Creating happiness for yourself

How To Be Happy

Happiness has demonstrated health benefits, including decreased risk of heart disease and stroke, and there is scientific evidence that happiness is more than just the absence of sadness or depression. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that we have a great deal of control over our happiness levels.

Written to be your choice of a quick skim or a long read, this compilation piece from the New York Times details great ideas to get more happiness. Take your time to read through it all, or just start with a quick browse through the headings. Information from numerous studies forms the base for these practical recommendations to help improve mental health boost happiness at home and work, around money matters, in relationships, and enjoy improved overall quality of life.

Read the article How To Be Happy to find the happiness options that will work best for you!

 


Small Win Saturday: Finding Friends Leads To Success!

Small wins are the little things that give us a (big) boost, and lots of small wins add up to big changes and powerful breakthroughs. Small Win Saturdays are where we share a tiny-but-awesome thing that happened to a HealthFitter or a HealthFit coach in the last week. Try it out for your a mental or physical boost, or share own your small win in the comments!

Finding Friends

A HealthFit Coaching client who has been working hard at making a morning walk part of her daily routine had a great boost this week. She was on her usual route along the Coronation Drive section of Brisbane’s Bicentennial Bikeway when she ran into some friends who were finishing a similar walk. She joined them a few days later and said that she’s now walking with them a two to three times per week. She looks forward to it so much more now that she’s walking with them regularly, and has noted that she’s even going farther than she thought she could handle – and is handling it really well! Small wins are big wins!

Support in healthy choices makes them so much easier to make. If you’re struggling to cement a healthy habit, ask a friend to join you to make the going a little less tough.


stressed out man looking out window with serious expression wondering what to do

More On Exercise For Stress Management

Do you remember your last big job interview or exam? How did you feel?

Ugh, stress.

Whether it comes from your job, family demands, a bank balance or an overcrowded calendar, stress is a fact of life. We’ve all experienced the impact of stress on a day, week, month – or even longer. I’m sure I’m not along in wanting to have less of it, but for better or worse, stress is actually an important part of life. A stress-causing incident (a stressor) has a quantifiable physical impact, creating changes to circulating levels of hormones that help prepare the body for fight-or-flight.

The fight or flight response can be used to your advantage. Short-term and/or moderate levels of beneficial stress (eustress) can help improve motivation, sharpen focus, and boost memory and recall – exactly what you need for big presentations or school exams. Physically, eustress can help improve physical performance and endurance; the zebra running from the lion is definitely experiencing heightened stress levels! Biochemical reactions that occur as part of the physical stress response can even dull or block pain levels in some situations. And the right amount of ongoing physical stress in the form of physical activity or exercise is actually what stimulates improved levels of strength and fitness.

Of course, too much stress can also be hard on the body. While we primarily think of stress as a mental or emotional difficulty, stress levels that are very high or remain high over an extended period of time also has a physical cost.

One of the primary stress responses is an increased release of epinephrine (also called adrenaline) and cortisol. High epinephrine levels can lead to feelings of anxiety. In the short term, this can help you get stuff done, thereby ridding yourself of some of your stressors. Over time though… You probably don’t need me to tell you that long-term anxiety isn’t healthy! Excessive cortisol and adrenaline can also have a negative impact on your immune system, making you more susceptible to minor illnesses like the common cold. Increased levels of epinephrine, cortisol, and other stress hormones can also lead to headaches, eating pattern and digestive issues, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions, depression, insomnia, and fatigue. There is also growing evidence that high levels of stress and related physical responses can lead to increased cancer risks.

Stress is a pervasive problem. According to the American Psychological Association, the majority of American are living with at least moderate to high stress levels, and a 2014 study by the Australian Psychological Society found that about one in four Australians are living with distress.

Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, exercise can help. Isolation or avoidance are two common reactions to high stress levels. (I know that when I’m stressed, I want to get away from everyone and everything until I can get a handle on things.)  These reactions aren’t particularly helpful, but getting moving is!

Almost every type of exercise has been shown by decades of research to decrease short and long-term stress levels. Even if you’re not feeling it, going through the motions can be a distraction from your stressors, and can help decrease muscle tension and cortisol release. In turn, this can lead to decreased feelings of depression, anxiety, and anger, as well as physical changes like decreased heart rate and blood pressure. It’s possible that the amount of exercise you do can impact how significant these effects are. Some studies have shown more exercise leads to greater stress reductions, while others have shown that neither the amount, frequency, or intensity change how much stress is decreased. So walking the dog may be just as beneficial as a tough run or weights session.

The take-home message: It’s not worth getting stressed about how much, how hard, or how often you get moving – just get going! Any sort of movement will serve as the above mentioned distraction, and boost positive feelings of well-being. Take a moment and consider what kind of movement, physical activity, or exercise makes you feel better. It doesn’t have to be gym-based, or any sort of organized sport, just something that you enjoy at least a little!


seared scallops and boiled eggs on green salad for a healthy fast lunch

Perfect Portions Made Easy

Calorie counting to manage meals and portion sizes? We’ve got a handy trick for you!

Counting calories or points, keeping a food diary, or otherwise painstakingly tracking food intake is a chore, at least for most. While it can certainly be effective in bringing awareness to your portion sizes and meals, the time and effort it takes most people often leads to frustration and loss of motivation. Efforts at healthy eating can quickly be derailed.

Sometimes keeping a precise count of calories, carbs, or fats can be important, as in the case of some health conditions. If this is you, please continue to follow your doctors instructions! If this isn’t you though, and you are trying to track food, calories, carbs, or fats for the sake of general health or weight loss, good news: there’s an easier way to manage your meals.

Your hand is the perfect portion control guide. It’s proportionally sized to your body, stays consistent, and you’ve always got it with you. Estimating portion sizes based on your hand means there are no fiddly measurements to make (you can easily make a visual comparison – it doesn’t have to be exact!) and no math involved in building a healthy plate of food. While this method has been gaining in popularity in recent years, it’s actually been recommended in numerous nutrition textbooks for years as well as being widely recommended by non-profit health and nutrition organizations and government agencies.

Like this infographic? CLICK HERE it to download it with get bonus meal-management tips!


Food Friday: Instant “Overnight” Oats

I’m a big fan of oatmeal for both enjoyment and health reasons, but in the middle of summer a hot breakfast is less… enticing.

Overnight oats are a good solution for this. Mix them all up and stick them in the fridge, and in the morning you have a great cold breakfast.

…Except that I NEVER think to set that all up the night before.

Good thing you can have “overnight” oats in about 15 minutes! Rather than letting the oats hydrate overnight, using hot water hydrates them quickly without actually “cooking” them as you traditionally would. Giving it time to sit and hydrate also gives it time to cool, so when it comes time to eat, you actually get the “overnight” experience. I set them up to soak when I make my coffee, so when I’m done with my first cup they’re ready to eat. Throw on your toppings of choice, add a splash of milk, and enjoy!

The Super Simple Base Recipe
1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup boiling water

Pour water over oats and let sit until water is absorbed and cool, at least 15 minutes.

 

Great Topping Combinations

Peanut Butter Crunch
1 green apple, chopped
1 tbsp natural peanut butter

Berries and Cream
1 cupped handful of fresh or frozen berries
1/2 cup of plain yogurt
Sprinkle of cinnamon

Banana Nut
1 small banana, chopped
1-2 tbsp chopped walnuts

These topping combinations are just a few options. Try these oats with whatever suits your fancy and let us know what you used – we’re always looking for great ideas!

 


Woman in sunglasses is surprised by supportive health coach

What You WON’T Get With HealthFit

Every single day thousands of people decide they are going to make a lifestyle change for the better, and they are EXCITED.  They seek help with the process from personal trainers, exercise physiologists, nutritionist and dietitians, doctors, and even family and friends. It’s all too common to see the excitement and motivation fade after a couple of months though, and this often stems from well-intentioned but demoralizing comments from the exact people they need support from!

This is an especially common experience among many HealthFit clients. Though it’s rare that they’ve been told specifically “not to bother”, often casual comments like “I’d thought you’d have done that by now” or “Why don’t you just X, it’s easy” leave them feeling pretty hopeless. The end result is the same: “I can’t do it, I give up…”

HealthFit coaches have heard these stories and we’ve built our coaching process to be everything they aren’t. We’re so grateful to our clients for sharing their past experiences with us, and helping us become something beyond the scope of your average health and fitness advice. By blazing that trail, our clients have helped us decide what we WON’T do for you:

We won’t judge by appearance. Healthy comes in many shapes, sizes, and forms. If you’re happy, we’re happy. If you aren’t, we’ll support you through the process of getting there by building on your strong points. Physical, mental, and emotional health all get as much support as you need.

We won’t judge by ability. One of the biggest problems in the fitness industry and media today is the idea that everything has to be done at 1000% speed, perfection, and effort, or it’s not worth doing. The plain fact is that no one starts anything as a master. Our coaching focuses on teaching you the right skills at the right time, so that progress is smooth and steady and enjoyable!

We won’t guilt-trip you. We get that life happens. (Really. We know what it’s like to eat a whole tub of ice cream in a sitting. More than we’d like to admit.) When you take the occasional step backwards, we’ll be right there with you to help you reframe, refocus, and move forward without worrying about the past.

We won’t make you feel embarrassed. In fact, all we want to do is make you feel great. We keep focused on the positives. When challenges arise, we focus on your strengths to create a plan to get around them without you feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed. Comfortable, confident, and a little bit challenged is the name of the game.

We won’t tell you to do something you don’t want to do. You are the expert in your life, your abilities, and your body. Sometimes we might give you a little push in one direction or another, but you always have the final say in every decision. Our goal is to help you figure out how healthy is made easy for you. 

By listening to what doesn’t work, we’ve learned what does. We’d be thrilled to give you the support and tools you need, and keep you excited about the process of making progress! If you think HealthFit health and fitness coaching sessions sound right for you, we can meet you face to face around Brisbane,  or online anywhere, anytime. Contact HealthFit here to set up an obligation-free consult call and take the first step towards feeling great!

 


Walking along coronation drive in Brisbane

Stress-Busting Moves: Exercise for Stress Management

I was chatting with a client yesterday who mentioned that she might not get another session in before the new year. She’s been working hard for the last several months, and has had a significant mindset change – regular low-intensity work outs, a shift in eating habits, managing her stress levels like a pro, and with a great plan for keeping up with health choices while out of routine.  I think a couple of months “on her own” will be a great way to figure out what’s left to work on – if anything!

Not all of us are headed into the holiday season quite so prepared though. No matter how much you love the holiday season, it can be a stressful time. Family is great – but not always. Holiday foods are delicious – but easy to go overboard with. Add that to a disrupted routine and a bunch of extra chores/jobs/travel to juggle and stress levels can skyrocket.

Researchers have looked at stress management and a wide variety of exercise types, intensities, and frequencies  – what you do, how hard you work, and how often you do it. The results are pretty awesome: it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something. Exercise has a significant positive impact on mental, emotional, and physical stress and health. So pick one of these stress-reducing workouts (the one that sounds most appealing) and give it a try. You’ll feel better, brush off the stress more easily, and maybe even look forward to the holidays a little more!

Cardiovascular Exercisewalking the dog

Walk, jog, run. Ride your bike, paddle your kayak, jump on your unicycle. Take the dog out for a cruise around the block. Steady, rhythmic movements are the hallmark of cardio work.

The stress-busting benefits of cardiovascular work come when you get your heart rate up. But that doesn’t mean you have to break a sweat! Even a small increase, like one you would get with going for a walk, is easily enough. Aim for a minimum of 10 minutes, but go for a little longer if you want greater benefit. This can be any combination of slow, steady work or interval training. No matter your current fitness, this can be an option for everyone!

Strength Training

Same heart rate rules apply with strength training. This is essentially interval training, with periods of harder work alternating with easier work or rest (assuming the weights you’re lifting are a bit challenging). Find a heavy thing. Pick it up. Put it down. Repeat, then rest. Choosing exercises that use multiple joints give you a little more bang-for-buck, but anything works. Plus, feeling strong is an awesome feeling!

yogaYoga/Tai Chi/Pilates

People jump in here to tell you that these types of exercise are different. It’s true that they are different in their methods and approaches, but they are all movement. These types of exercise are often slow and deliberate, with an emphasis on breathing and a mindful approach to how you’re using your body. (This is a really powerful way to build body awareness, which is a great tool to managing your own health.) The mindfulness of these movements is one of the greatest benefits. Focusing on your breath and movement keep you from thinking about any other stressful things. It’s a zero-sum game and I like it!

Stretching

Done correctly, stretching should be mildly uncomfortable, enough so that holding feels fairly intense (without being so horrible that you want to quit). If you want a stress-busting stretch, stretch your muscle until you feel that comfortable-but-challenging stretch, and breathe deeply and slowly with an aim to relax that muscle. You’ll feel the stretch melt away, and might even be surprised by breaking a sweat. Please remember though: there is such a thing as too much stretch! Aim for a maximum intensity of 6-7 out of 10 to keep your muscles lengthening without damage.

For stress management, you can do as much or little exercise as you like. Even a minute of two of taking time our for a quick stretch or a walk down the block can help clear your head and drop your blood pressure. This list is certainly not exhaustive though. What are your favorite stress-relieving moves? I’d love it hear it!


wooden stairs that are good for running or walking for fitness

Healthy Made Easy: Avoiding Effort Overload

I’ve been in the health and fitness industry for over 10 years, and in that time I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. I’ve had the opportunity to chat with a lot of these people. Most start off excited and enthusiastic – this is their third time starting, and this time they’re really gonna do it! They tell me about going to the gym and going on a diet. And a large number of them end up going nowhere with it. It’s heartbreaking, since they’re all up against the same challenge.

I call it Effort Overload.

It’s the wide-spread idea that healthy living is all water bottles, gym time, and meals in Tupperware, with no nights off or pizza with a glass of wine in sight.  This sort of “healthy” lifestyle isn’t so (mentally) healthy for most of us, since it usually means a LOT of change in a short period of time. Coupled with a lot of “I don’t really know what I’m doing…” and “Is my body supposed to be this sore or am I injured?” and “No thanks, I’m just going to have this lettuce for lunch”, healthy living all of a sudden seems hard and unappealing. It’s totally understandable that people decide that they’ll take the long-term health risks in order to put an end to their Effort Overload. It’s just too stressful.

In truth, taking much smaller steps towards a healthy lifestyle actually has a much greater rate of long term success. This is way easier on our brains, and in the HealthFit Coaching process, is actually designed to be NOT stressful. We help you break healthy choices down into steps so small that you might feel almost silly not taking them. Not to make you feel silly, but to help you feel like you’re actually getting somewhere!

Since there are many potential changes most of us could make to improve our health and fitness, we work to have a deep understanding of what will suit you best. Some of the questions we ask to help determine your steps:

  • What kind of things do you like to do in your spare time?
  • What are the healthiest choices you are making for yourself, right now?
  • What might you need to do to prepare to take the next step towards better health and fitness?
  • What are your biggest challenges in making healthy choices for yourself and your family?
  • Who are your strongest supporters in making healthy choices?

It’s always easier to keep moving forward when you have some momentum behind you, so we make sure to look at what’s already going well for you and build on that. Effort Overload is avoided by keeping the focus on one step at a time – the easiest step you can make, until that step has been mastered and it’s time for the next. Enough small steps, after all, lead to great progress.


Small Win Saturday: I’m A Quitter!

Small wins are the little things that give us a (big) boost, and lots of small wins add up to big changes and powerful breakthroughs. Small Win Saturdays are where we share a tiny-but-awesome thing that happened to a HealthFitter or a HealthFit coach in the last week. Try it out for your a mental or physical boost, or share own your small win in the comments!

I Quit My Gym Membership!

Waaaait a minute. Isn’t HealthFit supposed to be about more movement, not less? Well, yes. But we’re also all about stress management. Paying for a gym membership that I wasn’t using was making me feel guilty as heck, in equal parts for spending the money on nothing, and for actually not going.  And guilt is a sure path to more stress.

I’ve actually been thinking a lot about dropping my membership for a few months now, but I felt like I shouldn’t. I felt like I should go, even though I have really been struggling to find the extra time that a gym workout would take. Keeping the membership was part of the “I’ll get there next week” lie I was telling myself. To be clear, I am still exercising, but I’m finding it way more convenient these days to sneak in a workout at home or go for a quick run than to add another half-hour of gym-commute time into an already packed day.

Once I gave some thought to where the go-to-the-gym pressure was coming from, I realized I was trying to meet some expectation that I had formed for myself: That if I didn’t do this, I was giving up on healthy and that would make me a total loser – and that’s much nicer than what my brain actually says.  As an aside, I had a great reminder from my psychologist recently: it’s mind-boggling how we speak to ourselves, and recognizing it when it happens can actually make a big difference. 

All this guilt and self-disappointment, despite the fact that I’m still practicing what I preach. I’m often slow to act on the opportunities to decrease stress in my own life, but I finally figured out that I could reframe “I should go to the gym” to “I prefer to work out at home”. I’m guilt-free (at least about this!) and have $60 bucks a month to spend on yoga classes that I will enjoy way more!

Small wins can be big wins! What was your small win this week?


Healthy Made Easy: The Power of Habit

Isn’t living a healthy lifestyle supposed to be a lot of work? At best, it’s a boring life full of Tupperware lunches and hours at the gym, right? We say “nah”…


Healthy living does NOT have to be like that. Trust me. Over the last decade, I’ve helped hundreds of people discover that “healthy” can come in many forms, and that healthy choices can be flexible enough to meet your needs and still be enjoyed.

One of the ways we make healthy easy at HealthFit Coaching is through harnessing the power of habit.

Almost half of our daily actions and activities are done out of habit. Essentially, we live much of our lives on autopilot. When I think about my days – how much I absentmindedly click over to Facebook when I’m at the computer, or have a snack as soon as I get home from work whether I’m hungry or not – I can readily believe that I’m this driven by subconscious habit.

Habits are created when you do something repeatedly, especially when they are linked to a specific event, situation, time of day, or other trigger (like getting home from work, in the example above). When you do something repeatedly, your subconscious “learns” the trigger and the action to take. This means your conscious mind doesn’t actually have to expend any energy on deciding what happens next, freeing your brain up to focus on other things.

Our goal is to help you create new healthy habits that will take the place of old, less healthy ones. You and your coach will identify the habits you don’t like, and what aspects of your daily life trigger you to take those actions. You’ll figure out exactly what you want to do instead (it’s all about the details!) and then with the help of your coach, you’ll develop a plan to turn your preferred habit into reality.

Putting your plan into action is the bulk of the work. While it’s commonly accepted that it take about three weeks to establish a new habit, in reality this process can take anywhere from a few days to several months. The good news: We’ve identified the steps you can take to make sure your habit-development timeframe is on the short end of that scale. These steps form the basis of our process, and you’ll have the support of your coach and the HealthFit community the whole way.

In the end, we want to help you make your healthy choices automatically. When you make them without even realizing it, that’s the easiest thing of all.