Strategies for lifestyle changes: Give yourself credit

As mentioned in an email post a few days ago, one of the mottos that I live my life by is "you get more of what you focus on". This means if you focus on good things, you'll see more of them and your life will become attuned to see the positives.

This is important when we are making lifestyle changes.  It's all too easy to get bogged down with the times when we slip or don't eat according to our plan, or forget to exercise.  But focussing on these negative aspects isn't as helpful as focussing on what we are doing right.

It is much better to tell ourselves "good job" or "well done" for those times in the day when we are successful and stick to our eating plan or lifestyle change.  Doing so builds our self-confidence and proves that we can take control and exert self-discipline.

In a study at the University of Pittsburgh, participants lost more weight if they practiced skills that increased their confidence, compared to participants who didn't acknowledge their successes.

Unsuccessful dieters tend to focus too much on their mistakes, viewing themselves as weak, bad or hopeless.  They tend to ignore the small daily successes and consequently don't gain a sense of self-efficacy - which is a belief that they can reach their goals.

It may seem a little odd to praise yourself but these new lifestyle skills we are learning don't come all at once.  It is a process and so acknowledging that you are breaking old habits helps build your confidence.

A nice idea to keep you motivated is to buy a small counter - like a knitting row counter or a counter app for iPhones/Androids (there are plenty to chose from).  Keep it in your pocket and every time you stick to your plan during the day and do something right, click the counter. At the end of your day, you'll see your daily "credit" and know that you've made a real achievement in changing old habits.

It may seem silly, but it does work.  Commit to just giving it a go tomorrow and see if it makes you feel better about yourself.
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One small change

After the holidays and maybe a few indulgences, many of us are trying to improve our diets and lifestyle. Whether you have made specific goals or resolutions, it often helps to just consider one small change.

Big goals are important, but in order to achieve them, it takes many small steps.

So instead of focusing on big goals, go for one small change every day - all in the direction of your big goal.

Here are some examples:

Split second changes:

  • order salad dressing on the side, and dip your fork into the dressing rather than pouring it all over the salad
  • at the supermarket, select brown rice instead of white rice
  • choose a smaller portion of meat
  • drink another glass of water
  • chose not to have dessert
  • select a fruit or vegetable from the store that you've never tried before
  • add a tablespoon of ground flax seed to your cereal
Five minute changes:
  • make your own oatmeal for breakfast and omit the sugar but add some fruit instead
  • make your own trail mix with dried berries and nuts
  • meditate for 5 minutes
  • chop up some leafy greens and dry (oil free) stir fry to add to your dinner
  • at the end of the day, write down three things that you are grateful for that day
Ten minute changes:
  • exercise for an extra ten minutes - or start out with ten minutes.  If you goal is to walk for 30 minutes a day, split it into 3 ten minute intervals. You'll get the same benefits.  
  • make a salad to go with, or replace, a meal
  • try a new recipe
  • play for 10 minutes! Have some fun.

All day changes:

  • gather up and throw out all the candy and chocolate in your house. If you don't see it, you'll think less about it and won't be able to eat it.
  • pour a large jug of water in the morning - flavor it with hibiscus tea for added antioxidants - and drink it throughout the day
  • take a break for 5 minutes every hour - and just move, stretch, relax your eyes by focusing on something in the distance, have some water
  • tell a friend about what you are doing to make healthier lifestyle choices and support each other throughout the day

Big Difference Poster
Think ahead and plan "what will be my small change today?"

Daily small changes will result in big lifestyle changes.  You can do it!  Just 7 small split second changes in one week can bring a difference.  Think what you can achieve with a whole year of daily changes!

Let me know what small change you make tomorrow.

Happy New Year - and a perfect time for sorting.

Over the past week, I've been in a sorting mood.  I've sorted out the kitchen, the laundry room, and have made a big impact on the garage ( to be finished this week!).  It's wonderful when it's done and you find space on your shelves or empty cupboards!  What a good feeling.

It's a refreshing way to start the New Year with things in order and well organized - but this applies to more than just your home.  Instead of making resolutions this year, why not do a bit of sorting in all areas of your life.  Let's make some room on the shelves and empty cupboards in our work, play, and love lives, so that in 2013 there is room to learn new things, expand, meet new people, try something different.....

For example:
  • what parts of my work can I sort out and discard that I no longer need, so there is room to take on a new project or learn new things?  
  • How do I waste my "play" time and could I throw out some of that to give me room for more fun play?    
  • What part of my exercise program do I no longer need so I can add a new aspect and challenge for myself?
  • In my relationships, do I need to sort out my time so I have more quality time with the special people in my life?

I want some room on the shelves and empty cupboards so that I can spend 2013 filling them up with things that are worthwhile and bring me happiness. So for the New Year, and onwards, I'll be sorting and making space for new things in my life.

Is it time for you to have a bit of a sort out and clear some space in certain aspects of your life, so there is room to expand, grow, and find more happiness? What will you make space for?

10,000 Steps

I've been doing 10,000 steps now for just over a year!  If you don't know, 10,000 steps is a walking program where your goal is to walk 10,000 steps every day.

Just about every day, I put on my fitbit to measure the number of steps I take, and get out there walking.

About 1/3 of the year in, I decided to change my goal from 10,000 steps a day to 70,000 steps a week.  I found that some days I just didn't have the time for 10,000 steps, yet could easily make up a few thousand on another day that week.  By changing to a weekly goal, I didn't feel bad when I didn't reach my daily goal, and in fact was motivated to make sure I kept up the weekly goal.

I've probably only forgotten to put on my fitbit about 7 times in the whole 12 - 13 months!  It has just become a habit.

I'm not as fanatical about it all now, but part of that is because I just generally walk more than I used to, so reaching 10,000 isn't so difficult.

You're never to young to start!!..and it helps if you stick out your tongue :-D

For example, on Christmas day, it was a horrid wet day but we spent most of the morning talking on the phone to our family in England.  As I spoke on the phone, I walked constantly around the house.  By the time I got off the phone and we had spoken to everyone, I'd walked more than 8,500 steps!

So I encourage you to give it a try.  If you are new to exercise or walking, start with just measuring on a pedometer how many steps you normally take, and then set your goal at a little higher than that that seems like a stretch.  After you reach that goal, stretch yourself further and set a harder target and continue in this fashion.

I think it's time for me to have a new goal......

Activity monitoring app - Endomondo

I came across a new app for my iPhone this past week. It's called Endomondo.  It keeps track of different types of exercise-related activity, such as biking, hiking, running, walking, kayaking, i.e. sports that cover a distance. Endomondo utilizes GPS to track your route and time etc.

You start the session by picking your sport.  There are options for different goals to select such as distance or time etc. You then press "start" and once you are on your way, you'll receive speed, distance, pace and calorie information on your phone's display with a map too.  You'll also get audio feedback, for example, telling you when you have walked one mile and how long that mile took you.  You can customize what is shown on the screen and the audio you get.

I downloaded the free version and found it motivating when it told me how long I'd taken to do my first mile.  For the second mile, I wanted to pick up the speed a little and improve on that - so it was good feedback.

All your workouts are saved so you can then compare them and see how you are progressing and they are uploaded to for you to review.

I've blogged before about my fitbit and how much I love that.  Endomondo won't replace that, as fitbit measures my activity all day. But endomondo is great for further information on a particular workout/exercise routine.

And of course, there is functionality for you to connect with your friends too and see how well they are doing!  Let me know if you give it a try. Better yet, tell me your endomondo name and we'll connect that way!

Cold Hands - More exercise

A recent study from Stanford University's School of Medicine looked at exercise and heat stress in obese women.  Fat is a great insulator and for people who are obese, when they exercise, they often get too hot. This can put them off exercising, and lead them to abandon the exercise program due to overheating, fatigue and feeling uncomfortable.

Photo by dfinnecy
The study looked at 24 healthy women, aged between 30 and 45 who had not exercised long-term in the past.  They were obese with a BMI of between 30 and 35.  The women were assigned to one of two groups: one group (the test group) held a cooling device in their palms during exercise which had cold water in it and the other group (the control group) held a "dummy" cooling device with body temperature water in it.

Both groups participated in 3 exercise sessions of 35-55 minutes a week for 12 weeks holding the device. On the first and last day, all women did a timed 1.5 mile walk on a treadmill.

The group holding the cooling device with cold water in reduced their 1.5 mile treadmill test time by more than 5 minutes, averaging 31.6 minutes on day 1 and 24.6 minutes at the end of the study.  This group also lost more than 2 inches off their waist by the end of the study and their blood pressure was reduced from 139/84 to 124/70.

In contrast the  control group who had a dummy cooling device with body temperature water in it, didn't show any substantial differences in any of their measurements.  In fact, the controls tended to drop out early and skipped a lot of sessions.

By reducing heat stress, fatigue, sweating and discomfort were all reduced, which are frequently barriers that make want people want to stop exercising.

An easy way to utilize this effect is to carry a bottle of frozen water with you as you walk or exercise.  As the water melts, you can drink the water, but at the same time, it keeps your palms cool and can improve the comfort feeling of exercise, and make you keep with the program longer.  Further studies are needed to explore this effect further - including how this impacts people in colder weather...but it seems like a good place to start to make your workout more comfortable and help you stick with the program.

So as the weather is getting hotter, don't let that put you off your exercise program - just grab a bottle of iced water and see how it keeps you going.


10,000 steps update

In January, I reported on my 10,000 steps goal - i.e. that I committed to walking 10,000 steps every day.  I thought I'd update you on my progress.

I still wear my fitbit everyday to count my steps (and other things) and now I focus on a goal of 70,000 steps a week. I've found that some days I just couldn't get 10,000 steps in with other time constraints, so instead I have a weekly 70,000 goal so my daily average is 10,000.

I therefore allow myself a "day off" - during which I generally walk 7,000 steps, and then I make up the difference during the other days of the week.  It was my dad's idea to take a "day off" each week. I bought my parents a fitbit and they have upped their walking too since they started using it.  My dad's goal is 5,000 steps a day - and last week, one day he walked more than 16,000 steps so got his "15,000 step" badge!  He likes to take Sunday's off as a day of rest!

I always achieve more than my weekly goal...and am thinking maybe I'll up it sometime soon.

My walks have really become a habit that I look forward to. I've taken to listening to audiobooks on most of my walks.  They make the time past quickly and as they are mostly educational books, I feel I am learning something, while also getting some exercise.  But some days, I just enjoy the peace and quiet and watch the birds, deer, rabbits, and squirrels along the way.

Did you start something at the beginning of year to benefit your health and are still doing?  Doesn't it feel good?

(So far today I've done 16,137 steps and the day isn't over yet.....)


23 1/2 hours a day

The title of this video "23 1/2 hours a day" is all about how we should make the best use of the other 1/2 hour in our day, to improve our health.  This is a great simple message and I encourage you to take 9 minutes now and watch it all the way through.