Staying Consistent Through the Holidays

Staying Consistent Through the Holidays

Tis the season for holiday gatherings, busyness and stress, which often leads to the lack of priority on our health and well-being.  Though we are still in a pandemic, holiday travel, parties and get-togethers in many cases are back this year.  Along with the holidays often comes end of year work projects, kids on holiday break and an overall change in routines which leaves little time for consistent exercise and a solid nutrition plan. 

Our society tends to have an all-or-nothing mindset when it comes to exercise and nutrition.  We are either on, working out fairly hard most days of the week while eating chicken breasts and asparagus or off, and forgoing exercise and eating everything we want.  

However, consistency beats perfection.  Every time.  You will likely get more results (or at least maintain) during this time of year by being consistent.  Exercise often, make healthy choices often.  Do not strive for perfection.  Perfection is an unrealized idea. 

How about this year, instead of trying to be perfect, we just try to be consistent?  Read below on a few tips to stay consistent through this busy time of year. 

  1. Focus on maintenance.   The holidays are not the time for hard core goals.  Do not get me wrong, I always believe in working towards goals or bettering yourself, but this time of year is filled with travel, parties, different schedules and routines.  Do not set yourself up for failure.  Set yourself up for success by just trying to maintain.  Not gaining weight is an excellent goal, yet we often think goals can only consist of losing weight or bettering our performance.   Weight maintenance or keeping a consistent exercise/nutrition routine is an excellent goal during the month of December. 
  1. Do what you can with what you have.  Stuck at the in-laws for Christmas?  Take walks, play with the kids, play active games, throw in a couple of body weight workouts.  All movement counts and a 15-min walk after dinner is better than not doing anything.  Change your mindset that exercise always has to be long, formal and hard.   Exercise when you can, even if it is only for a few minutes.  
  1. Navigate the middle.  Though the holidays are filled with great food, it does not mean we have to eat everything in sight.  Can you enjoy some holiday treats while also choosing mostly healthy foods?    Food is amazing and is a part of our culture and social lives.  We do not want to try to white knuckle our way through meals by only choosing the most healthy foods.  On the other hand, just because there are an abundance of goodies, we do not have to overstuff ourselves with all the sweet treats. Can you “navigate the middle?”  Can you leave a party feeling satisfied but not stuffed?    For example, fill your plate with mostly vegetables, lean protein and a moderate amount of whole grains.  Then choose a few items that are more indulgent and satisfying such as cheese, maybe a small amount of a dessert or bread etc. This does take some practice but once you have learned how to navigate the middle, eating around the holidays and at social events in general, can be much more simple and enjoyable. 
  1. Have some compassion for yourself.  The last two years have been hard.  For everyone.  Though we collectively experienced the pandemic and it affected literally everyone in the world,  each person had their own unique grief, loss, anxiety and sadness.  The last two years have been unlike anything we have ever experienced.  If you feel that you have not made the best food choices or have not been exercising consistently, acknowledge that but move on.  Do not berate or shame yourself.   Just simply move forward.    You do not have to wait until January 1st to go on a walk or to have a healthy meal.  Make healthy choices at the next opportunity.    Talk to yourself (and others) kindly.   Nourishing your body with good food and movement is one of the best things you can do for yourself.  Take care of yourself and others. 

Wishing you and yours very healthy and happy holidays!

Originally published on www.elevationcorporatehealth.com

Why You Should Work Out Harder, Not Necessarily Longer

Why You Should Work Out Harder, Not Necessarily Longer

Most Americans do not meet the recommended physical activity guidelines by the American Council of Sports Medicine.  These guidelines state, “All healthy adults aged 18–65 yr should participate in moderate intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 min on five days per week, or vigorous intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 min on three days per week. Every adult  should  perform  activities  that  maintain  or  increase  muscular  strength and endurance for a minimum of two days per week.”

The number one reason people claim they cannot meet these recommendations?  Time.  Though we all have the same 24 hours a day;  jobs, family and other commitments can vary tremendously.    As stated above, it is recommended to either workout 150 minutes over 5 days or workout a bit harder for 60 min over 3 days.   That is a huge difference for those with time constraints. If you are short on time or as we enter the busy fall and holiday season, consider working out harder not longer. 

For years, working out for an hour or taking an hour-long class seemed to be the norm for many people to consider the workout to ‘count.’ But in reality all movement counts.  If you have time for a longer workout, great, but if you only have 20 minutes, do not just give up on exercising all together as working out harder for a shorter period of time can be just as effective if not more.  

A simple way to meet the recommendations of more intense exercise is through high intensity interval training or “HIIT.”  The most basic explanation of HIIT is working very hard for a short amount of time (could be aerobic activity or strength training) followed by periods of rest and then repeating this cycle for a certain amount of repetitions.  Though HIIT has been around for quite some time, as it was listed on the ACSM’s fitness trends in 2014, it is still popular today for its many benefits.   Benefits include improvements in the following health markers:

  • aerobic and anaerobic fitness 
  • blood pressure
  • cardiovascular health
  • insulin sensitivity (which helps the exercising muscles more readily use glucose for fuel to make energy)
  • cholesterol profiles
  • abdominal fat and body weight while maintaining muscle mass.
  • increase in VO2 max and improve some cardiometabolic risk factors in overweight/obese populations.

Even with all the great health benefits listed above,  HIIT is likely most popular due to time efficiency as well as the fact that workouts at a higher level of intensity tend to burn more calories than lower intensity workouts.    HIIT workouts generate a higher “EPOC” or post-exercise oxygen consumption.  This is the time period after a workout has ended where your body is attempting to return to pre-exercise levels.    This time period uses energy and uses even more energy after a HIIT workout so your overall energy expenditure is higher than a traditional slower paced exercise session.

Though there are tons of benefits of HIIT workouts, there are also some cons and/or precautions that need to be considered. 

For exercisers to really get the full benefit, it is necessary to get fairly uncomfortable.  You will want to be breathing hard and pushing yourself.  A lot of people do not like to get to that level of uncomfortableness.    Though higher intensity does not necessarily mean higher impact, many HIIT workouts can be higher impact and faster paced.  Anyone with injuries, chronic conditions,  just starting to exercise or returning to exercise after a longer layoff will want to start slow and get the approval from their medical professional before attempting HIIIT workouts.   Recovery is also even more important when performing HIIT, so extra time might be needed between these types of workouts. 

The good news is HIIT workouts can really be done with any type of exercise modality (biking, running, swimming, weight lifting, body weight resistance training etc.) and with various work to rest ratios, can be adapted to many different levels of fitness. 

The many benefits of HIIT should not completely replace all slower, longer and endurance based workouts as they still do have a place in a well-rounded exercise routine. If you are training for any type of endurance event, then most of your workouts should be slower and more endurance based.  Or if you are currently dealing with high amounts of stress, then you should prioritize longer and slower types of workouts since HIIT workouts can be stressful on the body. 

As we enter the busy fall followed by the holiday season, harder and shorter workouts can be a great way to maintain a solid exercise routine.  No longer are hour-long workouts necessary to stay in shape or maintain your weight.  Got 20 min?  Got even 15 min?  Throw in a quick HIIT workout before grabbing the kids from school.   Traveling?  Complete a quick 20 min bodyweight only HIIT workout in your hotel room   Throwing together a HIIT workout can be super simple.  For aerobic activity, select running, cycling or any mode you prefer.  Work hard for 30 seconds, rest for 1-2 minutes.  Repeat as many times as you like or until feeling quite fatigued.    As you become stronger, decrease the amount of time you are resting and/or increase the amount of time you are working.   For a strength HIIT, follow the same concept but select a strength exercise such as squats, lunges or push-ups.  

Even super short workouts can be effective if working hard enough.  Remember, all movement counts.   

Resources:

https://www.acsm.org/read-research/trending-topics-resource-pages/physical-activity-guidelines
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/51/6/494
https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/files-for-resource-library/high-intensity-interval-training.pdf
Back to School and Healthy Habits

Back to School and Healthy Habits

It is hard to believe that summer is wrapping up and fall is just around the corner.  Depending on where you live, many kids are already back in school or will be starting school soon.  With the start of school and often fall sports and activities, many are facing a routine change.  Some might have more time with their kids back in school, while others are busier with the additional activities.  If you do not have kids or school-age kids, fall still might represent a change in routine with many heading back into the office or less travel as summer vacations wind down.

Take a close look at your current exercise, nutrition and sleep habits.  Are these systems working for you or is an overhaul in order? 

Exercise

As days are slowly becoming shorter and possibly cooler, exercise routines might need a revamp.  It might not be possible to get in an early morning run as it is darker later. Yet, with temperatures cooling down, outside workouts might be more available to many in the afternoons when this time might have been normally avoided due to hot temperatures.  A few questions to ask yourself include, have you been doing the exact same routine all summer? Have you been exercising inconsistently due to summer vacations and other activities?  Have you only been running/riding outside; though a great form of exercise, have you avoided strength training?   As we begin this new season and often more consistent schedule can you try or add a new group exercise class to your routine?   Can you commit to exercising 2-3 days a week on a consistent basis?  Take a moment and think about your goals or set some new goals as the season begins. 

Nutrition

Fall is considered harvest time for much of the United States and numerous fruits and vegetables are at their peak and fresh produce is in abundance this time of year.    Early fall is a great time to enjoy fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and more. Squash, apples and other heartier produce will start to be available at this time as well.    With school back in session, many are looking for quick, healthy and relatively easy dinners for school and sport nights.  Take the time to plan some meals around all the amazing produce available. Fall signals new flavors and as the cooler weather starts to set in, hearty soups and stews are not only easy but a perfect way to consume lots of vegetables and therefore nutrients.   Slow cookers and easy to assemble dinners will help busy nights be less stressful. 

Sleep

A third and most often overlooked crucial aspect of wellness is sleep.  Fall is a great time to look at your sleep habits and routines. Slowly we are moving away from often staying up late with the sun in the summer; time to get back on a consistent sleep schedule.  A solid sleep schedule is especially important for kids to thrive in school.   With it cooling down, fall can bring ideal sleeping temperatures.  Windows might be open at night to keep rooms nice and cool.   Our bodies should naturally change with the season so you might find yourself craving a bit more sleep with the sunrise later, and sunset earlier.  Listen to your body and try to follow that feedback.  Sleep is when our body and brain are resting and recovering.  Do not underestimate the importance of sleep; make it a priority for everyone in your family to help everyone perform at their best. 

As the seasons change, take a step back, evaluate your current wellness habits and routines.  Fall is a great time to set some new goals and get back on track with healthy habits. 

Originally published on www.elevationcorporatehealth.com-September 2021

Navigating Eating at Summer BBQs and Celebrations

Navigating Eating at Summer BBQs and Celebrations

It has been a while since I have blogged.   I went off social media almost completely last March, as I felt it was detrimental to my mental health.  However, I have had quite a few clients and followers telling me that they missed my posts and recipes.  So I will be blogging every month as I still want to educate and help busy families with healthy living.  I would love to hear from you and what you might be interested in reading about!

As the world starts to open up, we might find ourselves actually having social events back on our calendar.  We have missed so many milestones and gatherings this past year that getting together with friends and family is definitely something to celebrate.  However, just because we are celebrating with food does not necessarily mean throwing all healthy choices out the window.   Read below for a few reminders on how to enjoy social occasions while still prioritizing health. 

  • Focus on the people, not just the food 

Food is part of our culture and is made to be enjoyed.  However, if going to a gathering is causing you anxiety thinking that you will overeat, then the gathering will not be as special or enjoyable.   Yes, food is likely and should be a part of the celebration but there is more to the celebration than the food.  Especially since this past year and half, we have not gathered as frequently, focus on the people you are with.  Enjoy some food but mostly enjoy the ability to gather and socialize again. 

  

  • Taste everything, don’t overeat anything 

Parties are often filled with great food, maybe food you don’t always get to enjoy.  Give yourself permission to have at least a little bit of everything you want.  The key is a small amount.  If you use willpower to try to stay away from the brownies that you really want to try,  you will be left feeling unsatisfied which can often lead to even more cravings.  A tip that is helpful for holiday eating as well,  select foods that you love but don’t often have.  Grandma’s famous potato salad?  Have a little bit and enjoy.  Plain chips and salsa?  Maybe skip it this time. Moderation really does work.

  • Don’t exercise or skip meals to buy calories before or after the gathering.

Yes, exercise is important.  And if you know you will be eating a bit more, then sure, adding a bit more movement is fine but do not exercise solely to earn calories.  Do not skip meals because you feel guilty for having some treats.  Guilt has no utility when it comes to behavior change or making good choices.  Feel like you did not make the best choices at the gathering?  Simply make a healthy choice for the next meal and get back on your regular exercise routine.  One party will also not erase all your hard work or exercise efforts.   

  • Focus on lean vegetables, protein, fruit 

Fill your plate mostly with vegetables, lean protein and fruit.  All of these foods will give you the most bang for your buck.  They are the most nutritionally dense with higher water and fiber contents which will fill you up with less calories.   Once you have a good amount of these foods on your plate, add small amounts of the food you enjoy. 

  • Pay attention to liquid calories 

Sure, a cold beer or glass of rosé  on a hot summer day can taste amazing.  But at around 80-150 calories per drink (more for fruity concoctions) liquid calories can add up!  Try alternating with a glass of water or seltzer.  Luckily, there are many new, low calorie, non-alcoholic beverages on the market to choose from.  Staying hydrated with water will also help with not over-indulging on food as thirst can be mistaken for hunger.   

It is so wonderful to be able to gather again.   However, as we learned how vital our health really is this past year, do not let a few parties derail your efforts to eat well.  You can still enjoy the food and more importantly the company. 

I would love to hear from you.  What do you struggle with when it comes to social eating?  Comment below! And as always, thanks for reading. 

Originally published on www.elevationcorporatehealth.com-July 2021

Returning to Work

Returning to Work

The choice to return to work after having a baby is a very personal decision. I believe every mama has to figure out what will be best for their family. Unfortunately, society seems to shame mamas if they do return to work and also if they stay home. We often cannot win. I chose to return to work and though there are of course days I wish I could stay home with my kiddos, 6 years later, my husband and I both agree it was the best decision for our family. I might change my mind later on and want to stay home but right now it works for us.

As I have a few friends and clients returning to work in the upcoming months, I wanted to share a few tips that were either helpful to me or what I wish I had known when returning to work.

Returning to work after maternity leave can be very challenging and anxiety producing. Regardless if you are ready to head back to work and might look forward to your job, it is often not an easy transition. You might have anxiety about leaving your baby with someone else, feel guilty for returning to work, worries about pumping and milk production and wondering how you are going to balance it all; and those are just a few of the emotions you might experience!

Finding a nanny or daycare that you trust and feel comfortable with can help make the return to the working world a bit easier.

Here are a few tips to make the transition smoother:

  • Consider trying out your childcare before returning to work. If you are using an in-home daycare or a daycare facility, ask about a few trial days during the last few weeks of your maternity leave. This way you can practice your morning routine of getting ready and getting out the door. Try a half day or even just a few hours at first and then maybe one longer day. If you are using a nanny, have the nanny come for a few hours, then a half day and maybe one full day before you return to work. Use this time for any self-care you might need as it is likely you have not had much alone time since the arrival of your baby. Get a massage, grab lunch with a friend, take a yoga class. Enjoy some time to yourself. Having a trial run can hopefully ease some of the anxiety of those first few days.
  • Instead of returning to work and starting daycare on a Monday, see if it is possible to start on a Wednesday or Thursday This way, you and your baby can ease into the routine without jumping head on into 5 days.
  • Remember, the first day is most likely the hardest. It is normal to be sad to leave your baby but it is also normal to be excited to return to work. It often gets easier with time but remember the joy you will feel picking up your baby each day after work!

Tips for Pumping:

  • Pack your pumping bag the night before and make sure you have extra bottles, bags, cooler and ice packs if needed. Pumping at work can be stressful so the last thing you want to realize once you get all the way to work is that you forgot anything essential.
  • Make every attempt to pump at the same time you would normally feed. It is common for milk production to drop with the reduction of actual breastfeeding and with the stress of a change of routine. You might see an initial drop in production, sometimes, regular production returns, but your body might also adapt to producing less since the pump is less efficient than breastfeeding your baby. Try not to stress and do what works for you and your baby. (Legally, employers have to give you breaks as well as a space to pump. If you are not given breaks or a private space, talk to your HR representative.)
  • To help minimize the decrease in milk production, make sure you are still getting enough calories and staying hydrated to support your body in producing milk. Eating well at work can be challenging but take the extra time the night before or morning to pack a healthy lunch and snacks and carry a reusable water bottle to refill often.
Spending time with Caleb on my last week of maternity leave.

Tips for Fitting in Exercise

  • It might take a few weeks or even a month to get into the routine of not only returning to work but now being a working mom. Things are quite different now as you have a baby to worry and think about. Don’t beat yourself up if you are not able to exercise as much as you would like initially. Give yourself some time to establish a routine.
  • Though you might feel like you literally have no more physical or mental energy for one more thing on your plate, finding time to exercise is so crucial for your wellbeing. A few ways to get in some exercise include:
    –Take periodic walks during the workday
    –Can any of your meetings be walking meetings or can you take a conference call while walking?
    –After you get home, a great way to spend time with your baby is to go on a walk or jog or take a class where the baby can attend.
    –Make a schedule with your significant other that allows you both to take some time for yourself and exercise while the other is with your baby.
    –If you are not finding much time to exercise during the week, make sure you are getting some exercise on the weekend.

Tips for Healthy Eating

Healthy eating can be a challenge while on maternity leave and navigating taking care of newborn but now you might feel that you have even less time to prepare meals. However, just like exercise, proper nutrition is crucial for you and your baby.

  • Find some easy grab and go breakfasts such as protein smoothies filled with fruits and veggies, hard boiled eggs or low sugar yogurt.
  • Spend a bit of time on the weekend planning and grocery shopping for healthy lunches and easy and fast dinners. Bagged salads, pre-cut veggies and other semi-prepared foods can really help with time and stress. Spending a little time getting organized on Sunday can really help throughout the week and help busy weeknights feel a little less stressful.

Again, returning to work is a personal decision that must work for you, your baby and your family. Regardless if you want to return to work or need to return to work, leaving your baby can be challenging but by following some of the tips mentioned above, hopefully your transition will be a bit easier.

I would love to hear any other tips that were helpful to you when returning to work that you would like to share with other mamas.

XOXO

Sara

Spending some outdoor time with Madelynn on my second maternity leave.