Find your own way to increased movement: SMART steady steps

“Set goals not for the outcome itself, but for who you get to become in the process.”–Jim Rohn

My husband and daughter recently gifted me with a popular, updated fitness watch to replace the one that I have worn for over ten years. The new watch has numerous bells and whistles that can be quite motivational to encourage movement, healthy sleep, heart health, and so forth.  However, the updated icon, consistent with the former version, tends to focus on unrealistic, outcome-based goals that are not necessarily appropriate for my unique age, gender, body type, and fitness level.  

The gadget, and its programmers, don’t know ME, the individual.  And therein lies the problem in these well-intended gadgets as well as the thousands of fitness plans found, not only on fitness watches, but also found on-line and in-print.  Therefore, in this seventh installment of my “Move into Health” series, my focus is about setting SMART movement goals that focus on your unique health needs and lifestyle.

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It is so easy and tempting to be swept away by programs with tantalizing titles such as, “9-weeks to a bikini bod,” or “8-weeks to your fastest 5-K,” or “Walk your way into a new jeans size,” and so forth, often made popular in January.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these types of plans, I have personally found they tend to set us up for failure when our bodies don’t look like the 19-year old willowy model used in the workout plan, our running pace doesn’t match the 5-K plan designed by a former professional runner, or our jeans still fit the same in spite of all of our best efforts.  

Instead, there needs to be a way to personalize plans in order to adapt to individual health goals, interests, schedule, lifestyle, body type, age, and current health circumstances.  Thankfully, there is! 

This year, consider setting SMART goals that focus on the process of promoting your distinct health needs as a way to focus your movement/exercise habit, rather than predetermined outcomes. There’s no need to make outlandish New Year’s resolutions, despite what the exercise industry would have you believe.  We simply need to take steady, SMART steps.

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SMART stands for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound processes.  

This acronym has been used for years across a wide array of disciplines and settings.  However, I find it just as useful as a tool for leaning into personal movement and health processes. Personally, I find far more joy, and little to no guilt-ridden feelings of failure, when I focus on the process of a goal, rather than a specific outcome of that goal. 

For example, I am currently training for a half-marathon in March; however, this year, I’ve adopted a SMART approach.  Completing the half-marathon in March is specific, measurable, and based on my own current level of fitness, is achievable within the 16-weeks for which I have been using to prepare for it.  What my plan is NOT attached to is a specific finish time or whether I will run, walk, skip, or even crawl across the finish line.  Instead, my focus is about the measure of fitness I will gain in the process.  

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I am no longer worrying about the pace of my jogging or walking; instead, the focus is how I FEEL before, during, and after each workout with a close eye on how my heart rate is responding.  If it takes me twice as long as it takes others to complete a certain mileage, I am absolutely ok with that.  This journey is about the scenery along my path as well as improved cardiovascular health, better sleep, reduced anxiety/stress, and the gift of time to listen to great playlists, podcasts, and audiobooks.

Your goal may not look like mine, but that is not the point.  Rather, think about what process you want to embrace?  Increased movement throughout your day? Improved cardiovascular health? Increased flexibility and range of motion?  Maybe a little bit of all three, or maybe something completely different.  Once you have decided, work through the SMART process to develop your approach.  Take time to write it down or type it up.  There is something about the power of slowing down your thinking, and then putting your thoughts down in some form of print that brings clarity to your ideas.

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Begin first by simply reflecting on your current health status as well as current lifestyle.  What could YOU realistically do to move the needle towards a gentle process of increased health.  Be honest in your self assessment, but NOT judgemental.  Once your idea is clear, write/type your thoughts using the SMART steps:

  • Be specific:  Is your goal clear and defined?  For example, the ability to walk for ____ minutes without stopping, or increased stamina to finish a 5K, or the strength to carry ____ grocery bags into the house independently.
  • Measurable: Can it be tracked or measured? How do you know if you are making progress? If your goal is to walk without stopping for a certain amount of time, perhaps each week you dedicate three days per week to walking, starting with the length of time you can comfortably walk now, and increasing that time by one minute each successive week as long as your body is comfortably recovering.
  • Achievable: Will the process be challenging but attainable?  This is the sweet spot that only you can determine.  For example, given your age and health status, walking a 5K may not be realistic, but perhaps focusing on the process of walking 15-20 minutes may be attainable with small incremental increases in walking time over several weeks or months.
  • Realistic: Is your goal relevant to your life purpose?  For example, my life purpose is to remain mobile, heart healthy, and mentally agile in order to make a positive contribution to others for as long as I possibly can. Therefore, challenging myself with a process of increased cardiovascular health is one of a handful of processes I can realistically develop.
  • Timely: Can you set a date in order to hold yourself accountable to the process? This is why the process of training for half-marathons works for me.  I can choose an event that fits my schedule, and gradually build towards that goal.  Plus, I make a monetary commitment, which I know will hold me accountable.  Along the way, I find ways to celebrate, enjoy, and embrace each little step in the process.  Once the date has come and gone, I will consider my next SMART process that will further my health and ultimately, life purpose.

You do not have to run/walk a half-marathon like me to embrace the process of SMART goals.  The point is to let go of certain outcomes established by others who don’t know you nor have your same values.  Rather, get clear on your life purpose, then ask yourself what you can do to improve your own health towards achieving that goal.  Don’t beat yourself up with unrealistic expectations of others.  Get quiet, get honest, and get “smart.”  With this clarity, you will be able to come up with the best approach for you.

Here’s to your smart version of healthy in 2023.  May you continue to fulfill your own life purpose with vitality!  And, don’t hesitate to reach out, and let me know how it’s going!  I am cheering for you!

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Unwrap your best holiday health: Ways to keep moving from Thanksgiving through those New Year’s Celebration

“Take care of your body. It’s the one place you have to live.”–Jim Rohn

This is my fifth installment of celebrating and encouraging movement for everyone.  If you’ve read my previous pieces, you already know that my goal is fairly simple.  I want to encourage everyone to move more in whatever manner works best for you, your body, and your schedule.  I do not believe in one-size fits all when it comes to fitness and health goals.  Instead, I am writing to explore techniques, habits, and motivations for incorporating more movement into life, even during the upcoming holiday season.

Why should you consider maintaining your movement/exercise routine during the weeks of Thanksgiving through the New Year celebration?  There are many possible reasons, but only you can decide your why(s).  Personally, it allows me to feel as if I have accomplished one positive thing for the day.  If everything else derails throughout the day, at least I exercised–even if it had to be for a reduced amount of time.  However, there are so many more valid reasons.

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Increased movement and exercise is one positive way to combat the stress that often accompanies this season.  Although stress isn’t a disease, per se, it is the body’s physical, mental, and emotional responses to external events, especially change, which often occur from Thanksgiving through the New Year celebrations. High levels of holiday stress can detrimentally impact mental health.  However, being physically active throughout the holidays is a proven technique to significantly reduce stress levels.

Along the same lines, exercise during the holiday season can provide structure to your schedule. If you have already committed to moving more throughout your day/week, and you have already been consistently applying it, then continuing to follow through with that plan builds at least a sense of familiarity and comfort.  Even if you have to reduce your time and/or days for physical activity, there is at least that semblance of reassurance that you are choosing to still take care of yourself, which can increase the likelihood of making another healthier choice throughout your day/week.

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As counterintuitive as it may seem, exercise gives you more energy during the holidays.  Harvard Health explains it this way. Increased movement and exercise increases oxygen circulation, which in turn, allows your body to energy more efficiently and therefore function better.  Furthermore, exercise increases cellular level changes, including augmenting the production of mitochondria inside your muscle cells. Having more mitochondria translates to your body possessing an adequate energy supply.  Plus, exercise boosts the production of the feel-good hormones that likewise make you feel more energetic.

Exercise and increased movement is a proven way to combat anxiety and depression, often associated with the holiday season. Let’s be honest, for many people, the holidays often serve as a reminder of loved ones and traditions lost to the past.  For others, the increased requirements for more socialization, or so-called holiday-expectations, can trigger the desire to curl up in a fetal position and hide until the season is over.  Furthermore, increased levels of darkness often precipitate seasonal affective disorders (SAD), a form of depression that affects approximately 10 million people annually. Physical activity is a proven method for reducing symptoms by releasing endorphins that increase positive feelings.  

Physical activity can reduce increased sedentary behavior associated with late fall and winter months. Colder and/or inclement weather can reduce motivation to get outside and move. It’s only natural to want to stay in and watch sporting events, stream series, or watch old movies while noshing your way through comfort food snacks and often calorie laden beverages.  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these behaviors, too much inactivity is not beneficial to the body, mind, and even spirit.  A commitment to physical activity, even if it is laps around your house on commercial breaks during sporting events or between streaming episodes will go a long way promoting your overall well-being.

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In spite of all of these benefits, it can still feel challenging to maintain that fitness plan or movement goals you have established for yourself in previous months.  However, there are ways that can help you overcome obstacles.  The key is finding the ones that work for you as no one method/approach works for everyone.

Walk, march, or even jog around the neighborhood, if weather permits, or inside your house.  Even walking, marching, or jogging in place is beneficial!  If you don’t have time for your usual amount of time, such as 20 or 30 minutes, break it up into smaller time periods spread throughout the day.  If that isn’t possible, even one shorter burst of activity is better than none!

Consider exercising with an app, DVD, or streaming platform.  There are numerous apps and platforms that are free or reasonably priced.  In fact, you can even look up “holiday themed workouts” on Youtube lasting anywhere from 10-30+ minutes!

Inexpensive, portable exercise equipment are the perfect solution when traveling.

Invest in personal, home exercise equipment for use during inclement weather, traveling, or when short on time. Resistance bands and tubing, jump ropes, and exercise mats  are inexpensive, and easy to transport when traveling and/or visiting family/friends. The bands/tubing come in different sizes and resistant levels and require little training.  In fact, most come with a workout plan or can be found online.

Think outside the box, but keep it simple: 

  • Wake up 15-20 minutes earlier for a short movement period.  
  • Be mindful of the number of steps you take throughout the day, and challenge yourself to complete more than the day before.  
  • Wear exercise shoes when shopping and add power walk breaks in between stores or consider more frequent walks to your parked car after a store visit to stow away bags. 
  • Rethink your lunchtime, if your job allows, and use it as an opportunity for a short walk.
  • Challenge a fitness buddy to hold each other accountable to a realistic daily or weekly goal.
  • Complete bodyweight exercises throughout the day, such as push-ups against desk, body weight squats and lunges, chair tricep dips, twists, stretch, and so forth.  You might get a whole body workout by the day’s end!
  • Set realistic expectations and plan accordingly.  Consider reducing time/numbers of days per week, and then make a commitment to those.
  • Make movement part of the family/friend traditions if possible.  A family walk or dance session after a big holiday meal can not only improve digestion, but take the edge of any accumulated stress.
  • Make a holiday playlist.  It doesn’t have to be holiday music.  Instead, create a special playlist that motivates you when your energy is low.
  • Make sleep a priority too.  A well rested body moves with greater ease.
  • Hydrate consistently.  (Think of all the added sodium in those holiday treats.)

The holidays do not have to derail your exercise/movement routine.  There’s only one you and one body in which you live.  Therefore, think of physical activity during the holidays as the one gift you can give to yourself.  With a bit of flexibility, creative thinking, and determined mindset, you can continue to unwrap better health, one step, or choice of movement, at a time. 

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Good Fitness Doesn’t Have to Cost an Arm and a Leg

To enjoy the glow of good health, you must exercise.”–Gene Tunney

For the past two months I have written a couple of pieces focused on the importance of incorporating movement into your life.  It is my belief that movement benefits everyone and can add years to your life and life to years.  Therefore, this month, I’d like to blow open the myth that fitness requires a gym or club membership and/or requires special, and often, expensive equipment.  Rather, I’d like to shed light on free, nearly free, and budget friendly ways to increase movement and exercise.

Remember, in a capitalistic society, corporations and businesses want to make money.  Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but my point is that you do not have to buy into all the slick and pretty packaged marketing!  As a consumer, you DO have choice.  So when those social media pop-up ads try to convince you that you need this “exclusive, just-for-you, one-time only offer” for a studio/gym membership or the “latest, greatest, in-debt-til-die exercise equipment, you absolutely have my permission to walk away—for real.

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In fact, walking, according to both the Mayo Clinic and University Hospitals 

Network is considered, “just as good as any other form of exercise.”  Of course, walking at a steady pace for a given period of time is the best, but all forms of walking count towards your overall health.  Walking for exercise is free, all you need is a supportive, comfortable pair of shoes.  It can be completed solo or with friends.  Plus, it can be completed in a multitude of  indoor and outdoor sites.  However, walking isn’t the only inexpensive way to increase movement and exercise into your life.

You can do housework or yard work as a workout.  Cue your favorite up-tempo tunes, set a timer, if you’d like, and get to work.  Keep moving until the job is done or the timer rings–whichever works best for you. 

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If you have younger kids or grandkids, play with them.  Take them to a park if you don’t have access to a yard.  Better yet, ask them to join you while you walk, bike, hike a trail, or jog.  Play soccer, shoot some hoops, throw frisbee, toss a baseball or softball.  Other options include, but are not limited to, volleyball, pickleball, tennis, golf (make sure you’re walking if you want the full workout), badminton, and so on.  There are so many ways to move, play, and enjoy your kids/grandkids and even get to know some of their friends. Of course, all of these activities can also be enjoyed with friends!

Free workout options include walking, pushups, planks and walking up and down the steps of your house.”–Joe Cannon, MS, certified strength and conditioning specialist, NSCA certified personal trainer

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Make use of equipment at home and youtube videos (or other sites to which you may have access).  With just your body weight, a chair, and stool, you can get a whole body strength workout. You can even use canned goods and water bottles/jugs as “weights.”  Honestly, there are so many free workouts available online that require little to no equipment that can provide fantastic cardio and/or strength workouts.

Two worthwhile items I do regularly use are a quality yoga mat and athletic shoes.  Both of these are versatile and worthwhile investments.  The yoga mat not only can be used for yoga, but it can also be used for any type of exercise that requires time on one’s back, belly, hands, and/or knees.  This one time investment is portable; it can be used on a back deck or patio, carried to the park, or taken along when traveling.  Similarly, a pair of good-fitting shoes are just as versatile.  Personally, I am always willing to invest a bit more for personal service to determine a proper fit for a supportive workout shoe from my local neighborhood running/walking store. (Shout out to Robert’s Running and Walking Shop!) 

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Other pieces of inexpensive equipment to consider:

  • Exercise bands and/or tubing (love these inexpensive items!)
  • Free weights, kettlebells, and/or medicine ball (in light, medium, and “heavier” variations)
  • Jumprope
  • Step bench (can be used both for cardio and strength training)
  • Fitness ball (can be used for a variety of core exercises)
  • Exercise DVD or apps (many apps are free or a low-cost)

Learn to be a savvy shopper.  You don’t automatically have to buy from one place, nor do you need to purchase items all at once.  Gradually add pieces, and consider purchasing used items on Amazon, eBay, Facebook market, Goodwill, and consignment shops.  I am often amazed at what I find at both Goodwill and consignment shops for next to nothing.

Budget friendly pieces of exercise equipment can be gradually added to your collection. You can even build your own step bench.

Personally, I love to find free fitness plans on-line, and modify them to fit my age/fitness level.  There are so many good sites, many of which I outlined in a previous article.  Once you find a plan you like, there are no decisions to make.  Simply follow the outlined plan for the set-number of days/weeks.  Your heart, mind, and body will thank you.  One word of caution, however, be sure the plan is appropriate for your level of fitness.  You want to set yourself up for success, so choose wisely.

Other budget-friendly tips include:

  • Split a gym membership with a friend.  Many gyms offer a payment plan that allows you to bring a friend for “free” for x-number of workouts. 
  • Join walking or running clubs.  Many parks, walking/running shoe stores, and even some malls offer these for little to no cost
  •  Join community gyms.  Many religious centers and some communities offer gym memberships for little cost to no cost.
  • Try donation based classes.  Many yoga studios and community centers offer weekly donation classes that are paid as or if you can.

Bottom line, you absolutely do not have to pay much, if anything, for a quality workout.   Other than perhaps quality footwear, you can absolutely get an excellent workout without spending any of your hard earned money.  Therefore, don’t let budgetary restrictions keep you from putting a little pep in your step and vitality in your years. Exercise your right to ignore those money-mongering marketers, and take charge of your own health AND budget! 

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