7 Healthy New Year’s Resolutions

Setting a New Year’s resolution is easy… sticking to it is the hard part!  While people make resolutions with the best of intentions, they often set themselves up for failure with resolutions that are unrealistic or without a plan to achieve them. To set yourself up for success: Write down your goals, share them with someone who will support you in achieving them, and be sure they are as specific and achievable as possible.

Here are seven small but meaningful changes to consider making.

Eat Mindfully:

The idea here is pretty simple… enjoy your food! Take time to prepare it yourself, savor each bite, eat without distractions (like your phone in hand), and listen to your body. You’ll quickly discover that if you do these things, your body will tell you what it needs and when it’s full.

Stay Connected:

You’re already joined at the hip with your phone… that’s pretty much a given in our technology-fixated world. But when was the last time you connected personally with friends or shared real quality time with family? Chances are, it’s been too long. A lack of social bonds can damage your health as much as alcohol abuse and smoking, and even more than obesity and lack of exercise, says a 2010 study in the journal PLoS Medicine suggests. It’s time to reconnect.

Drink more Water:

Treat yourself to a new water bottle and keep it filled filled and ready for simple sipping throughout the day. Once in the habit, you’ll likely consume far less in the way of soft drinks, sugar-loaded juice, caffeine, and alcohol. Reaching for your water bottle can also ward of hunger and impulse snacking which can lead to unhealthy choices and weight gain.

Manage Stress:

We all experience stress from time to time. Short periods can even be good for us. But when stress becomes chronic, it can create or contribute to all sorts of health concerns. From heart disease, to depression, insomnia, and more. For tips on managing stress, click here.

Reduce your Sugar Intake:

The average American consumes over 77 pounds of sugar or sweetener each year, and I’d wager that the average Canadian isn’t far behind. Do you really want to put 77 pounds of this disease-causing substance into your body? Really? It’s time to cut back! Read labels, bake with less, and cut back gradually. You’ll soon discover you can do with far less than you thought.

Achieve your Fitness Goals:

What are your fitness goals? Building muscle? Building endurance? Increasing your flexibility? Find workouts that will help you achieve these goals and that you enjoy. Enjoyment is key if you’re going to stick with it. New to exercise and not sure where to start? Consider booking an appointment with a personal trainer or join a gym and ask for some guidance from a staff member.

Stick to a Sleep Schedule:

Many people focus on getting enough sleep, but having a schedule — i.e. going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, can lead to better quality sleep. For tips on getting a better

10 tips to get your exercise routine back on track… for good!

It happens. You were working out regularly… exercise almost as much a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth, and then just like that, something derailed you. Perhaps it was a new job, a new baby, a relaxing vacation… or perhaps you just tired of the same old, same old. I’ve been there!

Taking a short break from exercise can be a good thing – but when a few days of rest and recovery turns into weeks or months, it’s time to take stock and take action.

Worrying about what could have been or should have been won’t do you nearly as much good as looking ahead to what will be. To get your fitness routine back on track, consider these tips:

  1. Identify why you stopped. Try to understand why things didn’t work out as you had planned. If you can identify what derailed your good intentions, you’ll be better able to anticipate and navigate other roadblocks.
  2. Set a goal. Actually I want you to set three. A short term goal (i.e. something you will do today or this week); a medium-term goal (something you will work towards and achieve over the next few weeks or three months); and a long-term goal (something you work towards achieving in three to six months or longer). Choose goals that are realistic and motivating. Today’s goal might be running around the block; next month you might have a goal of running 5 KM at a slow but steady pace; and in six months, you may have a goal of running your first 10 km race.
  3. Put exercise on your calendar. Schedule time for exercise as you would any important meeting or appointment. I do this myself!
  4. Identify what you enjoy most about exercise. Some people love exercising outdoors for the connection with nature. Others enjoy the socialization. Still others don’t like any aspect of exercise, but appreciate the sense of wellness it bestows following. Determine what you enjoy most about exercise and factor it into your plan. I love helping others and meeting new people — two reasons I’ve taught fitness classes for over 25 years.
  5. Track your activity. Keep track of your exercise. Canadian adults need at least 150 minutes of heart-pumping activity every week and yet only a small fraction actually achieve this minimum. Most people think they’re more active than they really are. Want to know for sure? Track it.

Click here for my next 5 tips.

Catherine (and Daisy!) featured in the Toronto Star!

Photo: Andrew Francis Wallace, Toronto Star

Photo: Andrew Francis Wallace, Toronto Star

Company President, Catherine Cameron, and her beloved golden retriever, Daisy, are featured in this article in today’s Toronto Star. Find out how they stay fit…together.

PS. Be sure to toggle through the images to view them in action!

8 simple ways to sneak in some exercise

Got 10 minutes? Put them to good use with an activity break! Research tells us that even very brief periods of physical activity offer health benefits — and they also count towards the minimum 150 minutes of heart-pumping activity adults need each week for health benefits.

Here are 8 simple ways to sneak a little extra exercise into your day:

  1. Power yourself to work. That’s right…leave the car parked and slip on your running shoes or hop on your bike to make getting to and from work more active and more fun.
  2. Walk or bike the kids to day camps, swimming lessons and other seasonal activities. Be an active role model for your kids and help them to get moving too. Only 7% of Canadian kids and teens get enough physical activity. Bike to soccer, skip to swimming lessons, rollerblade to the park, and walk to camp.
  3. Fire the gardener! Do your own gardening (i.e. cutting the grass, pruning the hedge, etc.) and you’ll not only benefit from the extra physical activity each week, you’ll also reap the proven health benefits of time spent outdoors.
  4. Get a dog. Dog owners take more steps and reap the benefits of time in nature in every season. When you have a dog, excuses no longer cut it!
  5. Be active at work. Take the stairs, use coffee breaks to get moving, run errands at lunch, and turn sedentary meetings into walking meetings.
  6. Wear comfortable shoes. Let’s hear it for flats and shoes so comfy they feel like slippers! If your feet are happy, you’ll be happier too — and more likely to walk faster, take the stairs, sprint to the coffee shop, hop off the bus a stop or two early. Parking your car a little further away from where you are going, and walking the rest of the way, won’t present a problem either.

For the rest of my tips, please view my full feature here.

How interval training can help you get fit… faster

Ready to pump up your walking routine? Want to burn more calories in less time? Consider aerobic interval training!  No longer just for athletes, interval training (often referred to as HIIT or ‘high intensity interval training’) has earned its rightful place as a highly effective fitness-building strategy for the average person.

What is interval training?
Interval training is simply alternating bursts of intense activity with periods of lighter activity. Consider your walking workouts for example. If you’re in good shape, you might add some short bursts of jogging into your brisk walks — or you might incorporate stairs (find an flight of outdoor stairs in a nearby park), hills and speed intervals into your regular walks.

How do muscles respond to interval training?
During intense exercise, muscles produce waste products that can contribute to muscle soreness. By alternating bursts of intense exercise with periods of easier exercise, you’ll reduce the buildup of waste in your muscles and experience less stiffness or pain.

Are the principles of interval training the same for everyone?
If you simply want to vary your routine, you can determine the length and speed of each high-intensity interval based on how you feel. After warming up for example, you might increase your intensity for 30 seconds and then resume your normal pace for a minute or two, repeating the pattern throughout your workout. How much you pick up the pace, how often, and for how long is up to you. Within a week or two of regular interval training, your fitness level will begin to improve. The secret? Keep challenging yourself a little week over week.

Read more in my post for Urban Poling.

The role of exercise in preventing, treating, and even halting diabetes

Did you know more than 20 Canadians are
diagnosed with diabetes every hour of every day?

Over 10 million Canadians live with prediabetes or diabetes and today’s post is about exercise as a powerful tool in preventing, delaying or halting the disease and its progression. Think of exercise as powerful medicine with few, if any, side-effects.

Facts:

  • Exercise can be as powerful as glucose-lowering medication… with fewer side effects.(Canadian Diabetes Association).
  • Physical activity levels of Canadians have fallen over the last 40 years with only 15% of today’s adults meeting the Canadian Physical Activity Guideline’s recommendations of at least 150 minutes of heart-pumping activity each week.
  • Fitness level is one of the strongest predictors of all-cause mortality in people with diabetes. (Canadian Diabetes Association).
  • Low physical fitness is as strong a risk factor for mortality as smoking. (Canadian Diabetes Association).
  • Those with diabetes can improve their blood glucose control by exercising at least five days a week and participating in resistance training activity.
  • Regular exercise, in conjunction with healthy eating and weight management, can reduce the incidence of diabetes by a whopping 60%.(Canadian Diabetes Association).

If you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, here’s how exercise can help:

Short-term benefits:

  • Lowers your blood glucose within 1 hour
  • Improves your mood, sleep patterns and provides you with more energy
  • Increases the effectiveness of the insulin your body makes or the insulin prescribed for you.

For more benefits, please see my feature for DeerFields Clinic.

Walking: the new ‘superfood’ of exercise

From the time we’re just mere months old, we’re eager to get onto our feet and to move… and with good reason. Walking can help increase our fitness and keep us healthy; provides us with an ideal mode of transportation; helps us connect with nature; and offers simple enjoyment.

For the past few decades, many Canadians have under-valued walking, believing only pricey fitness club memberships and equipment can help increase their fitness and optimize their health. As a result, many people have opted out and missed out on the incredible health benefits of taking more steps. With walking now considered the ‘superfood’ of physical activity, it’s regaining lost ground as the single best thing most Canadians can do to improve their health. Walk on!

Exercise is medicine:
Walking lowers or reduces the risk of many health conditions, including: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and breast and colon cancers. Walking also improves muscle tone in the lower body and uses up calories (a 45-minute walk burns approx. 270 calories, based on a 150 lb woman). Walking is a safe, low-impact and easy way to take steps towards the physical activity you need each day.

Pick up the pace:
I encourage brisk walking, or periods of moderate pace walking, alternating with periods of higher intensity walking, jogging, running, or skipping to get the heart pumping more vigorously. I also encourage walkers to keep tabs on the intensity of their walking workouts using the easy “talk test” method. Simply put, if you can string together six to eight words in one breath while walking, you’re likely in your aerobic training zone. If you can speak more words than that, you’re likely not working out hard enough. If you find yourself gasping for air and struggling to get more than a word or two out, it’s time to reduce your pace.

Let’s talk technique:
Watch your stride length: To help avoid injury, focus on shorter, quicker steps instead of lengthening your stride.

Challenge yourself: If you’re already a fitness walker, challenge yourself with greater distances, hills, and uneven terrain. Want to increase the value of your walking workout further still?

1 – Alternate periods of walking with higher intensity intervals such as jumping rope, jumping jacks, or running.

2 – Walking an uneven trail for a balance challenge will burn 82 percent more calories while providing a change of scene from city streets.

3 – Use an app or even a simple pedometer to count your steps and track your distance. Strive for at least 10,000 steps (or about eight kilometres) per day.

4 – Use Nordic poles to get upper body muscles involved. In fact, Nordic walking done properly, requires the use of over 90% of the muscles in the body.

Proper form and technique will ensure a better workout while reducing the odds of injury. Remember to stand tall and think about your alignment: ears over your shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over knees and knees over feet. Try to keep your shoulders and hips relaxed and loose. Let your arms move with your steps, and keep them bent at a 90-degree angle without tensing upper back and shoulder muscles.

Need a little motivation? Read on to see my tips in my original post for DeerFields Clinic.

Swimming: great reasons to take the plunge

swimmingHitting the pool a few times a week offers incredible health benefits for people of all ages. When submerged to waist depth, our bodies bear just 50 percent of what we weigh, and when submerged to our necks, just ten percent.

Swimming, though beneficial for us all, is an ideal form of exercise for those with sore muscles and joints, with arthritis, and those who are overweight. A water-based workout can also increase flexibility, strengthen muscles, and provide a cardiovascular workout.

Whether you take the plunge to enjoy an Aquafit class, or leap into a lane to practice your strokes, you’ll be treating your body to a gentle-on-the-joints, full body workout. Are you ready to make a splash?

A healthy heart: An aerobic activity, swimming strengthens our hearts. Regular cardiovascular exercise helps our hearts to function (pump our blood) with less work.

Improved mental health: When it comes to managing stress, anxiety, and even depression, a commitment to physical activity, particularly outdoors, can be an effective form of treatment. Once again, exercise is medicine!

Weight maintenance: Exercise alone rarely leads to weight loss, but it can help people maintain a healthy weight and it’s essential for good health.

Improved muscle strength & tone: Swimming is a super way to increase muscular strength and tone, especially when compared to other forms of aerobic exercise. In water, every kick and arm stroke becomes a resistance exercise.

Be flexible: The motion of swimming helps our joints stay limber and our muscles strong and flexible. Reaching with each stroke lengthens our bodies.

Reduced risk of diabetes: Simple lifestyle changes such as eating sensibly and increasing physical activity may be enough to reduce blood glucose levels and to maintain them within a healthy range. Did you know…

  1. Low physical fitness is as strong a risk factor for mortality as smoking. (Canadian Diabetes Association)
  2. Fitness level is one of the strongest predictors of all-cause mortality in people with diabetes. (Canadian Diabetes Association)
  3. Physical activity can be as powerful as glucose-lowering medication…with fewer side effects. (Canadian Diabetes Association)
  4.  Regular physical activity, in conjunction with healthy eating and weight control, can reduce diabetes incidence by 60%. (Canadian Diabetes Association)]

There’s more good news from the Canadian Diabetes Association: “The effectiveness of lifestyle changes in preventing the progression to type 2 diabetes has been proven in two large studies: the Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study and the Diabetes Prevention Program. Both studies showed that a low-calorie meal plan with reduced fat intake and moderate-intensity physical activity of at least 150 minutes per week resulted in a 58 per cent reduction in the number of people who progressed from prediabetes to diabetes over the next four years, even though weight loss was modest.”

Stay active, stay cool, as summer heats up

Oh Canada! We spend our winters waiting for summer, and our summers wishing it wasn’t quite so hot!

Happily, exercising outdoors throughout the summer is a safe option for most people, providing a few common-sense tips are followed. Here’s what experts suggest:

  • Keep your cool: Exercise at the coolest time of day. In summer, this typically means early in the morning or late in the day. Wear clothing that wicks away moisture and breathes.
  • Seek shade: When walking, running or cycling, choose routes that offer some shade.
  • Stay hydrated: Be sure to have a water bottle along and if you’ll be out for an extended period, know where you can re-fill or buy more if necessary.
  • Protect your skin: Protect your skin with sunscreen and re-apply it often, especially when sweating. Wear a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses. Consider long sleeves and light-weight pants for additional coverage.
  • Rest: A tennis and running enthusiast, I spend a lot of time exercising outdoors throughout the summer. When the weather heats up, take frequent short breaks to rest, re-hydrate, and to re-apply sunscreen.
  • Beware the glare: Watch out for heat stroke. If you become dizzy, nauseous, or have dry skin or the chills, stop and get indoors or into shade and have something to drink. If it doesn’t pass, seek medical attention.

PS – You might also enjoy 8 easy ways to get an outdoor workout this season or this feature with tips to help us sneak in more exercise each day!

Skip the gym and head outdoors instead

Bikers in the sunsetAs kids, we played outdoors with friends, walked to school, and played on sports teams. For most of us, a lack of exercise wasn’t a concern. Adults however, often believe that to be active and fit, a pricey gym membership is essential. Not so. In fact, maybe it’s time to forego the gym membership altogether and to step outdoors instead. It turns out that all that fresh air and exercise we enjoyed as kids, and would do well to keep up as adults, offers more in the way of health benefits than most of us ever knew.

A Scottish Health Survey (2008) of 2,000 active participants found that outdoor physical activity had a 50 percent more positive effect on mental health than exercising at the gym. The researchers also found that walking, running, biking, and other outdoor activities, particularly in a green space, also reduced stress. I’m a big believer in a daily dose of ‘Vitamin N’ (nature) in all seasons, which is why I opt to exercise outdoors several times a week… playing tennis, running, walking, hiking and cycling.

Compared with indoor exercise, being active outdoors is also associated with increased energy, and decreased tension, confusion, anger, and depression. Best of all, participants from a number of additional studies reported they were more likely to repeat outdoor activity at a later date.

Here are some of the additional benefits to outdoor exercise:

  1. Outdoor physical activity is often more strenuous than indoor exercise. In studies comparing running on a treadmill with running outdoors, treadmill users expended less energy to cover the same distance as those striding outside. What makes the difference? Small changes affiliated with exercising outdoors… things like wind resistance and changes in terrain.
  2. A few small studies have also found that those who exercise outdoors have lower blood levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress, than those who exercise indoors.
  3. In a number of recent studies, volunteers were asked to take two daily walks for the same time or distance — one indoors on a treadmill or track, the other outdoors. In every study, the volunteers reported enjoying the outdoor exercise more, and scored higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, and enjoyment, while also reporting reduced fatigue and depression and tension.
  4. Enjoyment may be the most important reason to exercise outdoors and make it easier to commit to doing so regularly. With only about 15% of Canadian adults active enough for their health, the prevalence of indoor gyms don’t appear to be changing behaviour.
  5. When we exercise outdoors, we create vitamin D3, which is important to bone health and metabolic function. Research tells us that exposure to sunlight during the day can help us sleep better at night, improve immune function, and increase feel-good hormones circulating throughout our bodies. Nonetheless, it is important to think prevention and to protect your skin from sun damage.

For similar features, please visit the column I write for DeerFields Clinic in Toronto.