Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A few tips for healthier holiday eating


It's just way too easy to mindlessly overindulge during the holidays and then have extra work to do at the beginning of the new year to lose those extra pounds. Fortunately with a little focus and a plan we can reduce the amount of extra calories we're taking in during the festivities and still enjoy ourselves. Here are a few of my favorite strategies for healthier holiday eating.

Always carry a healthy snack. A small bag of nuts (100 to 150 calorie portion) can be a good choice. Use them when needed to take the edge off hunger. Otherwise if you let yourself get to the point of ravenous hunger before a party, when you are presented with a table full of holiday treats, the natural course of action is to go wild devouring goodies. I've done that more than once and it's not pretty.

Seek out raw fruits and veggies first. Fiber and well-hydrated food (versus food that is sugary, fatty, dry and/or crisp) is our friend. Our favorite fruits and veggies can keep us full and satisfied. So if we eat plenty of salad or the carrot sticks and apple slices first, we'll likely eat less of the calorie-laden casserole, chips and cookies.

Opt for whole grains versus stripped down wheat, rice, etc. when available. Again, the more fiber we eat, the more satisfied we will feel. Plus whole grains are soooo much more nutritious.

Avoid going back for seconds or grazing. When you can see how much you truly are eating, you eat less. We tend to underestimate how much we have eaten when we go back to the table over and over again. It's especially insidious when we're having a wonderful time talking with our family and friends over the holidays. Studies have shown that people actually tend to eat more when they are happy!

Stay hydrated and avoid excess alcohol consumption. Drinking plenty of water will help keep your appetite down. Sometimes hunger is actually pangs caused by dehydration. And please watch out for how alcohol affects your food consumption. Because alcohol loosens our inhibitions in general, it tends to promote heavier eating at meals and more frequent snacking between them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Toys vs. the machines


You don’t have to be a gym member to get or stay fit. Working on those bulky weight machines may seem to be the be-all-end-all, but they definitely aren’t the only way to gain strength and better health as well as improve your appearance. Exercise props or “toys” as some of us like to call them, can be just as effective and in some cases more effective. So don’t despair if the gym is not for you for whatever reason!

Before I studied to become a personal trainer and group exercise instructor I relied on weight machines for my resistance training. But when I started training to be a trainer I became better educated about the advantages of toys. I’ve come to use them pretty much exclusively for my own workouts because of their convenience, flexibility and power.
Instead of struggling with machines that are often awkward to adjust, I can custom tailor my workouts and those of my personal training clients as well as my group exercise classes. Another advantage: You get more core work in by tightening and stabilizing your abs and lower back muscles, etc., when doing resistance while sitting on a stability ball or standing.

Exercise toys are extremely inexpensive and portable. You can buy them at many discount or sports stores. Getting a basic set up can cost you less than $50, approximately the price of one month of a gym membership. I use toys all the time when I do in-home training, carrying dumb bells, bands, a weighted ball and ankle weights in a bin and a mat under my arm. Some of my clients invest in their own set of equipment plus some additions, including a stability ball. Having toys on hand makes working out so much more convenient and private. Some of my clients take exercise bands or tubes with them when they travel in case their hotel doesn’t have a fitness center.

I also use toys in my group exercise classes. My students love the variety. Instead of doing two or three sets of the same arm and back exercises on a machine, for example, we vary the sets by training the arms and upper back as well as the core stabilizers first with dumb bells, then with exercise bars and then with tubes.
Afterwards we get down on the mat and really work that core some more! Seated crunches on a machine get awful boring by comparison to Pilates-style body work on the mat.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing exercise machines. Machines can be valuable for gaining and maintaining strength if you regularly get to the gym. Some of my clients who are gym members prefer them for at least part of their regimen. And if you are exercising without a trainer, machines require less memory work. They often include instructional displays in case you forget how to adjust or use them.
Still, I recommend even those who have access to and enjoy machines to learn how to work with dumb bells, exercise bands and the like whether at the gym, home or when traveling. Toys give you more options and ability to do strength training!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Together again: mind and body


It’s so easy to get so absorbed in our worries, plans and dreams in this busy, high-tech world that we lose touch with our bodies. Somehow when we spend too much of our time in our head we become disconnected with our physical and sensory selves. We may easily come to feel like it doesn’t matter so much if we don’t give our bodies enough rest, hydration, nutrients and movement. Or if we stuff processed food mindlessly into our mouths while trying to zone out in front of the TV.

Luckily exercise, especially mindful exercise, is a great antidote to the many ills caused by overthinking and the “monkey mind.” It can help us to get back to sensing, being and reconnecting with our bodies and ourselves. Exercise naturally leads to a more focused mind, elevated mood and our honoring our bodies and treating them well more often than not.

Any exercise, walking, weight lifting, etc., can help integrate brain and body - especially when done mindfully. But some exercises, such as yoga, tai chi and Pilates are specifically designed to focus our awareness on the here and now. Basically those disciplines teach you to breath slowly and deeply, noticing and concentrating on the sensations of your physical self, including the activation of your muscles.

One of the greatest benefits I’ve received from exercising regularly, especially practicing yoga, is to have reawakened my sensory system and developed a more unified sense of my mind-body. I am more present, experiencing more moments vs. always being on autopilot. In general I feel I am living more fully and intentionally. A greater sense of mind-body unity has made me feel more confident, positive, relaxed, patient, empowered and closer to God. Not that I never feel agitated, anxious, bummed out or disconnected, but just less often and less intensely.

The body and mind are one and the same on both a physiological and spiritual level. And the mind-body system works much better in harmony, when our sense of the here and now is not always ignored and suppressed. The good news is that if we consciously choose to spend more time on a regular basis focusing on our sensations and reconnecting with ourselves we will feel more comfortable in our own skin. We will develop more energy and will power to shape not only our bodies but our lives.

Being dominated by non-stop thinking can leave us feeling harried and stressed with little relief except to sedate ourselves with food, medications, alcohol or other less-than-healthy relaxation options. As an alternative, we can choose to relax and reconnect by becoming mindful of our breath, noticing our surrounding and the sensations of our body as we exercise and/or even when we go through the activities of daily living. Try it! All you’ve got to lose is some stress, disconnectedness and self-doubt. And maybe even some extra weight!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

To move or not to move?


Machines that aren't regularly maintained with proper coatings and lubricants and kept moving tend to rust. Their moving parts move only with difficulty or not at all. Over time their rusting metal gets so brittle that it breaks into bits, disintegrating little by little. Kind of sad and a waste of a beautiful mechanism that's useful life was cut short.

Most of us wouldn't let that happen to one of our treasured possessions. Unfortunately some of us do let a similar process of disuse and decay happen to our bodies. Fortunately it's reversible if we get off the couch, out of our chair and up and moving.

I have definitely been guilty of not moving enough at times in my life. I had no idea the price I was paying, especially as I grew older. Now that I'm so much more aware of anatomy and physiology and the danger of disuse because of my personal training study I am super motivated to stay moving and fit.

When we don't move our bodies often enough or in a great enough variety of ways our joints don't get lubricated with synovial fluid as they should. Our tendons, ligaments and muscles stiffen and weaken. Our bones become more brittle. Over time we become weaker, more unbalanced, rigid. For most people the debilities of aging, including the inability to perform regular activities of daily living, aren't so much about the natural aging process, but about disuse.


True, it's often a greater challenge to keep moving as we age because of weight gain and/or a growing number of aches and pains. But we can't let that stop us. Otherwise we'll just start a downward cycle of weight gain, more pain, less and less activity and greater and greater debility.

The truth is that we're either getting fitter or less fit every day because of our choices to move or not to move. The more we move on a consistent basis the healthier we'll be. Even those with health challenges, pain and/or disabilities need to move and can with some medical guidance.

I so admire the seniors in the 70s, 80s and 90s in my exercise classes and personal training sessions who continue to move it on a consistent basis even with discomforts such as arthritis, neuralgia, stroke debilities, and other chronic conditions. They are all younger than their chronological age in terms of physical health, appearance, mood and general well being. They aren't rusting out, they're stepping out into every day like the adventure it is.