Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Healthier Lifestyle Tips

My Back Story
Why I am even writing about eating right and exercising today?  In general, that's a topic that has never really interested me at all.  Here's my back story.  A year ago, I changed jobs.  I love my new job and I wouldn't change that, but with the new job came new habits and not so healthy ones at that.  Before going to work for IT, I was a teacher for nine years.  Teaching kept me active all during the work day.  I was constantly on my feet and moving.  I also ate healthy because I packed my lunch every day and the only thing I could eat was what I packed.  Now I have a job where I sit in meetings for hours at a time, then sit at my computer for hours at a time.  I also have time to go out to lunch (pretty much) as often as I want for as long as I want.  And I work with a group of people that I love but who I also enjoy socializing with at those lunches.  Fast forward a year into this job: My ankles started swelling up for no apparent reason.  Sometimes they would get so swollen that they would be pretty painful but then it would go away on its own.  While I was in Europe, they got particularly bad, especially my left ankle.  When I got back from the trip, I went in to see my doctor and she confirmed what I already thought.  The problems I was having with my ankles were being caused by them retaining water from all those fattening and sodium filled lunches out.  Those lunches out and a new sloth like lifestyle also helped me to gain ten pounds in the last year, which didn't help my ankles that are now supporting the extra weight.  My doctor and I both agreed that the best thing I could do would be to start eating better, and exercising more, and be sure to take breaks from sitting during the day to get up and move.  That was a month ago and I've really made some changes to my lifestyle in the last month to start living a healthier life.  I know there are people out there just like me, who are looking for the motivation to get started on a healthier path so I thought I would share some tips that worked for me.

1. Start tracking your activity with a fitness tracker, pedometer, or even use your smart phone.
Having some way to set a goal and then monitor your progress is a great way to stay motivated.  This was really important for me because I'm the type of person that needs a report card and enjoys data.  I'm currently using the Fitbit Alta and I love it.  However, if you don't want to make that kind of an investment (over $100 for most trackers), there are other options.  You can buy a pedometer for under $10 at Walmart or Amazon.  Or most smart phones (iPhone, Android, Windows) come with free health software that can do the same thing.  For me, a tracker was the best option, as I always wear a watch.  It encourages me to make little changes like parking farther away or taking the stairs.  But each of those little steps add up to big changes.

2. Invest in some workout clothes you like.
If you are short on money, then of course any clothes will do.  You could shop garage sales, find your favorite band shirts at Goodwill, or ask around for hand me downs.  For me, I didn't even own shorts that I could fit into any more (stupid extra weight!) and it was way too hot here in Florida in July for pants or capris, even inside.  I bought several different styles but found that my favorite pieces were inexpensive loose fit Bermuda shorts ($6.86) and loose fit tank tops ($4.96) from Walmart.  I love that the shorts are long enough that they protect my thighs from rubbing together and they have deep pockets.  They come in fun colors as well as neutrals so you can mix and match.  I also love the loose fit tanks.  They have colored ones with great graphic messages and also plain ones in black and grey that go great with those fun colored shorts.  I also was in need of sports bras.  I picked up some great ones from Target but they were pretty pricey.  The two shown in the image above are both from Burlington and work every bit as much as the ones from Target but cost less than half the price.  For me, having workout clothes that I liked wearing and thought were cute helped to motivate me to change into them.  Step 1, right?

3. Invest in proper footwear.
You might already own sneakers that are perfect for working out but for me, I didn't own a pair of athletic shoes at all.  Yup, not one.  And I have wide feet which make it hard to find sneakers that are comfortable.  But I found that Nike offers a couple of pairs of running shoes in wide sizes, including the Revolution.  I have the Revolution 2 and 3.  I like the 3 better because it's a bit lighter and sleeker but I find both work great for workouts and they weren't too terribly expensive compared to most athletic shoes.

4. Find exercise that you like to do.
When I used to think of exercise, I always thought of running and sit ups.  I hate running and I hate sit ups so I thought I hated working out.  But I really just had to find something I enjoyed.  I started with just walking but found that it's just too hot in Florida at this time of year.  I had two Workouts for Dummies videos laying around the house so I moved on to those and found that I actually really like them!  One is a basic aerobics video (Fat Burning Workout for Dummies) and the other consists of 4 short 15 minutes targeted strength workouts for specific areas (15 Minute Workouts for Dummies).  And it turns out I actually enjoy aerobics!  Which led me to find JessicaSmithTV on YouTube.  She has great aerobics workouts like these [1] [2] [3] and also anything else you could imagine: yoga, pilates, kickboxing, and strength training.  I've watched quite a few of her videos and I feel like I've only scratched the surface.  I love her positive energy and variety of videos.

5. Eat better.
I know that sounds like such a general thing but I know that I really need to just stop making bad choices about what I eat.  First of all, I need to stop going out to lunch so often.  There was one week where I went out for lunch four times.  And I never tried to order the healthier options.  All the carbs and fried foods right here, please.  I need to focus instead on packing my lunch more often, eating more fruits and vegetables, and making better snacking choices.  Lately I've been trying to snack on things like bananas, raisins, nuts, and veggies instead of vending machine junk.  And I need to cut back on the ice cream.  There was quite awhile this summer, where I was having one sundae cone per day... which over a week's time adds up to an entire day's worth of calories!  And I know I can still go out to lunch every so often but I need to make better choices about what I pick when I do eat at a restaurant.  For example, my favorite Tijuana Flats meal is the beef & beans nachos with additional queso, which is over 2,200 calories.  If I just got two chicken tacos with salsa instead, I could cut out about 1,800 calories and still enjoy a delicious meal with friends.

6. Drink more water and less everything else. 
This is something I see with a lot of my coworkers and something that was a problem for me in the past as well.  It's really easy to drink a couple of cokes or a couple of beers and not realize that you've added in hundreds of extra calories and tons of extra sodium.  And even diet soda seems to have an addicting effect where you just want more.  A few years ago I switched from Diet Dr Pepper to drinking ice water and I noticed that my thirst seemed to be quenched better.  I'm currently working on cutting back on the amount of coffee that I drink.

7. Find a time of day to exercise that works for you.
I know for a lot of people, their preferred time to exercise is early in the morning, before work.  That will never work for me.  As am employee of a school district, my report time is early and my commute fairly long.  I already get up at 5:00 AM and I will never be motivated enough to wake up at 4:00 AM to work out.  For me, I've found the best time is after work but before dinner, so I'm usually getting started around 3:30 or 4:30 PM.  Now that does mean that on some days when I have busy evenings, I don't get a chance to work out.  But for most days that is the perfect time for me.  I can shower right after and then eat dinner and still have a bit of time to relax.  I was already a night time showerer anyway, so maybe that's why that time suits me better.

8. Find a support system.
It's always easier to stay committed to something when you have people helping to hold you accountable.  For me, it's been my husband and good friend M.  We all three have Fitbits so we added each other as friends and now we can check in on each other's progress.  And my husband has been really supportive about rearranging our schedule in the evenings so I can get my work out in.  He also gives up the television every evening for as long as I feel like working out.  The phrase, "How many steps did you get today?" has also become a topic of conversation every evening in our home.

9. Get plenty of sleep.
Getting a good night's sleep will give you more energy for your workouts but will also help stave off the cravings for extra calories in junk.  And if you're doing strength exercises, sleep is a great way for your body to recover and repair those muscles.  If you've been eating well and exercising but can't seem to lose weight, good sleep might be the missing piece.  If you want some hard data on your sleep, the Fitbit tracks it or you could also try downloading an app for your smart phone.  I wore my Fitbit to bed for a few weeks but found it uncomfortable to sleep while wearing it.  What I learned was that I am a light sleeper and need to go to bed earlier because I don't get a lot of deep sleep.  Kind of already knew that though.

10. Don't sit for extended periods of time.
There is a lot of research out there (check out this infographic) that shows that sitting for prolonged periods of time is incredibly bad for your health in general.  So bad, that even 30 minutes of exercise a day can't combat the problems that sitting causes.  And how many of us spend our whole day at work doing just that?  My doctor told me that I should get up and walk for a few minutes every 20 to 30 minutes in order to prevent the swelling in my ankles, as well as eliminate the lower back pain I've been having and prevent future diseases.  To be honest, I definitely feel much better when I get up often throughout the day and go for a short walk.  And a quick brisk walk does much more to wake me up than a cup of coffee!

I still haven't lost any weight, but I know that I'm feeling one hundred times better than I was before.  My ankles aren't nearly as swollen and the lower back pain I was having a few months ago is completely gone, as long as I make sure to get up every 30 minutes or so and move.  I also know that losing weight takes time and just as I slowly gained the weight, I know I'll slowly lose it.  In the meantime, I'm happy with the small progress that I'm making each day.  Workouts that used to leave me exhausted and sore for days now leave me feeling energized and great afterward.  I feel proud of myself each time I make the effort to get up and move, sweat, and get one step closer to my goal of not only losing the extra pounds, but also making healthier choices that will lead to a longer, healthier life.

**Disclaimers: #1: I am not a health care professional.  Take this advice at your own risk and always remember to consult your doctor before making changes in diet and exercise programs.  #2: I am not sponsored by any company.  All products mentioned were purchased with my own money and all opinions are my own honest, unbiased opinions. 

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