Last month I touted the benefits of flexibility and balance training in my Rubber Bands and Bungee Cords post. So, it’s only fitting that I make stretching this month’s One Small Step theme which, in conjunction with each of the other One Small Step challenges since April, creates a well-rounded and balanced fitness routine. And, because I always offer a monthly diet-targeted Small Step as well, I stretched the theme to apply to reigning in unwanted calories.
Stretch Your Body
If you aren’t doing any stretching on a regular basis, then your assignment this month is to finish every exercise routine you do – at the gym, walk in the neighborhood, ride on the bike path, strength training routine – with stretches. Don’t stretch cold muscles before your workout, stretch only at the conclusion of workouts when muscles are warmed up. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and stretch especially tight muscles a second time. At minimum, stretch all the muscles that were the primary workers during your exercise. But, if you have the time, it’s even better to stretch all the major muscle groups. Here are some examples of stretches for each of the major muscle groups, courtesy of acefitness.org: Cobra (Abs, Back); Child’s Pose (Abs, Back, Thighs, Glutes); Cat-Camel (Chest, Back); Seated Straddle Stretch (Back, Thighs); Standing Lunge Stretch (Hip, Thighs); Standing Calf Stretch (Calves, Shins); Modified Hurdler’s Stretch (Hamstrings, Thighs); Triceps Stretch (Back Upper Arm); Seated Biceps Stretch (Front Upper Arm).
If you already stretch after working out, consider incorporating one yoga or mat Pilates routine weekly. This can be accomplished at your health club, individual yoga or Pilates studios, by DVD or online. These disciplines have the added benefit of training balance along with flexibility. Balance training is often over-looked in the average workout but is so beneficial as a functional training tool. These disciplines also run the gamut of intensities and forms. So, if you’re thinking that you just don’t have the time in your week to add one more fitness routine, consider replacing one of your usual cardio or strength routines with a yoga or Pilates class that incorporates cardio or strength. Or, perhaps time isn’t the issue but, rather, you’re wanting a break from the intensity of the traditional modes of exercise. In that case, find a gentle or relaxation yoga class/DVD. These also offer stress relief and proper breathing practice.
Stretch Your Calories
We sometimes eat when we aren’t hungry, otherwise known as mindless eating. At those times, something usually triggers us to reach for a salty or sweet snack. Examples of triggers are boredom, mild dehydration, TV/computer screen and stress/emotional anxiety. The key is to know what your triggers are and when they tend to trip you up. Once you know that, you can come up with a plan to diffuse the relationship between the trigger and consumption of unnecessary calories to break the cycle.
Common strategies for thwarting mindless eating are taking a walk, drinking water, chewing gum or engaging in conversation. In the case of boredom, you may just need a change of scenery, like taking a short walk through your office building or around the block. Sometimes people think they’re hungry when they’re really thirsty. So, when you have a hankering for a snack, try drinking a glass of water first. But, if you get tired of plain water all day long, substitute unsweetened herbal tea (hot or cold) or unsweetened seltzer. If you prefer flavored water, add a squeeze of real lemon, lime or orange. Do not choose artificially sweetened beverages, those only heighten the feelings of hunger. If your body automatically associates sitting in front of the TV or computer with snacking, perhaps chewing gum will satisfy the need to chew. For stress-related or emotional eating, you can try the walking solution. But you may find you need a trusted person to confide in or talk it out with. The chat can take any form – in person, on the phone or IM. Alternatively, try writing in a diary or journal.
If you try the strategies and still feel hungry, then you probably are actually hungry. Give yourself permission to have a healthy, properly portioned snack. To delay would set you up to overeat later on.
Breaking the trigger/snack cycle means that you can stretch calories eaten at your last meal or snack longer until the time when you truly need to replenish nutrients and calories in your body. This means a lower total calorie consumption each day you break the cycle.
You have your orders – stretch your body and stretch your mind in order to stretch those calories. This month’s Small Steps, you’ll find, will nourish you mind, body and soul. And, no, that’s not a stretch! 🙂
Author’s Note: I am an exercise professional, not a nutrition professional. My food recommendations are based on the most current science-backed information provided by nutrition professionals in the fitness industry publications I receive and my personal experience. Mine are general recommendations that are in line with the guidelines published by the US Dept of Health and Human Services for apparently healthy individuals. If you have a health condition that requires dietary restrictions, I recommend consulting a medical doctor or registered dietician before making any changes to your diet. Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.