Monday, January 24, 2011

19 Tips to Manage Stress

For my second installment of a behavior to work on for the new year, I'd like to address the topic of stress. We all deal with stress on a daily basis. Depending on how we respond to stress, we can either alleviate it, or make it worse. Managing stress can make a huge difference when it comes to your health. Here are 19 good suggestions to help you keep your stress under control.

1. Plan ahead. Make sure you have clean clothes for the next day the night before. Prepare your lunch or plan meals the night before. Planning ahead can help you stay on top of the little things and help you avoid the stress of things like a low gas tank or empty toilet paper roll.

2. Take time to rest. Getting sufficient sleep is important to helping your body deal with stress. Make sure you get to bed early enough. Taking naps when your schedule allows can also help your mind relax and your body rejuvenate.

3. Express your feelings. Talking to a friend about your problems and stress can be very therapeutic. Some people like writing in a journal, or doing a blog post as a way to vent and get rid of stress and help you put things in perspective.

4. Get up a little earlier each day. You should also leave a little earlier to any appointments you may have. Arriving early will help you avoid the stress that arises from traffic and racing the clock to get somewhere on time. Be realistic when you plan your schedule and allow sufficient time between activities.

5. Take regular breaks from your work. Remove yourself from the work area regularly. Get up and stretch if your job requires you to sit for long periods of time. Don't skip your lunch break.

6. Don't procrastinate. This only compounds stress. Deal with the unpleasant bigger tasks you need to accomplish earlier in the day instead of putting them off. The longer you wait to do something, the more fear and anxiety you will have about it.

7. "Just say no". This slogan applies to more than drugs. Some people try to take on more than is possible and will say yes to any thing in order to please or help out others. Setting limits can be very liberating. Try to simplify your life by saying no to things that are really not that important to you.

8. Learn to Delegate. This is a close cousin to saying no. If you can delegate a task to a co-worker or family member, then do it. You don't have to do everything yourself.

9. Have some quiet time. Unplug your phone, leave your cell phone in another room, turn off the TV, stop checking e-mails so frequently. Take some time to relax in a quiet environment. It helps to disconnect and occasionally unplug from the constant barrage of information that we are flooded with every day.

10. Live in the now. It is important to live one day at a time. Planning for the future is very beneficial, but you can only live your life in the present. Focus on what you can actually do today since that is all we have control over.

11. Focus on one thing at a time. When we try to multi-task, it can be overwhelming and can lower the quality of our work. When you are talking to someone, focus on the conversation and actually listen to them instead of thinking about all the other things you need to do.

12. Blow off some steam. This is best accomplished with physical activity. Exercise, stretch, get a massage, take a hot bath or jacuzzi to help your body physically relax and relieve tension.

13. Schedule relaxation time. Schedule time for yourself every day. This could include taking a nap, meditating, praying, deep breathing, or some other activity that interrupts the busy routine and allows introspection and relaxation.

14. Take time to do activities you enjoy. These might include sports, reading, watching a favorite TV show, or some other hobby. Having something to look forward that you enjoy can make a big difference in your stress levels.

15. Stay organized. Write appointments down on a calendar or planner and use a watch. Relying on your memory for everything can be stressful. Having a clean home and work environment also helps. It can be stressful trying to find keys, a tool or some item that is not where it should be. Replace the chaos with order.

16. Practice preventative care. This applies to your automobile, home appliances, and your body. Many of the stressful breakdowns and repairs we are forced to deal with could be avoided or lessened with proper maintenance. Broken stuff can be very stressful and aggravating. Replace or fix things that aren't working as they should.

17. Relax your standards. You don't have to compromise quality or your ideals, but some times we need to be a little more patient and flexible and expect the inevitable setbacks and obstacles. It can also be helpful to differentiate between wants and needs.

18. Avoid stressful environments and people. If someone stresses you out, try not to be around them as much. Avoid people and places that that stress you out. This might mean finding a new line of work.

19. Proper nutrition. Eating right will give you more energy and help your body handle the stress. Avoid caffeine or other stimulants that might make you feel more edgy.

I'm not advocating people slack off of their responsibilities and goals in order to avoid stress. Stress is inevitable in life and can even be very beneficial to us. I'm just saying we need to do a better job of avoiding the bad stress since it only detracts from our health and quality of life. Remember to take time to chill.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beware Of These Healthy Foods

Some foods are definitely healthier choices than others because they contain nutrients, vitamins, minerals, or antioxidants. I think it is commendable when people try to replace junk food with healthy whole foods, but sometimes people get a false sense of security when they are eating healthy foods. Despite being nutrient-rich, many healthy foods are also very high in calories and can cause weight gain if eaten in excess.

Here is a list of some healthy foods which are also high in calories:
almonds and other nuts
olive oil
fruit juice
trail mix
dried fruit

Sometimes we have the mentality that if something is good for us, then eating more of it is even better. Despite being good for you, if you eat too much of any food, it can create a calorie surplus and produce negative results. That's another great reason to eat vegetables. They are typically much lower in calories than other food groups so it's hard to pack on the weight from eating squash, cucumbers, celery, and broccoli. Remember moderation is an important principle when it comes to your diet. Even something as essential and vital to your body as water can be fatal if consumed in extreme amounts.

I enjoy all of the foods listed above and I think people should go ahead and eat healthy foods, just don't overdo it and be aware of which foods are not only nutrient dense, but also calorie dense. When it comes to weight gain, your body will respond the same to almonds and 100% fruit juice as it does to hot dogs and potato chips if your caloric intake exceeds your requirements.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Stop Drinking Soda Pop

I'm a big fan of making gradual and continual progress when it comes to improving your health. It's easy to start an exercise program with a gung-ho attitude but then feel overwhelmed if you can't keep up the pace. You've probably seen people who are already discouraged about the goals they set just a week ago. I prefer gradual progression when it comes to working out, and I believe in building on smaller successes as opposed to going cold turkey when it comes to eliminating unhealthy habits.

One approach that I have used over the years is called "the weekly commitment."  I encourage people to start one new healthy activity or choose a negative habit they want to eliminate and work on it during the week. Once they have it down, they can start working on another one and continue to build on their success. Even if someone only makes a few of these changes during the year, they are still much better off than if they didn't try. 

Working on a new facet of one's health every week can be a bit too much for some people, so this year I am promoting a new activity or habit every two weeks. Some of these will be easy and most of you are probably already doing them, but I wanted to set up a simple program that anyone could follow. I have a new column on the side of my blog which I will update twice a month with a new step to better health. So here goes...

The Your Fitness Quest step #1 to better health is the challenge to stop drinking carbonated, caffeinated, and sugar based drinks: aka soda pop. 

I treat soda like most people do alcohol. I may have an occasional drink of root beer or ginger ale at a party or social event, but I never buy pop or bring it in my house. It's liquid candy and most people just don't need the sugar and calories. Many of the people I know who struggle with their weight drink soda. I also recommend that people do away with their diet or zero calorie sodas too. For some reason many of the diet soda consumers seem to be the most addicted to pop.

Your body doesn't need the sugar, calories, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, carbonation, or chemicals. Start drinking water instead. Your body will thank you, and you will save a lot of money in the process.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Why Women Should Lift Heavy Weights

You have probably heard that if you want to bulk up, you should lift heavy weights with fewer reps and if you want to tone, you lift lighter weights with more reps. There may be some truth to this philosophy, but I think many women who want to improve their appearance with weight training miss the boat because of their fear of getting "bulky" so they go too far in the wrong direction.

Lifting heavier doesn't mean you have to wear a weight belt and do 1 rep max exercises, but rather you forgo the 25 overhead presses with the 3 pound pink neoprene dumbbells. You have to overload your muscles if you want them to grow. The photo above is of Camille Leblanc-Bazinet who is a CrossFit star. She is a very strong athlete with a great physique and I can guarantee she lifts heavy weights when she trains.

Many women fear that lifting heavy weights will make them huge like some of the women bodybuilders they've seen pictures of. The freakishly huge women get that way from taking steroids and spending all day in the gym. I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when they go extreme and unnatural like that, it's a turnoff to most people. If a lady looks like she can body slam Brock Lesnar or if she makes the East German shot put team look anorexic, then she's gone too far.

I follow a lot of fitness blogs and I'd like to share two of them that exemplify women who understand the concept of lifting heavy weights. I have included photos below of Lindsay from Lindsay's Ramblings and Raechelle from Finding Focus after Forty. They are both in great shape and I know they understand the importance of lifting heavy weight. Most women would love to look like them, but they don't put enough intensity into their resistance training to build the necessary muscle.

The bottom line is that whether you are a man or a woman, when you gain muscle, it will improve your physique. Muscular development and definition is much more attractive than the extremes of having too much fat or being too skinny. Women should not feel that they have to compromise femininity if they are going to lift weights.

There are many factors that contribute to your appearance such as nutritional habits, exercise, and genetics, but unless women customize their training to include some heavy lifting, they won't get that lean and toned look that so many of them would like to have.