Much like the precarious line between thinking carefully about food and obsessing over it, exercise is also a highly beneficial component of a healthy lifestyle that can easily become problematic.
Especially among people with a history of eating disorders, a healthy relationship to exercise is “just as pertinent as having a healthy relationship with food,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and an American College of Sports Medicine certified Health Fitness Specialist. These days, we hear almost as much about the health risks of excessive exercise as we do lack of physical activity.
“One end of it is avoidance of exercise, versus the other extreme, which is too much exercise,” says Jennifer E. Carter, Ph.D., the director of sport psychology and the Ohio State University Sports Medicine Center. “Balanced exercise finds the middle ground.”
Some of us need an extra push to get off the couch, or some reigning in once in a while. For others, finding the balance between too much and too little physical activity comes easily. Below are a few things these people do differently.
1. People with a healthy relationship to exercise know the difference between a good burn and true pain.
“You hear so much about the whole ‘no pain, no gain’ attitude,” says Cohn. “I think we really have to redefine what pain is.” Yes, you want to feel like you worked hard, you want some fatigue, you might even relish your second-day soreness. But feeling discomfort in joints, or feeling so exhausted you just want to drop at the end of the day is not normal. Pain can be serious, and pushing through could cause worse injury. People with a health relationship to exercise know when to say when.
2. They take rest days.
And when they are in pain or are exhausted, they know it’s time to skip a sweat session. “It’s the same as that chocolate cake,” says Cohn. “It’s delicious, you want to have another piece, but you know it’s not good for you, and you need to stop eating now.” No matter how much you love working out, there is such a thing as too much exercise, and the people with the healthiest relationships to exercise enjoy their off days. Carter recommends taking at least one a week.
3. They don’t exercise to eat, they eat to exercise.
Exercising purely to “influence weight or shape”, says Carter, can be a slippery slope into obsession and disorder. For a healthy athlete or exerciser, food is fuel, not the enemy. Our bodies require a bare minimum amount of calories simply to survive, and we need to provide extra energy for physical activity. Rather than exercising “to allow themselves to eat,” says Carter, people with a healthy relationship to exercise eat to allow themselves to exercise. Eating whatever you want just because you exercised today doesn’t cut it either, even if you just want to maintain weight. Of course we’d never say the occasional brownie was completely off limits, but ‘occasional’ doesn’t mean every dinner warrants a dessert!
4. They can go with the flow.
Many experts recommend scheduling exercise into your day like you would any other appointment to help you stick with your fitness plan. But there also needs to be some flexibility in the scheduling. One sign it’s become too restrictive is if straying from the usual routine causes extreme upset. Take traveling. Someone with a healthy relationship to exercise won’t panic if her day-to-day routine is a little off. Someone with an unhealthy relationship to exercise might skip out on important events or exciting moments or wake up drastically early to fit in a workout. “The exercise becomes number one,” says Carter.
On those days where a regular workout gets bumped from the schedule, Cohn helps clients keep things in perspective by focusing on other ways in which they are physically active. Even walking just a few more steps a day — whether it’s by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or commuting by foot — is still physical, and can help ease anxiety over skipping a sweat session.
5. They know what they like.
“Balanced or healthy exercise is exercise that you like, not exercise that you dislike,” says Carter. “If you’re doing something that you hate, you’re not going to keep doing it.” That might mean running marathons for some and practicing Bikram yoga for others, but what’s important is that you don’t feel like you’re torturing yourself — and that you don’t feel obligated to try every single fitness fad.
The same principle applies to exercise intensity, says Carter. Some people love high intensity workouts like CrossFit, and others will simply find moderate intensity movement more tolerable, she says.
6. But they still mix things up.
“Doing the elliptical every day at the same intensity level is just a repetitive motion,” says Cohn, not one you’re going to see huge results from. People with the healthiest relationships to exercise balance their workout routines with a mixture of activities, whether that’s high and low impact, cardio and strength training, or arm days and leg days. And it doesn’t require pricey sessions with a personal trainer or a degree in exercise science to add a little more balance to your regular routine. Simply reading the directions on a machine at the gym you’ve never tried before, for example, can be surprisingly helpful.
7. They do it on their terms.
Along with finding a fitness plan they enjoy, people with a healthy relationship to exercise also work out when and where they like. Yes, there are big benefits to a morning workout, like fewer cravings and greater energy, but it comes down to personal preference, says Carter. “Some people like to exercise in the morning, some people hate mornings,” she says. “You don’t have to force it.”
8. They seek support.
Everyone has their off days, even people with a healthy relationship to exercise. Whether it’s a lack of motivation to stick to healthy exercise or a compulsion to overdo it, Carter says one of the most effective safety nets is having a workout buddy. “It’s harder to do the compulsive thing when you’ve got someone with you to encourage something a little more moderate, and it’s a great motivator for [others],” she says. Of course, if exercise — or lack of it — is truly interfering with someone’s health, it may be safer to consult a dietitian, a physician or a mental health professional, “or a mixture of all three,” says Carter.
9. They do it for the mental benefits.
“We know so much about the mental health benefits of exercise,” says Carter, and yet many unbalanced exercisers only consider breaking a sweat helpful for altering weight or shape. For many, exercise is an effective coping method for stress, anxiety and depression, and healthy exercisers harness these powers for good.
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If you thought fitting in five fruits and veggies a day was tough, hold onto your fruit bowl: New research from the University College London suggests that we need at least seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day for optimal health. Holy zucchini! That’s a lot of produce.
But what a payoff! In the study, published in March, people who ate at least seven portions of produce a day had a 42 percent lower risk of death from all causes. Specifically, they had a 31 percent lower risk of death from heart disease and stroke and a 25 percent lower risk of death from cancer. The study authors called the results “staggering.”
It may sound impossible, but these simple tricks will help you squeeze in your super seven without your having to eat like a rabbit. We promise! Here’s how:
Do Smart Swaps
Look for opportunities within your current diet. Which food groups do you consume a lot of each day? You may be drawing a blank, but think harder: Most of us take in seven servings of grains or more without even realizing it. One serving is just a half cup of cooked pasta or a half cup of cereal. And that heaping bowl of corn flakes you had at breakfast or that giant plate of pasta at dinner could easily be four or more servings alone!
So make a switch: Instead of a large bowl of pasta, fill half your bowl with pasta and the other half with steamed or roasted vegetables. At breakfast, fill your bowl halfway with cereal and then top it off with fresh berries. Just like that, you’ve added one to three servings of produce a day.
Mix Them In
Do you eat eggs in the morning? Don’t eat them alone. Try mixing in a half cup of sautéed spinach for a delicious omelet that gives you a full serving of vegetables before 9 a.m. Are you making burgers to toss on the grill? Chop up fresh onions and mushrooms and mix them with the meat before cooking to boost your veggie intake while lowering the saturated fat and calorie content of your burgers.
How do you satisfy your sweet tooth? Don’t overlook the power of fruit to curb cravings. If you’re jonesing for a treat, swap your candy for fresh fruit — strawberries, blueberries, melon, mango, apples, pineapple, oranges, pears, peaches, nectarines — or no-sugar-added dried fruit or freeze-dried fruit. You can even dip them in dark chocolate to amp up the deliciousness. Fruit provides only natural sugars, plus fiber and antioxidants.
Drink Them Up!
Although drinking tall glasses of fruit juice can pack on the calories, having one small glass (1/2 cup equals one serving of fruit) of 100 percent juice daily is a great way to boost your fruit and antioxidant intake. Try mixing a half cup of juice — orange, grapefruit, apple, unsweetened cranberry or some combination thereof — with 1 cup of cold water or seltzer for a refreshing beverage.
Blend Them Up
When you think of smoothies, you probably think fruit — berries, banana, maybe some mango. But did you know that vegetables practically disappear into smoothies? The next time you pull out your blender to make a smoothie, add a half-cup of greens — fresh spinach, kale or swiss chard leaves, cucumber or celery, or go orange with pumpkin, carrots, butternut squash and even beets. The taste won’t change and you’ll have fit in another veggie serving — bam!
Have a Crunchy Snack
If you hanker for a salty snack like chips in the afternoon, here’s a sneaky swap that still satisfies your salt craving while cramming in yet one more nutritious serving of vegetable. Try kale chips or carrot chips — and yes, they are delicious! Simply place thinly-sliced carrots or kale leaves that have been washed and dried on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle on a dash of sea salt. Bake at 350˚ F for 10-15 minutes, or until crispy, and enjoy!
Your Nine-a-day Meal Plan
Think it can’t be done? Think again! Here is a simple to follow meal plan that provides nine servings of fruits and vegetables — the last two are just a bonus!
Breakfast: 2 egg omelet made with 1/4 cup sautéed spinach and 1/4 cup sautéed onions served with 1 slice whole grain toast topped with 2 tsp. natural peanut butter and 1/2 cup 100% orange juice
(1 vegetables, 1 fruit)
Snack: 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese topped with ¾ cup frozen blueberries
Lunch: Turkey wrap (made with 12-inch 100% whole grain tortilla, 3 oz. lean turkey breast, 2 Tbsp. shredded carrots, 1/2 cup diced tomatoes, and 1 handful of fresh spinach leaves, 2 Tbsp. hummus) served with one medium (2-inch diameter) Red Delicious apple
(1-2 vegetables, 1 fruit)
Snack: Trail Mix made with 1/2 cup 100% whole grain cereal, 2 Tbsp. raisins, 1 Tbsp. chopped walnuts
Dinner: 4 oz. grilled salmon filet, 3 oz. baked yam, 1/2 cup steamed broccoli florets (from frozen or fresh), 1 cup garden salad made with fresh spinach leaves, red peppers, and onions topped with 2 Tbsp. vinaigrette dressing
And how to bust out of it ASAP
Most of the time, it’s a really, really good thing to make exercise a habit—especially because previous research has shown that it could help you stay healthier later in life. But while it’s important to incorporate regular gym time into your daily schedule, it’s equally important to not get into such a routine that you end up doing the same thing at the gym every single time you go.
“When you get into a fitness rut, you’re not getting the most out of your workout,” says Greg Justice, an exercise physiologist in Kansas City and author of Mind Over Fatter. “Each one becomes less and less effective.” Here, he explains how to tell if you’re in a fitness funk—and how to get out of it.
You’re Not Making Progress Anymore
Hitting a plateau with your fitness goals is a definite sign that you’re stuck. “Say, for example, that you’ve been trying to run faster, but you keep running three miles in 35 minutes,” says Justice. “That means that you’re in a rut and you need to take action.” His advice: Hire a personal trainer. Worried about price? Just one session will do the trick. “All it takes is one good consultation, and your trainer will likely be able to help you figure out how to get over the hump.”
You Start Quitting Earlier
Imagine that your goal is to do three sets of reps on the leg press every other day. “If those three reps start seeming harder and harder and you begin ending at two reps, you’re probably in a rut,” says Justice. To inject more energy into your workouts, take a couple of days off. “People often burn out and don’t allow themselves enough time to recover,” he says. “So if you take a couple rest days, you may be surprised at how much easier it is to push yourself to the max when you return.” Another option: Focus on your nutrition. Are you eating healthy foods? If you’re eating tons of processed crap, it could be affecting your stamina.
You’re Constantly Looking at Your Watch
If you check the time every few milliseconds, that means that you’re not ever really getting into the deep workout zone, which is basically like the exercise equivalent of REM sleep (where the true magic happens). If that’s the case, Justice suggests making a new playlist. “It could be that you’re just really bored and need new music to pump you up,” he says. If that doesn’t work, you might want to try changing your workout routine entirely. “Try a new class or run outside if you’ve been running inside,” he says. “Changing your surroundings in a big way can usually get you out of a rut.”
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Whether the scale hasn’t budged for one week or six, it’s always a frustrating experience — especially when you feel you’re doing everything “right” to get the weight off. But before you start beating yourself up or throw in the towel on your healthy eating plan, know that you’re not alone.
“The first thing our research shows is that everything hits a plateau,” says Bob Sullivan, co-author of The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success. “Every good idea, diet program, marriage and professional athlete eventually stops working,” says Sullivan. “This is the most confusing thing about any endeavor, and it’s particularly frustrating for people trying to lose weight.” Luckily, there are ways to turn things around — though some methods aren’t as obvious as others.
For instance, eating way less might get the scale moving. But cutting calories has its limitations, and in fact, seems to stop working after a while, says Sullivan. The same goes for the same old workout routine — eventually you’ll need to mix things up, add some high-intensity intervals and challenge the body in new ways. Pairing proper nutrition and a challenging workout routine is, of course, a winning combination. But there are a few more ways to help you bust through that weight loss plateau. Here are seven expert-backed tips on how to reach your goal weight, the healthy way.
1. De-emphasize the scale.
Most physicians would readily agree that the scale alone is a very incomplete metric, says Sullivan. Being healthy involves dozens of measurements, and utilizing more of them will help you realize how far you’ve come and help you set new goals, he says. Perhaps you aren’t moving the scale but you’re lowering your heart rate, reducing belly fat or improving your cholesterol numbers. Start taking measurements so you can see how your body composition is changing by shedding fat and building lean muscle when your weight stays the same. Being able to fit into a smaller size? Now that’s a milestone worth celebrating!
2. Enlist an honest buddy.
A solid support system is a must when you need that extra push to reach your goals. Whether that’s a friend with similar goals or a significant other who just knows how you’re wired, find someone you can be completely honest with about how you’re doing, says Dr. Susan Albers, psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Family Health Center and author of Eat Q: Unlock the Weight-Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence. Having someone to check in with daily or at least a few times a week will keep you accountable and may help you stay on track when faced with temptation. Knowing you’ll have to tell your weight loss buddy you went back for second helpings may help you put the kibosh on that habit.
3. Don’t break old habits — start new ones.
Instead of trying to break old eating habits, form new healthy habits to crowd out the old ones, says Dr. Albers. “It’s easier to form a new habit instead of breaking an old one you struggle with.” So if your old tendency is to have ice cream every night, try swapping the ice cream for non-fat yogurt with granola and factor that into your daily calorie intake, Dr. Albers suggests. Taking control with a positive mindset can help you stay motivated to stick to your healthy eating plan and make it more fun. Keep in mind that diet boredom and eating the same old foods could also be a factor in your plateau.
4. Give yourself a hand.
It’s common to overeat because you’re bored or upset about something (aka ‘emotional eating’). The next time you find yourself diving in for seconds, try tensing your fists to stop yourself from noshing, suggests Dr. Albers. “Clenching your fist while thinking ‘no’ helps you stay true to that behavior. You’re seeing an action and feeling it.”
5. Clean up your environment.
It might seem like an odd way to kick-start weight loss, but getting your home and kitchen organized can help you feel like you’ve got a handle on your weight. “The more in control you feel in your external environment, the more you feel in control internally,” says Dr. Albers. Get rid of the junk (and junk food!), and get your kitchen, home and office in tip-top shape to start inspiring calm and clarity from the inside out.
6. Stop dwelling on your diet.
“The time you spend away from a problem is just as important as the time you spend trying to solve that problem,” says Sullivan. Since you’re not going to be able to eat and exercise perfectly every day, it’s important to avoid stressing over it 24/7. Spending too much time ‘fixing’ a problem limits how far you’ll actually get. “Most people don’t know this, so they keep banging their head against a wall. That’s the very epitome of a mental plateau becoming a physical plateau.” Keep tabs of your daily food intake and workouts, but remember there’s more to life outside the confines of your diet. Keep your interests varied and social life active!
7. Start with today.
The disappointment you feel when you don’t see the number you want on the scale can lead to a dangerous cycle of negative thinking. People don’t really get depressed because the scale reads 152 instead of 150, they get depressed because they feel fat, says Sullivan. This can lead to feelings of fatalism (i.e. “I might as well just eat that quart of ice cream anyway”), which can lead to binge eating, research shows.
To keep from falling off the wagon, have “today-only goals,” suggests Sullivan. Go for a quick run, split that cookie with a friend, skip the sugary cocktail at dinner. Celebrate these small victories to get back a sense of control, power and achievement. “Take care of the little things and the big things will follow.”Leave a Comment »
Mouth and nasal breathing differ dramatically in how they physiologically support the body. How you breathe determines many factors, including how well you’re oxygenating your cells, whether you’re burning fat or sugar, the release of hormones, heart rates, lactic acid build-up, cardiovascular and digestive function and so much more.
So here it is…unless you are in jeopardy of being eaten by a tiger, nasal breathe on your inhale AND your exhale. Our mouths are designed for eating and our noses for breathing. Our mouth triggers the stress response, our nose triggers the relaxation response. It’s that simple.
Our bodies need a balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide to function properly. Only nasal breathing can do this correctly and only nasal breathing can produce nitric oxide, which is a bronchodilator and vasodilator that helps to lower your blood pressure and significantly improves oxygen being absorbed by the lungs.
How often do you workout and feel like the end of your workout was easier than the beginning? Nasal breathing provides body over mind flow states that feel like meditation-in-motion. The key is warming the body up with breathing techniques that activate digestive fire first, then incorporating various nasal breathing techniques to tease and relax the autonomic nervous system.
The restorative qualities of these nasal breathing patterns leave your body feeling refreshed and renewed with virtually no lactic acid build-up. For performance athletes, this is the difference between winning or losing on race day after all the rigors of training.
Tips to Get Started:
- Begin nasal breathing using the diaphragmatic breath. We recommend practicing this while walking to master how it feels to breathe this deeply as your heart rate rises. Then, take it into your sport or fitness routine. Slow down to master breathing in this way. Yes, you will feel like you’re drowning!
- Next, use a system of counting on your inhale and exhale. Inhale the breath for a count of three and exhale for six (either strides, pedals or seconds).
- Create another layer by inhaling for a count of three, holding the breath in for a count of three and exhaling the breath for a count of six.
We recommend practicing each of these individually until you master them, trying the second and third bullets for five to ten minutes each. By the time you’ve got the third breathing pattern down you’ll have yourself a nicely sequenced warm-up. Then, let your body go . . . but don’t stop nasal breathing through the rest of your workout.
As you strengthen your diaphragm muscle, build on your counting. Imagine inhaling for ten, retaining the breath for ten and exhaling for 20. Your body and mind will love this and you’ll never go back to mouth breathing — we promise! Over time, you’ll discover the many yoga breathing techniques to integrate into your workouts and hundreds of ways to sequence them.
Whether you’re a training athlete or fitness enthusiast, there is a science to exercising your body. The body is a vehicle for transformation, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and nasal breathing is the key to unlocking the mysteries of the body.Leave a Comment »