Friday, January 8, 2010

New Year, New Me: Top 10 Fitness Tips in Two-Zero-Ten

The holidays can sure do a number on us when it comes to our diet, health and fitness. The culinary confections, decadent desserts and savory sauces are fun to indulge in at the time but come New Year's, we're all regretting the extra resulting poundage. Where do we start when it comes time to shed the unwanted weight?

EA and TwitterMoms are hosting a fun little contest, in which five lucky mamas will win a copy of EA SPORTS Active™ Personal Trainer, the highest rated fitness product for the Nintendo Wii™ system! All you have to do is share your top 10 ten tips to get fit after the holidays!

So, to make David Letterman jealous and to maybe inspire some fellow mamas in their New Me journey, here is my top 10 list:

1. Purge the holiday junk food.

You know the fruitcake that Uncle Harry gave you for a hostess gift? Or the homemade chocolates and cookies that Aunt Erma baked up special for you and the kids? GET RID OF IT. I know, I can see you pouting through the screen. But seriously, snacking on these troublesome truffles is one surefire way to ruin that diet and fitness resolution before you even get started. Instead, take it to the office (or if you're a SAHM like me, have the hubby take it off your hands and earn brownie points with his colleagues). Give it to the neighbors or to friends if you need a belated gift. However you do it, just get it out of the house. If it's not in your kitchen, you can't eat it.

Note: I'm not saying you can't eat sweets in moderation. But since I can't grasp that concept and have no willpower to speak of, my only solution is: out of sight, out of mind.

2. Stock up on healthy fats and foods.

Once you rid your pantry of those devilish goodies, invest in some healthy food options such as whole grains, lean red meat, chicken, fish, nuts, beans, fruits and vegetables. Here's why:

Whole grain carbs are digested slowly, keeping your energy level stable and allowing you to feel fuller longer. Foods such as whole grain brown rice, millet, quinoa, barley, dark bread and toasted wheat cereal are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants, which help to protect against coronary heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. Just make sure the label reads "whole grain". Multi-grain or bran doesn't not mean the same thing.

Fruits and vegetables are low in calories but high in essential vitamins and minerals, which make them the perfect snack choice. Choose dark greens like broccoli, kale or collard greens. Or if you have a sweet tooth like me, opt for sweeter veggies such as carrots, beets, sweet potatoes or winter squash. For fruits, go for brighter, deeper colors that contain higher concentrations of antioxidants. Lay off fruit juices that have more sugar than fruit. Start your day off right or reward yourself after dinner with a delicious smoothie, combined with non-fat or low-fat yogurt.

Beans and nuts provide healthy fats and are good sources of protein, fiber and iron (which is best absorbed when consumed along with a source of vitamin C). Choose black beans, navy beans, garbanzos, lentils, and nuts like almonds, walnuts and pecans. Just be sure to avoid salty and sugary nuts, as well as refried beans.

Some fat is necessary in our diet, but we want to limit saturated and trans-fats, which can raise your LDL, or bad cholesterol, and lead to heart disease. Eat lean red meats, skinless poultry and/or fish for complete proteins, containing all of the essential amino acids. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines are great sources of EPA and DHA omega-3 fats, which reduce cardiovascular disease and may prevent dementia. Albacore tuna and lake trout can also be good sources, depending on their origin and preparation. Many are concerned about the levels of mercury in fish today but experts say the benefits of 2 servings per week of cold water fish outweigh the risks.

3. Get inventive with a brand new cookbook.

Did you get a new cookbook for the holidays? I did! But in case you weren't so lucky, use the holiday cash or gift card that is burning a hole in your pocket to invest in a new cookbook with healthy meal recipes. You can probably score one for cheap at an after-holiday sale or clearance. Or better yet, check one out for free from your local library! Test out some of the meals to see what you like and what you don't. It's a great opportunity to experiment and refresh your weekly menu. For the oven-averse like me, try to make cooking a fun event. Buy a new apron so you feel pretty as you prep. Or buy some new cookware or utensils that you'll want to use.

Bonus: Cooking in rather than taking out will not only save you money, but gives you the freedom to make wiser food choices. Processed foods may be more convenient in a time crunch, but with homemade meals, you control the ingredients so you know exactly what you're getting.

4. Control your portions.

Admit it: our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. That food just looks so darn good that we pile up our plates and then feel obligated to eat every last bite until our buttons pop. Make portion control more of a habit. Read the serving size on the package or recipe and use that as a guide. You can always go back for seconds, if necessary. Chew and swallow slowly instead of wolfing down your meal so you give your belly ample time to realize it is full. Avoid skipping meals, as doing so can cause you to take in more calories later in the day. Research has shown that grazing throughout the day is better for our bodies than eating three huge meals a day (not to mention that celebratory sundae). So, keep lots of snacks on hand to prevent overeating at mealtimes.

5. Drink more water.

It's no secret that most of us don't drink the recommended 8 glasses of H2O per day. But water is vital to our health, aiding in proper nutrition and digestive regularity. To be kind to the environment as you meet your daily water intake, forgo the plastic bottles for a stylish, reusable stainless steel one. Or make your water more appealing with a PUR Flavor Options Pitcher for some calorie and sugar-free flavoring. You'll find yourself reaching for the sugary sodas and teas less and less.

6. Get more shut-eye.

During the holiday craziness, I'm sure we all scrimped on sleep. But it is imperative for our physical as well as our mental health to get a good night's rest. For some, this can mean 6 hours. For others, it may mean 8 or more. But if we want to stay alert and motivated in our quest to get fit, we also have to commit to proper sleep. Pick a bedtime and stick to it as much as possible. For example, Nate typically goes down around 8pm and sleeps until 7am. So, I've chosen 11pm as my bedtime. That gives me 3 hours of me-and-the-hubby-alone time before bed. Do what works best for you. This is not to say that you can't have company, have date night or indulge in a glass of wine with a movie late one night. Just don't make sleep secondary to your lifestyle.

New moms may find it impossible to get through a night with more than one consecutive hour of sleep. I've been there, believe me! But try to take shifts at night with your significant other so that you both can get as much sleep as possible. If you had a particularly rough night, try to take a nap during the day when the baby naps so you can restore your energy. Even if it's only for a half an hour. The housework can wait.

7. Don't get caught up in the numbers game.

When thinking about your fitness goals, try to visualize your end result, rather than setting your sights on a specific three-digit number. Do you want to fit into that little black dress you wore to that party a few years back? Do you want your flabby tummy to flatten out? Trimmer thighs for bathing suit season? When we step on a scale each week, we are often disappointed with our slow progress - or lack thereof. But numbers fluctuate. Some days, we retain water. Or perhaps we had a bowl of ice cream the night before. Don't allow guilt to consume you and throw you off course. Be patient and don't expect immediate results. Weigh yourself monthly, if at all. Focus on making better long-term health choices overall than reaching some short-term, arbitrary number.

8. Get moving!

Eating better will help you lose weight but will only take you so far. You've got to get active if you want to see results so get off the couch! Some people prefer to work out alone while others are more social. If you fall into the latter category, line up a reliable workout buddy who can keep you company, help you stay motivated and hold you accountable. If you consider working out agonizing and unpleasant, you will likely procrastinate and put if off so find a fitness routine that you enjoy. Need to stretch your mind and your muscles? Try yoga or pilates. Interested in martial arts? How about Tai Chi? Running, spinning, kickboxing, step aerobics, dance...I could go on and on. High-impact or low-impact, there is something out there for even the laziest of couch potatoes. There are even video games that can help simulate sports like surfing or snowboarding that may not be possible in all locations or seasons.

If you have a baby in tow, it can be a struggle to find the time for a workout routine. But there are many workouts in which you can include your baby, such as yoga. You can go for a walk or run with your babe if you own a jogging stroller. If you own a treadmill or bicycle, you can work out during baby's naptime or in the evening after the kiddos are in bed. If you belong to a gym or are looking to join one, consider utilizing any childcare facilities they may offer as part of your membership.

9. Start small.

You have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you run. If you're a beginner, don't try to run a five-minute mile or hike the steepest hill. And if you're not accustomed, don't try to work out seven days a week. That's an easy way to burn yourself out. Instead, take small steps toward acheiving your goal, and gradually build your endurance. Aim to work out for 30 minutes, three days per week and see how you feel. If that becomes easy, try four days a week or bump up to an hour, and so on and so forth until you find your optimal weekly schedule.

Make small efforts to increase your fitness level. Park a little further away from an establishment so you squeeze in a little more walking. Carry or wear your little one in a carrier as you cook, walk around the house or run errands. Put your trash cans on the side of your house rather than right beside your back door so you have to carry the bags just a little further. These little things may not seem like much but they can't hurt, right?

Note: Don't forget to tailor your workouts to target your most problematic areas. If you want a slimmer waistline, you probably won't be able to avoid crunches. If you want to tone your arms, you'll most likely need to do some bicep and tricep curls. Consider this when developing your fitness schedule.

10. Keep a journal.

Once you find a schedule that works for you, keep a journal or blog your progress to reinforce consistency. If you're a walker or runner, buy a pedometer to track how far you've travelled and document it. Jot down your food choices for the day and estimated number of calories. Talk about how you felt that day. Whatever strikes you and helps keep you on track. If nothing else, it will serve as a reminder of how much you've really accomplished when you read over your notes.

Wow, this was a bit more verbose than I had originally planned but congratulations to those who made it through my blabber! Hopefully, you enjoyed a few of my tips. Now, I just need to heed my own advice! Tell, me what your health tips are for the new year?

Photo credit: Juber Photography via Flickr

Disclaimer: This post qualifies as an entry into the EA/TwitterMoms contest. I was not compensated for this post in any way.


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