Sunday, March 29, 2015

April Challenge: Walk & Water

 Every fitness journey has to have a starting point. If the idea of joining a gym or committing to a regular exercise regime makes you want to run to the nearest chocolate supply-- you're not alone. But I can tell you from experience that getting started really is half the battle.

So, for April, I'm issuing a Walk & Water challenge for those of us who wish we could do those painful plank and cringe-worthy core challenges, but just don't feel like it's possible.

This challenge is simple: walk more, drink more water. And be intentional about both.

Commit 20 to 45 minutes a day to walking. It doesn't have to all be done at once, but it's best if you spend at least 20 minutes doing aerobic activity in order to get the full benefit. You can walk a mile in 20 minutes, regardless of whether you're on a treadmill or making loops around your neighborhood. As you intentionally increase your mileage, you may want to do a mile in the morning, and then finish the rest of the day's scheduled miles after dinner, or on your lunch break. Stick with it, and you'll have walked more than miles by the end of the month. That's more than 2 marathons!

One of the best things you can do for your body is to drink water. Few of us drink the recommended 8 glasses of water a day, but we're going to work our way up to it this month. You don't have to drink plain water if you don't want to. Tossing in some fresh-squeezed lemon or lime can give your water a little extra flavor, and more fat-burning potential. There are also lots of products on the market that allow you to squeeze a little flavor into your water, which are often caffeine and calorie-free. These are great ways to help encourage you to drink more fluids. However, I encourage you to try drinking at least half of your water plain, with no flavoring. If you follow the plan, you'll have consumed more than 9 gallons of water by the end of the month.

Accountability is key! Check in once a week with your weekly walking and water totals, and for each comment left on the facebook page, you'll be entered to win a water bottle.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Salad & Smoothie Sunday: Fruit Poppin' Salad

There's no greater feeling than sitting at my desk at work and knowing that I have a healthy, satisfying salad in my lunch bag for when I get hungry. Making that happen Monday through Friday, however, requires some planning and preparation on Sunday.

To make the most of my salad prep time, I have a complete collection of salad containers that I use to prepare my lunches for the week. These containers are wonderful, and include a plastic fork and dressing container, that each attach to the lid of the
bowl. I've only been able to find these in stores in the summer, but you can also find them on Amazon.

This week's Salad and Smoothie Sunday salad is one of my favorites! You can really use just about any kind of fruit. The first time this salad was introduced to me was a friend's party, she had strawberries and mandarin oranges for the fruit, and honey roasted nuts for the crunch. I've switched the formula up many times, trying to increase the protein and decrease the sugars.

2 C. Salad Greens (I like to use a mix of lettuce and spinach)
4 oz. Cooked Chicken Breast (110 calories)
1/2 cup sliced, fresh Strawberries (25 calories)
1/2 cup fresh Blueberries (45 calories)
1 oz. cup Almonds (about 23 nuts, 160 calories)
2 Tbsp. Poppyseed Dressing

There are a lot of different poppyseed dressings out there. Some have a vinegar base, some have a cream base. Honestly, my favorite is the T. Marzetti brand, but at 150 calories, it's hard to justify. Of the lower calorie options, I generally go with Annie's Naturals Lite Poppyseed Dressing. It's a vinegar based dressing, and just 70 calories per serving.

The salad dressing can make or break your healthy entree, so
choose carefully!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2015: A Year of Intention

This is the time of year when everyone asks if you have any New Year's Resolutions. Typically I have a few general ones, like losing weight, reading more, writing more. But this year, I'm going to set substantive goals for every area of my life. I'm going to walk boldly in the direction of my dreams by becoming a woman of intention.

This has been one of those buzz words the past few years: Intention. What does that mean?

It means a thing that is intended or planned. It means that you know where you want to go, and you walk in that direction with the intention of reaching a destination.

There's this balance that has to happen, however. You see, I used to be a woman of intention. But I was walking toward my plans, toward my goals, with little input from anyone else. Then I married a controlling and manipulative person who refused to let me think for myself, let alone permit me pursue my dreams. Once free from that, I started darting about like an uncaged bird, trying to figure out where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, now that I was finally free to fly.

I created this long list of things that I had wanted to do during my 15 years of captivity, and planned to do them all. Which is impossible-- especially as a single mom with limited resources of time and money. So I settled down, and I waited. It's was counter to my nature of seeing something I wanted and pursuing it until I got it. It was counter to that forced lifestyle of learning to squelch my own dreams and goals knowing they would be immediately squashed if I ever dared to verbalize them.

So many of the troubles in my life were the result of me trying to do things-- good things, noble things-- my way, instead of letting go of the reigns and allowing God to steer the ship. Over the course of the past four years, I have learned, somehow, to put into practice that old adage: Let Go, and Let God.

As I look back on the past four years, I can see so blatantly the hand of God moving in my and my children's lives as I sit and wait patiently for him to move through His perfect plan, fulfilling so many of my desires and dreams in ways I could never have imagined. Sometimes even bizarre ways that still befuddle and amaze me, but were clearly the hand of God protecting and teaching me.

This new year begins the fifth year that I've been on my own. And while those first few months had me darting about anxiously looking for a direction in which to fly, I'm finally at a place where I am whole, healthy, and at peace. I'm content that I'm where I'm supposed to be, but not content to just sit here without growing.

The new year will be the beginning of new intentions, of growing spiritually, of enriching personal relationships, of capitalizing on professional opportunities, and setting and achieving goals for my and my children's physical fitness.

What word are you using to guide you in 2015?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Five Fitness Tools for Your Home Gym

Pressed for time? No budget for a gym membership? Just plain loathe the idea of doing jumping jacks in front of skinny people? I can totally relate. All those machines and people with muscle tone can be intimidating. Sometimes it's easier to set up a little home gym with a few simple pieces of equipment to help you improve your fitness. You can get everything you need for under $100.

Yoga Ball ($15)
There are a lot of great uses for a yoga ball. You can use it to add core resistance to upper body exercises, for example. But one of the simplest uses for a yoga ball is for aerobic activity, especially if you have physical issues with your lower extremities and can't do typical cardio activities like aerobics like jogging or walking. Just sit on the ball and bounce! It's a quiet activity, you can do it while watching TV or reading, and you'll burn calories, while also building core and leg strength.

Sticky Mat ($20)
Whether you have carpeted, wood, or tile floors, a sticky mat or other padded workout mat is a must, in my opinion. Even if you don't do yoga, you will be doing stretches, and the mat makes it much more comfortable to do floor exercises like sit-ups, push-ups, or even some resistance moves. When I do head to the gym for fitness classes, I prefer to bring my own mat. I started out with a cheap mat, but the cheaper they are, the thinner they are. Splurge on a mat that is at least 5mm or 1/4in thick.

Resistance ($20)
You need resistance in order to break down muscle, because it's the rebuilding of muscle that increases strength and leads to those toned arms and legs we all dream of. You can buy some barbells, but they can be expensive, and you have to buy two of each weight, and it's just not cost-effective. I learned that lesson the hard way.

A better option is to use resistance bands. I prefer the tubes to the thin latex strips because they're more versatile. Anything you would think of doing with a traditional barbell, you can do with resistance bands-- and more. Biceps, triceps, deltoids, and all parts of the legs can be worked with the bands, and you won't bruise your toe if you accidentally bump into one in the middle of the night.

Weighted Jump Rope ($11)
Cardio work is a quick and easy way to burn calories, and we want to always try to multitask if we can. You can jump rope indoors, outdoors, or even in your garage-- it doesn't take up a lot of room, and it's something quiet you can do while the kids are napping. Five minute of jumping rope as a warm up or as a main cardio event will not only get your blood pumping and metabolism revving, it will also work to tone your arms and legs. Using a rope with, like the Valeo JRW1 1 lb. Weighted Jump Rope weighted handles add just a little resistance for the arms.

Exercise DVD (Price Varies)
I prefer DVDs that have short, 20-minutes or less workouts that really break down each exercise to make sure you're doing it right. Three of my favorites are Jillian Michaels' 30-day Shred, Shazzy Fitness A Time to Dance, and Yoga for Christians.

In 30-day Shred, the video includes three 20-minute workouts that you're supposed to do for 10 days each. You can really feel yourself getting stronger with each passing day as you do the workouts. Each session also includes a variety of intensity levels.

Shazzy Fitness videos are fun, and suitable for the whole family. It's hip-hop dance with Christian
music. The choreographer breaks down each move, then puts them all together in a short dance. My kids will even do this one with me. It's long enough that you will break a sweat and work toward toning your muscles, but not so long that you'll avoid doing it on a regular basis.

Another go-to workout DVD of mine is Yoga for Christians. Susan Bordenkircher wrote a book to accompany the DVD, acknowledging yoga's Eastern religious origins, while also emphasizing the overwhelming health benefits of including yoga in our fitness regime. I kid you not-- any time I have an ache or pain anywhere in my body, I pop in this dvd, and usually with just one session, a pain that I've lived with for weeks disappears almost immediately. This one will make you sweat.

I actually do enjoy going to the gym, but I'm in one of those seasons of life where it's just not gonna happen. Maybe you're there as well. There's a lot that you can do with just a few pieces of strategic equipment that will go a long way toward helping you achieve your fitness goals. And unlike a gym membership, once you buy it-- it's there, ready for you to use at any time of the day or night.

Is there a piece of home gym equipment that you can't live without?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Excuses are Like Tennis Shoes...

I heard the heater kick on as I lay in bed this morning trying to get up the gumption to get up for a run. Checking my phone confirmed my fears: 32 degrees.

Now, for you Northern folks who endure sub-freezing HIGH temperatures during the winter, please don't judge me. I choose to live in the South because I am a cold weather wuss. Not a fan of cold. Or snow. Or frost. Or seeing my breath while I trot through my neighborhood on a late November morning.

The past year has been one of a lot of transition. Heck, the past four years have been nothing but transition. But the past year has seen me getting my groove back professionally, getting life on track personally, and falling way behind my goals physically. Working 10-14 hours a day and raising three tweedles does not leave a lot of room for personal care or physical activity, and I've fallen far short of my goals. I haven't made the time to exercise, haven't made fitness a priority because there are so many priorities, and this one is only for me and it feels selfish to focus on etching out a little time here and there for just me.

This morning I felt like I could justify a little me time because I'm on day three of being home with the boys for the holidays and we've gone to the movies and had Thanksgiving dinner with grandma and grandpa and set up the tree and had Krispy Kreme donuts for no good reason and I felt like I had invested some fun time with them and now I could take out a little withdrawal of 30 minutes for myself.

Excuses are like tennis shoes-- everybody has them. Mine are worn out and need to be retired. Literally and figuratively.

There's always an excuse at the ready:
-I'm too tired.
-It's too late.
-It's too cold.
-The kids won't let me.
-I don't have the right gear.
-It's too hot.

Huddled beneath my warm, flannel sheets, I had to make a decision. Because ultimately that's what it is, it's a decision. Am I going to choose to lay in bed and not work toward my personal goals, or am I going to be stronger than those measly 32 degrees, put on my cold weather gear, and go for a run? Every time I use my laundry lists of why-I-can'ts, I'm essentially saying that there are other things more important than my goals.

Too tired? Sleep is more important than my goal of becoming more fit. It's too late? I'm not willing to work toward my goals past a certain time of day. Too cold? I'm not willing to step outside of my comfort zone to achieve my goals. The kids won't let me? I'm choosing to use them as a scapegoat for my lack of fitness, while also teaching them that I am not a priority.

And I know that once I get running, it won't feel that cold anyway. So I did it. I got up and tugged on my tech gear, running gloves and hat, and I did more than two miles through my neighborhood. Because I can.

Everyone has excuses. Some of them are really good excuses. Like having only one leg, or waking up to 7 inches of snow, or really really not liking the cold. They're all great excuses, capable of justifying inaction. But that doesn't mean you have to use them.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Not-So-Fit-Girl Podcast Episode 1: Exercise, Diet, and the Brain

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We all know that our bodies need exercise and healthy food. But did you know your brain needs it, too?

Recently I had the chance to chat with neuroscience researcher, Mark Underwood. Mark is President and co-founder of Quincy Bioscience out of Wisconsin, where they study the brain and ways to improve memory and cognitive function. 

We know our bodies need fuel. Did you know that your brain actually needs fuel, too? Mark says the brain uses about 20-30% of our daily calories, which is fascinating since the brain makes up only about a 2-3% of our body weight. 

“Exercise is very important for the human brain to be functional, and if you truly satisfy the brain’s cravings you’ll actually find yourself in an opportunity to lose weight,” Mark tells me.

We know that our body uses sugar for energy. Well, our brain does, too. When the brain gets tired, it craves that energy source— sugar. Our instincts tells us to eat something that will give our brain what it needs, and that often has us grabbing sugary or fatty foods that will quickly feed that craving.

“What you need to do is provide your brain with a healthy source of sugar before it runs out, you’ll actually keep the brain from having the cravings,” Mark says. “So, by satisfying the brain’s actual ned sand strategizing on that, you’ll find your brain well-nourished, your diet much more balanced, and certainly better calories going into the body which ultimately is going to lead to a healthier body. If you can keep the right things in your body, the brain will send out a little more subtle messages that tell your body it needs to eat right.”

Mark tells me that by doing this, you can actually train your brain to crave healthier foods. When you have those sugar cravings, go for something sweet— like an apple or strawberries. These foods are not only a great source of sugar and nutritional content, but they also have fiber, which helps to regulate the delivery of that sugar into the blood stream. 

“This is the exact opposite of sugar that’s found in soda, which is just like main-lining sugar,” says Mark. “It’s too much too fast and your brain and body can’t deal with it.”

Your body needs other nutrients beside sugar, but the more that you can do to keep your brain properly fueled, the better you’ll do to provide proper nutrition for your whole body. When you couple proper nutrition with regular exercise, your brain can actually— get this— GROW. That’s right. No more of that, “Can’t teach an old dog new tricks” nonsense.

When you exercise, you’re actually tearing down muscle, and the muscle fibers strengthen and grow as they heal, building more muscle mass. When your body is sending messages to your muscles to rebuild, it’s sending those same messages to your hippocampus in your brain. The hippocampus is where you access short-term memory. Marks says that if your hippocampus isn’t working properly, you might introduce yourself to friends as if you were just meeting them for the first time. 

“Research shows that through exercise, you can actually measure in people that they’re hippocampus will start to grow. You didn’t technically exercise the brain while you were jogging. But the benefit of rebuilding yourself sends all those biological messages through the brain and encourages its repair as well. You brain is always sort of striking and always repairing itself. So, you want to stay ahead of the game, building it up more than you’re tearing it down,” Mark says. “Because your brain is going to get smaller with age, but exercise is rebuilding it, and will slow down that shrinkage.”

Research has shown a link between exercise and cognitive function, particularly in the prevention of age-onset Alzheimer’s. Focusing on your diet, and getting regular exercise, can go a long way toward repairing and even improving memory recall functions.

To find out more about Mark's research, you can visit his website.

(Disclaimer: Posts may contain affiliate links.)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fitness & Fun for the Whole Family: Flip2BFit

When we received the Flip2BFit game in the mail, I'll admit that I was a little skeptical. OK — a lot skeptical.
I love playing with my kids and trying to integrate fitness into play, but this seemed too easy. Would my boys go along with it?
It was actually my 10-year-old son who first opened the box and asked if we could play the game. So, one cool Saturday morning, we pulled it out and set it up.
To read  my full review of the Flip2BFit Board Game, click HERE.