Hopefully by now you’ve been incorporating April’s Small Steps – Movement and Food Substitutions. The One Small Step series is about incorporating small changes in diet and exercise each month over a series of several months to get you closer to that fit and happier you. It’s time for May’s One Small Step – Go Old School.
Old School Exercise
The idea here is to take it outside and exercise one day each week without concern for special equipment, membership fees or a fitness class schedule. New to exercise? Then this should be low impact, like walking. Already exercising regularly? Now’s the time to either add one more day to your cardio routine (old school style) or take one of your familiar weekly workouts up a notch outdoors – increase the intensity from walking to walk/jog intervals, for example. If you jog or run outdoors already, then try some jog/sprint intervals one day per week. Remember, this is one small step – you only need to find 45 minutes to an hour once per week to fit this in. Plan ahead and have a back-up day in the inevitable event that life (or weather) gets in the way of your old school workout.
Some forethought can help you stay on track and make sure you’re setting yourself up for success. Ignore whatever you’ve read or heard about the best time of day or best day of the week to exercise. The best day and time is when you can and will do it. Once you’ve selected your top two days and times, make it a priority. Whatever you use to record doctor’s appointments or business meetings – whether smart phone, Outlook or old-fashioned wall calendar – schedule your old school workout day and your back-up day. In terms of exercising, make your “week” begin on your exercise day. For example, maybe the best day of the week for you is a Friday and your second pick is Wednesday. If you think of your exercise week in a traditional sense (Sunday-Saturday) and something comes up on Friday, then it’s too late to have a make-up on Wednesday. You’ll find yourself scrambling to squeeze it in on Saturday and, if you don’t, you’ll feel like you’ve failed. However if, in this example, you think of your exercise week as running from Friday through Thursday, you have set yourself up for success. What do you do with your make-up day if you exercised on your first-choice day? Do something specifically for you or, better yet, set a habit of another exercise day. Don’t let that very important back-up hour be hijacked by some other weekly chore or task.
Another way to stay on track is to get a workout buddy – your spouse, a co-worker, friend, your child. When you are counting on each other you keep one another accountable and honest, not to mention the time will fly by with another person. If you’re working out alone, bring an iPod or other MP3 device so you can listen to your favorite music. Studies show we workout longer and harder when we listen to music while we exercise. Not into music? Listen to an audio book, comedy routine or your favorite podcast. The idea is to make the workout seem less like work by distracting yourself with something you enjoy.
Stay safe and injury free. Invest in good quality, proper footwear (walking sneakers for walking, running shoes for jogging/running). If you have a softer surface nearby to amble on, such as a track or a dirt trail, choose that over pavement for some or all of your trek. If possible, exercise in daylight. If you must do your workout in the dark, wear reflective clothing, stay on sidewalk-lined, well-lit streets and always face on-coming traffic (on the left side of street). Stretch all the muscles you’ve worked at the conclusion of the workout. Stay hydrated. Plain, cold water is best for the average one-hour workout.
Old School Diet
What I remember about our daily diet when I was younger is that eating out was rare and reserved for special occasions, the only option for fresh produce was in-season fruits and veggies, and large meals tended to be cooked on the weekends and provided several leftover meals during the week. When you compare the obesity rates from then to now it’s clear we, as a society, were doing something right then that we aren’t doing now.
If you eat restaurant or take-out meals (don’t forget to count a coffee and bagel on the way to work) one or more times per week regularly, begin by reducing that occurrence by one meal per week. Next month, subtract another take-out/restaurant meal from your weekly schedule and so on. Remember the small steps motto, don’t drop all take-out meals cold turkey, you will quickly become overwhelmed and give up. Start with one per week and go from there.
Maybe your restaurant meals are as rare as they were when you were a kid. Is your downfall those crazy, busy weeknights when you tend to throw together a meal from a series of boxes, cans, jars and frozen concoctions from the grocery store? You pay a premium for those processed, pre-made items. Shift the extra dollars from processed to pre-prepped whole foods. In large grocers you can find pre-chopped veggies and meat to make it quick and easy to throw together a healthy stir-fry in 20 minutes. Also, consider making a habit out of preparing a large meal or two on weekends so that you have leftover options (and no pans to clean) on the busiest of your weeknights.
If you’re pretty good about avoiding pre-made, processed meals then your old school move could be all about getting the most nutrition out of what you’re eating. One nice thing about modern-day produce and the global pantry is, if you need fresh strawberries in Vermont in December, you can get them. But, let’s face it, they’re expensive and they don’t taste anything like a Vermont-grown June strawberry. Nor are they likely as nutritious. Temperature variants and exposure to air and light over travel time causes fresh fruits and veggies to lose some of their vitamins and nutrients. Also, the more you cook produce the more vitamins and nutrients leech out. So, if you make it a priority to buy produce in season – and, if possible, local – it will most likely mean that they’re at their peak in taste and nutrition and, as a bonus, the most economical. If they taste better you and your kids will likely eat more of them. Eat them raw or minimally cooked in order to get the most nutrients out of them.
What you may have noticed about May’s Go Old School Exercise and Diet plans is that it’s a boost to your budget as well as your fitness. Having a little extra change in your pocket is an added incentive. May is a beautiful time of year to get outside and fresh, local produce is beginning to arrive at markets across the country. There is no better time to go old school with your fitness than right now.
Author’s Note: Always speak with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.