My Small Step Philosophy: A fit life is attained by making small, realistic and sustainable changes in food consumption and exercise over time. This allows a person time to create and hone new, fit habits that then become adopted and integrated into her everyday life. The result is a person who is living a fit lifestyle each and every day, making her healthy and strong for a lifetime. I have used this philosophy to create my One Small Step blog series. Each month, I give you one healthy change to work on for that entire month. Sometimes it’s a diet change, sometimes an exercise change and sometimes one of each. The idea is to concentrate only on that one change for a month so that it becomes ingrained into your daily meals or weekly exercise routines, making you able to take on another small change at the beginning of the next month. Just discovering the series now? No worries, the Small Step changes don’t need to be done in any particular order and are independent of one another. You can begin this month, follow along the rest of the year and incorporate what you’ve missed next year.
If you’ve been following my Small Steps toward a fit life program in 2014, you’ve taken control of your daily calorie intake (January’s portion control), practiced planning ahead to minimize high calorie meals and maximize opportunities for exercise (February’s plan ahead), used strategies to manipulate your environment to avoid falling back into unhealthy habits (March’s accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives), improved the quality of your food choices and quantity of daily activity (April’s substitutions) and revisited healthy habits of the past when we were slimmer and healthier (May’s go old school). Congratulations!
Are you ready for the truth? For most women, the closer she gets to middle age and menopause, the more difficult it is to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight and keep her percentage of body fat from increasing unless she strength trains regularly. You cannot run, Zumba, kick box, spin or Weight Watchers yourself out of it. It is a physiological and evolutionary fact. If you are among the few females who have super metabolism despite not having the muscle mass and accompanying testosterone of a male, thank your lucky stars and your genes because you may be able to avoid the increase on the scale. But that doesn’t protect you from losing lean mass and, as a result, increasing the ratio of fat to lean mass. Increasing fat mass, even without an increase in body weight, is unhealthy because it increases one’s risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol and osteoporosis. Guys aren’t immune. A similar, albeit less drastic, phenomenon occurs in men as they approach middle age as well.
Therefore, June’s exercise One Small Step is adding one (+1) strength training workout to your week. There’s no need to have access to a gym or buy equipment. Anyone can get a quality, full-body strength workout using nothing but good form and one’s own body weight as resistance. The advantages of body weight exercises are that most work several muscles at once and often incorporate movements we use in our everyday lives, making these functional forms of training and superior to weight machines at a gym. ACE Fitness has step-by-step instructions for nearly 100 full-body strength and stretch exercises that can be done anywhere with no equipment or large amounts of space needed. There are exercises for everyone from novices to athletes and many offer progressions that one can incorporate as she masters the basic exercise and is ready to move onto more challenging moves. The full list can be found here.
Select 6-8 exercises appropriate to your level. In order to get a well-balanced workout, be sure to select a combination of upper body, core and lower body exercises. Do a 1-2 minute warm-up, such as marching in place, to heat up the muscles before beginning. Do two sets of 10-20 repetitions of each exercise. After completing your strength training, select stretches from the same link, being sure to stretch all the muscle groups you strengthened. This entire workout should take only 20-30 minutes. A strength training workout like this done just one day per week is enough to combat the lean mass loss through aging and help boost metabolism. But you can get quicker results by doing this workout 2-3 days per week. It is important, however, to get 48 hours of rest between full-body strength training workouts.
Many women find strength training tedious and boring. I love the days I do cardio but, I have to admit, my strength training days are a challenge from a motivational standpoint sometimes. There are several strategies you can use to combat this. If you already belong to a fitness club, select at least one class per week that incorporates full-body strength training. Look for classes with the words pump or sculpt in the title or take a mat Pilates or TRX class. Or you could hire a personal trainer. I have clients who come to me to do their strength training because they know they won’t strength train on their own without external accountability. If these aren’t options for you, try doing my above workout in your backyard or while watching television or listening to your favorite music/podcast. Don’t do the same 6-8 exercises every time; cycling through many different exercises keep the workouts fresh. If you need external motivation, some fitness apps have strength training workout coaches that guide and motivate you through. Enlist a family member or friend to train with – social components to working out have been proven to keep people motivated and on track. There are also great strength training DVDs or online videos. My favorites are the Exhale MindBodySpa Core Fusion DVDs.
I realize this month’s exercise Small Step is a big challenge and represents a pretty large “small step” for many. So, the diet small step this month is easy. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get 3 to 4 cups of fruits and vegetables per day. Most Americans fall short of that amount. This month, add one (+1) serving of fruit or vegetable to your daily diet. This is different from what you’ve been doing with the Food Substitutions recommendation from April’s Small Steps post. In that case, you were reducing some or all of your protein or grain in each meal/snack and replacing it with fruit or vegetable. In this case, you want to add one more serving of fruit or vegetable, a serving you’re not already consuming regularly, somewhere in your day.
Welcome to June and good luck in your Small Steps quest to fitness!
Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.