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) and improved the quality of your food choices and quantity of daily activity (April’s substitutions). Congratulations!
This month is a travel back in time. The time before a majority of Americans were struggling with weight gain from growing food portions and decreasing daily physical activity. It’s is all about eating and exercising old-school style.
Old School Exercise
There are 3 factors that exercise studies have repeatedly proven will make workouts more enjoyable and productive. More enjoyment means participants are likely to stick with it week after week. More productive means the most efficient workout in terms of calorie burn. The first two factors are working out with a partner/group and exercising to fast-paced music. Both have been shown to subconsciously motivate the exerciser to workout at a higher intensity than if she had exercised alone or without music. Interestingly, post exercise, participants in these studies were unaware that they had worked out any harder than they had alone or without music and, yet, reported enjoying the workout more than they did sans partner(s) and music. The third factor, exercising outdoors, has much the same effect. Outdoor workouts heighten the body’s natural endorphin response to exercise. Meaning, compared to exercising indoors, the body has higher perceived feelings of pleasure when exercising outside. This not only spurs the exerciser into working out at a higher intensity but also gives her an increased post-workout “high”, making it more likely she’ll be back at it. This response is true even on a cloudy day but sunny days increase the good feelings even more.
So, let’s take it outside! Exercise outdoors one day each week without concern for special equipment, membership fees or a fitness class schedule. New to exercise? This should be low impact, like walking. Already exercising regularly? Now’s the time to either add one more day to your cardio routine or take one of your familiar weekly workouts up a notch outdoors – increase the intensity from walking to walk/power walk or 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 30 minutes to an hour once per week to fit this in. Be sure to take a partner or music with you. 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.
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 diet when I was younger is eating out was reserved for special occasions, the only option for fresh produce was in-season fruits and veggies, and large meals were cooked on the weekends, providing 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/take-out meals (breakfast, lunch or dinner) one or more times per week regularly, reduce that occurrence by one meal per week. Next month, subtract another 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 throw together a meal from a series of boxes, cans, jars and frozen concoctions? 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-cut veggies and lean proteins for a quick and easy, healthy stir-fry in 20 minutes. Also, make a habit out of preparing a large meal on weekends so you have leftover options (and no pans to clean!) on your busiest weeknights.
If you’re good about avoiding pre-made meals then your old school move could be getting the most nutrition out of what you’re eating. One nice thing about modern-day produce is, if you need fresh strawberries in Vermont in December, you can get them. But, let’s face it, they’re expensive and 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 produce to lose some of their nutrients. Make it a priority to buy produce in season and, if possible, local. They’re likely to be at their peak in taste and nutrition and the most economical. Eat them raw or minimally cooked to get the most nutrients out of them.
Perhaps you’ve noticed May’s Go Old School Exercise and Diet plans are 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: 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 new exercise program.