How to Start a Fitness Lifestyle

It’s easy to say you’re going to get in shape, but it’s a lot harder to do it. There are many times a year that the familiar cry of “I’m getting in shape” resounds across the internet: New Years, the months leading up to bikini season, before a wedding or vacation. These are all great motivators to get you in shape, but will you stay in shape? Or will you “get in shape” each year and stop once summer is over?

For prolonged health, it might be more beneficial to think of a fitness routine as a lifestyle change instead of a short term goal. In fact, the best results come from a change in mindset as well as physical habits.

The first step is mental: decide to start and start planning. Once you’re in the right mindset you can start. Here are some ways to set yourself up for success.

Decide on goals

Before you get out there and start exercising, you need to know what you’re working toward. Are you hoping to lose X amount of weight and keep it off? Do you want to no longer feel self-conscious about your looks? Do you want more confidence? Those are all great goals.

Start slow

Once you have goals, you’re ready to start planning how to achieve them. It’s important to start slow and highlight accomplishments to keep you positive and not overwhelmed. You wouldn’t decide to learn a new language and skip the beginner classes in favor of the conversational class. You need a foundation to experience success.

You can do things in your daily life that will help you get into the physical mindset:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Park far away and walk across the parking lot
  • Put things you need often out of reach so you have to get up or move more to get them

Also important is to remember that good enough is good enough when you start. The main objective at the beginning is to get the routine going. You won’t do that if you burn out from starting too intense. Once you have a routine you can increase the intensity and start working toward optimal workouts.

Build in variety

When you’re planning your exercise routines, doing the same thing every day will sound consistent, but will be boring. Planning to run every morning for example, may work for some, but for others it can be tedious and easy to ditch. Replacing some runs with group exercise classes, or alternating cardio days and strength days can help to keep it interesting.

Do things you enjoy

This pairs up with the previous point nicely. If you add in things you enjoy, or things that are a bit off the beaten path, you may have more fun and find it easier to keep going.

  • Join a team sport. This can be something well-known like soccer or softball or something less mainstream like roller derby or rowing.
  • Individual sports. Consider badminton, tennis or racquetball.
  • Fitness classes. Gyms often have group classes for spin, pilates or dance aerobics. Or you can find other classes like trampoline or kickboxing classes.

Build in recovery time

We’ve all experienced workouts that result in days of sore muscles, especially at the beginning of a routine. It’s important to build in recovery time for that. If you push yourself too hard you may burn out or, worse, injure yourself. Nothing kills a workout routine than an injury.

Be accountable

To make sure you stick to it, consider scheduling some fitness activities with friends. Having plans to meet someone for a class adds commitment. Other things you can do to add accountability are putting it on a calendar and keeping a fitness journal to track goal progression.

If you plan on exercising everyday, consider marking the day in your calendar after your workout, so you can easily see your exercise streak and stay motivated to keep it going.

With a good plan, including activities and timing, you’re sure to experience success.

How to Breathe

It may seem obvious — I mean, we’ve been doing it our whole lives, right? — but how you breathe matters. Bad breathing will increase stress and anxiety and make exercising more difficult.

Learning to breath correctly will improve overall health, increase energy, reduce anxiety and more. But many people overbreathe, hold their breath or breathe shallowly. Doing so can affect sleep, mood, brain function, digestion and more.

Why do we breath?

Breathing gets oxygen into our bloodstream and by extension into our cells. There, it helps break down sugar into energy. Oxygen is important for keeping the body functioning; without oxygen, body tissue will start to degenerate. The brain alone uses 20 percent of the air we take in, so it’s important to give it enough to function at top notch.

What do you know about your breathing?

It’s good practice to regularly check on your breathing. Let’s do that right now. Turn your attention to your breath, and try not to change it.

  • Are you taking short breaths? Long breaths?
  • Are you breathing into your belly? Into your chest?
  • Are you breathing through your nose? Mouth?

Proper breathing requires the following:

  • Breathe through your nose
  • Extend your exhale
  • Straighten your posture

How did your breathing stack up? Whenever you start to feel stressed or inattentive, try sitting up straight, taking a deep breath into your belly and slowing exhaling. Concentrate on this for a few minutes and you should be on your way to higher energy and less stress.

When should you change your breathing?

Breathing is a great technique to handle different situations effectively. Related to the advice above, deep breathing can relieve stress and anxiety; in fact, it can help you collect yourself anytime you’re starting to feel out of control. Breathing is a main component of meditation and mindfulness.

In some situations, you may be tempted to alter your breathing. For example, when running or doing anything with high intensity, you may think a greater quantity of short breaths would be better; indeed, you may have no choice but to huff and puff during exercise if you’re new to it. But really it’s best to employ some of the same breathing techniques as you do during rest.

Try to focus on exhaling to release all the air from your lungs. Shortness of breath is a result of air staying in your lungs. Experts will advise new runners to line up their breaths with their strides. Taking a breath for two steps and releasing the breath for two steps is standard, but you can alter that to be more comfortable. Coordinating breaths with foot falls helps to prevent pressure on the diaphragm, making it easier to breathe while running.

Be patient. It takes practice to get good at this kind of breathing. Just like it takes a while to stretch your hamstrings enough to touch your toes, it can take a little while to get your airways used to handling enough air. They need time to stretch also.

How to Reduce Stress, Increase Productivity at Work

Stress may seem like a constant at work, like that one coworker who is always hanging over your shoulder, talking and nagging and distracting you. But it doesn’t have to rule you. In fact, it’s in your best interest to make stress leave you alone.

Studies show lowering stress will increase productivity. The New York Times has a timeless article on this that goes into more detail, but we’re going to get right into the ways to reduce stress in the workplace.

Manage your workload.

When you already have a lot on your workplate, consider delegating tasks with competing priorities to make sure everything that needs to get done today gets done today — without overtime.

Learn to say “no” when someone tries to delegate a task to you that you know you won’t have time for. Taking on more work when your schedule is already full is a recipe for stress.

Break up the day.

Good breaks are essential to de-stressing, but what is a good break? It involves keeping work time separate from non-work time. That means when you’re on a break, you shouldn’t be checking work email or planning out your work time after the break.

This extends to time before and after work as well. You may think that you’ll be less stressed if you get everything done, which may require starting work before you get to the office and staying late. But spending so much brainpower on work will just stress you out more. Like the New York Times article says, “the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less.” That means work when you’re at work and not when you’re at home. Don’t even check your email.

So how do you make your breaks work-free? Get up, go outside, take a walk. Getting sun will help you recharge your batteries and will likely involve a walk outside, pairing up with exercise to get your body a break as well as your mind.

You can also try meditating or practicing mindfulness. According to Mindful.org, “mindfulness not only reduces stress but also gently builds an inner strength so that future stressors have less impact on our happiness and physical well-being.” Sounds like a good deal, right? (Bonus: the mindful link also has a 7-Minute Mindfulness Practice for Responding to Stress exercise to try it out.)

Even just taking a few minutes at your desk to close your eyes and picture a peaceful place can lower your stress levels and up your productivity.

Set goals and stick to them.

A trick to keeping stress down is to split up your work into goals. Setting goals can also propel you through your work day by helping you focus on the goals and not the clock. Bonus: Set goals to be completed before scheduled breaks so you make sure to do both. For example:

  • “I’m going to reply to all my emails by my first break.”
  • “I’m going to knock out three tasks by my lunch break.”

The trick to setting goals is making them realistic and concrete. Completing tasks, no matter how small, will give you a sense of accomplishment that helps to de-stress by switching your focus to what you have done instead of what you haven’t.

Exercise regularly.

Simply walking during breaks can help, but getting into a regular exercise routine outside work can help you reduce overall stress levels, in and out of work. Exercise is proven to improve concentration and energy levels, which certainly contribute to productivity at work.

At the very least, dancing in your chair will get your body moving and blood pumping enough for a burst of energy.

Write it down.

When things get too stressful that nothing else works, you may need to just get it off your chest. A stress journal can help you vent without complaining to a coworker or friend. Similarly, a gratitude journal will help you focus on good things in your life if your stress is starting to take over your mindspace with negative thoughts.

Whatever technique you use, lowering stress is a great way to boost productivity. So if you’re having a hard day, try taking a deep breath, taking a walk or setting some goals. Also, don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t as productive as you want to be. It’s natural to have slower days.

Bring Your Vacation to Work

We’ve all heard the advice to find a job doing what you love, and that the best work won’t feel like work at all. But the truth is, even if you’ve found that, you may still experience tedium or stress that makes you yearn for a vacation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need a new job. It could just mean that you might benefit from making your life feel more like a vacation overall.

When you think of vacation, what comes to mind? For many, it could be relaxing by a pool or hanging out with friends. For most, vacations mean an absence of stress. Well, there are things you can do to extend that vacation feeling into everyday life and work.

Take Real Breaks

Everyone knows breaks are important. But did you know that the kind of break you take matters? If you spend your break replying to emails or whipping up a to-do list, you’re not really taking a break. Make your breaks mental and physical so you come back prepared to sit back down and be productive.

An effective break involves taking your mind off work completely so you can come back refreshed and ready. Take a walk, get some coffee, meditate a little. Just don’t think about work. If you need to, schedule lunch with a friend or leave your phone behind to remove temptation to check your emails. You may find that you come back with a new perspective on a problem.

Get Outside

Vacations are usually spent outside or in a different place. To bring this into your work life, try going for walks on your breaks. Eat lunch in different locations out of the office. Switch it up whenever you can. If you have limited options, even sitting at a different table or looking out the window instead of at your phone while you eat will make a difference.

Bring the Outside In

Vacations often mean outside adventures, whether that involves hiking or lounging in nature or a new city. You can bring that into your work life by decorating your workspace. Bring in a plant or fresh flowers. Bring a souvenir from a favorite vacation. Looking at natural color can boost productivity, but at the very least it can snap you out of work for a moment.

Celebrate the Little Things

One thing you do on vacation is enjoy all the little distractions and novelties you experience. It may be much easier to appreciate the small things when you’re in a beautiful or relaxing place, but you can do it at work too. Keeping a gratitude journal can help you focus on little things that give you joy when you may be feeling particularly in need of a vacation.

Do Something New

Vacations are full of trying new things, seeing new sights and meeting new people. That novelty keeps life interesting and you can do similar things at work. Try saying hi to people you usually don’t. Maybe get to know them a little. Take on new responsibilities to switch it up a bit. At the very least, listening to new music can curb the tedium you may feel.

Work at Work. Period.

It’s an obvious statement; when you’re at work you should do work things. What isn’t obvious to everyone is the opposite. When you’re at home, you should do home things. For some people this may be especially difficult. For example, if you own or manage a business, you probably have much longer hours and you may even be on-call to answer questions or solve problems. The trick is to learn how to disconnect from work.

There are a few techniques for ending your workday and signaling to your brain that it is time to let go of work for the day.

  1. Reflect on your day. Come up with a list of everything you accomplished. This is a great way to be positive about what you’ve done so you don’t feel like you didn’t accomplish enough, a feeling that may otherwise convince you to stick around. If you keep thinking of more things to do while you’re reflecting, write them down on a to-do list for tomorrow. That’ll help you let go of work and start strong tomorrow.
  2. Schedule something right after work. If you have plans to make right after work, you’re more likely to disconnect from work and connect with friends or family.
  3. Recruit some help. Have a friend or family member call you at the end of your day to chat. Try to make it more than just an alarmclock type call so you connect with the conversation and disconnect from work.

These are just some of the things you can do to make your life feel like a vacation. When it comes down to it, a vacation is more of a mindset than anything — though a change in scenery certainly helps.

Millennials are Redefining Healthcare

Millennials stand out in so many ways, and not just negative ones. They are the first generation to have grown up with access to the internet. They are more educated and diverse compared to the previous generations.

Once again, millennials are finding ways to stand out. This time, they are redefining the way healthcare is accessed.

Millennials are constantly reacting to the economy that’s being left to them. After the recession in 2008 and skyrocketing student loans, millennials are left grasping at change. Indeed, they take a firm hold and actively change things around them. With the high costs of health insurance, and prospective changes to Medicaid threatening access for low-income families, millennials are taking their health into their own hands.

Millennials have a different perspective on their health. Whereas previous generations got their health assessed by a doctor through regular checkups, millennials consider health a lifestyle. They are adopting entire lifestyles that promote overall health and wellness to reduce their chances of needing to get costly medical attention.  

Here are some of the ways they are staying out of doctor’s offices:

  • Eating well
  • Staying in shape
  • Getting information online before seeking medical attention. If it’s not serious, they don’t see a doctor.

When they do decide to visit a doctor (if it’s not an emergency), they don’t go to the traditional ones. Instead, they visit retail clinics, which are a step between primary care visits — which require appointments that can be weeks out — and emergency room visits — which are notoriously expensive.

Retail clinics have been popping up in retail locations, replacing old restaurants and clothing stores. They offer walk-in service in convenient locations. For millennials, they are the perfect alternative to potentially waiting weeks to get something small looked at.

Sometimes prices are even displayed on the wall akin to fast food restaurants, making medical services bite-sized for millennials who often don’t have much disposable income for medical expenses. This transparency is a welcome change for millennials (or anyone really) who have developed a distrust of services that add hidden fees (who hasn’t seen that commercial of the girl selling lemonade with hidden fees that more than double the advertised price?).

Retail clinics also often accept health insurance, for those who have it, making it easy and affordable for anyone. 

Wishing for Winter — Tricks to Staying Cool in Summer

In the winter, when it’s cold no matter how much you run your heater, you find ways to stay warm. In the summer, you can reverse some of those techniques to find relief from the heat.

Food

Similar to finding reasons to use the oven or stove in the winter, try to find reasons not to in the summer. Cook meals in the microwave or on the grill outside, or simply eat cold foods for meals. Salads for lunch work great, as well as cold side dishes to go with dinner.

Water

In the winter, hot drinks help to warm up the body and soul. In summer, you can turn to cool drinks like ice water, lemonade or tea. It’s important to stay hydrated in summer because sweating expels a lot of water that is essential to your body. Eating fruits in the summer that have a lot of water content, like grapes and watermelon, are also a great way to cool down and hydrate.

Another way to use water to cool down is by misting. Similar to sweating but without the stickiness, spritzing yourself with water can offer instant relief as the water evaporates off your skin. Boost your spray by adding a couple drops of peppermint oil, which can make your skin tingle soothingly.

Activity

In the winter you may find yourself trying to move your body more for heat. In the summer, try doing your most physically demanding tasks in the morning or evening when the heat isn’t at its peak.

Layers

Warming up with a blanket or extra layers of clothes in the winter is great, and a similar technique can be used in the summer. You can put towels or clothes in the fridge or freezer for some quick relief from the heat. Focusing the cold cloth on pulse points like the wrists or temples will provide even more relief.

Removing shoes and hats is also very effective as heat is dispersed through the head and feet. If you can cool down your feet, it’ll help cool the rest of you.

Wind power

Low-energy fans are great ways to cool down your house inexpensively. If you have multiple fans, set them up in different areas of the house to get a cross-breeze. Fans don’t actually cool the air, but moving air feels cooler on your skin. If you need more oomph, place a bowl of water or ice in front of the fan.

Windows

In the winter, you may pay special attention to keeping windows closed and even covering any gaps in old windows. In summer, ventilation is necessary to keep AC costs down, but how you do it is important. Keeping windows open overnight when it’s coolest is a good start. Close the windows and curtains when it starts to heat up and open them again when it starts to cool down. Opening windows on opposite sides of a room or the house creates cross-breeze that helps move the hot air out.

While the summer heat may feel unbearable, these tricks will help to cool you down and hopefully manage the heat. If you have other methods that work, share them in the comments!

Pets Give Owners More Than Just Cuddles

Anyone who owns pets will tell you it benefits them in some way or another. But besides the terabytes of photos they take and layers of fur they accumulate, what do pet owners get from cohabiting with their animal family?

In general, owning any type of pet provides the benefit of companionship. If you’ve ever been alone, you understand the value of having others around, even non-human others. Pets boost levels of serotonin and dopamine, both essential for happiness. Owning pets can lower blood pressure and reduce stress. If you’ve ever cuddled with an animal, you know how relaxing it can be.

Even the act of caring for a pet is beneficial. It can be a great lesson for children, and it helps people feel needed, like they have a purpose. That can make a huge difference for seniors living alone, for example. Caring for a pet can also increase confidence levels and teach responsibility.

More specifically, each type of pet has its own benefits. The most common pets are dogs and cats, and it can be easy to spot their owners if they have fur on their clothing. (A hidden benefit: Furry clothing can be a great conversation starter and increases social interaction.) Though many people are allergic to pet dander, influencing them to opt for hairless pets like birds and fish, studies have shown that people who grow up around pet dander benefit from allergy prevention.

Dogs

One of the most prominent benefits of owning a dog is the physical activity. Dogs need regular walks and play time, which means if you own a dog you’ll be going outside quite often. This also increases social interactions because you’re likely to run into other dog owners, and while the dogs greet each other, so do the humans. Humans are social creatures so any form of social interaction is good.

The activity dog owners get helps decrease the risk for heart disease and helps their owners heal faster during rehabilitation. Exercise leads to a healthier lifestyle overall, which can mean longer and happier lives.

Cats

Cats are known for being independent and low-maintenance, so it’s no surprise they are a calming influence on their owners. In fact, calm cats promote the release of oxytocin, a chemical that induces feelings of love and trust. Cats help people through grief as people can talk to their cats without fear of judgement. A study even found that kids with autism felt less anxiety when interacting with cats.

Cats are unique in that they are the only animal that purrs. Studies have found that the vibration caused by purring can be therapeutic, even helping to increase bone density. Similar vibration therapy is used in sports to help heal bone injuries. If you have a lap cat with a great purr, you can consider yourself extra lucky.

Fish and Birds

Enclosed animals, like fish and birds, aren’t available for cuddles, but they still reduce stress, shown by studies involving phobic dental patients. When they were exposed to caged animals prior to visiting the dentist, they experienced less stress in their dental visits. Researchers suspect this has something to do with the animal holding our attention and thus distracting us from the anxious feelings.

Horses

Horseback riding used to be prescribed for occupational therapy and offers benefits like increased confidence and range of motion. Studies also found evidence of psychological benefits, like increasing motivation and self-esteem in shy or autistic people.

These are all great benefits, but you shouldn’t rush out and get a pet just for those. Adopting a pet should be primarily for the benefit of the animal. But if you’re worried about how your life will be affected, you can rest assured that you will also benefit from the relationship.

Don’t Just Handle the Midday Slump — Prevent It

It’s a story everyone knows. In the morning you’re super productive and you feel like you can take on any task. Then your lunch passes by and in the afternoon, you’re done. Energy levels drop and you can’t seem to focus on anything.

Some call it the afternoon slump and it can happen anytime between 2pm and 5pm. A lot of people have their own ways to combat the slump when it happens, but there are lots of ways to prevent it in the first place. And they all promote a healthy lifestyle overall, not just when you need it around 2pm.

Eat a healthy breakfast

A cup of coffee as you rush out the door won’t cut it. A good breakfast will energize you and set you up for success later in the day. Healthy breakfast options mix protein, fiber and good carbs.

Some options include oatmeal, eggs and toast, greek yogurt with fruit, and smoothies. Just make sure to avoid excess sugar. This means avoiding flavored oatmeal and yogurt, opting to sweeten with honey and fruits instead.

Drink enough water

Dehydration is one of many culprits of fatigue, so make sure you drink enough water throughout the day. The amount of water you should drink can vary, but a good practice is taking a sip of water as soon as you feel thirsty. Be proactive so you don’t get behind.

In addition to helping keep energy levels up, staying hydrated will help with concentration and preventing headaches.

Eat a healthy lunch

Just as important as breakfast, lunch should get you through the rest of your work day. This means protein, fiber and good carbs are important again. Salads are great, but make sure you don’t load up on sugary dressing and make sure to add some protein (chicken, beans and peas are great). If you’re not a salad person, make sure to include lean protein and whole grains.

Avoid sugar

We’ve touched on this a bit already, but avoiding excess sugar is important. Sugary snacks may seem like they give you a boost in energy and focus, but it burns off just as fast and leaves you more fatigued. It’s best to maintain more steady levels, which means laying off the sugar for those spurts of energy.

Take breaks to walk around

Getting up and walking around increases blood flow and wakes up your body. Staying still too long triggers the sleep mechanisms in your brain, which is why you get so tired after sitting so long. It’s good practice to take regular walking breaks to keep your body awake. Try not to wait until you’re falling asleep though; it’s more effective when your body isn’t about to give in to those sleep signals.

Get enough sleep

This might be a no-brainer, but it’s always worth mentioning. In addition to getting enough sleep, it needs to be quality sleep. Being in bed for 8 hours is not the same as getting 8 hours of sleep. If you know you take a while to fall asleep, build that time into your sleep schedule.

If you need help getting to sleep, it’s a good idea to stop looking at technology screens an hour before heading to bed. You can also try meditation and mindfulness to help you let go of things that may otherwise keep you up at night.

Work out regularly

There is plenty of research supporting the claim that regular exercise improves energy levels throughout the day. To exercise for energy, aim for 20 minutes of low to moderate intensity exercise. Yoga is a great example of low intensity exercise that helps boost energy levels and helps you de-stress.

It’s a good idea to focus on calm energy, in contrast to tense energy that occurs in high-stress, deadline-approaching situations. Tense energy can feel like a substantial energy boost, but it can cause crashes just like sugar rushes. To get calm energy, try listening to music. Music is known to affect mood, which you can use to your advantage.

All these strategies will benefit your overall wellness, in and out of the office. It can be hard to implement all of these, but once you do you’ll feel a big difference in your energy levels and ability to concentrate. Of course, you may still feel drowsy sometimes — it’s been proven that the body clock naturally lowers energy levels in the afternoon. But with these methods you’ll find it’s easier to handle the energy droops.

Fresh Food Prescriptions are the Future of Preventative Healthcare

Healthcare has been getting a lot of publicity lately as many attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act have been taking up a lot of media bandwidth. But some people believe that the whole healthcare system is instead a disease-care system because of the way it reacts to disease instead of preventing it. This can be very costly for many people, especially those with long-term health concerns.

In Pennsylvania, Geisinger Health System recently debuted their Fresh Food Pharmacy that offers food to low-income diabetic patients to keep their Type 2 diabetes under control. In addition to healthy foods, such as whole-grain pasta and beans, patients receive one-on-one guidance from dietitians, wellness classes and workshops, recipes and instruction on how to cook the fresh foods.

Tom Shicowich, one of the patients in the pilot program, said he used to live off of fast food or frozen meals. Over the first year in the program, he lost 45 pounds and is much more active. He cooks dinner every night with his girlfriend.

People with Type 2 diabetes are at higher risk of complications. That means more trips to the doctor for related issues, such as skin problems, nerve damage, poor circulation, hearing problems, eye problems, high blood pressure and kidney damage. Doctor visits for these issues add up and end up costing the patient and medical facility a lot.

Because the Fresh Food Pharmacy gives low-income patients fresh groceries weekly for free, some people worried that it would cost the Geisinger Health System too much. But they disagreed. To feed one patient for a year costs them about $1,000, but with the health improvements they are seeing in patients, they are saving $8,000 or more. This estimate comes from improvements in hemoglobin A1C levels (used to track diabetes) and a decrease in doctor visits due to complications.

The Fresh Food Pharmacy is an excellent taste of what lifestyle-modification programs can do, and how much they can reduce health care costs. These programs aren’t very prevalent though, but if you don’t know of one in your area, you can always take it into your own hands. There are plenty of resources available to help you change your lifestyle to be more healthy.