Category Archives: Physical Activity

Did You Resolve to Exercise More in 2016? Try These Tips to Stay Motivated All Year Long!

January is often the time we decide to take charge of our health and resolve to change our eating and exercise habits for the better.  The new year brings along with it a fresh start, and a perfect blank canvas to create new, healthy habits.  However, these habits don’t last long for most of us – according to data from Gold’s Gym, most people end up breaking their resolutions (at least the ones related to exercise) on February 18.  If you’d like to make your resolution to exercise more a habit that lasts all year long, try these tips to stay motivated until February 18 – and beyond:

  • Set realistic goals. If you’re a couch potato who vowed to exercise 7 days a week come January 1, chances are good that your resolution has already been broken.  Setting reasonable expectations for yourself will ensure you have the time, energy, and interest needed to help you reach your goal.
  • Start slowly. Like setting realistic expectations, starting slowly will help you feel like your goal is more attainable, and you’ll be less likely to suffer fatigue or burnout if you ease into your healthy transition.
  • Think about how much better you feel when you’re active. It’s easy to come up with excuses for why you don’t want to exercise, but it’s even easier to think of how good you’ll feel after you do.  The next time you claim you’re too tired to be active, think back to a time you managed to fit in a quick workout and remember how good your mind and body felt afterward.  Use that memory to help fuel your next exercise session.
  • Schedule some exercise on your calendar. If you’re like me, you rely on a calendar (whether on your desk, phone, or Outlook) to keep your schedule straight.  You know you have to attend a meeting or perform a work-related task if it’s on your calendar, so why not pencil (or type) a regular workout in there as well?  You’ll be more likely to commit to exercise if you look at it as part of your schedule.
  • Think outside the box – try a new activity. It’s understandable to lose interest if you stick with the same types of activity day in and day out.  When you feel your motivation slipping, think about activities you haven’t performed before, but are interested in, and give them a try.  Who knows – you might just find the workout you’ll want to stick with for years to come.
  • Use the buddy system. Exercising with a buddy is a great way to stay accountable and receive the support you need to work out regularly.  Remember that your buddy is probably looking forward to working out with you and wants to get healthy together – you wouldn’t want to let him or her down, would you?  Think of your exercise buddy as your own personal cheerleader, and use them to your advantage whenever you don’t have the motivation to exercise.
  • Add exercise in whenever you can.  Physical activity doesn’t have to take the form of a 60-minute exercise class or a long run.  Challenge yourself to be active in creative ways at work, at home, and when out with friends.  Anything that gets your heart rate up – walking meetings, cleaning the house, or going bowling after work  – counts as activity.
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You Ate Too Much – Now What?

The holidays are a time of overindulgence.  In the past, I’ve shared tips to help you eat right during this celebration-filled time of year, but let’s face it – sometimes you end up giving in to temptation and overdoing it at the office party or cookie swap.  Until the day comes when you’re able to hop in a time machine and go back to undo the damage of eating one (or ten) too many cookies, here’s what you can do to make yourself feel better (both physically and mentally) after overeating:

  • Hydrate.  In an ideal situation, you’d be drinking lots of water before surrounding yourself with holiday treats, and all that water would instill a sense of satiety that would prevent you from overeating.  However, once the damage has already been done, water still has benefits, and you should drink it copiously.  Water flushes out sodium and speeds up the process of digestion, both of which will help you feel less bloated after a large meal or treat binge.
  • Stay upright. Although you may be tempted to immediately transition into nap mode after overindulging, giving into this urge may do more harm than good.  Remaining seated (or better yet, getting up and moving – more on that next) after eating will help prevent indigestion and acid reflux, both of which often crop up after eating too much.
  • Get moving. Performing light exercise, such as walking, after a large meal (or any meal, for that matter), has several benefits, including the release of feel-good endorphins that may help counteract the bad feelings you experience after overeating.  Exercise also burns calories, and new research shows that it may help stabilize blood sugar for hours after you eat.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. Overeating happens to the best of us, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to feel bad enough about your choices that you turn to eating more unhealthy food in order to feel better.  Once you realize that tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to start fresh and get back into your typical healthy habits, you’ll be able to use your adventures in overeating as a teachable moment.
  • Fill up on the good (for you) stuff. On those days when you’re not overdoing it at holiday gatherings, aim to eat as many good-for-you foods as possible, both to emphasize healthy eating habits and provide your body with the nutrition it needs to help you feel your best.  In the long run, eating a balance of whole grains, lean protein, heart-healthy fat, and lots of fruits and vegetables will help you feel more satisfied than a plate of cookies ever can.

These tips neither serve as an excuse to overeat, nor as an admonition to not enjoy the food that goes along with holiday celebrations.  It’s okay to be naughty every once in awhile – but you can still feel nice afterward if you come armed with the strategies above.

Turn Your Holiday Shopping Trip into a Workout

When it comes to shopping for holiday presents, people generally fall into one of two camps:  they love it and take any opportunity they can to hit the stores; or they hate it and try to put it off until the last minute, if not avoid it all together.  Coincidentally, the same can be said for people’s feelings on exercise.  Whichever camp you most identify with for either activity, try thinking outside of the box this holiday season to combine shopping and exercise for a win-win situation that will benefit your family and friends and your body.  Here are some tips to help you increase your heart rate and calorie burn while you’re out decking the malls this holiday season:

  • Step it up. Challenge yourself to meet a daily goal of 10,000 steps by wearing a pedometer, comfortable clothes, and sneakers while you’re out and about. You’ll have an easier time racking up the steps if you’re comfortable and have a tool to instantly track your progress.
  • Go the distance. To add extra steps to your trip, park your car as far away from the store or mall entrance as you can.  Once inside, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, and talk a lap around before deciding what you’d like to purchase.
  • Fit in a strength training workout. Think of your shopping bags as weights – the more filled with presents they are, the better workout you’re going to get.  As you’re carrying them around the mall or back to your car, slightly lift your shopping bags then lower them for an instant workout for your biceps and triceps.
  • Work your lower body. See an item you like on a higher shelf? Do some calf raises by stretching to reach or look at it.  For items at floor level, squat down to pick up or view them.

Neither holiday shopping nor working out need to feel like chores if you approach them with a positive attitude and the belief that you’ll be making others happy and improving your health in the process.

Maintain – Don’t Gain – This Holiday Season

Thanksgiving’s a week away, which marks the start of what I like to call “holiday eating season.”  If you’re like me, your days, nights, and weekends during the next six weeks will be filled with festivities that center around food.  While there are plenty of ways to take the focus off of food this holiday season, we all know that sometimes food-centric events are inevitable.  However, these events don’t have to mean the end of your healthy eating habits – nor should they be the beginning of a self-imposed regimen of deprivation.

A healthy way to look at all of the parties at work, home, or friends’ houses is as an opportunity to enjoy the season while challenging yourself to maintain your current weight.  This means you have room for regular indulgences, as long as you also incorporate time for regular exercise and balance out those indulgences with healthier options.  When you embrace the holiday season for all that it is – a time for socialization, good will, happiness, and all sorts of other positive emotions – you’re less likely to get hung up on the occasional “cheat day” and more likely to stick with healthy eating and activity patterns the rest of the time.

So how can you apply the concept of “maintain – don’t gain” during the next six weeks?  Here are some easy ways to enjoy the season without doing too much damage to all the healthy habits you follow the rest of the year:

  • Play favorites. When you first enter a party, scope out all of the food options available before filling your plate.  Once you have an idea of which foods you’d most like to eat, put them on your plate first, making sure to take large helpings of healthy options and smaller servings of less-healthy items.  Filling your plate with foods you know you’re going to enjoy helps prevent you from consuming excess calories from foods you threw on your plate “just because” that you feel you have to eat.
  • Health-ify it. Not-so-nutritious meals can be made healthier by adding healthy options alongside them.  Aim to include at least one (non-deep-fried) vegetable or fruit to every meal and snack.  Is pizza on the menu at your office party?  Make sure to accessorize your slices with a heaping helping of salad.  Tempted by your Grandmother’s famous pecan pie?  Have a small slice alongside a bowl of fresh fruit.  Not only will you get the beneficial vitamins and minerals your produce contains, you’ll also be adding a low-calorie, filling option to your plate, which will help prevent overindulging in higher-calorie foods.
  • Work it out. Use gatherings as an excuse to recruit other health-minded individuals to burn off those extra calories with you.  Go for a family walk before or after your meal or organize a friendly game of touch football.  If you’re having fun being active as part of a group, your calorie-burning activities won’t feel like a chore.  If group activity isn’t always an option, strike out on your own and incorporate brief walks whenever you can.  Take a lap around the office every few hours, get up and talk to your coworkers instead of calling or emailing them, or walk to errands close by instead of driving.  Little bouts of activity add up to increase calorie burn throughout the day.
  • Try the pie.  Let’s face it – most of us look forward to indulging in dessert at the end of a holiday meal.  If you want a slice of pie, or a cookie, or whatever else on the dessert table tickles your fancy, go for it.  Depriving yourself of a sought-after treat will only make you lose the willpower to make other healthy choices the rest of the day.  Remember, however, that you don’t need to eat the whole pie or plate of cookies:  It only takes three bites of any particular to feel satisfied, so stick to small portions of your favorite treats.

Functional Strength Training

By Guest Blogger Kayla Mantegazza, WellMASS Program Coordinator

Strength training is an essential component of a complete physical activity program.  It builds muscle mass, which increases metabolism, absorbs some of the shock put on your joints during daily activities, and improves stamina.  However, you don’t need to use heavy weights or complex machines to build strength, increase muscle tone, or improve athletic performance.  In fact, you already own the equipment necessary to start an effective strength training program:  your body.  Performing exercises that rely on bodyweight to develop strength by mimicking movements you frequently perform throughout the day is known as functional strength training. Practicing functional training reduces stiffness, improves range of motion, and develops strength, balance, and flexibility.

There are a few core differences between traditional strength training and functional strength training.  Traditional strength training — such as a seated hamstring curl — typically isolates one muscle group at a time (in this case, as its name suggests, the hamstring).  Conversely, functional strength training — such as a forearm plank — activates many muscle groups simultaneously (in this case, the core, lats, shoulders, and quads).  The benefit to training multiple muscle groups at once is that you can build strength more quickly as well as burn calories more efficiently than you would if you were working only one part of your body.

Traditional strength training and functional training also differ in their outcomes.  The goals of traditional strength training are to maximize the amount of weight you can lift and build muscle for aesthetic purposes.  Functional strength training will still help you achieve your aesthetic goals, such as losing inches and reshaping your body, but success is typically measured by improvements in range of motion, stability, and flexibility rather than the amount of weight you can lift or the size of your muscles.

To perform an exercise that will make you functionally strong, there are a few guidelines to follow.  The first is to perform the exercise while standing without support.  When you train while sitting, laying on a bench, or using a wall to support yourself, you don’t need to engage your core muscles or work as hard to maintain your balance, posture, and form as you would if you were performing the exercise without the support of a mechanical aid or piece of furniture.  The next guideline to follow is to train with free weights (dumbbells) instead of weighted machines.  Dumbbells promote strength while improving muscle balance.  While weighted machines are not inherently bad or ineffective, they typically guide you through impractical motions that don’t reflect the movements you naturally make throughout the day, nor do they require balance.  Lastly, be sure to focus on compound exercises rather than those that isolate one muscle group.  Below are some examples of functional strength training exercises that follow these guidelines.  Make sure you talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

Glute Bridge:

Glute Bridge

Muscles Worked: Calves, Hamstrings, Glutes, and Lower Back

To perform this movement, lay on your back with your heels underneath your knees about 12-15” from your body.  Lift your hips up into the air pushing down from your heels, stabilizing onto your shoulders. Hold for 5 seconds and lower back to the starting position. Make sure to push your chin away from your chest as it rises closer.  Squeeze your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back throughout exercise.

Bird Dog:

Bird Dog

Muscles Worked: Hamstrings, Glutes, Lower Back, Abs, Shoulders, and Arms

Start out on all fours with your back in a tight, neutral position, keeping your head in line with your body (don’t look up or down). Reach your arm straight out in front of you.  While extending your arm, extend your opposite leg (i.e., right arm and left leg).  Once you have both your arm and leg out, pause for a 2-second count and then lower back to the start position.  Switch sides and repeat. Avoid letting the body twist or change height.  Imagine keeping a small ball on your lower back and keeping it in place going from step A to step B and back to the start.

Cross Over Crunch:

Cross Over Crunch

Muscles Worked: Rectus Abdominals, Obliques, and Transverse Abs

Start on your back with your feet 10-12” away from your body.  Place your ankle on your knee. Take your opposite hand and place your fingertips behind your ear.  This will allow you to support your head and neck. Start to turn your upper body toward your raised knee by using your abdominal muscles to lift your shoulder blades and head as one unit toward the knee. The goal is to have your elbow cross over your belly button.   Hold for one second and bring back to start.  Perform this sequence for desired number of reps and then repeat on the other side.

MassHealth Employees Paddle Their Way to Wellness

One of the best parts of my job involves visiting agencies all across the state and learning about the fun and healthy activities Wellness Champions have organized for their employees.   Lots of agencies host healthy potlucks and have weekly walking clubs, both of which are great ways to get lots of employees involved in wellness.  However, a few agencies and worksites hold a special place in my heart for the truly unique wellness activities they offer.  One such worksite is the MassHealth Electronic Document Management Center in East Taunton.  Led by Wellness Champion Lori Rodrigues, EDMC employees participate in a Kayak Club at nearby Lake Rico.

Spurred by her interest in kayaking and desire to make exercise a social event, Lori started the club last July:

“When it comes to being healthy, I am always looking for new ways to be active, so when a coworker shared her love of kayaking with me, the decision to start a kayaking club was a no-brainer. What I love most about kayaking is the overall effect it has on mental health, which provides a relaxing workout. Kayaking can be peaceful, meditative, or even exhilarating! It is also a great way to clear your mind. Starting the kayak club at the EDMC has been a fun social activity that will continue to grow!”

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Lori recruited her fellow kayakers through word of mouth and clever emails that touted the benefits of kayaking (Did you know that you can burn over 200 calories just by kayaking for 30 minutes?).   Although only a handful of employees participated in the club’s first outing, word of mouth spread quickly at the EDMC, and the club soon grew in size.  Some of the participants already owned their own kayaks and were eager for an opportunity to take them out.  Others were new to the kayaking world and ended up renting kayaks to try their hand at the sport.

So far, the Kayak Club has met three times at various locations throughout the area, and, although kayaking season has come to an end, Lori plans to start the club back up again next Spring.

Take the Focus Off Food This Holiday Season

As a nutritionist, I love food – the healthier, the better (90% of the time, at least).  That being said, I also think it’s unhealthy to think about food constantly, to the point where cooking, shopping, and eating become chores and are no longer fun.   So, right before the biggest food holiday of the year, I thought it would be an appropriate time to help you think about focusing on something other than food!

Yes, Thanksgiving does mark the start of a month-long period of get-togethers that center mainly around eating.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, I encourage you to attend these get-togethers and eat the foods you enjoy there.  What I don’t want you to do is obsess over everything that you eat, or feel like your whole world revolves around food for a month straight.  While the holidays are a great excuse to gather together over a big meal, they’re also the perfect time to engage in non-food-related activities with your family and friends.  Like most families, mine chooses to celebrate holidays with lots of turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie; this year, however, we’ll also be creating some new traditions that don’t involve food.  Here’s what’s in store for my family this holiday season; maybe you can try some of these ideas with your own family or friends to make holiday gatherings a little less food-centric:

 

  • Turkey Trots and Holiday Hustles. My husband has recently gotten into distance running, and he’s already signed up for a few holiday-themed races.  On Thanksgiving morning, the first thing on his mind won’t be turkey and pie; rather, he’ll be thinking about the five miles he’s about to run in the Feaster Five road race.  Not a runner?  Most local races allow walkers to participate as well.  It doesn’t matter how fast you run or walk; all that matters is you’re moving, and enjoying a holiday event that actually burns calories!
  • Getting Crafty. Dessert is a big part of holiday celebrations in my family.  And while we’ll still be enjoying dessert after our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, we won’t be making a big deal of it.  This year, instead of gathering together for a full day of cookie-baking, the women in my family will be harnessing our creativity to make our own Christmas wreaths.  Getting the family involved in a holiday craft is a great way to get in the spirit, foster togetherness, and create something that won’t have an effect on your waistline.
  • Giving Back. My sister is passionate about volunteering, and she is looking forward to helping out at a local food pantry this holiday season.  While serving those in need does involve food, it’s in the most selfless sense.  Taking the time to think about what others don’t have, and all of things that you do have, is a great reminder of what the holiday season is really about.

Fitting in Exercise When You’re Pressed for Time

“I don’t have enough time to exercise.”  I’ve heard employees offer this as an excuse for not exercising more times than I can count.  I may have even muttered this line myself once or twice over the years, but that doesn’t mean that not having enough time is a good reason not to be physically active.   I don’t need to list all of the benefits of exercising, but I will remind you that regular exercise does help increase your vitality and lifespan and decrease your risk of conditions like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.  For those of us who work full-time and have numerous obligations outside of the workplace, finding time to work out may seem like an insurmountable challenge.  But in reality, it’s not, and I’m here to tell you that finding the time to exercise, even with a busy schedule, is much easier than you think.

The government’s 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults perform 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking) a week (the equivalent of 30 minutes a day, five days out of the week) for optimal health.  This may seem like a daunting number to achieve, but there’s a lot of good news about this recommendation:

  • Activity can be spread out throughout the week, and even throughout the day. As long as you’re getting at least 10 minutes of activity at a time, you can count that activity toward your 150 minutes.
  • Everyday activities like cleaning your car count, as long as they’re performed for at least 10 minutes at a time and result in a moderate elevation of your heart rate (e.g., you’re able to talk, but not sing, while performing your activity).
  • You can get away with doing fewer minutes of activity if you increase your intensity. If you choose to perform vigorous-intensity activity (like jumping rope, or any other activity during which you find it difficult to talk because you’re working so hard), you only need to get in 75 minutes a week.

Although cardiovascular exercise is often a main focus of physical activity recommendations, strength training is also important, as strength training helps build muscle, which helps increase metabolism.  Try to perform strength training exercises at least twice a week, on non-consecutive days.  Choose 8-10 different exercises that work all the major muscle groups, and perform 8-12 repetitions of each.

It’s up to you to choose the intensity and duration of your activities – find ones that fit into your schedule and that you’re comfortable performing.  If you’re stumped as to how you can possibly fit activity into your busy schedule, start here:

  • Take two, 15-minute walks during your daily breaks.
  • Jump rope for 15 minutes (you’ll burn almost 200 calories!)
  • Walk around the room when you’re talking on the phone.
  • Do push-ups, crunches, and jumping jacks during tv commercials.
  • Lift light weights while you’re watching tv.
  • Climb the stairs in your office building for 10 minutes once or twice a day.
  • Clean the house – increase your pace by challenging yourself to finish cleaning in a certain amount of time.
  • Try high-intensity interval training. Alternate back and forth between low-intensity activity, like walking, and high-intensity activity, like running, for 30 minutes.

Exercising doesn’t have to seem like a chore if you’re creative about fitting activity in whenever you can.  The next time you catch yourself saying that you don’t have time to exercise, imagine me telling you to go take a hike – or at least a quick walk around the block.

The Social and Emotional Benefits of Physical Activity

By Guest Blogger Kayla Mantegazza, WellMASS Program Coordinator

A few weeks ago, I visited the Department of Public Health’s Hinton State Laboratory in Jamaica Plain to participate in a Boot Camp fitness class organized by the State Lab’s Wellness Champion, Jacki Dooley.  Thanks to Jacki’s efforts, State Lab employees have the opportunity to participate in group fitness classes during their lunch breaks, which gives them an opportunity to step away from their desks and make time in their busy schedules for physical activity.  I was lucky enough to have chosen a sunny, mild day to channel my inner G.I Jane, so we were able to move the class outside and enjoy the beautiful weather.  The format of the class was very personalized and laid back.  Participants were encouraged to perform exercises at their own pace, make modifications if necessary, and take frequent water breaks.  The instructor of the class, Remy Isdaner from Soma Wellness, led us through bodyweight circuits for all of the major muscle groups such as jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, planks, and yoga poses for stretching and balance.  We also jogged a lap around the parking lot between each circuit to keep our heart rates elevated.

Aside from getting a great workout in a comfortable setting where each of us received individualized attention, my favorite part of the Boot Camp class was the camaraderie between employees.  Everyone in attendance was encouraging and supportive of one another, and several people even asked about participants who were absent from that week’s class to make sure they were okay.  For fitness novices who feel intimidated by the concept of group exercise classes because they are nervous about keeping up with their peers, this class proved the contrary.  The group setting provided us with more social support and reinforcement than we would have gotten by exercising by ourselves (or not at all!), which benefitted both our physical and mental wellbeing.

Speaking of mental wellbeing, the mental health benefits of physical activity are often overlooked.  For those of us who shed a tear at the sight of a treadmill, exercise may sound more stress-inducing than stress-reducing.  However, aerobic exercise has been shown to improve blood circulation to the brain, which may help decrease anxiety and depression.   Exercise also triggers the release of endorphins, which improve mood and in turn reduce the likelihood of turning to food for comfort.  Studies show that aerobic exercise also improves quality of sleep,  and that people who exercise are less likely to feel daytime sleepiness and more likely to report an increase in vitality.  Increased mental sharpness during periods of stress is especially valuable in the workplace.

As if those benefits weren’t enticing enough to get you out of your seat, physical activity provides an outlet for social interaction and support.  Whether you join a group fitness class or simply recruit a friend to take a walk around your building during lunch, being physically active in a community setting presents opportunities to meet people with common interests who can hold you accountable for sticking to your routine.  Being able to take a mental break from your work day to exercise with co-workers also fosters a cooperative, positive, and team-oriented work environment.  Therefore, physical activity isn’t just beneficial to the mental health of the participant, but to the overall climate of the workplace as well.

If you would like to learn more about the Boot Camp class at the State Lab or you would like some suggestions on how to set up group fitness classes at your agency, send me an email at kayla.mantegazza@state.ma.us.

Delores Takes 10: Looking Back on the Challenge

Well, the Department of Transitional Assistance finished the Take 10! Challenge no worse for wear. We were 25 strong when we first started, but we ended with just four people successfully completing all four weeks of the Challenge.

During the Challenge, I found that if I started the day by doing a few of the exercises before I left the house, I felt better during the day. I continue to do some of the exercises during the day at work.

I liked being able to focus on different types of exercise each week; this kept me motivated to complete the Challenge. I would like to thank and congratulate all who hung in there to the end. Until next time!