YogaBeachIt’s official: Summer is here whether you are ready or not.

If you’ve been working out in anticipation of the arrival of June 21 and warm weather, congratulations. Keep up the great work.

If not, don’t worry. It’s never too late to start reaping the rewards of a healthy lifestyle. Kick-start your summer shape-up today with these six tips.

Lighten up your diet with fresh fruits and vegetables.

The season’s bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables makes it easy to create light but satisfying meals. In general, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend adults consumer two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables daily. Calculate the amount of fruits and veggies YOU need here.

Make the most of daylight savings time and warm weather.

The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, but there are plenty more to follow. Take advantage of the extra daylight and sunny weather to squeeze in time for a walk after dinner or dine al fresco.

Enjoy alcoholic beverages in moderation.

Hot summer days can create a powerful thirst, but alcoholic beverages are a poor choice to quench that need for liquids. Being out in the sun can also increase the effects of drinking so play it safe. Stay hydrated with water, ice tea and fruit juice. Save cocktails for a special occasion, and when you do indulge, choose a wine spritzer, sangria or beer.

Focus on the physical.

There’s nothing like the mental and physical high of a great workout. Dedicate some time to breaking a sweat and getting in touch with your body by engaging in physically-demanding activities such as gardening, hiking, biking or canoeing.

Relax and have fun.

Although summer may not truly be any less busy for you than the rest of the year, tap into the lazy days of summer philosophy. Make time to socialize, rest, and relax. Schedule activities with families and friends. Cultivating a positive mindset is critical for a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

Disconnect from technology.

Summertime provides an opportunity to “get back to basics.” Get outdoors and enjoy the simple pleasures of life: fresh fruits and vegetables as part of light, flavorful fare; strengthening and toning your body; nurturing positive relationships; and taking care of your mental, physical and spiritual wellness.

Image courtesy of MR LIGHTMAN / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

The first Wednesday in April is the American Heart Association’s National Walking Day. To encourage your participation during this year’s event, here are 10 good reasons you should lace up your sneakers and take a stroll.Walking

  1. Walking is the most popular form of physical activity in the U.S. It also has the lowest dropout rate.
  2. Experts recommend logging 10,000 steps per day. That’s about 5 miles.
  3. Walking 30 minutes each day benefits not only your body but also your mind. Walking burns calories, strengthens bones, aids intestinal regularity and enhances mental well being.
  4. Every minute you walk can add 1.5 to 2 minutes to your life.
  5. Brisk walking burns the same number of calories per mile as running.
  6. Because walking is a weight-bearing activity, heavier individuals burn more calories than skinny folks. A brisk, one-hour walk burns approximately 400 calories for an average built person.
  7. Walking isn’t as likely to result in injuries as other types of physical exercise.
  8. Women who exercise, including brisk walking, report enhanced sexual desire and increased sexual satisfaction.
  9. People who choose walking as their physical activity of choice save money on gym fees and expensive equipment/gear.
  10. Walking with friends, children or a spouse has been shown to improve relationships.

Sources:
AmericaWalks.org
AmericanHeartAssociation.org
Blue Cross/Blue Shield National Walk @ Lunch Day
EverybodyWalk.org
MayoClinic.com
NIH.gov
Rodale.com

Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If I asked you to list five health conditions associated with obesity, you could probably give me 10 or 15. The media has done a pretty good job educating Americans about the risks of carrying too many extra pounds, but since February is Heart Health Month, let’s take a closer look at the connection between being oID-10069051verweight and cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women, contributing to one in four fatalities. Some of the conditions related to heart disease include heart attacks, strokes, angina, arrhythmia and coronary artery disease. The annual combined costs of medical treatment, medication and lost productivity is $312.6 billion. The cost in terms of loss of quality of life and death cannot be calculated in dollars and cents.

When a person carries too much weight, the cardiovascular system is compromised due to high cholesterol levels, poor blood circulation, unstable fluid levels, raised blood pressure, sleep apnea and other complications. All of these factors increase the odds of suffering a stroke or heart attack.

The bad news is that most of the causes of heart disease are related to personal choices such as smoking, diet, physical activity and stress. However, that is also the good news because it means you can reduce your risk by swapping unhealthy habits for a heart-healthy lifestyle. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Eat a balanced diet of lean protein, whole grains, fruit and vegetables
  • Avoid processed, fried and sugary foods
  • Walk for 15-30 minutes every day
  • Reduce/manage stress
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Stop smoking
  • Lose excess weight
  • Manage cardiovascular risks such as high blood pressure or diabetes with help from a physician

Find more tips at 28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Are you at risk? Complete the American Heart Association’s free Heart Attack Risk Calculator to evaluate your heart health.

Sources:

American Heart Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve been reading a lot about interval training in many of my fitness magazines. The experts say IT can produce faster results in less time. I’m all for that, so I did a little more research and have been incorporating it into both my elliptical and running workouts.

Essentially, interval training consists of bursts of high intensity effort alternated with rest periods or a slower pace. I usually do a 5 minute warm up, then begin a 25 minute interval cycle, followed by a 5 minute cool down. When I’m on the elliptical, I do 1 minute at a comfortable pace and 2 minutes at a speed that gets my heart rate pumping.  My walk/fun intervals are usually 2 minutes walking and 4 minutes running.

The top three things I like about interval training are:

1. You can vary the length of intervals based on the activity and your fitness level.

2. Focusing on the timing of my intervals helps the workout time pass quickly.

3. By increasing the intervals, you build up endurance and strength.

To maintain a healthy lifestyle, exercise has to become a part of your daily routine. Boredom is one of the biggest obstacles in maintaining that habit, so stock your workout “tool box” with a variety of activities, routines and techniques, such as interval training. It will keep you motivated and challenged.

For more information, visit these websites:

http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/tipsandtricks/a/Intervals.htm

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/interval-training/SM00110

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/03/fashion/03Fitness.html

Grooves to move to

April 11, 2010

There are some people who watch those little TVs while logging laps on the treadmill, elliptical or bikes. I used to do that and got a lot of weird looks because I liked to tune in to the Cooking Channel.  At the same time though, I liked to listen to my headphones because, to me, music makes the work-out.

Lately, I’ve come to prefer pure auditory stimulation and there are a few tunes that never fail to rev up my pace.  Here are my favorites:

RHYTHM DIVINE – Enrique Iglesias

LOVE 4 FUN – Enrique Iglesias

LOVE TO SEE YOU CRY – Enrique Iglesias

GLAMOROUS – Fergie

LOVE POTION NO. 9 – Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass

AFTERNOON AT SATIE’S – Jesse Cooke

COME AND GET WITH ME – Keith Sweat

DON’T CHA – The Pussycat Dolls

TEMPTED TO TOUCH – Reggaeton Club

GIVE IT TO ME BABY – Rick James

SEXUAL HEALING – Marvin Gay, remix by Shaggy

What gets your moneymaker shaking?

So many people have been asking what I’m doing to shed the LBs. Instead of being coy, I’ll share what has been working for me.  But, like anyone offering diet advice, I must add a disclaimer: Before starting any weight loss or exercise regimen, talk to your doctor.

MARIA’S SECRETS FOR SHEDDING LBs

1.  Eliminate temptation from your diet. This is a no-brainer. If there are certain foods you absolutely cannot resist, cut them out 100 percent. Don’t tell yourself you’ll only have one Oreo if that is your weakness. For me, it’s carbs – bread, pasta, rice, crackers, bagels, pancakes, cornbread, muffins, donuts, noodles, stuffing, etc. I adore carbs. Unfortunately, they attach themselves to my arse and thighs with industrial strength fixative. I also have zero impulse control when it comes to these food items, so I simply stopped eating them. That simple.

2.  Move. You gain weight for two reasons – too much food and not enough movement. I was guilty of both. The elliptical is a great choice for those just starting out; it is low impact and you can actually do a decent chunk of time on it without dying, which creates powerful, positive feelings of success. Walk, bike, swim, run, dance, ice skate, canoe, tumble down a hill in a giant hamster wheel. Just get thyself off the sofa and start using all those soft, mushy muscles.

3.  Document. Virtually every diet plan recommends tracking your food intake and activity. I record what I eat for two reasons: the first is so I can look back and review my eating habits if I’m not losing to identify trouble spots (like the time I was eating three Clif bars a day — too many!); the second is that days and weeks of eating healthy create powerful, positive feelings of success.

4.  Support system. Losing weight requires change – frequently significant, lifestyle-altering, permanent change. That’s hard to do alone, so surround yourself with supportive, encouraging, knowledgeable, positive people. Get yourself some cheerleaders. Tell people about your challenges and your accomplishments, and allow yourself  to bask in the glow of their praise. Team Maria includes Mammy Jammy, sister ShaSha,  BFF Shannon and Ricardo Amore.  When my powerful, positive feelings of success are waning, they remind me of what I’ve accomplished and give me a nice kick in the arse to stay on track.

5. Walk the talk. Forty pounds ago I didn’t feel like a person who made healthy lifestyle choices. I didn’t feel active. I didn’t feel self-disciplined. I didn’t feel like I could just say no to Arby’s. But it helped to “pretend” I was this sort of person – I bought cute athletic wear for the gym, I started drinking my coffee black, I even started “pretending” to enjoy edamame and tofu. And you know what? I still hate tofu, but I am a person who makes healthy choices and is active and can say no to potato cakes and a jamocha shake.

6. Be selfish. I struggle with this one, because sometimes my new lifestyle infringes on others. The kids don’t get to have donuts on Sunday morning, and Number Two Son can’t take off in the car because I have to get to the gym. I get mad when my husband monitors my eating, even when he’s just kidding around. I fear friends feel self conscious in restaurants when I order a salad, hold the cheese/croutons/dressing. I recognize that I’m rocking the boat and it makes some folks sea sick. But ultimately we are each responsible for ourselves, and while disconcerting, this change is really a good thing!

7. It’s not a diet. I think the top reason people fail at weight loss is because of the negative connotation to dieting, the sense of deprivation and restriction. They have to forfeit foods they love, foods that soothe them and satisfy them. I’ve been there — looking longingly at a big, juicy bacon cheeseburger and chili fries while I resentfully consume a tasteless hunk of iceberg lettuce. BUT…when I began creating healthful, flavorful meals with quality ingredients, it no longer felt punitive. Now, instead of having that burger and fries, I tempt myself with a spinach salad made of fresh sliced strawberries, toasted almonds, crumbled feta cheese and a drizzle of Asian sesame dressing. In the past, I never took the time to realize that a  pint of blueberries probably cost the same as a gallon of ice cream, yet I argued that the berries were too expensive. However, I had no qualms about buying one, two or three gallons of ice cream!

8. Love yourself now. Think about how you treat your best friend or your child. You are patient, kind, supportive, forgive faults and encourage them when they are down. You accept them as they are, while helping them to become better people and live up to their potential. You go out of your way to express your affection and gift them with special tokens. Sometimes you even make difficult choices because you know it is in their best interest (that’s called tough love). So why aren’t you treating yourself the same way? Whether you weight 350 pounds or 150 pounds, you are a wonderful, talented, amazing person. Don’t be afraid to celebrate that magnificence, for while a trim figure goes a long way, it is by no means the full measure of a person. Dare to dance now, even if you jiggle.

Monday, March 8, 5:51 p.m.

Have been up since 3:47 a.m. when I woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep because of stressful peer relationship issues. Begrudgingly got up with husband at 5:00 a.m. and started my day. So tired and emo, but I worked on an article, did some laundry, ironed a couple of shirts, took my shower and headed into work. Can you feel how heavy and draggy I felt?

Had difference of opinion with husband upon arrival home at 3:30, shouted at him to take the kids for haircut and drove Number Two Son to job at burger joint. So not feeling the love about now.

Fast forward to the current date and time and I am busting out with E*N*E*R*G*Y!  Took myself to the gym and pounded out 4+ miles on the elliptical.  Came home, apologized to husband and earned a little smoochie, started dinner for family (spaghetti and meatballs for them; a huge, veggie-loaded salada for moi!), checked e-mail, blogged, made a few phone calls, supervised homework, prepping for conference call at 6 p.m. Mood totally reversed. Happy, focused, calm, patient, tolerant, enthusiastic, confident, happy, centered.

I think I’m actually going to make it all the through until bedtime! Maybe even squeeze in another dose of EXERCISE with a short jog around the neighborhood with Number Three Son. Well, maybe not a jog but definitely the buffalo shuffle.

Go, me!

Zumba, damn it

March 4, 2010

I vowed I would never do it again, but I’m headed off for my second Zumba class tonight.

Believe me, it’s not because I had such a great time at my first class. I found the experience frustrating, discouraging, humiliating and not much fun.

It probably had to do with my expectations going into class. I had visions of me channeling Shakira ~ hips rolling, shoulders shimmying, sensual movements so enticing guys in the weight room would be dropping barbells.

Didn’t happen quite that way. It was more like me channeling a rhino in Reeboks.

If you have the stomach for ugliness, picture it: Floor-to-ceiling mirrors (which always seem to distort my body image but not that of the lean, tanned, toned instructor); everyone else moving to a Latin three-count beat while I’m struggling along on a four-count disco-era beat; the entire class in step with the instructor, ‘cuz they’ve obviously been coming forever and know all the steps, and good ol’ Maria going in the wrong direction, tripping over her three left feet; lots — and I mean LOTS! — of hip and butt and boob gyrations that, when I tried to mimic them, resembled someone afflicted with St. Vitus dance.

But what really got me was the 60-something-year-old next to me doing a pretty good impression of the Chiquita Banana Lady.

I was proud that I stuck out the class. I was proud that I ventured out of my comfort zone.  I was proud that I didn’t give in to the humiliation and frustration.

And I walked out of that damned class vowing it would be my last foray into Latino-themed fitness activities.

“This is stupid,” I thought, stomping over to Old Faithful (aka the elliptical machine, my torture device of choice) where I did 30 minutes because Zumba hadn’t even raised so much as a drop of perspiration. “I hate Zumba. Whoever thought of this is a dork. Anyone who enjoys it is crazy.”

But as I logged my minutes and calories and miles on the elliptical, I realized several things: on the elliptical machine, I feel strong and I demonstrate endurance; in the Zumba class I felt awkward, heavy and clumsy. Oh, yeah, that’s how I felt 32 pounds ago!

Losing weight is about changing behaviors and cultivating new habits – skills that require practice and take time before we become adept at them.

Man, I hate when I am self-aware like this, because then I have to face facts: I can’t not do Zumba ever again. I have to give it the old college try before I can chuck it and really mean it when I say, “This is stupid.”

So, I made myself promise that I would do at least two more dumb, stupid, horrible Zumba classes.

I’ll be the rhino in Reeboks.