Spring Clean Your Wellness Routine!

As we welcome spring, join me in cleaning up old habits and reinvigorating routines with this three part series to help you renew your fitness, nutrition and wellness routines this season.

Part I Refreshing Fitness Routines

Are your workouts challenging enough? 

Longer days filled with sunshine often motivate us to start exercising or to renew a fitness routine that no longer feels challenging. 

This is a great time to ask yourself if your fitness routine is working for you. Like most habits, we often fall into the same routine when it doesn’t take much thought or energy. For example, getting on the treadmill for 30 minutes and walking at the same pace you have been for the last two years, or doing Pilates three days a week every week, will lead to a plateau in training. This occurs when our bodies adapt to the exercise load and we are no longer challenged.  If you have been doing the same exercises at the same level of pace for a long period of time, it’s time to increase the intensity or to add new exercises (or both) to complement what you are already doing.

It is common for our cardio routines (i.e., walking, running, cycling) to become less challenging over time, and at some point, we feel as if we are not exerting much energy.  The best way to know if you are working hard enough is to determine what your target heart rate is, along with observing how winded you are when your workout is complete. The easiest way to adjust for any workout that might feel too “comfortable” is to increase the intensity.  In terms of cardio, this means either to run faster or further, to pedal harder, etc. However, if you’re not keen on working at a higher level the whole time you are exercising, you can consider decreasing the time of one activity and adding a different exercise (also cardio driven) for the remaining time. One way to do this is to move from one machine to another (i.e., from the treadmill to the elliptical machine or Peloton). Another way is to do body weight exercises, such as squats, lunges or pushups, in between.  This is an efficient way to keep your heartrate up and add resistance training at the same time. Choose the method that works for you to make sure you keep yourself challenged and get the full benefit of your workout.

Are Your Workouts Well-Balanced?

Well-balanced workouts are the key to optimal fitness.  A well-rounded regimen includes a mix of cardio, strength, core balance and stretching every week. Time constraints are the most common reason people usually include only one or two exercise components in their daily or weekly routine.

When time is limited, I use the pie method to get a well-rounded workout: just envision dividing the time you have to exercise inside the pie. Then, think about how much time you can reasonably spend on each exercise component that day, or week. For example, if you have 45 minutes to exercise on a given day, you may choose to devote 25 minutes to cardio, 10 minutes to resistance, and the last 10 minutes to stretching. Alternatively, the opposite day method breaks up the type of workout by the day. In this case, if you exercise 5 days a week, you can devote 3 days to cardio and 2 days to resistance training. Or, if you attend yoga class 2 or 3 times a week, you can add a cardio day on one of the days in between.

However you choose to break it down, a balanced fitness routine will increase muscle mass, improve endurance, and help you to avoid injury.[1]

Is Your Exercise Routine Aligned With Your Goals?

Besides aiming for a well-rounded and challenging workout, we should ask ourselves, “Why are we exercising in the first place?”.  We all know exercise provides many benefits to our health, but it should also be tailored to our specific goals. Do you want to build muscle, or lose weight? Are you training for a long distance run.  Maybe you don?t have any specific goal in mind, but simply enjoy how you feel when you work out!

That said, if you are devoting time to exercising regularly, it makes sense to align your workouts with your overall fitness goals. For instance, if your physician prescribes exercise to lower your blood pressure, and you choose to spend your exercise time only lifting weights:  over time, you will build muscle mass, but weight training alone may not impact your blood pressure. Your time would be better spent doing aerobic exercise, i.e., walking, jogging, or swimming – or any continuous movement that keeps your heart rate elevated. On the other hand, if your goal is to build stronger bones, lifting weights and/or resistance training will serve you better than walking or cycling.

Physical goals are not always the reason we decide to exercise; many of us work out as a way to relieve stress. Running or high intensity interval training is a great way to decompress; however, some prefer a gentle activity like yoga or stretching to lower stress levels.

Whatever your exercise preferences are, make sure your routine is working for you. Spring is a great time to reassess routines and decide if the time you spend working out is most beneficial for you. Adjusting the frequency, duration, intensity, or type of exercise can make a major difference to your long term fitness goals. If you are not sure how to reassess your routine, or if you can use help with the fine tuning, consider working with a fitness trainer. A skilled trainer can access your fitness level and goals against your current routine and design a program tailored to your individual needs – the ideal way to spring clean your routine!

[1] Marni J. Armstrong, Sheri R. Goldberg and Ronald J. Sigal, Moving Beyond Cardio: The Value of Resistance Training, Balance Training, and Other Forms of Exercise in the Management of Diabetes,? National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, January 28, 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4334083/

Keeping Resolutions Beyond the New Year

Why we start with force and go out with a fizzle… 

As the calendar turned to the new year, we envisioned a fresh start and thought about what we would like to do differently in 2022.  Resolutions are often made at this time.  The new year brings an opportunity to abandon old habits and commit to the improvements we would like to see. We might want to improve professionally or personally. Maybe we think about paying more attention to our physical or mental health.  Whatever the change we desire, having a vision of what that change will look like is usually what motivates us to take the first step.

When a resolution is centered on our health, it often involves a new diet or exercise program.  We might vow to practice mindfulness, or take more time to do the things we enjoy.  Regardless of the behavior we choose to adopt, we first have to eliminate one or more automatic behaviors that are part of our routine.

It is for this reason that after we follow a new regimen for a few weeks, most of us reach a fading point.  It may start by missing a workout or two, or by gradually drifting away from a new diet plan.  No matter the trigger, we eventually become too bored or too busy, and find we are not nearly as motivated as we were on January 1st.

Why does our enthusiasm to adopt a new habit fade so quickly? 

Here’s why we might start with force and end with a fizzle…

We Need the Right Kind of Motivation

When the desire to make a change comes from an inner yearning to achieve a certain goal, you are more likely to achieve it. For example, if a doctor advises a patient to lose ten pounds or eat less sugar, the instruction might seem simple. Advice given by a doctor for health reasons is usually enough to motivate us. However, if the individual receiving this advice does not connect it to a personal value or something important to them or their lifestyle, (i.e., having a job that requires physical stamina or the desire to stay active with age) then the likelihood of maintaining the change is going to be low. Having intrinsic motivation can be a powerful motivating factor in getting a desired result.

Thinking Too Big or Too Many

It is common for many people who make resolutions to commit to many changes at once.  Although it is admirable to want to improve ourselves, being overly ambitious often results in unrealistic goals that are difficult to achieve. An example of setting the bar too high would be trying to run five miles a day after being sedentary for three weeks. Or, cutting every carbohydrate from your diet (including carrots and bananas because they rank high on the glycemic index), and signing up for a thirty minute meditation class five times a week.  Being overly enthusiastic and impatient often precludes us from setting manageable goals that fit into our lifestyle. 

Smaller goals like cutting all added sugars, walking for twenty minutes two to three times a week, or meditating five minutes a day might not sound like much, but starting with little steps creates a much higher likelihood of achieving (and maintaining) commitments that you can build on later.

We Need a Contingency Plan

Similar to creating realistic goals, we have to plan for interruptions when trying to work on a new goal.  Just one unforeseen event can easily throw us off track.  This is why it is important to consider any possible roadblocks or obstacles when planning your new regimen.  Even small disruptions can easily get in the way of planning.  Having a plan B in place helps to prepare for anytime a new routine or schedule might not work.  For example, if you miss a jog you had scheduled with a friend, you can follow an exercise app instead. Or, if you wind up working late on an evening you designated for self-care, you should have another day penciled in as an alternative.  This simple step will prevent the feeling of failure to meet goals, and allows some mental flexibility by realizing you are not locked into one way of achieving them.

Having Someone to be Accountable to

Some of us prefer to have a partner when taking on new activities. It can be more fun, and it’s nice to have support when navigating new territory.  Still, many of us prefer to take on new challenges by ourselves and not complicate the effort by involving another person. Either way works – but staying motivated is easier when you have someone to check in with. Sharing our progress with a partner, spouse, or friend gives us someone to be accountable to.  Having someone who can make sure we stay on the road we set out to drive on gives us the support we need if we veer off.  If there is not a person who you feel you can count on, you can also consider working with a coach.  Having a Fitness Trainer, Nutritionist, or Health Coach will not only provide support and accountability, but will help guide you with suggestions and resources to keep you motivated.

So, as you continue to envision your goals for this year, and what things you would like to improve, try not to put too much emphasis on resolutions. Instead, commit to making a realistic plan with small goals, and have the support you need in place to ensure long lasting change. 

If you are considering making changes in your life to improve your health and well-being, it may not be difficult to start a new regimen, but it is often difficult to maintain it.  A Health Coach can help you outline a plan to benefit your health, and more importantly, support and guide you while maintaining it.

Contact MAP 2 Wellness to learn more about Health Coaching and our wellness related services.

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