Posts Tagged by healthy living

23 and a Half Hours

While catching up on Twitter yesterday, I came across a video via Runner’s World that I thought was too good NOT to share. It’s a “Visual Lecture” (basically someone draws/writes on a big white board while someone narrates) that delivers a very important and powerful message about health.

The video is a little long (9 minutes and 19 seconds to be exact) and starts a little slow, but I promise it’s worth it. Although I’m sure that most of you reading this blog probably already follow the doctor’s advice in your regular lives, I believe that the simple message is worth sharing.

Plus – by now you all know that I love stuff like this. THIS, my friends, is pretty much what my profession is all about.

So watch, discuss, and share widely.

ETA: If you can’t watch the embedded video, click here to view on YouTube

I watched this with EC last night and then proceeded to make him suggest he stand with me during the second half of the Breaking Bad episode we were watching (one more season to catch up on before the season 5 premiere. Think we’ll make it?!). I’m sure that I’m such a peach to date.

Beating the Winter Blues

It seems that lately I’ve been hit with a bad case of the winter blues. Whether it’s from the mountains of snow piled everywhere, or because every long run this training cycle has been been filled with frustration, or even because life at the moment seems to be standing still, the fact of the matter is that I just haven’t felt like myself. Even going away to Charlotte last week didn’t help snap me out of this funk.  Although it was a little warmer, Charlotte weather was dreary and rainy, and my short visit to a place with snowless streets made it that much harder to come back. To make matters worse, Monday morning I got the worst kind of welcome back to New England —  a bad run in with some black ice.  While walking along a sidewalk near where I work, my feet flew out from under me and I landed hard on my backside (this was in public while wearing a skirt and carrying a mug of hot coffee, I might add). Fortunately I didn’t do any serious damage, but I fell so hard that it hurt to walk the rest of the day. And everything has been extremely sore and achey since…which means no running for me.

In the past, signing up for races and training through the winter has been enough to help me escape these blues. Having a big goal like a marathon to work toward keeps me motivated when the days are cold and short. It gives me structure, and it helps me see the value of each day I get to run as I build up a base and get stronger. But since my favorite part of marathon training (the long runs) hasn’t gone smoothly at all this time around, I find that I just can’t escape the slump. To say my motivation has been lacking would be an understatement.

But — as was bound to happen — last night I finally hit the breaking point. I was tired of coming home from work and feeling like a lump. Tired of feeling sorry for myself that my runs haven’t gone as planned and life this winter has been less than exciting. Tired of wishing away each day just to make it to spring. Because honestly, there are worse things in life than dealing with a tough winter.

So while I can’t control the weather to make the snow melt and the sun shine, there are other factors that affect the way I’m feeling on a regular basis. And I can definitely do something about those.

Beat the Winter Blues Plan

in other words, my “snap out of it!” plan

Last night I took a good hard look at a few things that I know I haven’t been good about lately and are probably making me feel like crap. From those things, I set some goals to focus on for the next couple of weeks.

1.) Sleep More

Ever since I was younger, sleep and I have had a tumultuous relationship. I’ve just never been very good at it. Not only does it take me a long time to fall asleep, but I’m a very light sleeper. So I have a hard time sleeping if there’s any sort of noise, or if I’m in an unfamiliar environment (like I was last week). The problem with this is that since I can’t fall asleep, I find myself staying up later and later. Even if I’m not doing anything, for some reason I find it better to be awake and tired on the couch than awake and frustrated in my bed. Don’t try to find the logic in this scenario, there isn’t any.

Obviously not getting enough sleep is a huge factor into your mood and how you feel. And with all the running I’m doing these days, sleep is especially important.

pup alarm clock.jpgphoto via stockforfood

So this week, I’m re-committing to a decent bedtime. So far, in the one night I’ve been doing this, I’ve done great. :) Last night I skipped blogging and went to bed before 10:00. And I already feel more rested. For the rest of the week, I’m going to aim to be asleep before 11, with 10:00 – 10:30 being the goal.

2.) Eat More {Balanced}

Traveling and eating out for every meal last week is only part of the problem. Lately, I’ve traded greens for chocolate more often than I should. While everyone around me is still committed to their New Year’s resolution of eating healthy, there’s just something about this cold weather that has me reaching for the comfort food. Plus, I’ll admit that it’s pretty easy to use marathon training as an excuse to eat extra baked goods and snack on junk. In case you’re wondering — it’s not. Just because you run extra long one day a week doesn’t necessarily mean you burn off enough calories to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. And even if it doesn’t go to your waist (or hips), eating less vegetables usually means getting less of the nutrition that you need. Especially when you eat a vegetarian diet.

I usually try to make sure I get all the vitamins I need through my diet, but it can be really easy for vegetarians to come up short in certain areas if they’re not careful. Because I’ve been dragging lately, I’ve made it a goal to take daily supplements of the vitamins that can be low from running a lot and/or a vegetarian diet: Iron and Vitamins B-6 and B-12. I’m hoping both will help my energy levels.

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3) Drink More {Water}

A few weeks ago, I lost my favorite water bottle of all time. This was a very sad day for me, since I carried that thing with me wherever I went. Not only was it fun to drink from, but it held a lot of water. The water bottles I’ve been using lately just haven’t cut it, and I haven’t been doing a stellar job making sure I stay well hydrated. It doesn’t help that the air all around me is extremely dry — both from the cold outside and the constantly running heat inside. I need to make a conscious effort to drink more. The goal is to pee often and pee clear.

4.) Play More {Worry Less}

I admittedly have a hard time letting go of things I can’t control. Which means I get easily anxious about the smallest things. I need to remember that life is good and everything is going to work out whether I’m stressing over it or not. In other words, I need to relax. So what if it’s winter in New England and we have record amounts of snow?? Life is good! I have a healthy body that will let me go outside and play in it, and many wonderful people in my life to spend time with.

So in the spirit of playing more, tomorrow a group of us are going to Boston to see Hood to Coast in theaters. I’m so excited to see a movie about my favorite type of race ever: a 24-hour relay! If you’re in the area and want to join, let me know! I think you can still get tickets to the event (which you can buy here).

How to Set SMART Fitness Goals

Even though we are a people that love to set resolutions at the beginning of a new year, the sad reality is that the majority of us will fail to achieve them. How many swear they’re going to lose weight for the umpteenth year in a row? Or say that this is the year they will “get healthy” only to stop going to the gym after one month?

sorry-statistically-speaking-wont-new-years-ecard-someecards.jpgpicture via someecards.com

Unfortunately, after a few years of this, setting resolutions can become something to avoid. After all, why would you consistently set yourself up for failure? Why not just live in the moment and see where the year takes you?

But what if I told you there was a better way? What if you could set yourself up with a better chance of success? The trick is, you’ve just got to be SMART about it.

Back in October, Jen wrote a great post about setting SMART goals for her marathon. You should read her post for more background (and for a great example of analyzing a goal to see if it meets the criteria), but basically, goals that are SMART are;

S – specific: this is the who, what, when, where, and how of your goal.

M – measurable: you’ve got to be able to measure your goal in some way. Otherwise how will you know if you’ve reached it?

A - attainable: if you really want to set yourself up for success, the goal should be something you can feasibly attain (i.e. winning the lottery so you can quit that job you hate is probably not a good goal).

R - realistic: something that you are willing and able to work toward. This doesn’t mean you can’t set the bar high — sometimes just fully believing something can be accomplished can make it realistic.

Ttimely: your goal(s) should have a specific time-line; a date by which you want to achieve them. This will motivate you to get started.

Transforming Your Resolutions Into SMART Goals

To make your health and fitness resolutions SMART, you just have to do a little crafting. For example, let’s take a common resolution: “to get healthy”

1.) Make it specific. This is actually why I prefer the term “goals” to resolution. A resolution implies you are deciding something; a goal implies a specific action you want to take.

Obviously as it stands right now, “get healthy” is not very specfic. There are many ways to get healthy — from stopping smoking, to eating more produce, to getting more exercise. But even saying something like “eating more fruits and veggies” or “exercising more” isn’t specific enough. To really be SMART about it, you need to define exactly what you want to do.

Specific goal: Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, at least 3 days a week. Even better: “do at least 30 minutes of moderately intense cardio a day, five days of the week” (this is the recommended guideline for healthy adults under the age of 65).

2.) Make it measurable. How are you going to track your progress? Making it concrete will not only help you stay on track, but it can also give you motivation along the way as you reach mini milestones.

tape measure.jpgphoto via Darren Hester

The specific goal above is clearly measurable. Success can be measured based on how often you exercise each week. But you don’t even have to be that prescriptive. The examples below are both specific and measurable:

Set a new 5K/10K/marathon PR (personal record)

Build up to being able to run for an hour

Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day

3.) Make sure it’s attainable. Now I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t set the bar high or shoot for the stars. But sometimes when we set grand goals that we really aren’t in a place to achieve, we’re actually setting ourselves up for failure and discouragement. I think this is why so many people give up on their resolutions after a few months. On January 1st they may be fired up to change and proudly declare: “I’m going to the gym every day!” only to find that life gets in the way and doing that is pretty near impossible. Instead, it’s much better to start small. Or to create intermediate goals and celebrate small victories along the way.

For example, an attainable goal for me is totrain for and complete the National Marathon in March.” An unattainable goal would be to run every single day, or to win that marathon (as amazing as that would be!!).

4.) Make it realistic. If you aren’t a runner (or just hate running), running a marathon probably is not a realistic goal for you at the moment. That doesn’t mean you can never do one, but if you want to make sure that your goal is something you can achieve in the next year, you have to look at where you are now, and start from there. Similarly, it has to be a goal you’re willing to put in the work for. For example, committing to doing yoga 5+ days a week is not a realistic goal for me. I love running too much to cut back on it enough to pursue something else — even if that something could be really good for me.

Sometimes making something realistic might mean adding in the phrase: “I will do my best.” We can’t expect ourselves to be perfect. I’m very committed to my goal of running a speedy spring marathon, but I still slipped and failed to get in my training runs over the holidays.

Realistic Goal: “I will try my best to limit desserts, aiming to eat no more than 3 desserts per week.” (vs. vowing to never eat dessert again — which isn’t realistic for me, anyway).

5.) Set a time-frame! This is probably one of the most important pieces. Without any sort of deadline, we don’t have any real motivation to make a change. I am pretty much the Queen of Procrastination. If I don’t give myself a specific date to start and a specific date to end, I will most likely put it off. Especially if the change is hard or the task is unpleasant.

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(Source)

Telling yourself you’re going to start exercising or you’re going to build up to run for an hour isn’t enough. When do you want to achieve this by? Next year? In two months? Having a goal will keep you motivated, and will also help you keep track of your progress.

Timely Goal: Starting next week, I am going to do some form of cardio for at least 30 minutes, at least 3 days each week. I will to commit to this schedule for the next 3 months.

Setting SMART goals doesn’t mean you’ll never experience failure or setbacks. But it does give you something concrete to work toward and can increase your chances of being successful in 2011.

When you sit down to look at your goals for 2011, are they SMART? Or do they need a little tweaking?

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Be Healthy, Start a Revolution!

All of us have a certain core set of beliefs that shape who we are and how we interact with the world. These beliefs drive our relationships, our career choices, and even many of our mundane everyday decisions. They are things we hold so dearly that they will not be shaken, no matter what happens in life.

I’m not just talking about things like faith and religion here (don’t worry, I’m not suddenly going down that road on you). There are many other beliefs and values that give us a lens through which we look at the world. For me, one of those beliefs is this: health is a basic human right. With all that is in me, I truly believe that every man, woman, and child on this earth has the right to a healthy life.

Unfortunately, however, we live in a world where this right is not a reality for many people. Health problems are rampant and it seems as though a smaller and smaller percentage of us are actually “healthy.”

In a recent article in the Huffington Post, Dr. Mark Hyman argues that health is a right which has been taken from us. The article is a great one, and I strongly encourage you to take a few minutes to read through it. But some of his basic argument is as follows (emphasis added):

Our social, political and economic conditions support obesity and disease. Habits and the default choices in our society are built into the fabric of every segment of our society — families, homes, schools, workplaces, and places of worship, our government institutions and health care centers.

Our current food, social and community environments make it hard for us to make healthy choices. In fact, staying healthy has become almost impossible, which is why almost three quarters of Americans are overweight and one in two Americans have one or more chronic diseases.

I’ve written before about how our environment is making us sick and I’m not going to dwell on it now. Instead, I want to bring your attention to a movement Hyman highlights in his article; a movement born on one principle, that in today’s world being healthy is a revolutionary act. As Hyman so eloquently states:

No single change will help us take back our health. It is the hundreds of little choices we make every day, a hundred small revolutionary acts we can control that will transform our collective health.

2010-12-20-images-HealthRevolutionBooklet457x640.jpg(Source)

The website RevolutionaryAct.com was started by a woman named Pilar Gerasimo as a way to spark a health revolution. The movement is based on 10 revolutionary truths, which are available in the free downloadable manifesto (Being Healthy is a Revolutionary Act: A Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World) and are also printed in the Huffington Post article. I encourage you to download the manifesto (which also includes 101 revolutionary ways to be healthy — how’s that for inspiration?), but a few of my favorites include:

  1. The way we are living is crazy
  2. This is not about six-pack abs and skinny jeans
  3. Inaction is not an option
  4. The best defense is a good offense (i.e. it’s time to give up diets and focus instead on nourishing our bodies)

The field in which I work is focused on obesity prevention. And in that field, we talk a lot about how the solution to the obesity epidemic (and yes, it is a crisis of epidemic proportions) will be from a multi-pronged approach. That is, attacking the issue at all angles — changing the environment, coming up with new policies, and of course, inspiring more individuals to take responsibility for their health and behavior. The same is true for health as a whole. Not only do we need to change the environment to be more supportive of our health, but we as individuals need to work on making changes for ourselves, our families, and our communities that will help make this world a healthier place for each and every individual.

As the new year approaches, it’s time to set new goals and look ahead toward all the promises and the possibilities 2011 holds. There’s truly no better time to start taking back control of your health, and to work to improve the health of others.

So what are you waiting for? Join the revolution today and be a part of the movement that aims to take back something we all have a fundamental right to: our health.

The Pricing Paradox

I eat a lot of vegetables. Not just because I’m a vegetarian and know they’re good for me, but also because I genuinely like them. When grocery shopping, I try to buy mostly fresh produce, whole grains, and individual ingredients, while avoiding (most) packaged foods.

But eating this way isn’t always easy, and it sure isn’t cheap. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way. People are short on time, short on money and short on resources. To make matters worse, the environment we live in isn’t very supportive of our health.

In general, many people know that fruits and vegetables are healthier choices than fast food. But that doesn’t change the fact that fresh produce is usually more expensive than packaged, processed foods or take-out from a fast food restaurant. How can we honestly expect people to buy more of the healthy items when they cost so much more?

One strategy that tries to fix this problem is to lower the prices of healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables. If we could make it cost less to eat healthy, people would eat more of the good stuff, right?

Lets-Go-Shopping

(Source)

Unfortunately it isn’t that simple. A few days ago, a friend sent me an article that reminded me of a presentation about food pricing that I heard while at my UNC course last summer. The article talked about a study done at the University of Buffalo where researchers made healthy foods cheaper while keeping the prices of junk food the same. They wanted to see how that would effect food choices made by moms in a grocery store. Not surprisingly, when the prices were cheaper, moms did buy more healthy foods. But here’s the catch: the overall nutrition in their carts didn’t change. Instead of using the extra money to buy more healthy foods (or saving it), the moms actually used to it buy more junk. Not quite the result one would hope for.

So then what about doing the opposite? Will the overall effects be better if instead of lowering the cost of healthy foods, we raised the prices of the unhealthy ones? Taxing foods and beverages that have low nutritional value (like soda or fast foods) can encourage people to buy less. But, as you may have guessed, there can also be negative consequences to this. Such as the fact that it has a larger negative effect for families with lower income, and can unfortunately leave them without options if there aren’t cheaper healthy options to replace the foods they now can’t afford. Not to mention the fact that it can be difficult to know where to draw the line. How do we actually define “not nutritious?” And how do you prevent people from buying other unhealthy (not taxed) foods instead?

Well then, if neither option is perfect alone, what would happen if you raised prices of unhealthy foods while also lowering prices of the healthy ones? Sounds like a perfect solution, right? Sadly, researchers have found that this isn’t a great solution either. The subsidy isn’t enough to overcome the negative impacts of the tax.

At this point, I’m sure it must sound like it’s time to just throw up our hands in defeat. Either that, or I suddenly have no faith in my profession and everything we are trying to do.

It may not sound like it, but my goal here is not to sound defeatist. I realize that I have raised a lot of problems without actually proposing a good solution. But my point is that there really is no simple answer. We know that as a country, our health needs work. We don’t eat healthy foods, we don’t exercise enough, and rates of obesity and chronic disease continue to grow. Something needs to be done to fix the health of our nation, but the solution isn’t going to be a simple one. Just like we can’t simply tell people to eat healthier and expect them to change, we can’t just change prices and expect our problems to be solved. Behavior change is a tough thing, especially when it involves behaviors that have become deep-rooted habits. It’s going to take a lot of time and many different strategies to reverse the bad habits of our country.

But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying! And I’m interested to hear your thoughts about all this. Do you find that buying healthy foods is tough because of the price? And how do you think we can help encourage people to eat more fresh, whole foods, while also making sure these foods are affordable and easy to access?

Sources:

Allison Aubrey. Why Making Healthful Foods Cheaper Isn’t Enough

Shu Wen Ng. Driving a Response: Considerations for Point of Purchase, Pricing and Promotion (presentation at 2010 Obesity Prevention in Public Health Course at UNC; August 2010).

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