As January slips into February those New Year’s resolutions, made some time around the second or third champagne toast, seem a long lost promise.
But resolutions don’t have to be cast aside — and given that most usually revolve around getting in shape, they can be incorporated into our daily lives without incurring gym expenses or going on a fad diet.
“People find it harder as the year progresses but there are those who make things happen,” says Dr. Smita Bhandari, a board-certified psychiatrist with Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.
Take walking as an exercise. “Walking is great for everybody who is able to walk, obviously,” says Fabiola Yasky, community exercise instructor for Baptist Health South Florida. Walking “is a natural state of movement and with the right technique and the right pace for each individual, you can make it a challenging cardiovascular workout.”
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Experts, like Yasky, suggest that we don’t need the expensive gym membership. Rather, it’s about exercises that can be done anywhere and incorporate functional fitness motions of push, pull, hip rotation, squats and planks.
The best exercise?
Some say the push-up since it incorporates pushing and pulling, the plank position and builds strength. Yasky agrees but takes a broader view.
“It’s one that gives you joy,” she says. “It’s no different than food. We’re all a little hesitant about eating new things but if you haven’t found the right exercise, you need to explore.’’
Eating, too, can be simplified into five easy steps, says Sheah Rarback, a registered dietitian at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Hint: “more vegetables.”
And brain health? The old do-a-crossword-puzzle advice still applies, but why not expand your horizons?
Here, then, are five tips for keeping mind, body and soul in peak condition.
▪ Warm-up and Stretching.
The best warm-up mirrors the movement you are going to do, Yasky says. If your aim is a mile or two walk around the neighborhood, start with a nice, relaxed stride for about eight to 10 minutes. “Stretching should never be done cold,” she adds.
Stretching keeps the body flexible to help ward off injuries. Also, consider stretching during periods of inaction, such as when you are driving or sitting at work. Contract your shoulder blades together while at a red light, for instance, to reduce stress and neck tension. Lengthen your legs with toe and heel raises to bring circulation back to the calves when seated for extended periods like in an airplane. Never sit for an eight-hour workday. Get up at least once an hour for short little walks, even if it’s just to the water fountain.
▪ Cardiovascular walking.
Maintain a relaxed stance, soft knees, soft hips and allow the feet to carry your body forward. Allow your arms to swing freely and keep your head from guiding your steps forward.
“Be conscious of soft and quiet steps which will assure your hips and ankles and knees are not going to be hurt with too much pounding. To increase the cardiovascular portion, you can always increase the time spent walking or the speed in which you walk,” Yasky says.
▪ Lower body strength.
Chair squat. Sit on a chair that is secure. (No wheels.) Place the chair against a surface like a wall so that it will not slip or tip. Place your heels directly under your knees. Put your hands on your legs, point your toes slightly outward and shift your weight to your heels as you travel up and down.
▪ Balance coordination and strength.
Increase your balance and coordination by lengthening the stride of your walk, Yasky suggests, and increase your strength by lowering your body toward the ground by bending both knees simultaneously during the stride. Make sure to place your foot down securely before going into the lunge position. Step heel to toe and your knees must never pass your toes to avoid knee problems. Hips stay higher than your knees when you do lunges.
▪ Upper body strength, push-ups.
Yasky recommends a modified push-up while standing against a wall rather than the traditional plank version for beginners.
Stand at arms’ length before a wall free of obstructions. Place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders with head and shoulders back and away from the wall. Take one step back while maintaining body line and position. Bend the elbows and, as you push away, contract your shoulder blades together. Knees and hands are soft and the intensity can be increased by the speed in which you approach the wall.
This exercise incorporates the much desired push and pull movements common to functional fitness, such as carrying groceries, pushing a baby carriage or wheelchair and other daily activities.
“My No. 1 is really paying attention to what you are eating — people call it mindfulness,” Rarback says. “Ask: ‘Am I really hungry or bored or anxious?’ And if you are anxious then there are things better than eating that might relieve that anxiety. Maybe deep breathing, exercising, listening to music.
“Eating as a boredom reliever is where people get into trouble,” she says.
Turn off the TV, smart phones and tablets while eating. “Food should taste good and some people are eating so fast they are not even tasting the food,” Rarback says.
Good point, because it takes some 20 minutes for the brain to signal satiety that gets us to feel full and stop eating.
▪ Eat at home.
“A study just came out in the Journal of Public Health and Nutrition that said people who eat out eat an extra 200 calories,” Rarback says.
“When you eat out you are getting more sodium, sugar and more saturated fat. And cooking is so much easier now because everything is online. If you don’t know how to cook, there are YouTube videos and even recipes on AllRecipes.Com that come with a video showing you how to do it step by step.”
▪ Reduce inflammation.
The root cause of people’s health problems that cause chronic disease is inflammation. Eat more anti-inflammatory foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids like wild salmon (avoid farm raised fish as these lack the desired nutrients), sardines, which are an inexpensive addition to salads and sandwiches. Non-fish anti-inflammatory foods include flaxseeds, walnuts.
▪ Eat your veggies.
“Eat more vegetables. We’re just not making it,” says Rarback, who will often ask her medical students how many of them are getting the required three to four servings of vegetables daily. “I never get a big show of hands.”
Vegetables, fresh and frozen, provide essential vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients. If you look at the USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.gov graphic, the recommended plate is half filled with fruits and vegetables, she notes.
Throw in a handful of bell peppers, spinach or tomatoes if making eggs in the morning. Want to snack? Swap that energy bar (too much sugar) for some celery with hummus.
▪ Redo your kitchen.
No, this tip doesn’t require a $30,000 remodeling job on the most popular room in your home. Rather, “this is about looking at your kitchen,” Rarback says. “Is it making eating healthy easier? You want to make it easy.”
Instead of keeping cereal or crackers or cookies on the countertops, substitute a bowl of mandarin oranges or strawberries, which are in season.
Take the foods that are high in sugar out of sight — and preferably out of the house. Sugar is one of the root causes for many diseases and sugar is lurking in so many places.
“Set your house up for healthy eating. When you open your fridge have baby carrots and hummus bagged up and food cut up” and ready to eat. “Don’t go through the soda to get to the sparkling water.”
▪ Rest, exercise, nutrition.
“Take care of your body and get enough rest and eat well,” Bhandari says. Sleep deprivation causes stress, high blood pressure, weight gain and other ailments. Eat more fruits and vegetables and good healthy fats. Exercise. “Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and reaches parts of the brain for memory,” she says.
▪ Mindful living.
Meditate. Mindful living is basically living in awareness, in the moment, Bhandari says. “Meditation increases focus and the ability to concentrate, hence, brain health.”
▪ Challenge your brain
Give your brain something to do to help it develop new connections, new wiring. Try a new hobby, learn to cook or cook something you never have made before. Read a new book or, if you have vision problems, listen to an audiobook.
Learn a new language, do the oft-recommended crossword and puzzles, find a new skill. Travel.
“There’s nothing like travel as it opens your mind to new cultures and horizons. Give your brain new things to digest; challenge it with new thought,” Bhandari says.
“Man is a social animal and we all need to have aspects of socialization,” Bhandari says. “Find friends that are like-minded and do things together and find happiness in that.”
▪ Declutter your life.
Organization matters. A messy environment suggests a scatterbrain.
Keep it simple. Declutter your life. Get rid of things you don’t need, Bhandari says. As you challenge your brain in new ways “you don’t want to encumber your brain with unnecessary information so that your brain is free to embrace new things.”
Keep a planner. Make lists. “Some people don’t make a list but the brain is finite, not infinite for most average people. Prioritize.”
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