Give the Gift of Fitness

iStock_000014614375SmallWith Hanukkah and Christmas creeping closer by the minute, this Motivation Monday is all about keeping things as simple as possible!

That means I’m offering reminders from holidays past to help you get through this season without completely falling off the health and fitness wagon.

Click on the following links for refreshers on:

1) Navigating your way through a healthy holiday party circuit

2) An ideal workout option for your time-crunched schedule

Finally, I offer three simple gift ideas for the fitness buffs on your list:

I’d love to hear about the items on your wish list! In the meantime, I send tidings of joy and and wishes for a season filled with plenty of chances to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Make Time for Your Health

istock_000012020247smallWe made it to another Motivation Monday, but this one comes in the midst of full-blown hustle and bustle time.  I’ve already reminded you about the importance of keeping exercise and healthy food prep on your holiday to-do lists. Today, I’m here to remind you about another crucial factor in staying healthy: be sure to keep up with those preventive checkups.

I recently saw my dermatologist for my annual mole check. As a fair-skinned, light-eyed Italian gal with lots of moles from head to toe, this has been an annual and sometimes bi-annual ritual since around the time I turned 30. More often than not, a suspicious mole is scraped and sent to a lab for a biopsy. I’ve always received the all clear, but sometimes only after a second scraping of the  area in question after some abnormal cells were detected. That’s what happened after this last checkup. So while my doctor assured me there’s no reason to panic, he does want to excise a bit more of the area for further testing and just keep an eye on it extra closely at my future checkups. I will see him again at the end of this week. Then I can move on and enjoy my Christmas without this extra “thing” on my mind.

Listen, I know how ridiculously busy life can be. However, if there’s a choice between getting a manicure and getting a mammogram during your only free hour of the week, choose the test. My friends who are moms sometimes tell me how they’re long overdue to get to the gynecologist for a checkup, but they haven’t been able to fit it in with all the “stuff” going on with the kids. I tell these amazing women they need to find the time to take care of themselves so they can continue to be there for their kids.

I realize there are only eight days until Hanukkah and 17 days until Christmas. So between working, shopping, baking, gift wrapping, card writing and party-going, this may not be the ideal time for a trip to the doctor’s office. However, if you know you’re due for a checkup or follow-up with one of your health care providers, why not put a 10-minutes aside to make a simple phone call and schedule an appointment for January. (Many doctors offices today even give the option of scheduling your appointments online.) Consider it one of the easiest ways to kick off the New Year with a renewed gusto to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

 

 

 

‘Tis the Season…

iStock_000014614375SmallOn this Motivation Monday, we’ve recovered from the turkey hangover but find ourselves ensconced in the hustle and bustle of the 2014 holiday season. While it’s known as “the most wonderful time of the year,” let’s not kid ourselves. It’s also a time filled with stress. How do we fit the shopping, decorating, card writing and other holiday prep into our days already filled with work, taking care of the kids and hosting or dropping in at a couple of  holiday parties along the way?

Despite the crunch, this is not the time to put the sneakers and workout wear in the back of the closet until 2015. In fact, the extra stress and calories thrown into our already frenetic days should make finding time to exercise more important than ever. It could be just what both your mind and body need to let go and enjoy some holiday cheer!

No doubt the extra chores paired with fewer hours of daylight can make it feel like there are fewer hours in the day. If you normally spend more than an hour at the gym or take 90-minute power walks with your friends in the neighborhood, chances are you’re going to need to spend some of those minutes elsewhere. So, here are some tips on how to fit fitness into your busy holiday schedule:

  • Switch things up: Try working out in the morning. If you can hit the gym, take a walk or break a sweat with some help from your favorite workout DVD first thing in the morning, you can cross exercise off your to-do list for the day. Two bonuses: you’ll be energized and focused thanks to the endorphin rush AND you’ll feel less guilty about having a treat or two at the holiday get-together in the evening.
  • Try the group thing: Most group exercise classes run between 45 and 60 minutes and take the guesswork out of planning your own routine. Give total body conditioning or strength training classes a shot as they get your heart rate up and hit all the major muscle groups in a short window. The group environment also gives you the opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone who can share his or her own holiday season survival tips!
  • Make shopping physical: If you drive to a mall, don’t look for the closest parking spot to the entrance. Also, be sure to wear walking shoes or cross trainers to keep your body moving efficiently while you rush from store to store.
  • Arm yourself with healthy snacks: If you’re squeezing in a shopping trip between work and picking up the kids, chances are you’re in between meals and could be hit with a snack attack. Instead of letting the smell of cinnamon, chocolate or other decadent temptation get the best of you at the mall, be sure to have some almonds, an apple or snack bar in your bag (No matter what purse I leave the house with, there’s always a KIND bar stuck in one of the pockets).
  • Don’t arrive hungry: Never show up for a holiday get-together feeling ravenous. If you’re eating late in the day, have portion-controlled healthy meals leading up to the main event and a snack up to an hour before arriving at the party. This can help you avoid grabbing the first high-calorie, high-fat item you see.

What are your tricks for getting through the holiday season? I’d love to know! Sharing ideas is one of the best ways to get through a busy season and stay on the path to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Time to Talk Turkey!

Thanksgiving feastThe countdown to the official start of the 2014 holiday season is really winding down now. As this Motivation Monday brings us just a few days shy of Thanksgiving and kicks off for what’s an abbreviated week for many, I figured it couldn’t hurt to offer my annual tip sheet for how to get through the calorie-loaded holiday.

For me, Thanksgiving is right up there with the Fourth of July. I love the fact it’s a 100% American holiday with no gifts required. The only requirements are giving thanks for the blessings in your life and enjoying some quality time with family and friends. Of course, that time tends to be filled (stuffed is more like it) with food, drink and football. Here are a few ways to keep things under control:

  • Get moving: Even if you’re cooking and can’t leave the house, you can wake up and pop in an exercise DVD or bang out a Tabata or two wherever you have space to do push-ups or burpees. If you can get out but have to cut your workout time in half, take a brisk power walk or abbreviated run. If your gym is open, get to a morning group exercise class or at least bang out some cardio and core work.
  • Don’t skip breakfast: Just like every other morning, be sure to eat something sensible to get your metabolism going. If your Thanksgiving feast isn’t scheduled until late afternoon, make sure to follow breakfast with a small lunch or sensible snack so you don’t go overboard later. One of my favorite fillers is non-fat plain Greek yogurt with a serving of almonds mixed in. The protein-rich snack keeps me full for hours!
  • Use a smaller plate (like a salad dish) for your meal: If there’s salad or veggies, load up on those first, then take some turkey. Use the remaining space for the potatoes, stuffing and other starches. (There won’t be as much room left as you’d have on a regular dinner plate.)
  • Savor the flavor: Eat slowly! If you do clean your plate, wait about 10 minutes before going back for round two. This will help you decide if you’re really hungry. If you aren’t, you’ll feel good knowing you had one helping – before moving on to dessert, of course!
  • Watch the alcohol intake: This is a good day to follow the every-other-drink-is-alcohol plan. Enjoy a glass of wine, beer or cocktail then have a glass of water of diet soda before moving on to the next libation.
  • Give away leftovers: Hosting the holiday feast? Don’t be shy about giving some of the uneaten turkey and trimmings to your guests.

If you have any “secrets” that help you enjoy the holiday without waking up feeling guilty on Black Friday, I’d love to hear about them! The holiday season is definitely challenging when it comes to watching our waistlines, but the good news there are some tricks that can help you continue your journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Gobble Gobble Prep Time

Thanksgiving feastIs anyone else blown away by the fact that this Motivation Monday marks the 10-day countdown to Thanksgiving 2014? In anticipation of the delicious, calorie-loaded holiday, I thought it would be a good time to offer a few easy reminders on how to burn a few extra calories at the gym and keep the diet in check. Paying closer attention to your healthy habits in the days leading up to a holiday or other special occasion is a great way to have less guilt when you do sit down to gobble up the goodies and celebrate!

Move Just a Little Bit More: Three easy ways to burn a few more calories on a daily basis:

  1. Add one Tabata to your workout. Click here for a refresher on the four-minute high intensity workout formula.
  2. Jump rope for 30-second intervals (60 for the more advanced fitness fiends) between exercises. If you’re lifting weights, add a jump rope intermission as you move from one machine to the next or every other move.
  3. Add more steps to your day by taking the stairs and parking your car further away from the entrance to your office or even at the shopping center.

Fast Food Fixes: As seen on a recent episode of the Working Woman Report, here’s a little show-and-tell about how a little prep can go a long way in making healthier food choices.

As we move into this fun, festive and food-filled time of year, it’s good to know some simple choices can help us enjoy the season and still have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

Just Breathe…Seriously!

iStock_000018172590MediumAs this Motivation Monday has us inching closer to the most wonderful albeit hectic time of the year, I make a promise now to keep one thing on your to-do list simple: reading my blog!

We all have phases in our lives when for whatever reason, it’s harder to get a handle on the schedule or finish the items on that to-do list in a day or even a whole week. Well, that’s where I find myself two weeks into November. So to those of you sticking with your routine of reading my posts, I thank you. For those of you who miss me on Twitter, I ask for your patience as I try to catch up. For everyone else, your support is always appreciated!

For this short and sweet post, I thought I’d discuss the importance of something we do all the time without even thinking about it: breathing. This normal occurrence can make all the difference in a workout – especially when you’re pushing it. While most of us tend to breathe harder and faster when we’re in the midst of a cardio session, we sometimes do just the opposite when we’re strength training. Stop and think about the last time you pushed through some push-ups or pumped out that full-body conditioning class. Did you hold our breath while banging out one or more reps?

There’s a name for when people hold their breath during strenuous activity like weight lifting: the valsalva maneuver. The bad news is it can limit oxygen delivery to the brain and cause dizziness, a spike in blood pressure or even cause you to pass out during a workout. So, be sure to keep breathing. The general rule of thumb is to exhale on the exertion phase of the exercise and inhale on the easier phase. For example, while doing a crunch, you should exhale as you crunch your upper body forward and inhale on the way back down to the floor. With weights, you’d generally be exhaling as you lifted or curled a weight with your arms or pushed away on the leg press and inhale on the release.

In addition to making sure you’re getting enough oxygen in your system, focusing on your breath has another benefit. When things get tough, focusing on your breathing is a great way to take your mind off the burn and power through more reps! One final note: do not stress over when you should be inhaling or exhaling. I’d rather you breathe “backwards” rather than not breathe at all and end up fainting in the middle of your workout.

At the end of the day, sometimes the things we take for granted as part of our daily routines can make all the difference in our efforts to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

You MUST Do This Before You Leave the Gym!

coldComing off a busier weekend than usual, I’m keeping this Motivation Monday post on the short-and-sweet side.

As we take on November, it’s time for everyone to embrace the one “move” that can save you a world of hurt as we head into another cold and flu season.
You already know I want you to:
  1. Add a plank or two to the end of that cardio spree
  2. Use the foam roller on your calves before you get moving and…
  3. Stretch when you’re done.

So what extra move am I talking about? Wash your hands!

Seriously, the gym is a literal hot bed for germs. Taking a couple of extra minutes at the end of your workout to head to the bathroom and get the grime off your hands is just plain ol’ common sense. Unfortunately, the cold and flu virus can play a sort of hopscotch on elliptical machine handles, barbells and weight plates. Rubbing your sweaty, unclean hands or fingers near your eyes makes it all too easy for these sneeze-and-cough inducing bugs to invade your own body.
Of course, washing your hands also offers protection against fungal infections that also thrive at the gym, including ringworm. I know, this is a rather icky post to kick off a new week, but hey, it’s reality. The good news is it’s easy to ward this stuff off by washing your hands. Just remember to use soap and water, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and dry them well.
One final note on gym hygiene: when you get home, do not place your dirty workout wear or even that gym bag on your comforter, couch pillows or anywhere you lay your head. (You don’t even want to think about how many germs jumped onto your shorts or t-shirt from that shared exercise mat or worse from the locker room floor!) Remember, keeping it clean is one of the best ways to stay on track with your plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Countdown to Candy…

iStock_000018036374XSmallThis Motivation Monday brings us four days closer to that fun, candy-filled celebration known as Halloween. If you’re still trying to figure out how to score that sold-out Frozen costume for your kid or what you’re going to wear to that grown-up holiday party, I figured I’d throw in a few reminders about how to manage the tricks and treats without slipping into a candy coma.

It’s important to remember you’re getting this advice from a real candy girl. As you repeat readers know, I love my chocolate. Throw some peanut butter or crispy wafers under the milk-chocolate madness, and now I’m faced with my kryptonite. So, here are a few ways I get through the holiday with as little guilt as possible:

Going to extremes: Buy candy you DON’T like. Since I’m a chocolate nut, buying fruity candies like Skittles or Starbursts is an easy way for me to avoid  finding too many wrappers in my trash on November 1st. You can also hand out sugar-free gum. At about five calories per stick, if you chew on a few of those during the holiday, it’s obviously not going to blow your healthy eating habits to smithereens.

Middle-of-the-road options: Here are a few treats that will help keep the calorie overload to reasonable levels:

  • York Peppermint Patties: who says you can’t enjoy a full-size candy bar without a side order of guilt? This cool treat drenched in dark chocolate is 140 calories with 2.5 grams of fat. (Compare that to a full-size Snickers bar that has 280 calories and 14 grams of fat, and you’ve got a good reason to be satisfied by all that minty goodness!)
  • Mini Three Musketeer Bars: Three minis register at 24 calories each and less than one gram of fat.
  • Hershey Kisses: Three chocolate smooches register at 67 calories and 4 grams of fat.
  • Tootsie Roll: One piece has 26 calories and five grams of fat.
  • Candy Corn: You can enjoy a handful of 10 pieces for only 64 calories and 0 grams of fat.
  • 100 Calorie Packs: A good alternative to candy bars, these individual packs can satisfy your sweet tooth and take the guess-work out of portion control.
I wrap up by wishing everyone a safe and Happy Halloween! Remember, even this sweet holiday doesn’t have to put the brakes on your never-ending quest to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

The First of Many Avon Walks to Come

Ready to Roll!

Ready to Roll!

People often talk about life-changing experiences. At 40, I can say I’ve had a few. Yet nothing compares to the two-day, 39.3 mile journey around New York City shared  with thousands of people from all over the country, all sporting pink for a purpose. Being a part of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer can be summed up in one just one word: empowering.

When I arrived at Pier 84 along the Hudson River just after six on Saturday morning, I immediately felt a surge of energy. Then Sue, my fellow St. Mary’s Gael, and I found each other among the masses of people stretching, filling their water bottles and taking photos before the start of the journey and my excitement intensified through the duration of our bear-hug greeting. After the opening ceremony featuring motivational music and moving stories from breast cancer survivors and those who lost loved ones to the disease, we were off. When the journey ended nearly 30 hours later back at the spot where it all began, Sue and I had tears in our own eyes as we gave each other another bear hug and crossed the finish line.

26.2 Miles Done!

26.2 Miles Done!

The journey took us through many New York neighborhoods from the Upper West Side to Greenwich Village, over the Brooklyn Bridge, to Randall’s Island and back to where it all started. As we crossed streets with safe guidance and motivation offered by an amazing crew of volunteers, and welcomed pom-pom animated cheers from well-wishers in the different neighborhoods, we met people with so many different stories. A nine-year survivor who’s already looking forward to next year when her three granddaughters will join in for their first walk. A man from North Carolina who has participated in 91 Avon walks around the country in honor of his son who had a double mastectomy at the age of 17 and a friend who’s also battling the disease. The other first-timers who knew after mile one they’d be back next year – just like me and Sue.

We did it! 39.3 Miles!

We did it! 39.3 Miles!

The stories and the hometowns were different, but we all came together for the same purpose. To literally take steps toward wiping out a disease that affects far too many lives each year. At the closing ceremonies, while we celebrated the fact that the New York event raised seven-point-one million dollars, we were also presented with the sad reality that while we walked, another 150 people lost their lives to breast cancer over the weekend. But as the survivors walked into the ceremony site, their spirit reminded us that we can’t give up the fight against breast cancer. Their determination, matched with the challenge of finishing a 39-mile journey taught me we are all stronger than we think.

Gaels for Life!

Gaels for Life!

As many of you already know, I’ve wanted to walk the Walk since my mom beat breast cancer in 2008. Then this year, Sue and I learned we had a common source of motivation as one of our classmates is now waging her own war against the disease. On Sunday afternoon, Liz joined us at the closing ceremonies and we all agreed we couldn’t wait to start planning our next walk when she would join us as a survivor.

I write this post realizing I’ve probably never been this sore or tired in my life, but I also realize I’ve also never felt so exhilarated. There is something amazing about pushing your body to the limit with the help of sheer determination stemming from something close to your heart. Once again, I want to thank all my friends and family who made a donation and helped me get to the starting line and whose faith kept me pushing through to the end. Please know these are only a few of dozens of great images I captured over the weekend. If you’re following me on Facebook, be sure to check my page for the complete Avon Walk album to be posted soon! (And if you aren’t following me there yet, now’s the time to do it!)

IMG_4541If you’ve been thinking about joining the Avon Walk or other similar efforts to take up the fight against a disease that’s hit close to home, get out there and do it! Putting your best foot forward – literally – is probably one of the most empowering ways to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Step Off the Scale!

iStock_000015952283SmallLet’s face it. We can all get way too caught up in the numbers game. Perhaps no digits are regarded with more dread than those reflecting our age and our weight. So on this Motivation Monday, I’m here to remind you of two important realities:

1) Age IS just a number. Considering the alternative, is blowing out an extra candle on your birthday cake every year really such a big deal?

2)  The scale is NOT always your  friend.  You give up wine and cupcakes for a week, and the number staring back at you hasn’t budged or had the audacity to creep up a digit or two. Well, that’s when you need to literally step off and take stock of the non-scale wins you can see and feel because of your efforts to follow a healthier lifestyle.

Think back to when you started working out. Whether it was last week or last year, don’t dismiss any of the gains you’ve made:

  • Can you do five more push-ups today than the first time you hit the gym last month? That’s a win!
  • How about my favorite exercise, the plank. You’re already able to hold that position for 30 seconds? Kudos to you!
  • Did you walk up the stairs from the train platform today and not feel winded by the time you hit the street? Major win!
  • Didn’t even blink carrying your kid on one arm and a bag of groceries on the other for 10 blocks? Win and win again!

Now think about what’s changed thanks to adding healthier food choices to your daily routine:

  • Are you getting more daily servings of fruits and veggies thanks to the 30-minutes you put aside to prep containers of grab-and-go produce? Win!
  • Do you have more energy during the day because you’re focused on eating every few hours instead of waiting until that one big meal at night? Good job!
  • Can you concentrate better at work or on that never-ending to-do list thanks to steadier blood sugar levels? Mental victory!
  • Feel like you rocked those “skinny jeans” or that outfit you’ve been saving for a special occasion last weekend? Chalk up another win for “Team You.”

We can be so hard on ourselves that we forget to stop and take note of the positive things that happen when we exercise and eat well. Whether it’s sleeping better or being a more attentive colleague, spouse or friend, we can help our bodies and our minds function as close to 100 percent as possible by making healthy choices. Remember, sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference when it comes to staying on track with your goals to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

 

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