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Monday, October 3, 2011

Active in Michigan

Well, it started to get a bit chilly last week, and while today is warmer, it is indeed time to start thinking about how to stay active as autumn and eventually winter tighten their icy claws around our fair state for the next half year.

Michiganders are at high risk for hibernation-related fitness deficiencies. Meaning when it gets cold we tend to huddle in our houses eating and drinking warm, comforting, high-carb high-fat foods until the weather becomes bearable again. We lose strength and endurance, get depressed, put on excess weight and put ourselves at risk for diabetes, coronary artery disease and a variety of cancers. Not a fun or healthy way to spend half our year.

However, it doesn't have to be this way. With some planning and determination, we can all maintain healthy levels of activity during the cold months, which in turn will keep our energy and spirits high, making it easier not to also spiral into a 5-month holiday food coma. Start planning now to make the transition easier.

Here are some ideas:

* If your primary exercise is walking, you can always take it indoors, to your own treadmill, the mall, the high school indoor track, or the gym. Because it's often less appealing to walk indoors, make it a plan, put it in your calendar and don't skip it. Find ways to make it more appealing: download good music, audio books or podcasts you look forward to listening to onto an mp3 player and use it while you walk. If on a treadmill, grab an interesting magazine or allow yourself to watch a favorite tv show while you walk. Enlist a walking partner so you can chat the time away. Find a way to enjoy your time and you will want to keep doing it.

* Sign up for a class and pay for it in advance. Make it something you've enjoyed in the past or always wanted to try. If possible, get a friend, spouse or coworker to sign up too so both of you will be more likely to attend. When you're done, avoid commiserating about being sore or exhausted. Focus instead on how strong or refreshed or energized you feel.

* If you work out in the morning and it's harder to get out of bed to do it when it's cold and dark, consider investing in an alarm clock that simulates sunrise with a light that gradually gets brighter until it's time to wake up. (Search for "sunrise clock" for many different models.) Your body's response to the light will help you get up easier. Or try setting your alarm to wake you up with a high-energy song you love. Try sleeping in your workout clothes so you can get right to it instead of dreading the icy draft when you get out of bed. Remember that the workout should warm and energize your body!

* Consider trying something new or getting back into something you've not done in awhile, whether an outdoor winter sport like skiing or an indoor active pursuit like a martial art, dance or indoor soccer. Check your rec & ed department and other organizations. There are lots of fun things to do to help you stay active all winter long.

* Enlist the help of a personal trainer, whether one-on-one or with one or more friends. When you have an appointment and someone to hold you accountable, you are less likely to skip out on workouts.

* Get support from friends, relatives, your spouse or children or coworkers. Make a pact to stay active this winter and regularly check in with each other. The more personal you can make it, the better, but there are also online communities that can help you connect with others who are trying to stay on track, such as Try to stay positive with each other - not inducing guilt trips but instead helping problem-solve and gently pushing each other to stay on track.

Good luck!

Friday, August 12, 2011

How to get the most out of personal training

Hiring a personal trainer is a great way to help yourself achieve your fitness goals. The trainer can educate, motivate, encourage and correct you, and nothing will guarantee you actually get your workout in like a paid appointment. Here's how to get the most out of hiring a trainer:

1) Hire a qualified trainer who jives with your goals and personality. Your trainer should have a certification accredited by the NCCA like the ACE, NESTA, NASM, ACSM, NCSA, etc. Find out if your trainer is certified and do some research on their specific cert - there are a lot of cheap, fast and poor-quality certifications out there. Ask the trainer what kinds of clients they specialize in. If you want to lose 100 pounds and have diabetes and bad knees and your trainer specializes in fitness models, you may not be a good match. See if your trainer offers a free consultation and make use of it if so. At the least you should be able to try out a few sessions before committing to anything long term. Sometimes even a very good trainer might not be the right one for you. Trust your gut.

2) Be honest. We can't help you get the results you want if we're not aware of your full situation. If your trainer asks how you ate this week, don't say "fine" when you had a two-day binge. We can help you problem solve these issues, but we can't help when we don't know what's going on. We also need to know your health issues, even if they're embarrassing, including things like pregnancy even before you might tell everyone else you know.

3) Follow advice and do your homework. Why pay a professional to plan for you when you have no intention of following through?

4) Arrive on time and ready to work. If the trainer is coming to your home, be dressed and ready with the area cleared and distractions minimized. This will give you the best use of your time and make the trainer feel their time is valued, making them more willing to work hard to get you the results you're looking for.

5) Respect your trainer's time. Don't make a habit of rescheduling at the drop of a hat and at the last minute. If you respect our time, we will go out of our way to help you.

6) Ask questions. If you don't understand something, let us know so we can explain.

7) Minimize whining. You can vent, and most trainers will not even be offended by a little swearing, but if it's a constant litany of stalling and complaining, neither of us will have an opportunity to enjoy the session.

8) Communicate. If you are in pain (actual pain, not muscle fatique), feel that something might be dangerous for you to do, or are about to pass out, let us know so we can help. Most trainers are pretty good at picking up on nonverbal cues, but we're not telepathic.

9) Remember we are not therapists. Most trainers love to get to know their clients and it's part of our job to help you problem solve health and fitness issues. But we aren't qualified to help with your relationship, job or kid woes and most of the time if you try to tell us all about these, you're stalling on doing the exercise that you're paying for. If you really need help with these types of issues, many trainers can refer you to good doctors or therapists.

10) Have a positive attitude or at least be open to having a positive experience. If you're focused on how much you hate exercise or how angry you are about whatever else happened in your day, your workout will never be as good as when you applied yourself in a positive way. Leave your bad attitude at the door, remind yourself that this is a way of taking care of yourself, breathe deep and enjoy!

Do it anyway.

To all my clients and friends who want to get in shape but can never find the time, I’m going to call you out right now. I’m talking to myself here, too.

This is not about guilt or feeling bad about yourself. It's about moving forward.

The time will never be just right. There will always be a party or a birthday or a work deadline or a mother visiting or a sick child. Life is never static and your schedule will not suddenly stand still for a magic hour for you to get your run in. If you truly want to exercise, you will make time.

You brush your teeth every day, right? Here’s the thing: exercise is so vital to our health and quality of life that we need to think of it like basic hygiene. Your goals for exercise don’t matter here, though it helps to have a reason that resonates with you. I’m not telling you that you need to lose lots of weight or become a crazy muscle machine or run a marathon. All of us need regular exercise, preferably on a daily basis, whether we’re doing it to look our best, feel our best, perform our best or just to be able to keep living and functioning. Your goals will determine the time you spend being active – even a little bit will improve general and mental health and help ease problems like diabetes and high blood pressure and reduce the risk of a variety of cancers.

There are lots of resources out there to help you find some exercise you don’t hate, to connect with others to make it more fun, to motivate yourself by tracking and to develop step by step plans for specific goals that ignite some spark of passion in you. That’s not what this entry is about.

The bottom line is this: unless your excuse not to exercise on a given day is something that would prevent you from brushing your teeth or showering if you needed one, do it anyway. I don’t care if it’s 5 minutes of stretching or 20 minutes of strength training or a half hour on the treadmill – whatever scheduling snafu has messed up your plans, go to plan B and do it anyway. I don’t care if you’re not in the right headspace or don’t feel like it – the only way you’re ever going to start feeling like it is if it’s habit and you’ve done it enough times that it starts to feel good (which will happen), so do it anyway. I do care if you’re injured, but if your ankle’s sprained you can always get in the pool or on a bike or at the very least do some stretching, so come up with an alternative and do –something- anyway. I do care if you have an exercise addiction or eating disorder and need to tone it down, but that’s not most of us. Most of us need to stop talking ourselves out of being active and start talking ourselves into it.

How long have you been “trying” to get it together and develop a regular exercise habit? How much of that trying has entailed waiting for the “perfect time”, waiting to “feel better”, waiting to have “enough energy”, waiting until you have “more time”, waiting until the house is clean or you can afford a gym membership or your kids are old enough to entertain themselves or your back stops hurting or your divorce is final? How much of your life do you want to waste with “trying” when you can and should be “doing”?

Anything can be worked around if we really want to do it. Ask any athlete who’s lost a limb and kept doing their sport. There are a million stories out there of people who rose above every challenge to come out better, stronger, happier people who have achieved amazing things. Chances are, in comparison to some of those stories, your challenges are not so very large after all. So figure out what your goals really are, stop trying to be anyone you’re really not (like a marathoner if you really just hate running and would rather go golfing), and ditch the excuses. You’re smart. You’re resourceful. There is someone in your life who cares enough to help you if you need it, and if not, you can pay or barter for someone to care. You’ve gotten this far in life and even if you feel like a kicked dog right now, you can take control of your body and your health, and it doesn’t have to be as big a bloody deal as most people make it. In the time you’ve spent listing the reasons why you can’t exercise, you probably could have taken a walk around the block.

So take the initiative. Stop fighting so hard against yourself. Take a deep breath and decide today, and every day, to accept all the challenges and excuses and inconveniences and feelings, figure out what you CAN do, and despite all the reasons you might not, do it anyway!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Housekeeping, Habit Forming, and Small, Easy Steps

I am a terrible housekeeper. I make no apologies for it; I live (technically) alone with my dog, and the dog doesn’t care. I accepted years ago that my home would never be as pristine as my mother kept our house while I was growing up, WHILE working a full-time job no less. Her standards were much higher than mine when it came to acceptable living space conditions. However, I have since also realized that I enjoy being in neat, organized and non-filthy surroundings. Living in squalor is stressful and I don’t particularly like it. Unfortunately, with my hatred of cleaning and my general lack of time, squalor tends to be the state of my apartment much of the time.

In an attempt to help me fix this problem, the boyfriend (who only sort of lives here) suggested that when I can’t stand the mess anymore but can’t fathom cleaning the entire apartment, I set the microwave timer for 20 minutes, clean for that 20 minutes, and stop at the end. He’ll clean for 20 minutes too if he happens to be here when this happens. Then, we repeat daily or every other day, and soon the living space is far more tolerable and functional. (Ideally, this will become a regular habit, and I will never have to be frustrated by the mess in my living space again!)

I have found this works astonishingly well. When I just start on cleaning instead of ruminating over reasons why I don’t want to, it goes pretty quickly and I’m always impressed by what I can get done during that time. It’s not overwhelming because I only have to do it for 20 minutes, not until EVERYTHING is clean. (I would be working forever!!!)

I think we can apply this trick to nearly anything we want to make a habit of. Of course you knew I was getting there… including exercise! If you hate to exercise but don’t like the state your body’s in and know you need to do something about it, don’t start planning the diet of all diets, and decide you’ll jog for hours every day until you weigh exactly what you think you should weigh. Doing that instantly overwhelms us and makes us reaaaally not want to do it. Even bound and determined as you are that first day, by a week at most you’ll most likely have slacked off and decided you just can’t stand it so you will go back to doing nothing, until you are upset by the state of your body again, and the cycle continues.

Try the 20 minute trick. If you’re a rank beginner or REALLY despise exercise, try setting the timer, turning on the tv and just marching in place at first. It’s better than nothing, and it’s something manageable.

We all so often forget that not everything we do has to be perfect. A multi-billion-dollar diet and weight-loss industry is doing its best through marketing to make us feel out of control and overwhelmed so we will buy their products, which doesn't help. We all would do well to take a deep breath and start where we are, with what we have. Imperfect as our efforts might be, they are better than the paralysis of doing nothing because we are afraid to start.