Suddenly out of routine, you might be struggling to maintain normal habits – healthy or otherwise. Your normal Get up–Work out–Healthy breakfast–Off to work routine now might be Cramming anything in your mouth and Not even thinking about exercise until you’re well into your work day. While being out of routine is frustrating, it’s also a golden opportunity. Create a new habit means changing an old one. With normal habits disrupted anyway, half the work is already done. Setting up new healthy habits just got easier.
So what is a habit?
Habits are automatic actions, a behavior that you’ve done so many times that you do it without any conscious thought. This is a win for your brain; It keeps you doing the basics without taking attention away from things you need to actively think about. An action is truly a habit when it’s done before you think about it. (Like those rather frightening times when you drive to work and arrive without realizing it.)
Psychological research tells us splitting your effort (brainpower) among different tasks prevents you from doing any of them well. This is why multitasking isn’t great for mentally demanding tasks: Your brain never gets into enough of a groove to do meaningful work.
This concept applies to longer time frames too. If you’ve ever tried to change a habit, you know it takes a while. Sometimes a long while. When you split your effort across multiple new habits, it’s a recipe for… not failure, exactly, but backsliding. It is possible to create several new habits at once, but it takes a very long time. Your brain is busy trying to automate all the things! You’re more likely to give up than to achieve.
What to do instead?
Pick one thing to focus on, and do it until you are doing it without thinking. Pick something that is maximum benefit for minimum effort, or the thing that will be easy to implement. It helps (a lot!) if your new habit is something interesting, exciting, fun, or will lead to an outcome that’s really meaningful to you.
By the way: There are lots of Health-Fitness-Wellness gurus out there that are happy to tell you exactly what your body needs. Contrary to all their “expert” advice, you are the expert in that area. A good coach just helps you figure it out!
I’m always harping on about “Eat More Veggies”, because they are good for you.
Right now, eat more veggies might be a bit more challenging than usual, thanks to limited shopping opportunities and people not exactly buying what they need… (Are people hoarding fresh produce? You might actually still be ok on this one.) The whole “going outside” thing isn’t as much fun as it used to be either.
If you’re in Brisbane, I’ve got a solution for you. A good friend of mine is pivoting his business. Hay Gurl cafe is moving from storefront vegan/plant-based cafe to plant-based meal prep and delivery service. No contact home delivery, delicious (seriouslydelicious) food made from so many plants, that you don’t have to cook yourself. Heat and eat is a great option when everything else is not so great. (By the way, I get nothing for posting this. I just love the food and want to support local businesses.)
They make a Breakfast Toastie that I would literally break-and-enter for. Check out their stuff:
When I was in my 20s, I lived with a lady who got up at 4:30am to get to the gym before work. She was a self-professed not-morning person, so one day I asked her how she managed it. Her answer?
She slept in her gym clothes.
Being honest, no one is always motivated to get their workout done. This can be a really hard thing to admit, since our cultural narrative tells you that you should totally have no problems A) being motivated and B) fitting a workout into your day. (Ha!) It’s actually quite difficult to stay motivated sometimes; this is especially true when exercise is a new habit, or when your routine has seen a significant change (hello, COVID-19).
A big part of my job is actually helping people understand that there absolutely can be a difference between what you see in the fitness-related media (magazines, websites, TV shows) and how you actually feel about working out. That is, you don’t have to love it, or even like it, 100% of the time. You definitely do not have to always be motivated.
There are things you can do that help stay motivated, though.
This won’t be the first thing you read to tell you to find something that you enjoy doing. Not surprisingly, this helps a lot. The “no pain, no gain” mindset is not actually a great one. It can be off-putting, and can actually have significant drawbacks. On the flip side, enjoying what you do for exercise makes it a whole less lot like a chore. It doesn’t have to be intentional “exercise” either; some of my best workouts have come from gardening. Take a look at what you do regularly in life that gets you moving, especially if it helps get your heart rate up or gets you moving in different ways than you might normally.
In that vein, thinking outside the box can also be helpful, especially right now when so many of us are stuck in one spot (more or less). Make it worth doing. What can you do around home that gets you moving that you need to do anyway? Lots of bigger household chores can give you a good workout and the satisfaction of getting things done.
Of course, keeping your goal in mind makes a difference too. If you want something badly enough, you’ll make it happen! Which, duh, of course… but you might not realize how much you don’t connect the effort and the outcome, in the moment. It’s so easy to get stuck in the “I don’t want to/This is hard/But I really should do these other things…” and let that derail you. It can be helpful to keep a small reminder of your goal nearby, or near where you might be if you’re putting exercise off.
Lastly, bear in mind that you won’t always enjoy it, and you don’t have to. No one likes to talk about it, but “work” is part of work out. I wrote this piece about staying motivated a while ago, inspired by some of the different things people to do keep themselves going – especially when feeling unmotivated. It’s actually one I go back to frequently in my own efforts to keep on track! Hopefully some of this might help you too.
Cool happenings: HealthFit’s old but popular post about making your own weights for home workouts has been picked up and included in a list at Greatist. It’s very exciting to be included! Especially since there’s some very cool stuff on there. Can you find us?
Many of us are still in the process of finding a home workout routine in these anything but routine days. But this really can be a silver lining: Working out at home is the ultimate in convenience. Who doesn’t like having one less stop to make during a busy day (or one less reason to go outside, right now). One of the main reasons that people don’t do more home workouts is that they don’t have the equipment to they think they need. As it turns out, you need less than you think, and you can make a lot of what you do need. Mostly all you need is a bit of creativity – and now all you have to do is follow directions!
Greatist has a bit of a different take on “how to get fit” – but then, so do we! Their articles target somewhat of a younger crowd, meaning their approach isn’t always suitable for everyone, so use your best judgement. They have a flexible take on health, fitness, and nutrition that I really like, which can be a good starting point for your own ideas. I would normally suggest checking it out on your commute… but maybe check it out with your new non-commute time instead!
Here’s to working from home!…In less than ideal conditions.
Right, so. Working from home is definitely a thing now. Great! Pros include: Fewer meetings that could have been emails, no need to hotdesk, no more time spent on commuting.
Cons: No desk at all? (Also things like not being able to leave the house, etc.)
If working from home isn’t your normal setup, this “new normal” might include plenty of time working on a laptop, jammed into the laundry room at a makeshift desk, at the kitchen table, or – even worse – on the couch with your computer precariously balanced on your knees.
This can quite literally be a pain in the neck.
You are probably well aware that being stuck at a desk all day is a sure-fire way to ramp up neck, shoulder, and upper back tension. This often leads to “knots” and muscle pain, and if left long enough, can give you chronic headaches. All that time spent sitting can also trigger lower back pain and stiffness. It happens to almost everyone at some point. Working from home can create an even greater issue, since most of the time we aren’t equipped with the normal office desk-chair-tech setups that make looking after your body a little easier.
I spent much of each working day with clients to help them decrease their muscle tension, improve their movement ability, and brainstorm ways to get their desk or workspace set up to make the best of a potentially painful situation. Regardless of whether you’re in the office, or in your “office” (kitchen), when it comes to looking after your body, the same rules apply: Give yourself as much physical support as you can, minimize distraction as much as you can, and take lots of short breaks!
Let’s get specific. Here are some of my top recommendations:
Vary your chair. One of the joys of working from home is that you have a whole house full of furniture to use. Use them all. Varying the chair that you spend many hours in will mean that you are A) standing up/sitting down more often as you change seats and B) aren’t stuck in the exact same sitting position for as long as you’re doing the work.
Sit and stretch. You might be stuck sitting at a computer, but you can still stretch. By changing the positions of your legs and chair, you can find ways to stretch out while get stay productive. Some stretches might be harder to hold for any length of time, depending on how flexible you are. Don’t stress if you can’t hang onto it for long, but do try to hold each stretch for at least a minute. You’ll get better with practice!
Set yourself up. The office version of this means lifting your monitor to eye height, using either a deep desk or a chair with arms so that your elbows can rest on something, bringing your mouse closer to your body so you don’t have to reach far, and adjusting your seat so that your hips and knees rest at about 90degrees – which might also mean using a footstool. Our choices at home are often a lot more limited, but the same principles apply as much as they can.
Give yourself “space”. Sounds impossible? What you want to look for is some mental separation between “work” and “home”, which is helped by some physical separation. Ideally that means setting up your work-from-home work station in a different room, but that isn’t always possible. If you don’t have a room to spare, see if you can take your work outside to a porch, veranda, or balcony for the day. Or, set yourself up in whatever space you have, and when you’re done for the day, pack your work items away again so that your space goes back to normal (no, that’s not ideal, but really, what is ideal right now?)
Sit and trigger point. There are lots of trigger point spots that you can work on while you’re sitting at the desk. Try a tennis ball, cricket ball, or big spikey ball under your hamstring (the back of your thigh), sitting with it under your glutes (your bum), or leaning back into your chair with the ball pinned behind you.
“Walk to work”. If you’re stuck working from home but still have the opportunity to get outside, stick to your before- and after-work routines as much as you can. Get up, get ready for work, and then go for a walk around the block to “commute” to work. This is a great way to get a little extra movement in, as well as giving you some separation to get your brain into work mode. Do the same at the end of the work day, so that when you get home, you can relax. You can also take a break from work for a lunchtime walk, the same as you might do in the office, to break up the day and help keep you mentally fresh.
These are just some of a long list of ideas. What are you doing to keep yourself moving?
I’ve noticed a trend in the health and fitness industry, and I bet you have too:
Long waits, and short appointments.
This actually is tough on everyone involved in the process: your health care team, including doctors, medical staff, and allied health practitioners, and of course, YOU.
Part of my success has stemmed from my willingness and ability to take plenty of time to get to know you, your body, what you want and need, and importantly, what a realistic program for achieving this looks like. This is a departure from the rapid turn-around times that are rapidly becoming the norm in health care (and is one of the reasons I really like being the boss!).
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not faulting the medical or allied health community at large. These people got into their work to help others, just like I have. They are often working within larger systems and sometimes under constraints that demand high patient volumes and ever-shortening appointment times. Couple this with the time it takes to clearly explain the basics of any given health condition, sometimes numerous treatment options, potential outcomes and side effects, and it’s no wonder that many patients are confused about what’s going on in their bodies. It’s not an outcome anyone is looking for.
Since I have the luxury of time, I want to use it. My goal for each patient I see is that I give them the gold standard of health care: A patient-centred approach. This means making sure I realllllly understand you. As well providing you with the best exercise and nutrition programs, I want to get what’s important to you, what your priorities are, and what achieving your goals will actually mean for your quality of life. After all, what’s the point of dieting so strictly that you miss out on your kid’s birthday party (or are too grumpy to enjoy it!)??
It also means taking the time to make sure YOU understand what you’re dealing with. I want you to understand what’s going on with your body, how your program will help, and what this means for your quality of life. In understanding your body and how it’s working, you’ll be able to more easily make informed decisions about your health care and fitness. My ultimate goal is that you are comfortable with, and confident in, your own approach to living a healthy life.
In treating you like family, I mean that I’m driven to give the same care and kindness that I want my mother to be treated with. There’s no yelling, no guilt, and no expectations other than what you’ve set for yourself. You’ll get all the time you need to understand your body and how to help it work better, and support to help you fit your new healthy habits into your lifestyle. Really, it’s all about making your program work for you, and feeling great because of it!
This is a great exercise for anyone needing glute activation, hip stability, or core stability: It’s a functional exercise that hits all three – very high bang for buck! This is thanks to the limited knee movement and high hip range of motion. You can control the level of resistance by using a heavier or lighter band. Unlike many other exercises, this has a relatively limited depth through it’s effective range.
Here’s how to do it:
Stand with the band just above the knees, and step back half a step with one foot.
Keeping all your body weight on the front foot, sit down and back slightly with the hips – no more than a quarter of your full squat depth.
Keep a neutral spine as you squat, allowing your chest to “bow” forward.
Make sure your front knee doesn’t go past your toes. Another way to think about this is trying to reach the back wall with your bum.
Keep both hips facing forward; don’t let the “back” hip rotate backward.
Push through the front heel and squeeze glutes to return to starting position.
Push both knees out slightly into the band as you squat and return to standing.
Sleeping well is the most underrated and overlooked thing you can do for your health and fitness. Not only does a good night’s sleep help you feel better and get through your day more easily, it also keeps your body systems ticking along in tip top shape.
According to Sleep: A Health Imperative, published in the journal Sleep, 37.1% of American adults experiencing inadequate sleep; the number of Australian adults is similar at 39.8%, according to a report commissioned by the Australian Sleep Health Foundation.
That’s a lot of people not sleeping well, or enough. And as long as daily functioning isn’t impacted, why not spend more time on work and play? Well, because eventually sleep deficits can catch up to you. And it’s not just feeling it (things like simple tiredness, poor daytime function, and microsleeps) — it’s also your health.
Most research shows that 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night is what will keep you healthy. Less than 6 hours per night will drive a cumulative sleep deficit that stresses cells and changes how the brain (and therefore the body) functions. In turn, this changes the way your metabolism, immune system, and nervous system work. This sets the stage for:
Increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), coronary heart disease, and possibly stroke.
Increased risk of obesity, possibly due to changes in hormonal control of hunger signals, as well as decreased glucose tolerance and development of type 2 diabetes.
Increased risk of numerous types of cancer, including break, colon or colorectal, and prostate, which may be linked to an overall increase in cell damage throughout the body.
Ok, so it’s not good for you – you know that. Does that mean it’s time to make an appointment to see the doc for some sleeping tablets?
Nah. For most of us, good sleep is a matter of making some easy lifestyle adjustments. Start with the easiest and work your way through the list as you can or need to. Everything you do will help!
Make your room dark. Blackout blinds will limit light from outside. Inside the room, minimize any lights (from electronics or other devices), and a trusty eye mask will help if your partner insists on reading in bed.
Keep your room cool. Research suggests that optimal room temperatures range from 16-18°C, or 60-67°F, since that’s neither too cold (keeping you from falling asleep), nor too warm (causing restless sleep).
Make your bed comfortable. Find a mattress that gives you enough space, support, and comfort. The best mattress and pillow will allow you to stay in good posture while you sleep: with your head, neck, and spine in alignment. A mattress that is too soft will cause you to slouch, and a mattress that is too firm will put pressure on contact points like hips or shoulders. Pillows should allow your head and neck to stay in a straight(ish) line with your spine in your preferred sleeping position.
Make your room quiet. Loud or unusual noises will disturb your sleep, which you probably already know! If you live somewhere where this is common, using a white noise player (via specialized machines or simply any number of Youtube tracks) can help mask outside noises and lull you to sleep.
Develop a bedtime routine. When you create a routine around the tasks of going to bed, it helps your brain recognize that it’s time to wind down. This makes it easier to fall asleep, especially if your routine is a relaxing one.
Make your room a haven. Bedrooms should not be multi-purpose rooms; sleep scientists recommend only using your bedroom for sleep and sex. Choose paint, sheets, curtains or blinds, and other decor that you love, and going to sleep will be the best part of your day!
What exercises should you avoid? The Short Answer: None of them.
Ok, like everything in health care, that comes with caveats and exceptions that depend on your personal situation. But broadly speaking, exercise is GOOD for you – no matter your age!
Prompted by a facebook post I saw, I did a quick Google of “should exercise hurt after 40” (what the post itself specifically referred to). I was surprised and disappointed with the search results…
Squats – bad.
Running – bad. (Especially sprinting.)
Overhead shoulder pressing – bad.
Jumping, hopping, and plyometric exercise – bad.
Heavy weights – bad.
This list goes on and on. While there were a few exercises included that I do actually agree with (crunches and behind-the-neck lat pulldowns), that’s true for any age group, not just middle age or older.
In the sample of article I looked at, the rationale behind the exercises “to avoid” is that you might hurt yourself. This is a valid concern. However, these articles vastly over emphasize the risk of injury associated with the listed exercises. In fact, at times the suggestions are exactly the opposite of the recommendations made by numerous exercise science associations like the ACSMin the US, ESSAhere in Australia, or BASESin the UK – just to name a few.
Some of the most common exercises recommended to avoid, once in middle age and beyond:
Rationale behind avoiding this: Plyometrics are power-based exercises based on jumping, hopping, or throwing, all of which involve explosive power, high force production, and have the potential to be very high impact. It’s suggested that high impact could be damaging to your joints, especially if you don’t have a lot of muscle or strength, or are otherwise not used to training.Muscle mass and strength act as the joints shock absorbers and help the body absorb force, spreading it through the limbs and not just pounding it into the joints.
What’s the actual risk? It depends on how high or far you’re jumping or hopping, or otherwise how much “oomph” you’re putting into the exercise. Higher, farther, or faster requires more force, which in turn can lead to higher impact. Remember that impact itself is not a bad thing – higher levels of impact are in part what helps maintain and prevent loss of bone density.
How to do this – safely! Even though plyometrics are high intensity and high impact, they can be done safely with the right prep:
Warm up well with some lower intensity movement (could be on a bike or treadmill, or some easy strength work like body weight squats) so the muscles are best prepared to produce and absorb force.
If you’re new to plyometrics, you’ll still be able to safely do small movements like hopping from one foot to the other, or jumping up onto a small/short box, or jumping over a line drawn on the ground (think of playing hopscotch). Smaller movements help the muscles get better at the quick contractions needed for force production, while conditioning the joints and bones to better withstand impact. As you get stronger and feel better, you can work on going higher or farther.
Lastly, work on controlling the moment of impact – when you land, you’ll want to squat slightly once you make contact with the ground. This “sinking in” is what helps the body absorb and spread force, and is really the key to injury prevention with plyometrics – for any age.
Why you should do this kind of exercise: Developing muscular power helps maintain muscle mass, which naturally decreases with age (starting around the age of 30!). More importantly, plyometric exercise helps the nervous system stay sharp, maintaining agility and keeping your reflexes and reaction times quick. This becomes increasingly important with advancing age – good agility and fast reflexes make it easier to catch yourself if you trip or fall, significantly decreasing your injury risk.
Rationale behind avoiding this: Lifting heavy weights can create muscle strain and joint stress – presumably, anyway. Some of the articles I reviewed don’t even discuss why lifting heavy weights might be bad for you.
What’s the actual risk? The risk of lifting heavy weight is the potential for “too much (stress on your muscles/joints), too soon”. Your muscles and joints can be conditioned for heavy weight, but picking up something really heavy without preparing your body for it does create higher injury risk.
How to do this – safely! Heavy is all relative. In strength training terms, “heavy” usually refers to a weight you can lift five or six times, but not more (and sometimes fewer). For each person, and for each exercise, that weight will be different. What’s “heavy” to you might not be heavy to the person next to you.
For functional strength, a “heavy weights” workout means choosing a weight that you can lift 4-6 times in a set, and still feel like you could have done one or two reps more. As you get stronger, you’ll be able to increase that weight for the same number of reps. If you’re a strength-training beginner, you may want to take a few weeks or even a couple of months doing higher rep sets (i.e. 8-10 reps per set) to help condition your muscles and joints to handle the load.
Also important when lifting heavy weights: Warming up, in this case with trigger pointing or foam rolling, dynamic stretching (stretching with movement), and light weight sets of your chosen exercise(s). This helps prepare your muscles and joints for the heavier sets to come.
Why you should do this kind of exercise: Loss of strength is one of the major factors that limits quality of life and your ability to keep up with it. Heavier weight lifting helps you maintain strength as well as muscle mass. If you lift weights without challenging yourself, you miss out on the opportunity to keep yourself strong and capable.
Sprinting and High Intensity Cardio
Rationale behind avoiding this: Naysayers will tell you that sprinting, jumping jacks, and other high intensity and high impact cardio can cause joint damage and put your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissues at risk for injury. As with heavy weights, this is said to be due to the powerful muscle contractions that create high intensity movement, as well as higher impact loads on the joints.
What’s the actual risk? Way lower than you think. Consider this: A study of 3000 masters athletes with an average age of 53 years, encompassing a wide range of track and field events, found that less than 2.5% of people presented with injuries related to high intensity efforts. That doesn’t automatically mean that you are free and clear to go as hard as you like. After all, this group was studied during competition, meaning that they had been in training for these types of efforts. But it also shows that you can safely train and compete with high effort.
How to do this – safely! Again, as with heavy weights, effort and intensity is all relative. One of the best ways to track your workout intensity is a 0-10 scale of effort (in exercise science, we talk about this as a Rating of Perceived Exertion, or RPE). If you aren’t used to high intensity exercise, ease into this sort of training with just a few short efforts (periods of time, i.e. 10 seconds). You might try include 10-20 seconds of faster walking, running, cycling, or whatever cardio you are doing, at a faster speed or higher intensity, so that you are feeling like it’s a 6 or 7 out of 10 effort. Make sure that you are well warmed up with the right sort of stretches and DIY massage for the muscles you’ll be using. Bonus: If you are planning on getting into high intensity exercise, treat yourself to a remedial or deep tissue massage to get your body better prepared.
Why you should do this kind of exercise: High intensity exercises are great bang for your buck.
You can burn the same amount of calories as a low intensity working in a much shorter time frame, which is great when you have a lot of other things in life going on and struggle to fit workouts in.
High intensity means higher heart rates during the workout as well. In turn, this leads to a phenomenon called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, or EPOC. Basically, when your body is working super hard, it’s using up a lot of stored fuel in the form of glycogen (what carbohydrates are broken down into) and fat molecules. After a workout, your body will still be working hard – to replenish those fuel sources, so you’ll still be burning calories after your workout. The harder the work, the more you’ll burn afterwards.
You’ll do your bones a favor: High intensity exercise (either moderate to heavy weights, or higher impact exercises like sprinting, jumping, or plyometrics) will stimulate your bone to grow stronger, or at the very least limit bone loss. This is especially important if your calcium or vitamin D levels are low (both of these are necessary for good bone density), or if you have or are at risk of osteopenia or osteoporosis.
The Bottom Line
Any exercise can be bad for you, or have high risk of injury, depending on your personal circumstances. However, most exercises can also be safe for you, provided you use some common sense with your approach. Your rules of thumb:
Keep it pain free
Good joint alignment makes for good exercise technique
“Challenging” doesn’t mean “On the verge of passing out” – For weights, this means getting to the end of a set and thinking you could have done just one or two more with good technique.
Pay attention to your body – Difference between hard work and injury
Don’t slam yourself around – Whether you’re doing jumping, hopping, or other plyometric exercises, climbing up the stairs, or using a weight machine, control is the name of the game. If you can hear a thud when you make contact, try to slow down the movement slightly.
Use common sense and listen to your body, and you can have a lifetime of good workout and good health ahead of you, no matter what age you start.
The idea of reaching 10,000 steps on a daily basis is daunting for many people. In the US, one count averaged daily steps at 4800, and in Australia the average hits around 7500 steps per day. That’s a bit of time on your feet – but still well below the 10,000 steps that gets tossed around a lot. It bears asking:
How much do you risk by not hitting your 10K target?
Less than the publicity would make you believe. As it turns out, there’s no real scientific basis for the recommendation of reaching 10,000 steps. Rather, this number likely originated in Japan in the mid-1960s, either as part of a marketing campaign for a pedometer, or based on the name of a pedometer brand. As an aside, it’s reallllly convenient for such a nice round number to be the magic number we need for health. Our bodies don’t often work on such easy numbers!
That said, the number of steps you take every day does have an impact on your overall health. Numerousstudiesshowthat the more steps you average on a daily basis, the healthier you’ll be. This tends to mean that you’ll enjoy a longer life span, with a higher quality of life, than if you average fewer steps on a daily basis. Somewhat frustratingly, there doesn’t seem to be a minimum number you do need in order to achieve health benefits; We just know that the more you do, the better your health will be. As for getting steps just walking around, rather than going for a walk to workout (or other exercise, for that matter)? Interestingly, health markers and life expectancy seem to be strongly linked with just being on your feet more, as a designated workout or not.
In one recent study, the biggest decreases in risk of death occurred when inactive women became more active – even if it was nowhere near the 10,000 mark! Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at the daily step count of about 16,000 older women over the course of a week, and found that in the 4 years following the study, those in the lowest step count group were also the most likely to die. This was found even at the relatively low end of the step count spectrum: women who averaged approximately 4400 daily steps had lower mortality rates than those who took about 2700 steps a day. A higher number of daily steps saw an additional decrease in overall death rates, up through about 7500 steps daily.
So don’t sweat the 10K mark – just get up and get moving!