Ready to make 2017 the year you become the healthiest you’ve ever been? Resolve to set one of these five intentions, and click the link for tips and advice to help you reach your goal!
Lose Weight, Gain Confidence
Keep the Weight Off for Good (No Willpower Required!)
It’s an old trope of the classically skinny woman: she must have the self-control of a saint, and the willpower of Wonder Woman—especially when the chocolate cake comes by at the dinner table. (She’ll just take coffee, thanks.)
Weight, in fact, may have very little to do will willpower. In 1982, researchers Bennett and Gurin devised the weight set point theory to explain why repeat-dieters can never seem to keep the weight off for good. They explained there is thermostat-like control system ingrained in each person, which determines how much fat their body thinks it should carry. For some, that percentage is high. For others, it’s low.
In effect, attempting to lose weight is also attempting to override that pre-set point, which is sort of like a jammed-on switch. From an evolutionary perspective, the body thinks cutting calories is the beginning of starvation—and the body fights back accordingly by lowering its metabolic rate. “As you lose weight, hormones are released from the gut and hypothalamus, driving you to eat again,” says Reshmi Srinath, MD, an assistant professor of Medicine, Endocrinology, Diabetes and Bone Disease at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “The body wants to revert back to where it was.”
Srinath says the obesity epidemic is a complicated health problem to solve, because it is incredibly unique to each person. “Every person’s weight is influenced by environment, medications, what we eat, how much we exercise,” she explains. “And changing that weight set point for good is something that’s still being researched. We can lose weight with diet and medications, but every person has their own genetic makeup.”
While researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how to alter that mysterious set point over the long-term, early studies have hinted that a few factors can help sustain weight loss.
Keep Increasing Exercise
While you might win your weight-loss battle in the kitchen, exercise may just be what keeps the pounds off for good. “Exercise helps a lot,” says Srinath. “Metabolic rate declines as you lose weight, but exercise raises the metabolic rate so you can lose more and sustain your weight loss better.” How much exercise? The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, but “as much as you can is always helpful,” says Srinath.
Don’t Stop Your Regimen After Reaching Your Goal
Lots of people partake in weight-loss regimes designed to help you lose weight quickly. But more often than not, these are recipes for gaining the weight back as soon as you stop with the stringent routine. “Being able to sustain a healthy eating style is important, balancing your carbs, your protein and your fat,” says Srinath. “This is why it’s never smart to cut a food group entirely. No diet should be completely restrictive.” Srinath goes by the plate-division method for eating smart. Half your plate should be veggies, a quarter should be starch (one to two fist sizes), and a quarter should be protein (about the size of your palm). If you need additional support, clinical weight counseling or behavioral modification may also be helpful.
Ask Your Doc to Check for Secondary Factors
If you can’t seem to shed the pounds—no matter what method you try—Srinath says she always checks for secondary issues that might be slowing progress and stunting weight loss. “I test for things like thyroid imbalance or thyroid disease, especially if there are other symptoms,” she explains. “I screen for those just to make sure there are no other unintentional underlying causes for weight problems.”
Most importantly, have a positive attitude as you strive to reach your health goals—especially those weight-related ones. “I try to remind patients that losing just five percent of your total body weight is tremendous for reducing the risk of comorbidities, like blood pressure and diabetes,” says Srinath. Even slow progress is good progress. Stay the course.
Be More Mindful
5 Things Well-thy People Do Everyday
Money can buy you a lot. A luxury car. A designer wardrobe. A private plane (or maybe a private island). However, like musician Garth Brooks once said, you aren’t truly rich until you have something that money can’t buy — like health, happiness, balance, peace, family, friends and gratitude for it all.
Some people are naturally good at mindful balance; they know when to work and when to relax, when to smile and when to be thankful. But if you’re not a natural, you needn’t worry. While you can’t order up happiness and health, each can all be cultivated with practice over time. Here are everyday strategies and secrets for a happy, healthy life.
Offload Your Work Stress (Before You Get Home)
Each day before entering your home, you must find a place to “deposit” all of your problems from the day, according to psychologist and counselor Karla Ivankovich, PhD, an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Springfield. This is vital, because a growing number of men and women can’t seem to unplug and unwind from workday stressors. According to 2015 research, one in three global workers says work/life balance has become increasingly harder to maintain in the last five years. American Psychological Association (APA) statistics show more than 50 percent of employed adults can’t help but check work correspondence at least once a day on weekends, as well as before and after work during the week.
To create a dividing line between work and home life, Ivankovich says to “find your worry tree” (or mailbox, or whatever helps you). “By depositing stressors or worries on the tree, you are being mindful,” she explains. “You avoid bringing your stressful work life home to your family. Don’t panic, though; you’re not just ignoring obligations. Ivankovich says that you are allowed to pick up the worries you dropped at the tree the next day, on your way out. “What you should find is that there are far fewer worries,” she says, noting that you will only remember the ones that really mattered. Stress isn’t bad, but perspective and balance are essential.
Walk Off Your Worries (Especially In Nature)
Mindfulness is one of the most important skills you can develop as an adult. “As with any machine, the body and the mind are constantly running — but often without letting off steam,” Ivankovich says. “By getting regular exercise, one is more likely to maintain the semblance of calm necessary to traverse through the days ups and downs.” Hate working out? Then don’t think of it that way. Get off your couch for a simple, steady stroll in nature. Scientists have discovered that moderate-intensity walking is just as effective as high-intensity running in lowering your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and diabetes, according to the American Heart Association.
A natural setting matters for the mind, so find a tree-lined path. In a 2015 study, researchers had 38 healthy men and women take either a brisk walk in a lovely park on Stanford’s campus or along a busy highway in Palo Alto. Those who took a walk in nature had slightly improved mental health scores on questionnaires, as well as less blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain known for brooding (or “morbid rumination”). Less blood flow generally means lower activity, so hitting the park helped calm those tired minds.
Laugh Often (Even If You Don’t Feel Like It)
According to a 2014 study of older adults, getting a case of the giggles had loads of benefits — from a reduction in cortisol levels (a.k.a the stress hormone) to better short-term memory recall. “Some of the happiest people report their happiness after engaging in activities or events that make them laugh,” Ivankovich says. “The difficulty is that it’s tough in very stressful situations, like at work.” You don’t generally see upbeat office workers, right? Very few people are actively seeking a laugh — but you can, says Ivankovich. “Find a way to laugh in your workday,” she says. “Watch a VINE, look for a funny video on Youtube or Buzzfeed, consider paradoxical thoughts… simply strive to be amused.”
If you can’t laugh, even just smiling will do. According to research, the more you smile, the more your brain becomes aware of your smiling. This slowly begins to rewire the brain’s tendency to think negatively, creating positive thought patterns instead. If that’s not enough, you can think of smiling almost as a public service. It’s very contagious. Researchers at Sweden’s Uppsala University discovered that frowning while looking at a smiling person is, while not impossible, extremely difficult. So, pass it along!
Drink Water (Especially Around Meals)
According to Joshua T. Goldman, MD, MBA, an assistant clinical professor of family medicine and orthopaethic surgery at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, adequate water intake is linked to numerous health benefits, including a lower risk of stroke, urinary tract infections and colon cancer, as well as reduced pain perception. “The take home message is that adequate hydration can make a big difference in terms of improving your health and preventing disease,” he explains.
Staying hydrated can also help you maintain a healthy weight, so make sure to take your water bottle to the dinner table and sip H20 at lunchtime. A 2016 study of more than 18,000 American adults showed that those who upped their water intake by one, two or three glasses per day consumed fewer calories, as well as less saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. Goldman says this is consistent with research that shows most people tend to drink 75 percent of their fluids around mealtime, which leads to “earlier satiety” and “less overall food intake” — basically, liquids prevent you from overeating. “If you’re drinking more water during meals, you will fill up faster and consume less food that you would without the added water intake,” Goldman says.
Practice Gratitude (and Write It Down)
Healthy children? A loving partner? A great dog and a fulfilling job? Ivankovich says to tally your blessings, reflecting on all the aspects of your life that you’re grateful for at least two times per day. “Think about these things while you’re waking up and just before you fall asleep,” she says. “We are a society fraught with stress, so by engaging in mindfulness practices that focus on gratitude, we are better able to realize how many good things are happening in our lives — even if we often don’t feel their impact throughout our hurried and harried days.”
To keep yourself accountable, make gratitude a part of your nightly ritual by journaling. According to a study conducted at the University of California, Davis, gratitude can have a powerful positive effect on your life. Men and women who made an effort to journal positive things felt more optimistic and happier than those who journaled about trials or whatever they wanted. They also exercised more and made fewer trips to the doctor over the course of the 10-week study. So many bonuses!
Get Better Rest
Can a Regular Bedtime Improve Your Health?
Imagine that you normally eat lunch at noon everyday. But today — surprise! — your boss calls a quick meeting at right at noon. You think, It’s okay, it’s no big deal, I’ll just eat right after. But as fifteen minutes pass, and then 20, and then 30, that “quick meeting” is starting to feel like a grueling marathon. By 1:00pm, your dull hunger pangs have become an angry hunger roar.
“You are starving, right?” says says Michael Grandner, PhD, MTR, a Fitbit sleep advisor and director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “It’s because you trained your body when to eat and, like a faithful Labrador, our bodies are trainable.”
Creatures of Habit
While a lot of us eat lunch around the same time everyday, the same can’t be said for the time we hit the sack. We stay up late on weekends, knowing that we won’t need to wake up for work, but then don’t feel tired when Sunday night rolls around—so we don’t get enough sleep for Monday morning, which throws our sleep schedule off-kilter for the rest of the week.
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2014 Sleep Index, 35 percent of adults say their sleep quality is only “fair” or downright “poor.” And a more recent poll conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows one out of three adults don’t get enough sleep—less than seven hours per night, which has been linked to several chronic health condition, including heart disease, kidney disease, and high blood pressure, as well as mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Getting to bed at a consistent hour every single night can help. “The body loves regularity,” says Grandner. “We are creatures of habit.” Just like our body prepares itself and relies on food at the same times each day, the body does the same for sleep. “When we have a regular bedtime, our sleep biology can rally around that and train itself around that time,” Grandner explains. “If you keep it regular enough, your body knows when it is coming, so it can optimally prepare.”
How a Regular Bedtime Aids the Body
A lot happens during sleep. Your body is recharging its energy stores. Growth hormone is released, repairing and building tissue and muscle. Levels of cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone) fall during the night, so they can rise to a reasonable level in the morning and keep us alert. Immune function is bolstered, and levels of ghrelin and leptin are regulated to keep our feelings of hunger and fullness in check.
So, although we spend about a third of our life under the veil of sleep, it’s far from lost time. “Sleep is critical for many body functions and keeps many systems in balance,” says Grandner. “And your body has a much easier time doing that if it has a regular, predictable bedtime.”
If you get a regular bedtime, Grandner says you may begin to notice body benefits throughout the day (and beyond). You may notice you have better energy and more focus. You may notice that you get sick less often. You may make better dietary choices, and find that you are able to exercise more often and at higher intensities, because regular sleep “supports these metabolic and physical systems,” says Grandner.
How to Get Consistent
Like that friend who always shows up on your doorstep instead of calling ahead, your body prefers to know when sleep is coming—which means having a bedtime in place. “Otherwise, your body doesn’t really know when sleep is coming, so it can’t prepare,” Grandner says. “As a result, it has a harder time keeping all those systems in balance.
To keep a more consistent bedtime, Grandner says to “make sure that you give yourself enough time.” You know the hour you want to hit the sack, so think ahead. Get into your PJs and brush your teeth early, so you don’t wake yourself up in the process of preparing for bed. Power down your technology and gadgets at least 30 minutes before bedtime, since the emitted blue light can keep you awake.
Once you climb between the sheets, have some quiet time. Read a magazine or book (not an e-reader) with a small nightstand light, if you’re still not totally ready for Zzzz. Pretty soon, you’ll be a creature of beneficial bedtime habits.
Set Your Sleep Schedule with Fitbit
In the Fitbit app, you can now navigate to your Sleep dashboard where you will be able to view your bedtime patterns and set a goal for the number of hours that feels right for you. Once your Sleep Goal is set, you will also be able to schedule a personalized wake-up time, complete with silent alarm to help ease you out of slumber. You’ll also get a recommendation for the best time to hit the sack, and have the option to set a bedtime reminder, too.
Once your Sleep Goal is set, all you have to do is wear your Fitbit tracker to bed and it will automatically record your sleep and help keep your Zzzz on track.
4 Ways to Upgrade Your Walk to a Workout
It’s no secret walking is the perfect exercise. You can do it anywhere, anytime, and your risk of injury is almost nil. Not only does walking help control your weight, but it’s recognized by the American Heart Association as a way to lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol levels, and increase your energy. It’s also been shown to improve your mood.
But if you want to step up your heart rate—not to mention your calorie and fat burn—you’re going to have to get to the gym and take a spin class or a boot camp, right? WRONG. Here are four easy ways to turn your everyday stroll into an effective workout:
Step On the Gas
Bumping your speed to a brisk walk (from 2 mph to about 3 or 4 mph, or between 3000 to 4500 steps in 30 minutes, for the average person) will increase your heart rate, so you can burn more calories.
Another way to torch calories is to vary your speed. As with any form of interval training, when you perform short, more intense bursts (30 seconds to one minute sets of exercise) and rest in between (in this case, walk more slowly for a minute) you may be able to sustain a tougher workout over a longer period of time.
Change Your Angle
Adjusting the incline on your walks isn’t just for treadmills, although that’s an easy way to do it. You can go for a hike or you could even check out areas near you with hills where you can walk safely. Not only does walking on an incline burn more calories by forcing your muscles to work harder as they push and propel you uphill, but it also fights boredom.
Walking is a weight-bearing exercise on its own, since you’re carrying your own bodyweight, but for an extra challenge, wear a backpack filled with some bottles of water. If you prefer more evenly-dispersed weight, you can buy a weighted vest at any sporting-goods store.
Step to the Beat
If you find you’re struggling to keep a lively pace, pop in your headphones and play some of your favorite music. Studies show that working out to music can help you work harder and longer. According to Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., a leading authority on music and exercise, music can “reduce the perception of effort significantly, and increase endurance by as much as 15 percent.”
5 Moves for a Better Body
It’s no surprise if you tend to focus on anterior muscles (the ones at the front of the body). They’re what you see in the mirror! Whether it’s performing crunches, push-ups, biceps curls, or leg extensions, most of us love to work “beach muscles,” because we can so easily see the results.
While these exercises are all good ones, they neglect posterior muscles (the ones along the back-side of the body). And focusing too much on anterior muscles can cause them to overpower posterior ones, creating muscle imbalances. To make matters worse, our world involves sitting, typing, and driving—activities that tax the front of the body and exacerbate problems like hunched shoulders. Such muscle imbalances can also lead to back pain, knee and neck injuries—even a protruding belly.
So what do we do? It’s time to befriend the backside. Working posterior muscles won’t just help prevent injuries, it will also help strengthen your core and improve your posture—benefits that can create a longer, leaner look.
Here are some exercises I regularly give my clients to bolster their behinds. Perform four sets of 10 to 20 reps (depending on your fitness level), twice per week for at least six weeks.
TRX Back Rows (Strengthens back)
*If you don’t have access to TRX straps, you can use an exercise band looped around something sturdy, and perform the rows while standing upright.
Grasp the handles, pull your abs in toward your spine, and lean back at about a 45-degree angle. Keep your body straight, and pull your body forward and up, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Slowly release and repeat.
Dumbbell Stiff-Legged Deadlifts (Strengthens glutes and hamstrings)
*You can use water bottles or jugs instead of dumbbells, if you don’t have them.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with feet about hip-distance apart, knees slightly bent. Pull your abs in toward your spine, and slowly bend forward from the hips, lowering the dumbbells toward the floor. Keep your back straight through the movement, and eyes up. Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to rise back to start.
Lying dumbbell triceps extensions (Strengthens triceps)
Hold a pair of dumbbells, and lay on the floor with your back flat, knees bent, and abs pulled in toward your spine. Straighten your arms, moving the dumbbells toward the ceiling (keeping a very slight bend in your elbows, so as not to hyperextend them), and then hinge at the elbows to lower dumbbells overhead toward the floor. Squeeze your triceps to press the dumbbells back toward the ceiling.
Dolphin extensions (Strengthens back)
Lay face down on a bench or mat (on the floor) with your hands under your chin or holding the bench, and legs extended. Squeeze your glutes and use your back muscles and glutes to lift your legs about six inches. Slowly lower to start and repeat.
Glute Bridge (Strengthens glutes and thighs)
Lay flat on your back with knees bent and feet and legs hip-distance apart. Pull your abs in toward your spine, and squeeze your glutes and thighs to press your hips up toward the ceiling. Keep your hips flat, and do not arch your back. Hold for a few seconds, and then slowly lower to start and repeat.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.