home fireworks are illegal in many places, but if you do choose to shoot any off, be responsible. Keep children away from anything flammable and use “kid-friendly” pyrotechnics, like sparklers, with caution. When having a campfire at home, create a safe perimeter for people to move around and be careful of being near dry grass or highly flammable trees. It’s also a great idea to practice the age-old “Stop, Drop and Roll” technique – just in case. As always, have a water source close by in case of any minor flare ups.

Hopefully these tips will help you plan for fun festivities without the fear of any accidents or indigestion. Have an amazing 4th of July holiday and stay safe out there!

Why Drinking Water is Essential to Your Health

Consuming enough water is essential to maintaining good health whether exercising or sitting still, yet many Americans do not consume enough water, which can lead to dehydration.  Why is water so important? How much do you really need?

What does water do?

Water is a powerhouse when it comes to keeping your body working as it should. It assists with digestion, circulation, absorption and transportation of vital nutrients, saliva creation and body temperature regulation. H2O is responsible for keeping the kidneys healthy woman drinking waterso they can eliminate toxins from your body through urine.

Staying hydrated also prevents and treats constipation. “Adequate fluid and fiber is the perfect combination, because the fluid pumps up the fiber and acts like a broom to keep your bowel functioning properly,” says Joan Koelemay, RD, dietitian for the Beverage Institute, an industry group.

Water can also aid in weight loss by helping you feel full, as well as serving as a replacement for higher calorie beverages. Water-rich foods are always a great option since they are absorbed more slowly. In addition to keeping your weight in check, drinking enough fluids energizes your muscles so you can perform everyday functions, as well as push it really hard during those tough workouts. Muscle fatigue can be caused by an imbalance of fluids and electrolytes.

Likewise, water moisturizes skin from the inside out. Dehydration can make skin appear dry and wrinkly, but proper hydration will help “smooth” everything out. However, over hydration will not eliminate wrinkles since the body will just excrete the excess water through urine.

How much water do you really need?

Our bodies are comprised of 60 percent water, but everyone’s needs differ based on health, activity level and geographic location. That means although the advice has typically been to drink eight glasses of water a day, it will vary. Since water is lost through breath, perspiration and going to the bathroom, fluid levels must be kept up through consumption of food and beverages containing water.

On a typical day, strive to drink enough water so you’re urine is light in color and odorless, typically about a liter. Here is a chart that may be useful in helping you determine whether or not you’re approaching dehydration: http://flowingdata.com/2012/02/17/urine-color-chart/.  Try drinking a glass of water with and between each meal. Keep a reusable water bottle with you, so you can fill up wherever you go. You can also get water through food, like watermelon, broccoli and tomatoes.

If you’re actively exercising, you need to consume additional water to compensate for the loss of fluid through sweat. Drink two glasses within two hours of exercise and continue to drink while exercising. However, endurance athletes working out for one or more hours may need to supplement with a sports drink to also replace sodium lost through sweat.

Hot or humid weather can also make you perspire, therefore quickening the onset of dehydration. Whether you’re indoors or out, pay attention to how much you’re sweating and boost your fluid intake. This is also important for high elevation areas, as you may find yourself breathing heavier than usual. The simple way to make sure you consume enough water is to always have it with you, so it’s easily accessible when you want it.

Keep your fluid intake up to reap all of the benefits water has to offer your body. Remember, “If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.”

Sources:

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/6-reasons-to-drink-water

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/water/NU00283

 

“Have to” or “Choose to” – Revitalizing your New Year’s resolutions

girl running bleachers

This year is already 25 percent gone. Your New Year’s resolutions – may have suffered a similar fate. It’s true that most people fail in achieving their stated New Year’s resolutions. In fact, 50 percent will have given up at this point. Why do health and fitness resolutions often fall by the wayside? Maybe it’s the doubt setting in, or you’ve set too lofty of a goal and have just burnt out. Whatever the reason is, changing your frame of mind can make an enormous difference and get you back on track for the last three quarters of the year.

Making Choices

The thing about changing from an unhealthy lifestyle to a healthy lifestyle is that it won’t always be fun. Yes, it is way more exciting to sit around with your friends eating pizza (or chocolates), drinking beer (or wine) and polishing off a dozen wings (or cookies) while watching the game or hanging out than it is to count calories, exercise and drink water. However, here is some food for thought – once you take away the mentality of “I HAVE to eat healthy, I HAVE to exercise” and replace it with, “I’m CHOOSING to make healthy food choices and CHOOSING to exercise,” you take away the concept of feeling like a victim and empower yourself to accomplish great things.

Something else to consider, trying on clothes, wearing a bathing suit or running a race might be things that aren’t “fun” now either, but by sticking to your resolutions, by following a plan that’s sustainable and having the courage to change you can make those things fun, too!

Remember, it’s all about choices. The people who “have to” lose weight on those TV shows do it begrudgingly and then typically end up gaining a bunch of it back. However, good sustainable choices will yield long-term positive results.

Choosing to Work Out

At first going to the gym may seem scary. You don’t want to be teased or ridiculed. If you’re not ready for the gym, you don’t have to go. Instead, choose to go for a walk instead of watching that TV rerun. Walk stairs in your house. Do some simple body weight exercise during commercials. Once you have gained a bit of confidence, “choose to” go to the gym. Chances are people will want to commend you for the effort you’re making to better yourself, not belittle you for it.

Choosing to Eat for You

Making healthy meals may seem like a daunting task. However, all of that sugary, salty, greasy food is addictive, people. Once you let your body have it, it craves it. Nicotine and alcohol are no different. So when you take those foods away, you might find you get cranky or irritable. That’s because you’re detoxing. You’re freeing your body of junk it doesn’t need, junk that only packs on the pounds, increases your cholesterol and blood pressure and prevents you from running around with your kids, grand kids or friends.

Start with small changes to help your body adjust in a healthy way and help you stick with it. Eat Greek yogurt for dessert instead of ice cream. Eat air-popped popcorn as a snack instead of a candy bar. Try swapping soda with sparkling water.

Let Go of Preconceived Notions

If there’s something mentally holding you back from going all out this year, figure out what it is and then reframe your thinking. If you can’t do it alone, find a workout buddy to help you. Stop telling yourself you “have to” stay away from pizza – you can have it! Choose your favorite slice and eat it with a healthy side and move on. “Choose to” make up for it with an extra workout this week. Not only will you burn off those calories, but you’ll gain strength and endurance.

Stop saying you “have to” work out. You don’t. Yet, if you “choose to” – you’ll eventually reap all of the benefits including better strength and endurance, and just looking and feeling better, to name a few. Yes, it’s hard. This is new for you. You’re not used to pushing your body. And that’s OK. The more you stick with it, the better your workouts will get. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish in the remaining months.

So review your goals for this year and revamp your plan of action to achieve them. Get back on track and share your successes and failures (small or big) with friends and family who can support you. Remember, you don’t “have to” do it, “choose to” do it.

How will you renew your resolve to reach your resolutions? Share with us in the comments.

5 Tips to Maintain Your Fitness During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is notorious for decadent treats, calorie-laden drinks and a jam-packed schedule. So it’s no wonder that the Thanksgiving feast, watching football and festive beverages are in your top 10 list of things to be thankful for kicking off this holiday season. However, breaking out the elastic waistbands and stocking up on cookies and candies can wreak havoc on your health and fitness goals. With some careful preparation and using some tips from football, you can scoreboard the holiday season with confidence.

Have a game plan

Like many others, you may be spending the next couple months celebrating holidays with families, often traveling to get there, plus going to parties and managing your normal day-to-day on top of it all. It’s easy to let fitness fall by the wayside. But just professional football teams, going in with a game plan can make an enormous difference in setting yourself up for success. If you don’t subscribe to using calendars and lists throughout the rest of the year, try to make an exception for the holiday season.

Whether you prefer print or digital, there are a myriad of ways to create a to-do list and schedule. A weekly calendar and task list can give you an idea of everything you have coming up so you don’t feel blindsided by that child’s holiday party or Christmas dinner at Aunt Debbie’s you might have forgotten about. A daily to-do list with tasks and times can keep you focused on getting projects done without losing track of the day or forgetting what you were doing. Click here for a free weekly and daily organizer you can use to stay organized.

Start by adding any concrete meetings, appointments or parties in your schedule. Then start adding tasks you need to accomplish each day in order to be ready when your next event rolls around. Last, but not least important, schedule your workout. If you’re incredibly busy, aim for two or three workouts per week. It will keep you in the goal-achieving mindset without undoing all the hard work you’ve done throughout the year or making you feel guilty for not getting other things accomplished.

Optimize the plays

The play clock only has so many seconds on it, just as you only have so many hours in the day. Make the most of the time you’ve scheduled for a workout by performing the Sprint 8® workout. This amazing 20-minute aerobic workout has been medically proven to boost energy, reduce body fat, promote lean muscle mass, improve your cholesterol and increase bone density through the natural release of human growth hormone.

Each Sprint 8 workout consists of:

  • A four-minute warm up and cool down
  • Eight, 30-second sprints
  • Eight, 90-second active recovery periods.

That’s only four minutes of intense cardio per session. When performed three times per week, that equals 12 total minutes of high-intensity exercise per week and only an hour total of exercise.

Plan for substitutions

Exercise and diet go hand in hand. Although it’s extremely helpful to keep up with a semi-consistent fitness routine throughout the holidays, incorporating some healthy eating throughout can keep weight gain at bay. Of course, everyone indulges a little during the holidays, but some simple, tasty substitutions can allow you to enjoy without feeling guilty or miserable afterwards.

Love potatoes? Try mashed cauliflower. It offers the same creamy, fluffy texture without all of the starch and calories. You can still add some of your favorite mix-ins and toppings for a more traditional mashed potato flavor. Click here for a recipe idea. You can also forgo the sweet potato casserole by making baked sweet potatoes topped with a little butter, maple syrup and cinnamon. Or, try oven-baked sweet potato fries.

Can’t pass up dessert? Apple, blueberry, pumpkin and pecan – pies are the quintessential dessert of the holidays. It can be tough to say “no,” to one or more helpings with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Try eliminating some calories by taking out the crust and making “crumbles” instead of pies. You still get a little buttery, flaky crunch. Another tip is to make your fillings using fresh fruit instead of canned fruit. It’s extra effort, but the taste is equally, if not more, incredible and it’s more health conscious on many levels.

Take TV timeouts

Yes, there are parades and football games and Christmas specials to watch. However, scheduling some timeouts from TV-watching may be just the ticket to keep you from feeling lethargic and falling asleep during your third college football game of the day. Take advantage of nice weather and get outside for an hour.

Plan a sledding event with friends or family for a fun way to spend time with those you care about and get some exercise in. Schedule a game of two-hand touch or half-court basketball between dinner and dessert to stay awake and earn some of those sweets you’ll consume. Other ideas include building a snowman or snow fort, ice skating, skiing or snowboarding.

Celebrate your success

When football players score a touchdown, they don’t wait to get home to do their end zone celebration. You shouldn’t have to either. Only ate one piece of pie? Skipped the potatoes? Ate white meat instead of dark? Good for you! Celebrate your small successes with family and friends in person, on the phone or online. You may even want to join a like-minded group on an online community like SparkPeople ahead of time to stay inspired and to have a place to brag where your achievements will be supported. You can even post your success here in the comments section.

The holidays are a flurry of activity, but it doesn’t have to be a time of dread or diet deceit leading up to the New Year. Following these simple tips will help you stay on the ball and keep you focused on your health and fitness goals throughout even the busiest weeks.

Have a plan in place or maybe some tips that have helped you in the past? Share them in the comments.