Preparing For A Half Marathon: Thirteen Tips For A 13 Mile Run

As I was running I started thinking, “What tips can I take back that might help someone getting ready to run their first half marathon?”

 Take Your Camera and Extra Clothes and Check Your Adrenalin At The Door. 

Seasoned event runners don’t give much thought to getting up on a Saturday morning to run a half, or even a full marathon.  For me it was different.

I put in some on-the-clock training hours but also considerable time figuring out how to make my training pay off so that I could enjoy the event without being too cold or warm, tired, or stressed.  The secret lies in getting organized well ahead of race day so that nothing is left to chance when the time finally arrives and your nerves are standing straight up.

Race Track

I did the Indy Mini half marathon last year. This is the Indy 500 race track that’s part of the course.

Two Weeks Before The Race

1.  Nutrition - Two weeks ahead of race day you’re still doing some good training runs so now’s the time to focus on the best nutrition possible.  Stay away from food and drinks that have simple sugars or are high in fat.  Now more than ever, you want foods that are nutritionally dense.  Focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins.  A green smoothie for breakfast or lunch is a good option too.

2.  Hydration  – Increase your water intake.  You should be drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.  If it’s summer or you live in a warm climate bump it up to ten glasses a day.

3.  Game Day Shoes – Pick out the shoes you plan to wear on race day.  Running shoes should have between 40 and 50 miles on them before you race in them so if your event is two weeks away it’s probably too late to buy new shoes.  But, if your shoes are worn and don’t have enough life in them to give you proper cushioning  and good support, consider buying a new pair and wear them throughout the day for the next two weeks to get some extra miles on them.

4.  Jelly Beans – Sports jelly beans are loaded with caffeine, sodium, potassium, and carbohydrates and can provide just enough energy to give you a second wind if you start to fatigue around mile 9.  Don’t wait until race day to test them out.  Pick a couple of brands and try them while you’re out on your training runs so you’ll know that you like them and they like you. On race day save them until you really need them.

  • One word of caution.  I have a friend who popped one in his mouth while he was running an event and he sucked it into his windpipe and wasn’t able to finish the race.  I’m sure this was just bad luck for him but it doesn’t hurt to slow down, or even pull over if it’s time for a bean.

One Week Before The Race

5.  Music Is Magic - I started experiencing some nervous energy one week before the marathon. Finding new music to download and putting a play list together helped channel  that energy into something that would pay off later on.  I have a playlist with 100 songs on it that shuffle.  I know that every song on the list is one that I enjoy running to.  This works for me because I can turn the iPod on, hit play and never touch it again until I’m done.  I don’t want to be hunting down the songs that I want to hear while I’m running an event.  I have a play list that I created a few months ago (check it out here) and continue to add songs to it including Mr. Saxobeat, Who Dat Girl, Call Me Maybe and Wild Ones.

6.  Unpredictable Weather – Check the weather so you’ll know what you need to wear before, during and after the run.  For the Illinois run we hung around before the start in gloves, hoodies and wind breakers.  We left most of that behind.  I would rather be on the side of having too many clothes in the car to take on or off rather than not enough. If rain is predicted take a big green garbage bag and cut a hole in the top of it so you can put it over your head.  If you have to stand around at the start line in the rain it will keep you dry. These garbage-bag raincoats were all over the place at the event on Saturday.

7.  Clothes: Lots of Them – Pack a full change of clothes for after the race.  You’ll hang out after the race for awhile in the damp clothes you ran in but there is nothing like dry clothes – and shoes – to put on for the drive home.  I packed my drive-home-clothes in a separate bag so they would all be together and easy to grab when it was time to change.

Three Days Before the Race

8.  A Real Camera – Pack your camera and make sure it has working batteries.  You will want a picture of you at the finish line taken with a real camera, not one that is taken with a Smartphone.  You need a quality picture.  Trust me on this one.

You will want a picture of yourself when you finish.

You will want a picture of yourself when you finish.

9.  Smart Carbs (Not A Carb Load) – Add an extra serving or two of complex carbohydrates to your diet such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, beans and fruits.  Complex carbohydrates will provide your muscles with an adequate supply of glycogen which will enhance your performance on game day.

10.  What Time Does It Start? – Double check the start time and location of the race.  If you’re not familiar with the area make sure you have a map that shows where you need to be, at what time and what arrangements there are for parking.  Is parking free?  If you have to park on a city street or metered lots you’ll need quarters.

The Big Day

11.  Early To Bed – Get to bed early and get up early so that you can eat breakfast at least three hours before the race and take your time getting ready.  I’ve read many times how important it is to eat a breakfast that you have eaten before.  Don’t try out anything new the day of the event.  If you want to find the best pre-race breakfast start working on that a few weeks before.  Oatmeal is my standard breakfast so that’s what I had.  It’s an easy, warm, comfort food that stays with me all morning.

12.  Feel The Rush? – Don’t underestimate the power of the adrenalin rush that takes place when the race starts.  That rush has the potential to throw you off of your game and leave you drained before you’ve completed the 13 miles.  Standing at a half marathon line with 10,000 other people is exciting. Look around.  No one is standing still.  You can feel the enormous energy oozing out of the crowd and into your body and it’s really cool.  But if you get taken up with it and go out of the gate too fast you’ll lost your momentum once the adrenalin level tapers off.  Start out slow and then push yourself after the halfway point if you’re feeling great and have a lot of energy left.

13.  Experience It.  You’ve worked hard and are ready to do something others can only dream of.  Take it in.  Look at the people and scenery around you.  Say thank you to the folks along the way that are cheering you on even though they have no idea who you are.  Be gracious to the volunteers handing you Gatorade or water.  Return the high five to the boy standing on the sidewalk that reaches his palm up to you as you run by him.  Have someone take your picture at the finish line with your medal on then post it on your Facebook page.  Give yourself a high five. Let it all soak in. Savor it. Celebrate. It doesn’t get any better than this.

No doubt number 13 is the most important, but if you skip 1 through 12 enjoying the race might be more of a challenge.

What tips do you have for someone that is going to run their first half marathon?

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Fitness Tip Of The Week: Increase Upper Body Strength With This One Move

Most people don’t use the muscles in their arms, chest and back nearly as much as they should.

If you go for a brisk walk or a quick run that’s great for your heart and will help keep the legs strong, but these common workouts only use the muscle groups in one half of your body.

Unless you’re doing specific strength exercises to prevent muscle loss, the upper body gets weak.  The muscles begin to atrophy and day-to-day activities become more of a challenge.  Eventually you’ll find that you look more frail and aren’t able to stand up as straight as you’d like.  This is the result of both muscle and bone loss.

Push-Up

Basic Push-Up (Flickr photo by mewall82)

You can turn that upper body muscle and bone loss around with one simple exercise. The push-up. When you do a push-up you’re working your shoulders, chest, triceps, biceps, and core.

How To Do A Basic Push-Up 

There are a number of ways to execute a push-up (we’ll talk more about that in a minute) but the same, basic rules apply to all of them.

1. Get down on the floor on your hands and toes. Position the arms so that they are wider than your shoulders.

2.  Slowly lower your upper body down to the floor. Make sure you keep your back flat and your core muscles tight. It’s important that the body stays in a straight line throughout the exercise.  If you’re able to check out your form in a mirror, that’s a good way to make sure you’re doing it right.

3.  Once your nose is almost down to the floor, slowly push back up to starting position.

4.  Try to be aware of your breathing so that you’re inhaling on the way down to the floor, and exhaling on the way up.

Push-Up Tips

If you haven’t done push-ups for a while just one will get you started.  Rest and then do one more.  Do as many as you can each day and don’t get discouraged if you can’t do many at one time.

You get the same benefits if you break up your sets and do them at different times of the day. For example, rather than trying to do 20 push-ups at a time, do 10 in the morning and 10 in the afternoon.  Make it a goal to increase the number of push-ups that you do each week.

As you progress you can add some variety to your push-ups by placing your hands in a staggered position on the floor, decrease or increase the distance between your hands, or put your feet on a box or bench that is slight higher than your hands for a decline push-up (pictured below).

Decline Push Up

Decline push up (flickr photo by shawnbrowntraining)

At first push-ups might seem hard  but in no time your upper body strength will increase and you’ll be able to handle the workload without resting.

The increase in muscle mass that you’ll gain from doing push-ups and squats every day is crucial to maintaining precious muscle and bone mass and will help keep those extra pounds away.  Plus adding muscle to your frame will improve your body composition so you’ll look and feel better.

Still Need Convincing?

New research from the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests that people that have more muscle mass live longer. One of the doctors associated with the project said that instead of worrying about weight or body mass index we should be trying to maximize and maintain muscle mass.

What’s your favorite upper body strengthening exercise?

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What You Can Learn From B.J. Fogg: B = mat

“I’m obsessed with how behavior works.  Even on vacation I’m thinking about behavior, I’m watching behavior, I’m reading stuff on it.  I’m trying to understand it systematically.” — B.J. Fogg

What desired behavior change  are you struggling with?  Maybe you want to lose those last 10 pounds or get to the gym three times a week.  It could be that you just want to increase your productivity at work or keep the house from being so cluttered.

It’s all about getting and staying motivated, right?

Not according to B.J. Fogg, the Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University.  Fogg says that long-term behavior change doesn’t have as much to do with motivation as you might think.  It’s more about establishing tiny habits that are anchored to already established ones.

Fogg Behavior Model 2

Motivation applies to temporary behavior change, but not long term.  Fogg says “Relying primarily on motivation to change your behavior long term is a losing strategy. Motivation is very slippery. If you set yourself up to do something really hard and you have to somehow sustain the motivation, the motivation is going to drop down and there’s going to be a point where you won’t do it.”

He says the same is true of willpower.

In Fogg’s Ted Talk, Forget Big Change, Start With A Tiny Habit, he shows you how you can change your life and change your behaviors by making a series of tiny changes. He believes that if you design your goals around the outcomes you’re deisgning at the wrong place.  You need to focus on the behaviors that lead to the desired outcome.

For example, if the desired outcome is weight loss, there are many, many behaviors that lead to that losing weight.  As we create these tiny habits, little by little we will approach the health outcome in a very reliable way.

B = mat

Fogg has created a behavior change formula that consists of three elements:  Motivation. Ability. Trigger. There has to be some level of motivation present.  You have to have the ability to do the habit. There has to be a trigger to get you to do it.

In the Ted Talk he explains how the trigger is the key to the behavior change process and explains how to set up the triggers so that they work.

About B.J.

Fogg devotes 50% of his time to his Persuasive Lab at Stanford and 50% to industry innovation.  At his lab they focus on methods for creating habits and automating behavior change.  Over the years, improving health outcomes has become a theme.

Another focus of the lab is peace innovation and they are investigating how technology can help change attitudes and behaviors in ways that bring about global harmony. While they realize that is this an “idealistic project, and [they] may fail, given the state of the world, choosing not to pursue this line of research would be irrational.”

He has a body of work that includes a Behavior Design Boot Camp which is a two-day event that takes place at his guest house in Northern California and  a book titled Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do.

Fogg was chosen by Fortune Magazine as one of 10 New Gurus You Should Know.

Join Tiny Habits

B.J. can help you create new behaviors through his Tiny Habits program that he has shared with over 20,000 people around the world. This 5-day method starts every Monday and he will check in with you via email Monday through Friday of the week you’re registered for to see how you’re doing.

Space is limited. The current session is sold out, so if you’re interested in joining, you will need to check the web site on a regular basis in order to get in.

What tiny habits are you working on?

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3 Practical Weight Loss Tips, Not Tricks

Weight loss tips and gimmicks are never in short supply.  Figuring out which strategies to try and which ones are a waste of time and money can be tricky.

Here are three tips that have been in the news lately that are backed by research and can help you reach your weight loss goals.

Just say no to starvation diets.  Flickr photo by Gideon

Just say no to starvation diets. Flickr photo by Gideon

1. Healthy Gut Bacteria Aids Weight Loss – The theory that having ‘good’ bacteria in our gut keeps us healthy, improves digestion and lowers intestinal inflammation isn’t new.  Now, a couple of recent studies have tested the effects of probiotic yogurt on weight loss in women and show that healthy bacteria may also help reduce belly fat.

In one 24 week study, 125 obese men and women were divided into two groups.  During the first two weeks all participants maintained a low-calorie diet.  One group was taking a pill that consisted of one full serving of yogurt.  The other group was given a placebo. The women in the study that were taking the probiotic pills lost an average of 9.7 pounds during the two weeks.  Those taking the placebo lost approximately 5.7 pounds.

During the second half of the study all of the participants followed a specific diet regimen that helped them maintain their weight loss.  The average weight loss for women taking the probiotics was, on average, 11.5 pounds. The women on the placebo stayed at the same weight.  The men did not seem to be affected by the probiotics.

In a Japanese study 210 overweight people were divided into three groups.  For 12 weeks everyone drank a daily seven ounce serving of fermented milk.  Two of the groups had probiotics mixed in the milk. The participants that had the milk with the probiotics lost one to three percent of belly fat and eight to nine percent visceral fat.

Researchers say that to see a reduction in body fat, you will have to eat yogurt on a regular basis, maybe even every day as the subjects in the studies did.

Check the label to make sure the yogurt you buy has a graphic that says “live and active cultures” on the container and provides a list of the cultures.

Also, watch out for the added sugar that is in many yogurt brands. Your best bet is to buy plain Greek yogurt because it is low in sugar, higher in protein, and more filling.  Then add fresh or frozen fruit to sweeten it.  The active cultures found in kefir will also provide an abundance of probiotics.  Kefir can be added to yogurt, mixed into smoothies or eaten alone.

2. Structured Weekdays Can Un-do Weekend Splurges – Putting most of the efforts into staying on a structured eating plan Monday through Friday may improve your changes for weight loss even if you splurge a little on the weekend.

Dr. Brian Wansink, a researcher at Cornell University, says that there is a natural seven day weight cycle that is similar in all humans.  Almost everyone gains weight over the weekend and loses some weight during the week.  Typically people weigh the most on Sunday and the least on Friday.

Dr. Wansink and a team of researchers studied 80 adults ranging in age from 25 to 62.  He categorized them as weight losers, weight gainers, and weight maintainers.  The researchers  found that the difference between the weight losers and the weight gainers was that the ‘losers’ had a stronger compensation pattern after the weekend weight gain so their weight began dropping immediately after the weekend.

The weight ‘gainers’ had no clear decrease during the week which possibly indicates they weren’t able to recapture their discipline after the weekend.

If you’re someone that tends to overdo it on the weekend and feels depressed when you get on the scale on Monday morning the best thing to do is move on and focus on what happens next. That doesn’t mean that you can eat unabashedly every weekend  and still see many results.

But if you do have a piece of triple layer chocolate cake or a cheesy pasta entrée that’s loaded with calories, don’t beat yourself up over it. On Monday morning get your calories back under control and continue working toward you goal.

3. Lower The Thermostat To Increase Metabolism – When I first read about the theory that shivering can help you lose weight I laughed because it sounded so ridiculous. But it turns out that there may be some truth to this shiver-to-lose-weight stuff.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) claims that both moderate exercise and moderate shivering convert bad white fat into healthier brown fat. In a nutshell white fat stores fat and brown fat burns it.

The research done by the NIH found that both moderate exercise and shivering from being cold increases the level of the hormone irisin and FGF21.  Over a six day period irisin and FGF21 turned human white fat cells into brown fat cells.

This is exciting news according to Dr. Paul Lee, an endocrinologist from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia that conducted the study while at the NIH. “White fat transformation into brown fat could protect animals against diabetes, obesity and fatty liver. Glucose (blood sugar) levels are lower in humans with more brown fat,” Lee said.

Lee also says that people with more brown fat are thinner than those with less of it.

The good news is you may not have to stand out in sub-zero temperatures to reap the benefits of shivering.  A Japanese study found that people experienced a drop in body fat after spending two hours a day for six weeks at a temperature of about 63 degrees Fahrenheit.

Over To You

Do you have a weight-loss tip that has worked for you?

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Do It Right The First Time So You Won’t Have To Do It Twice

“People don’t have time to do it right the first time, but they always have time to do it twice.”
– Dr. David Hunnicutt, CEO, Wellness Council of America.

Attacking your weight loss goals like you’re a contestant on NBC’s Biggest Loser may be one of the worst approaches for long-term success.  When you dramatically limit calories, sacrifice eating real food for pre-packaged shakes and heat-and-eat meals, and push yourself to lose five to six pounds a week, you’ll see drastic results the first couple of weeks.

After that you burn out and stop losing weight before you reach your goal.  Most people gain the weight back, and many put on more than they lost.

Blackboard

You’re Not In A Contest

Unless you stand to win a large sum of money for losing a lot of weight fast, slow down. You’ll have better success at dropping pounds, and keeping them off, if you approach weight-loss as a long-term project that will lead you to better health.

Don Moffitt, a state representative that lives near Peoria, IL, accomplished a personal goal of losing 100 pounds by doing just that. He tackled his 100 pound weight loss goal ten pounds at a time.  He lost the weight slowly, established new and healthier habits, and has kept it off for more than a year.

“I never looked at it as losing 100 pounds.  I just looked at it as taking off 10, and then repeated it nine more times,” Moffit said.

Don also put some other tried and true practices into play.  He tracked calories and tried to not consume more than 1500 a day.  He also set a target goal of walking 10,000 steps per day, which is about three miles.

Before losing the weight he was on medications for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and was told by his doctor that he would soon need medications for diabetes.

Not only did he shed pounds, but he is now being phased off of all medications, no longer has sleep apnea and has “kicked diabetes to the curb”.

Setting those small, realistic goals that we discussed in Forget About Lofty Resolutions and Set Achievable Goals applies to losing weight.  Whether you have 10 pounds or 100 to lose, a weight-loss goal of one to two pounds a week is realistic.

Take time to establish different eating patterns, find the options for physical activity that work best for you, and allow some wiggle room for an occasional set-back. Do it right the first time and you won’t have to do it twice.

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Forget About Lofty Resolutions and Set Achievable Goals

Have you seen this e-card that has been circulating on Facebook?

New Year New Me

It appears some people are fed up with New Year’s resolutions.  And for good reason.

We start out the New Year with aspirations to change all of the things we don’t like about ourself. We want to lose weight, get organized, eat better, exercise more, be more productive at our job.

But by mid-January or the first of February we aren’t giving much thought to the resolutions we made a few weeks ago.

If you’ve given up on resolutions and have decided you’ll never be able to do those things that you dream about on January 1, you’re wrong.  You can change.  You can achieve many of the things that you fantasize about. You just need to apply a strategy that will work.

Here are five steps to help you put your resolutions into action.

1.  Establish Your Resolution Goal. Lose the word resolution and replace it with the word goal.  The word resolution smacks of something that’s unattainable. Resolutions are big lofty ideas that would be great if you could make them happen, but you never take the time to put a smart action plan in place to actually get them done.

Instead of resolving to change your life, set one goal that will move you towards making the change that you desire.  For example:  A resolution would be “I’m going to get in better shape this year.”  A goal is:  “I’m going to do three 15-minute workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday this week.

2.   Write it down.  Put your goal in writing.  Write it on a sticky note and put it on the fridge. Enter it as a reminder on your Smartphone.  Keep it in on a memo pad at your desk at work.

Goals that are written down are twice as likely to be achieved. There’s a sense of commitment that takes place when you put your goal in writing.  Writing it down means you mean it.

3.  Evaluate How You Did – If you’ve set attainable, realistic goals it is easy to evaluate how you did at accomplishing them.  If your goal was to do three 15-minute workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, establishing how well you met the goal is simple.

On a scale of one to 10 (with one being not at all and 10 being you hit a home run), ask yourself how you did.  Write that number down by the goal and move on.

4.  Reset the Goal Every Week – Once you’ve evaluated how you did with the goal, either reset that goal and do it again, or establish a new goal. Resetting and repeating goals will establish a pattern that, over time, will become habit to you.

Once you find that you’re easily completing the three 15-minute workouts a week, you’ve formed the habit of getting those done.  Now, it’s time to establish a new goal to challenge yourself further.

5.  Set Achievable Goals – Success breeds success which is why it is absolutely vital that you set goals that you can achieve.  The success of reaching one goal is the springboard to conquering the next one.  Over time, you’ll develop confidence in yourself and know that you are able to set goals and achieve them.

New Year, New Me Can Be Yours

Remember, there are plenty of people that do change their behavior patterns and live their dreams.  It takes hard work, commitment and a strategy beyond clinking a glass of champagne and uttering a few words on December 31.

Are you ready to make this the year for reaching your goals? Try steps one through 5 in the action plan above and see how you do this year.

If you like this article, you might also like: How To Set New Year’s Resolutions That You’ll Keep (Part 1) and How To Set New Year’s Resolutions That You’ll Keep (Part 2).

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2013 Look Back: My Favorite Posts From The Past Year

Tomorrow we will welcome in a new year.  Most of us greet the start of a new year with excitement and anticipation.  I know that I do.

Ushering in a new year provides an opportunity for a do-over.  We get to hit the reset button.  Each year on January 1 we have a chance to start anew on some of those resolutions and projects that, while we had the best intentions, didn’t get accomplished.Blank Book

You might decide this is the year to tackle those extras 10 pounds.  Maybe you need the motivation to get more physical activity, eat more nutritional foods and get your portions under control.  Whatever it is you undertake, you’ll need a consistent dose of inspiration and encouragement.  That’s where I come in.

I’m looking forward to providing readers a year of fresh content  that I hope will help you reach your goals. I vow to provide articles and information that is free of gimmicks.  This site doesn’t promote fad diets or weight-loss prescriptions, nor does it serve up unrealistic promises.  What it does offer is the latest health and wellness news, healthy super-food recipes, inspirational stories, and exercise expertise.

But before I start churning out a year’s worth of content with all of the stuff you need to stay healthy in a supersized world, I want to take a minute to look back at ten of the most popular articles from 2013.

1.  How You Can Up Your Game With Plyometric Training – Whether you’re looking to bust through a weight-loss plateau, or want to increase your fitness level, adding plyometrics can have a huge impact on both. Learn how it can help you here.

2.  Do You Graze Or Fast? One Might Be Better Than The Other – The concept of intermittent fasting is replacing the theory that grazing (eating every three hours) throughout the day is better for weight loss.  Not convinced?  Check out the article that explains how it works.

3.  Twenty Reasons Why You Should Get 30 Minutes of Exercise A Day – We all know that physical activity is important, but there may be reasons to exercise that you’ve not considered before.  Check out 20 reasons you should get active here.

4.   Isn’t It Time For Your To Break Up With Sugar? – In this article I state that the best thing you can do for your overall health is to reduce the amount of sugar that you eat.  If you think that should be one of your goals for 2014, be sure and read this first.

5.  Take Your Life Off Of Auto-Pilot And Go Someplace Different – Learning to be mindful and live in the moment is key to a healthy existence.  It’s not always easy to do.  Read how you can take control of your thoughts and ultimately your life here.

6.  Post Workout Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie – To date, this is my favorite smoothie recipe.  And it’s so easy, creamy and delicious.  Check out the recipe here.

7.  What You Can Learn From Sheldon Silverstein – The What You Can Learn From series highlights inspirational people that can help you reach your goals. Sheldon is one of those creative geniuses that offers the timeless message, “anything can be”.

8. Meditation Can Keep Your Anxiety From Going Off The Rails – We all have plenty of stress in our lives.  Keeping it under control is a must if we are going to be both physically and emotionally healthy. This article explains how meditation can help you get your anxiety under control.

9.  Six Bodyweight Plateau-Buster Exercises To Do Everyday – The American College of Sports Medicine predicts that bodyweight exercise programs will be trending in 2014.  This post discusses why they are good for you.  Check out the six exercises you should be doing every day here.

10  Motivation For Your Monday (or any day for that matter) – This is a slideshow I created using some of my favorite motivational quotes.  Its intent was to help people get through the Monday blues, but you  might find it helpful any day that you’re feeling less than motivated.  Watch the slideshow here.

There’s the wrap-up for 2013.  Tomorrow we will turn the page and start writing the first chapter in the new book titled “Opportunity”.

What are you going to write in your book?

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Five Ways To Re-Energize Without Extreme Caffeine

Along with Black Friday and the post-Thanksgiving shopping marathon came a rise in the consumption of energy drinks.  Many people felt that the way to power through 12-hour shopping blitz starting at midnight on Thanksgiving night was with Red Bull, Monster and Rock Star.

But pushing your physical limits through the use of highly caffeinated energy drinks can have a detrimental effect on your heart by increasing the heart’s contraction.   A recent study done by researchers from the University of Bonn found that energy drink consumption has a short-term impact on cardiac contractility even in healthy people.

Energy Drinks

Popular highly caffeinated energy drinks. (Flickr photo by Au Kirk)

More Caffeine Research

For the study researchers recruited 18 healthy people.  There were 15 men and three women with an average age of 27.5 years.  The participants underwent cardiac magnetic resonance imaging both before and after drinking an energy drink that contained 21 milligrams/100milliliters of caffeine, and  411 milligrams/100milliliters of taurine.

An hour after consuming the caffeinated beverages, the participants underwent cardiac MRI to see what, if any, effect the drink had on their heart. The researchers found that all participants’ hearts had increased contraction rates, which was indicated by increased peak systolic strain in the heart’s left ventricle.

The study did not find that the energy drinks had any impact on blood pressure, heart rate or ejection of blood from the left ventricle.  However, previous studies cited by the American Heart Associated have found that energy drink consumption does seem to increase systolic blood pressure and has a negative impact on the electrical wave in the heart which can increase the risk for dangerous arrhythmia.

If the up-tick in energy drink consumption on Black Friday and the remainder of the Thanksgiving weekend is an indicator, people will be relying on extreme caffeine to get them through the remainder of the holiday season.

Re-energizing Without Mega-Doses of Caffeine

We already know that the holidays are one of – if not the – most stressful time of the year.  It’s a time when we find we’re under pressure to get more done than is often physically possible.  Excessive holiday fatigue comes from too much decorating, shopping and wrapping plus additional social activities, programs at school, carry-ins at work, and no time to exercise.

Top it off with an over-dose of caffeine and you have the recipe for a physical, mental, and emotional melt-down.

There are some ways to keep you energy levels at peak without the help of a 5 Hour Energy drink.

  • Exercise – As little as 15 to 20 minutes of low-impact physical activity every day will help you feel more energetic.  Even if you don’t have time for an hour long spin class or CrossFit session, 15 minutes of yoga or a brisk walk will lower your stress and improve your outlook.
  • Power Nap – A 20 minute power nap before you hit the mall for an evening of shopping can go a long way to reduce your fatigue.  The National Sleep Foundation says that a 20-30 minute nap will increase alertness, enhance performance, and provide an easy to get some relaxation and rejuvenation.  Think you don’t have time for a nap?  In the end,it will pay dividends in productivity.
  • Avoid Sugar – Sugar is a lot like caffeine.  A sugary snack or drink may seem like a good idea for a pick-me-up, but the results are short term.  Once the sugar is out of your blood stream, you’ll fine you’re headed for a crash and will be searching for the next fix to keep you going.  For optimum energy levels, choose healthy, high-protein snacks like peanut butter on apple slices, plain Greek yogurt with fresh berries, or mini peppers dipped in hummus.
  • Drink Water – Studies have found that borderline dehydration is one of the most common causes of fatigue.  If your water levels are low you’ll feel tired and lethargic.  Instead of reaching for a caffeinated beverage when you’re tired, make your own jug of smart water and take it with you when you go shopping.
  • Stay Positive – Lack of sleep and exercise along with holiday stress and too much caffeine can be the perfect storm for a negative, self-defeating mood.  It’s important to remember that the holidays should be both thoughtful and joyful.  Being in the moment is a great way to keep the repetitive negative thought patterns at bay.

You don’t have to go caffeine free.  A regular cup of java or Chai tea can help you get through a slump without any negative effects. In fact, there are health benefits to both coffee and tea in moderation. It’s the super-caffeinated commercial beverages that are bad put a strain on your heart and overwork your nervous system that you should avoid.

What do you do to re-energize during the holidays?

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Motivation For Your Monday

It’s Monday.  The day most of us dread more than any other day of the week. Some of us, me included, make the decision to just ‘get through’ Monday most of the time.  But if you think about it, what that means is we are making a decision to give less than 100% of our effort and energy one-seventh of the time.

Don’t resign yourself to the Monday blahs. Make it a goal to embrace Monday and your week will get off to a better start.

Here’s a short Monday motivational slideshow I’ve created for you.

Enjoy!

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You Can Beat The Battle of the Bulge This Holiday Season

The season of eating is here.  If you have been trying to lose a few pounds, or trying not gain back what you’ve already lost, this time of year can be a real challenge.

From carry-in dinners at work, to holiday parties, and long shopping days where your only option is food-court fare, at this time of year the focus is on eating.  The good news is there is a way to enjoy the holidays without greeting the New Year with five or six extra pounds to lose.

By implementing these basic strategies you can breeze through the holiday season without going up a pant size.

Beat the Battle of the Bulge

(Flickr photo by Bahrain Personal Training)

1.  Set A Goal – Millions of Americans gain a couple of pounds over the holidays.  While a weight gain of two, three or even five pounds doesn’t seem like a big deal, the problem is many don’t lose it after the holidays which means the pounds stay with them throughout the next year. And the next.

Over the course of several years these extra pounds become a real problem and lead to health risks.  Research by the National Center for Biotechnology has determined that holiday weight gain may be an important contributor to the rising prevalence of obesity.

Even if a weight gain of a few pounds won’t put you in the ‘at risk’ category, you don’t need to strategize so that you you ring in the New Year at the same weight.  Step one is to set a goal to maintain, not gain weight this holiday season.  Write your goal weight down and keep it in a visible place.

2.  Weigh-In Each Week – I’m not a big fan of weekly weigh-ins except in this situation where you can pretty much count on gaining weight if you don’t keep a close eye on it.

Schedule a time each week to weigh in.  To be consistent, make sure you weigh in on the same day of the week, at the same time of day, on the same scale. Track your weight by writing it down in a note book or on an index card.

3.  Create A Weekly Game Plan – On Sunday evening or Monday morning look at your calendar for the upcoming week so you can plan ahead for parties, office food fests, or shopping blitzes that provide too many – or too few – food choices.

Each year at work I offer an annual maintain, don’t gain holiday program and ask employees what their biggest challenges are going to be for the upcoming week.  One employee told me that this week is her husband’s company party, her birthday and her son’s birthday.

My response:  What’s your plan?   We talked through how she was going to navigate all of these special events by exercising portion control, drinking more water, walking more, and filling up on low-calorie fruits and vegetables.

If you take a look at what you’re up against, you’ll be better prepared to meet the challenge.

4.  Use Holiday Make-Over Recipes – Delicious and special holiday foods don’t have to be loaded with calories, sodium, and fat.  I’ve tried many make-over recipes that I find I like more than the original.

There are some excellent resources for healthy holiday recipes and they are no more than a mouse click away.  Two of my favorites are:

  • Skinny Kitchen.com – Skinny Kitchen has tons of healthy recipes that do not sacrifice flavor at all.  It also has a section dedicated to the holidays.
  • Live Better America – Live Better specializes in make-over favorites like green bean casserole and stuffing. There are so many recipes to choose from here, you’ll need to get started early selecting which ones you want to try.

Several months ago I wrote an article that highlighted the top ten websites for healthy recipes.  You will find tons of holiday recipes at any and all of these.  Check out the article here:  Top Ten Websites for Healthy Recipes.

5.  Keep Moving – I know this one seems like a no brainer, but it is harder to find time for physical activity during the holidays. You may find you don’t have an hour every day to go to the gym, or out for a walk or run.  But you do have time to take a couple of walking breaks every day, and squeeze in two or three 10 minute workouts during the week.

Any physical activity you can get in will help keep those extras pounds at bay.  Dust off the pedometer, put it on and set a goal to walk 10,000 steps everyday even if you have to walk in place at your desk at home or at work.  Little things add up.

6.  Have Realistic Expectations – Your life isn’t a page from Pinterest.  At least mine isn’t. All of the beautiful and glamorous images we’re inundated with from web sites and television commercials make us yearn for the picture perfect holiday.  This quest for perfection can set you up for a stressful holiday season and the side effects of stress are over eating and over drinking.

Find at least one thing to be grateful for each day. If you do find yourself wishing your life could replicate of one of the top Pinterest boards, get out of there and opt for web sites that will keep your sense of humor in tact but won’t leave you feeling like an epic fail.

What Else?

Remember that although we call the time from Halloween to New Years Day ‘the holidays’ it really isn’t one big event. It is a series of mini-events that come close enough together that they seem they like one.  If you separate them out and have a strategy in place to deal with them one by one you’ll get the best results.

What tips do you have for staying healthy this holiday season?  Be Social! Share!