Don’t abandon strength work!

One legged weighted squat. Don't stop moving!I’ve emphasized the importance of exercise for years. Exercise, along with watching your calories, will help you to lose weight. Many have focused on cardio work since no equipment is needed to get a great workout. I’ve even talked about how much I despise the two days of running I do every week.

But the other days I exercise I focus on building strength. You don’t need free weights or barbells. You don’t need a medicine ball or a kettle ball. You can get a great strength workout with your own body weight. Think of planks and pushups. Yoga and Pilates also use body weight to build strength.

Building muscle mass is great for your metabolism – the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Women – don’t worry! You won’t bulk up!

And when you build strength, you’re doing your bones a favor too. In fact, a study showed that when post-menopausal women participated in a strength training program for a year, their bone density in the hips and spine increased significantly!

In a subject close to my heart, strength training also helps maintain balance and coordination, which helps to prevent falls!

I do have a set of free weights – ranging from 2 pounds to 15. I use the smaller ones for exercises that target the smaller muscles, or when I’m doing lots of repetitions, or for faster exercises. The larger ones I use for bigger muscle groups – like holding for deadlifts or bicep curls. Instead of combining two smaller weights for French curls (to work the tricep muscle), I use a 15-pound weight. You know that I use videos to exercise with (they keep me on track), and the programs that I like the best are the ones that combine cardio and strength work.

Comment below if you’d like to see my favorite strength training exercises.

Effortless movement

Play with your dog to relieve stress!Is effortless movement a goal for you? Do remember fondly when you were able to go from here to there without even thinking about it? Do you want to get back down on the floor and play with your dog or the grandkids?

What’s holding you back? Are your joints bothering you? Your back hurting? Knees? If a doctor hasn’t told you to limit your movement, then chances are you should start moving!

It used to be that when you hurt your back, bed rest was prescribed. Now the medical community is in favor or movement!

And the last thing I wanted to do when my knees hurt was get up and walk.

And when my back and hips were in spasms, I could barely get out of a chair without a heating pad.

But I hung onto a table and stood up, holding that heating pad on my back, and took a couple of steps. Then I put the heating pad down and took a couple more steps. Hunched over, leaning onto my thighs at first. And then I sat down again on that heating pad. But an hour later I made myself do it again. And then next day the pain wasn’t quite as bad. So I moved some more. And the day after that I could go a little further. And a couple days later I didn’t need the heating pad.

You get the idea. That old adage, “use it or lose it” applies! The more you move, the easier it is to move.

I’ve told you that I started running on the treadmill a couple days a week to increase my speed and endurance for agility competition? I still hate it, but I’m getting better at it. And I am getting a little faster. And my knees don’t hurt.

I also learned to strengthen my core and improve my balance to strengthen my back. And I haven’t had spasm (knock on wood!) in a couple of years. If you’d like to improve your balance and strength, a great first step is doing the Week of Balance. Click on the box to the right for your free, downloadable .pdf for your copy.

Crazy, busy life? Some tips for that …

Google calendar to set my mind at easeEveryone I know is always on the go. Working awful hours, running all over town for meetings, markets, other chores, off to dog training, family obligations, and on weekends to competitions to see how all that dog training is paying off.

Some things have got to give. Sleep should not be one of them.

Here are some tips to help you get through a typical crazy, busy day and keep a smile on your face.

1. Organization. Write everything down in a planner. Sometimes pen and paper is better than a smartphone, but be sure to use what choose! I like Google Calender because all my appointments are on my phone or my desktop, and the devices synch when something changes. And I can get my Agility Class updates on it too – our instructor updates the ever-changing schedule for us. (And lets us know if a classmate is bringing treats to celebrate!) You can get a holiday calender on Google Calender too – any number of event calenders are available to synch to your account. But, when you make appointments be sure to update whatever calender you use!

2. Relieve stress. It’s bound to happen. A meeting goes badly at work. The kids are in mutiny. The dogs are misbehaving. Customers are being ridiculous. That’s life, and you need a way to release that stress. Exercise is a good way to do that. Physical activity can clear your head, and you can pretend that you’re stomping those unreasonable people into the ground!

3. Eat healthy! Plan ahead for the week, and it doesn’t take any longer than the drive-thru. And eating nutritious meals will keep you energized for the things you have to do.

4. Prioritize. We all have a million things that need to get done. But there are probably only 3 or 4 things that ABSOLUTELY have to get done today. Do those first and you’ll feel great about it, and eager to get other stuff done. You’ll be more productive throughout your day if you get rid of the big chores first.

Your One Non-Renewable Resource

It’s time. You can spend it, invest it, and waste it. You can never get it back.

There are a finite number of minutes in every day, and it’s up to us to decide how to use them. We can decide to be productive at work. We can decide to plan a healthy menu for the week. We can decide to spend it with friends and family.

I decide to spend lots of time training my dogs and playing with them.

And we can fritter time away. We open Facebook and see a cute video opened right on top. And then we scroll a little bit, and there’s another.

If a thought pops into your mind, you can Google the answer. But, wait – there’s a site that looks interesting. And this doesn’t really answer my question, but it’s cool.

Too frequently, these applications just suck the time away. Before you know it an hour has gone by. And then another.

How many of us have had that happen? Or we turn on the TV for company and get sucked into a program that we really don’t have an interest in?

If you have time to waste, that’s OK. But most people don’t have unlimited free time.

Be conscious of how you spend your time. If you decide to spend 10 minutes scrolling your Facebook feed, that’s fine – but set a timer so that it’s not more than that! Consciously decide to stop drifting from one website to another.

Make a list of productive or fun things you can do in 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 or 30 minutes. Keep it handy – perhaps on your phone. And when you find yourself with a few minutes between chores or appointments, refer to your list and choose a better way to spend those minutes.

We all have a limited amount of time. Don’t waste it!

“Best Exercise for Aging Muscles”

I saw that headline and sat back. Yeah, I guess that’s me! Aging muscles… Sounds kind of rude. Accurate but rude!

As we get older, it’s true, cells deteriorate. So what can we do to slow that progression down or even stop it?

Use it or lose it!

There are lots of studies out there that prove this. I’m not going to bore you with statistics. But, you know – if your knees get stiff you’ve got to get up and walk around. If you’ve pulled something in your back, you know your doctor told you not to rest – get up and move! It’s harder to lose weight too as we age. Yes, eating less is imperative, but so is movement!

As I’m writing this I feel myself slumping. I wrote about this last week – every few minutes I have to think about sitting up straight and pulling in my stomach. Once an hour it’s helpful to get up, walk around, drink some water. It’s good to get your body moving and it’s good to hydrate!

And, if you really want to help your muscles and your mind – because lots of studies have also shown that exercise helps keep your brain young – do a focused period of exercise. Intense exercise is better than leisurely, but any exercise is better than nothing!

An exercise program that you like – or at least find interesting – is better than one you don’t like. You’ll stick with it and get better results from the program. My running is the exception – I run a couple of times a week on the treadmill to improve my speed and endurance for dog agility. I still hate it. But I do it because I know it does help. And I’m starting to get better at it. I do enjoy the audio books I listen to while I run, and that certainly helps keep me motivated to run.

Exercising in an hour? Have a cup of coffee!

It’s not just for breakfast any more! Coffee can improve your workout, researchers have shown. Researchers conducted a study in which a sample of inactive men were monitored biking with and without caffeine. While the men said they put forth the same amount of energy whether or not they had consumed caffeine, the results revealed faster cycling rates after caffeine consumption. Another set of researchers conducted a study and found participants who had caffeine before a workout had an easier time holding back cravings. In fact, those who had caffeine ate 72 calories less after the workout than those who hadn’t consumed the stimulant.

I don’t think it’s surprising. The caffeine in a cup of coffee will boost your energy and help you stay awake, so it’ll give your workout a boost too. You don’t even realize that you’re working harder. If you’re not sleepy, then you can pedal (or run) faster. The caffeine also boosts your stamina – letting you work longer, getting in that extra mile (or half-mile for me!)

Heidi Skolnik, a sports nutritionist, also says that coffee also increases the release of dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters. So you can work past what you might otherwise perceive as pain or weakness. The benefit of coffee to your workout starts about an hour after you drink it.

Now, don’t go crazy! Putting in lots of cream and sugar or other calorie-laden additions might taste really good, but the extra calories will outweigh any benefits the caffeine will give you. A little milk is good though – the protein and carbohydrates it adds will help kick-start your brain!

And remember to drink water while you’re exercising. It’s important to stay hydrated, and coffee alone won’t do that! Get a good night’s sleep, and drink plenty of water and you’ll get the most benefit from your workout.

Want killer abs? Or just a strong core?

I’m past the age that I want to show off my midriff. Yes, that’s me – hopefully showing that it is possible to get a toned tummy with hard work! This is pre-workout (no sweat!) and I just snapped the picture to show that it’s possible at any age to get the results you want if you work for it!

I was never a bikini girl, and the only 2-piece bathing suits I wore kept that part covered! But I still want a strong core. A flatter stomach would be nice too.

And, I’ve talked about it before but it’s true! A strong core means a stronger back! If you want less back pain, work on your core! Have you ever felt that twinge when you bent over and felt something in your back? Me too. Less now than I used to, thankfully. A few years ago I had spasms when my sciatica acted up. (I sound so old… Bursitis and sciatica…)

But I’ve been working to make my core stronger and it doesn’t take sit-ups or crunches! Professional trainer and dancer Jennifer Williams says that a toned midsection will improve your posture, relieve back pain (I can vouch for that!) and even help maximize toning of other parts of your body when you work out.

Here are five easy ways to work your abs all day for a strong core and a strong back!

Suck it in all day! Whenever you think about it, contract your abdominals, flex them, contract them – make them work! This will add so much strength to your core. Every so often, when I finish part of a task, I focus on pulling in my stomach. I do get distracted (SQUIRREL!) and sometimes let go, but then I re-focus and tighten.

Stand tall! Correcting your posture when you think about it also strengthens your core. Pull in your stomach, and feel yourself lifting up higher.

Sit up straight! We all tend to slouch when we’re sitting down. When you’re at your desk, focus on sitting up straight and pulling in your abs. Make sure your posture is erect and controlled. Pulling in your abdominal muscles gives them a workout when you’re not at the gym.

When you exercise, exhale sharply. You’ll feel your abdominals pulling in. Hold them there! On each exhale, think about pulling them in more. You’re not only working your abs more, your breathing during your workout is better, so your session will be more effective.

When you’re doing your abdominal exercises, focus on the deepest muscles. You may not be able to feel them, but they’re under the top layer of muscles and they’re the ones that will give you a flatter stomach! I’m focusing on those! Easier said than done – I still can’t feel those deep transverse muscles, and I’ve been trying to strengthen my core for years…

So, no matter what you’re doing, you can work your abs for a strong core and a stronger back!

My sure-fire way to stay focused

As we get older, too many things can be buzzing around in your brain. I know that’s true for me. I keep thinking of things I have to do. Chores to be done. Things to pick up at the grocery store. What happened today in the news to make me want to smack my head. What new rule the credit card processors put in place to make my life more miserable? Bills I have to pay. Training I want to do with my dogs.

And the list goes on and on…

I’m sure you have one too. That list is never-ending.

But it’s not the most important thing.

Choose one thing that you MUST complete. Just one. Not two. One single thing. And write it down. Perhaps in your calendar, as I do, since it’s the first thing I look at every day. Or maybe a post-it that you stick to your bathroom mirror.

Make sure that it’s something that can be completed in a single sitting (60 – 90 minutes). If there’s a huge task weighing on you, break it up into manageable chunks. And choose the first one.

And do it. Just that one thing. To completion.

You’ll be focused on that one thing to the exclusion of everything else. If you find that your mind is wandering, chances are that you haven’t defined the task narrowly enough. Or you’ve been sitting for too long. Set a timer for five minutes and walk around a bit.

And then when it’s done, get up, stretch, take a drink of water.

And revel in its completion. And move on to something else.

If you get up in the morning and the merry-go-round starts in your head again, it may be a good idea to write that one thing down before you go to bed.

When you can do that one thing that you’ve written down with consistency, you can write three things down that must be completed that day (or the next day if you prepare your “Must-dos” the night before).

If you tackle tasks like this, you stay focused. And when the task is completed, you’ll have a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. You’ll feel better about yourself, and your remaining tasks don’t feel quite as daunting.

Overstuffed?

We’ve all been there. But the pizza looked so good! I couldn’t resist the Alfredo! Just one more piece of apple pie? Munchies during the game! Mindless munchies watching a movie.

And now, even a day later, you still feel stuffed.

Don’t beat yourself up about it now. What’s done is done. You can’t go back in time and not eat all that (no matter how much you might want to!).

And you can’t starve yourself today! Your body still needs the fuel to carry on today!

What do you do?

Do your regular workout, perhaps with a little more intensity. Walk a few more blocks. Drink a little more water.

If you have watercress in your crisper, put some in your salad – it protects your cells against free radicals, and is a natural diuretic.

Squeeze some lemon in your water – the Vitamin C helps detox your body and burn fat. Plus it helps with digestion and it’s delicious.

Eat more dark leafy greens – in your salad, in your soup, or saute them with a little olive oil. Dark leafy greens boost chlorophyll levels in your digestive tract which helps to eliminate environmental toxins.

Have an apple (or another fruit) – fruit is full of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber.

Eat some cabbage, artichokes or beets – they’re great for cleansing the liver.

Ginger and garlic help eliminate free radicals.

There you have it. Go eat some healthy stuff. But don’t overdo it!

Feeling the chill?

It’s much too easy to just sit at your desk, and keep on working all day. You’ve got things to do, tasks to complete, and you’re focused! That’s great, until you realize that you’re freezing in place.

Here in Chicagoland, it’s been a very cold winter. Really cold… There was an article in the Chicago Tribune not long ago that offices are routinely kept at a much colder temperature in the wintertime  than is comfortable for most people, to cut costs. Many people wear extra layers, keep sweaters in desk drawers or use electric heaters to combat the chill.

I’m at my little shop, where the furnace doesn’t work all that well. And some days this winter it’s been exceedingly cold. I try to make a habit of getting up and walking around every hour or so, just to keep my knees from getting stiff. But on really cold days, I need to get the blood flowing even more.

So, I’ll stand up and do a few sets of jumping jacks. (Not when customers are in the shop, of course!) Or I’ll turn on the radio or Pandora (yes, the free version) and get up and boogie. Yes, I’ll dance right out in public! It’s kind of freeing… Knowing that anyone can walk in the door and I’ll be grooving to some classic rock!

But I’ll be warmer. And then I’ll drink some water.

Even in the winter it’s important to hydrate. It’s all too easy to become dehydrated in the winter, because you’re so cold you don’t think about it!

So, this winter, dance and drink water!