Motivating fitness mentors for over-40 females

Last weekend I did a ‘cleanse’.

Not the type of cleanse you’re probably thinking (if you know me at all, you’ll know that ‘detoxes’ and food ‘cleanses’ are not exactly my thing ;-) ).

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A social media cleanse.

As a fitness professional, blogger and freelance writer who’s fairly active on social media, I subscribe to a lot of fitness and nutrition websites. I also  ‘follow’ a ton of Facebook pages and Twitter and Instagram accounts. Mostly to stay on top of the latest research and trends in my field but also because I too, seek motivation and inspiration from other fitness mentors. (Trainers need trainers too, right?).

The thing is, despite the daily deluge of emails and the speed with which my Facebook news stream updates with ‘fresh’ material, only a small proportion of the content delivered to me actually serves its purpose; to educate, motivate and inspire.

Instead, I found myself confused by contradictory and misleading information. Should I run or lift weights if I’m trying to lose weight? fasted cardio; yes or no? 

Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of exercise and nutrition advice. Everybody’s an expert (with or without credentials) and no two experts ever seem to agree…

Shamed and angered by the “what’s your excuse?” memes. If my priorities differ from yours does that make them ‘excuses’?

And weary of seeing photos of chiseled and buff 25-year old abs-in-training for a fitness competition. After three pregnancies, this almost 48 year-old will never see abs like those again and doesn’t believe they have anything to do with her level of fitness or self-worth. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with fitness competitions or bikini shots, if that’s your thing ;-)

I realized that much of the content I was seeing was not written with me in mind. An intelligent, educated 47-year old mother of three who works both in and out of the home, enjoys exercise as much as she enjoys chocolate and craft beer and aims to fit fitness into her life, rather than life around the gym…

fitness mentors for over-40 females

Why yes, I did sample them all!

It didn’t address my goals. To remain strong, healthy, vital and energetic and be able to enjoy the physical activities I love for a long time to come. 

It didn’t jive with my fitness philosophy. Find a form of exercise you enjoy and do it consistently and progressively, with just enough intensity to move you toward your goals.

It didn’t support the body image mindset I’ve worked hard to cultivate. Exercise and eat well because you love how it makes you feel, not because you hate the way your body looks.

So I purged. And cleansed. And deleted. And un-followed.

Until I was seeing just the things that lifted me up, made me laugh and generally, reinforced my worldview.

My own personal list of fitness mentors for over-40 females.

Below you’ll find seven of the women that made the cut (there were many more; I’m not that ruthless.. ;-) ). I hope that you find a little motivation and inspiration in this list AND will share your favourite health and fitness mentors in the comments section at the end of the post.

  • Fun and Fit twins Alexandra Williams and Kymberly Williams-Evans – Using wit and wisdom, Alexandra and Kymberly share their life-long love of movement and exercise, uniquely tailored to mid-lifers and baby boomers (AND they teach group step; what’s not to love?).
  • Meg Root of Wellness Feels Good – Meg’s whole-person approach to fitness and wellness and her focus on making small choices to help move you towards your goals resonates with this busy mom (who sometimes is challenged with prioritizing herself…).
  • Go Kaleo’s Amber Rogers – Her tagline says it all, “Sanity in health and fitness”. Strong and outspoken against ‘fitspiration’ photos (#takebackfitspo ), Amber is a woman I’d LOVE to work out with!
  • Josie Maurer of Yum Yucky – Any woman who has four kids, loves to cook, bake and eat and still finds time to create and share fun workouts with her followers is a woman after my own heart. Her Facebook posts almost always brighten my day; thanks Josie!
  • Carla Birnberg and Roni Noone both individually and more recently, as co-authors of the soon-to-be-released book “What You Can When You Can – Healthy Living on Your Terms” – #wycwyc is more than a hashtag, it’s a movement, a mindset, and a lifestyle aimed at harnessing the power of small steps (small but CONSISTENT steps, right ;-) ). And the trailer for the book? Too fabulous not to share…

 

If YOUR list of fitness mentors for over-40 women includes Fitknitchick you’ll want to add your name to my email list. It’s the only way to ensure you never miss a post and stay ‘in the loop’ about my upcoming program offerings!

3 weeks to new fitness and nutrition habits | The 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp

new fitness and nutrition habits - fitknitchick.comWe all start new exercise programs with the highest of hopes. Hopes that this time we’ll actually enjoy working out. Hopes that nothing will ‘come up’ and get in the way of our workouts. Hopes that that old college injury won’t flare up again. Hopes that finally, this time around, exercise will ‘stick’.

Sticking with an exercise and nutrition plan requires that you create new habits and develop new mindsets. Healthy new habits to replace the old habits that are no longer serving you. Positive new mindsets that acknowledge the non-scale related benefits of exercise and clean eating.

Most people who start a new exercise program fail to make it to the third week. Often times, they start off with a bang. Ambitious exercise schedules are created and complete diet overhauls planned. After missing a workout or three and succumbing to an evening of beer and chips they give up, convincing themselves that this wasn’t the right time to start a new program and that next month will be different.

In order to succeed, people needed assistance with consistency, motivation and forming new habits around exercise and nutrition.

That’s why I’ve created the 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp. A downloadable, self-paced exercise and nutrition program to help you build new fitness and nutrition habits.

 

new fitness and nutrition habits - fitknitchick.com

 

The program’s mission? To help both newcomers to exercise and those returning to it after injury, illness or plain old ‘time off’, develop new fitness and nutrition habits. Habits that will in turn, help them in their desire to become long-term, independent exercisers.

The program is 3 weeks in length and includes:
  • weekly workouts; 2 strength, 2 cardio and one flexibility (each with two different levels of difficulty/intensity; one for beginners and one for intermediate exercisers), illustrated descriptions of all exercises and a blank, downloadable template to record workout details on
  • daily emails; for accountability, motivation and inspiration (it’ll be just like I’m perched on your shoulder encouraging you to re-commit daily)
  • nutritional information; information about healthier food choices, macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fats), portion sizes and meal planning (note that this program does not include a personalized meal plan)
  • recipes; some of my favourites as well as links to Pinterest boards I’ve created to support the nutritional needs of regular exercisers
  • a support group; participants can meet and share their experiences with the program in an ‘invite-only’ Facebook group (as this is a ‘stand-alone’ program, I do not offer individualized coaching to participants, but do check into the Facebook group every few days to see what’s happening)

Note that this program is self-paced. No need to wait for an official start day. You start the program when you want, with the first email arriving in your inbox within a day of registration.

RegisterNow

For more information about the program, what past and current participants of my online programs have to say about me and a link to the registration form click through to the following pages;

Questions? Feel free to email me directly (tgrand@telus.net) with any questions or concerns you have about the program.

But please don’t ask ‘will this program work for me’; my standard answer to this question is ANY program will work for just about ANY body, as long as they’re willing to commit to the process…

 

RegisterNow

Calories burned during exercise | should you include them when you track food?

Whenever I start working with a new client whose primary goal is weight loss, I assign her the task of food tracking. Before I can suggest changes to her diet, I need to know what she’s currently eating.

calories burned during exercise

An exemplary client ;-)

 

Most of my clients use online food tracking software, with MyFitnessPal being the most popular choice, by far. Because MFP also allows users to ‘earn’ extra calories via exercise, the question ‘Should I track the calories burned during exercise?’ inevitably arises.

The question is a good one because weight loss depends on creating a net caloric deficit; to lose weight, one must consume fewer calories than are expended during the day. (Typically, a 500 calorie a day calorie deficit will result in a one pound weekly weight loss).

In a perfect world, where accurate measures of caloric intake and expenditure are available to all, my answer would be;

Yes! Track your workouts with as much care as you track your food and adjust your daily net calorie intake in a way that’s sustainable, well above your basal metabolic rate and on track for a 1-2 pound per week weight loss.

Because we live in a world full of imprecise estimates and frequently invalid assumptions, however,  I typically recommend that newcomers to food tracking focus solely on the ‘calories consumed’ part of the equation (at least until we’ve obtained enough information to create a weight loss plan).

[If food tracking makes you crazy or you aren’t sure how to get started, click through to read last week’s post “Food Tracking Tips: Lose Weight Without Losing Your Sanity”]

Why? People have a tendency to underestimate the number of calories they consume (think that was really just a tablespoon of peanut butter? did you measure it? if not, I bet it was more…) and over-estimate the number of calories burned during exercise (especially if they use the estimates displayed on most cardio machines or reported in standard ‘calories burned during exercise’ tables).

Once food tracking is well-established (and perhaps only used periodically to ‘check-in’) and exercise has become a regular part of a client’s day, the question of whether to measure and incorporate calories burned during exercise into the daily energy plan becomes relevant for two reasons;

  • to ensure that she’s not eating fewer calories than required by her body for daily maintenance (known as ‘basal metabolic rate’ or BMR) and
  • to determine how many calories can actually be consumed while still losing weight.

The first is important because long-term under-eating tends to undermine weight loss via it’s lowering of the body’s rate of calorie burn. Eating below BMR teaches the body to conserve energy and be all-too-eager to store excess calories as fat (when one inevitably returns to a more ‘normal’ pattern of eating).

The second is important because cutting calories is challenging enough without feeling ‘hangry’. If exercise allows you to consume an extra 200 calories a day and still lose weight in a safe and sustained manner, why deprive yourself?

calories burned through exercise

Tell me that I’m not the only one who’s felt this way…

 

The challenge now? To actually figure out how many extra calories you can eat in a day, as a consequence of exercise.

Many users of online trackers simply use the options provided to them by the tool itself. For example, MyFitnessPal allows you to choose from a list of exercise activities (both strength and cardiovascular), indicate how long you performed the activity and provide details about reps, sets and loads (for strength workouts) before giving you an estimate of calories burned during exercise.

tracking calories burned during exercise

Just a few of the options MyFitnessPal provides for tracking your workouts

 

There are several difficulties with this approach:

  • estimates are just estimates and may not apply to you. Online calorie trackers typically  consider only your weight and the duration of an activity to generate an estimate of caloric expenditure. This estimate is based on the average number of calories burned by thousands of other similar-weight people performing the same activity for the same duration. Without knowing the error of the estimate (a statistical term that should be provided for all averages…), you can’t know how wildly your actual calorie expenditure might differ from the published value.
  • Exercise intensity is rarely considered  and when it is, it’s measured subjectively. Most of the activities included have generic, intensity-free labels; ‘Running’, ‘Yoga’, ‘Spinning’ (and my personal favourite, ‘Wii Bowling’). When intensity-modifiers are included, it’s up to the user to decide whether their activity was ‘moderate’ or ‘vigorous’. As a Bootcamp instructor, I know that one person’s ‘vigorous’ is another person’s ‘light’ (especially when it comes to Burpees and Box jumps…). And I bet that my definition of ‘light housekeeping’ is substantially ‘lighter’ than yours ;-)
  • calories burned during strength training depend on more than just sets, reps and load. Depending on the amount of rest time between sets, the tempo of the lifts and whether the workout has triggered an ‘afterburn’ effect (that is, whether they’ll continue to burn calories at a rate higher than usual for the remainder of the day), strength training can be more or less energetically costly than indicated by published tables and online calculators.

Rather than have my clients (inaccurately) estimate the number of calories they burn during each and every workout (and potentially undermine their weight loss goals), I prefer to individually tailor their daily recommended calorie intake to their weekly workout frequency and intensity.

I do this by;

1. calculating BMR (you can calculate your own here >> MyFitnessPal’s BMR calculator; MFP uses the Mifflin-St. Jeor equations to estimate BMR which is believed to be more accurate than the more commonly used Harris-Benedict equation)

2. calculating daily caloric needs based on weekly workout frequency and intensity (you can calculate your own here >> ACE’s Daily Caloric Requirement calculator. I typically generate two values for this number; one using the client’s reported weekly workout frequency and intensity and the second using the multiplier for a slightly less intense workout week, just in case ;-)  ).

3. comparing both numbers and choosing a value somewhere between the client’s BMR and Daily Caloric requirement that’s in line with their weight loss goals. I have my client enter this number in MFP (or whatever tracker they’re using), over-riding the program’s calculated daily calorie goal (not sure how to do this? see the imbedded video at the bottom of the post for a quick tutorial). We then work towards this target for a few weeks, paying attention to energy levels, feelings of hunger and satiety, quality of sleep and measurable weight loss. If need be, we alter it by 100 calories or so and repeat.

While this approach isn’t error-free, it fits nicely with my general approach to fitness and nutrition;

Figure out the smallest possible change you can make and still see results.

Not to mention all the time it’ll free up by saving you from having to enter your daily workouts in your food tracking software!

Do you account for calories burned during exercise in your food tracker?

Do you find that knowing how many calories you burned during exercise tempts you to ‘eat back your calories plus more’?

Not sure how to change your daily goals in MyFitnessPal? Watch the short clip below (and note that I’ve also indicated a way to change macronutrients too), then ‘Subscribe’ to my YouTube channel to stay up-to-date on my video offerings!

Using the stages of change model to adopt new fitness and nutrition habits

Change is hard.

Whether it’s getting started with exercise, cleaning up your diet or giving your website a facelift (hint, hint…), changes worth making don’t happen overnight.

stages of change

And the best way to start implementing change depends on how ready you are to make it.

Despite all the motivational social media memes telling you to ‘just do it’ and ‘stop making excuses’.

And the best intentions of friends telling you that ‘the only workout you’ll ever regret is the one you didn’t do’ and that you should just ‘pull up your big girl panties’ and get on with it.

If you’re not truly ready to make change, you can’t and you won’t. It has nothing to do with willpower or excuses or fortitude and everything to do with mindset and mental preparedness.

The transtheoretical model of behaviour change (also know as the ’ stages of change’ model) is used by counsellors, psychologists and fitness professionals alike (including yours truly…) to assess an individual’s readiness to act on new behaviours. By knowing which stage of change (Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action and Maintenance) a person is currently in, we can identify strategies that are relevant, appropriate and most likely to be successful at guiding them towards action.

If you’re struggling with starting a new exercise program or making changes to your nutrition plan, take a minute and read the descriptions of the five stages of change below. Check out the suggestions I have for actions you can take at each stage to help you move forward and beyond the stage you’re currently stuck at. You can use these same suggestions to help a friend who’s been trying to improve their fitness and health as well!

Stages of Change

Stage 1: Precontemplation (Not Ready)

‘Precontemplators’ have no intention of altering their behaviour in the near future. In fact, many are unaware that change would benefit them at all! I don’t tend to see very many people in this stage of change; they aren’t typically the ones looking to hire a personal trainer :-)

If you suspect that you’re stuck in Precontemplation (it’s actually tough to self-assess this one…), focus on educating yourself about the benefits of exercise and healthy eating. Work on becoming more mindful of the choices you’re making right now and focus on the consequences of your actions. Begin to notice patterns between behavioural choices and how they make you feel.

Currently in stage 1? You might find these posts helpful >>>

 Stage 2: Contemplation (Getting Ready)

‘Contemplators’, while more aware of the benefits of making a change than ‘Precontemplators’, are still relatively ambivalent about taking action in the very near future. While they’re usually aware of the benefits of change, they still see as many ‘cons’ as ‘pros’. Moving forward requires encouragement to reduce the ‘cons’ of changing their behaviour.

If you’ve been ‘Contemplating’ starting a new exercise or nutrition program for six months or longer, your best chance of success is to surround yourself with people who have already made the change you desire for yourself. Spend time with friends who are physically active and interested in healthy eating. Ask for (and be receptive to) their encouragement. Identify the hurdles (both physical and mental) that are keeping you from getting started and actively work to eliminate them.

Stage 3: Preparation (Ready)

People at this stage are ready to start taking action, typically within the next month or so. They’re willing to take small steps that they believe can help them make the healthy behavior a part of their lives.

For example, they may tell their friends and family that they want to change their behaviour. They may join a gym or start a Pinterest board of healthy recipes. They might start reading nutrition labels and going for a daily walk. Most of my new clients are in the ‘Preparation’ stage. Reaching out to a fitness professional is often one of the first action steps they take.

If you find yourself in ‘Preparation’ mode, let other people know. Sharing your plans with trusted friends increases your chances of success. Identify one or two small changes you know you can be successful with. Think about possible roadblocks to success and map out a plan for dealing with setbacks.

The number one concern at this stage is fear of failure. Have a plan in place for those inevitable days when you miss a workout or ‘mess up’ your nutrition plan. The more prepared you are, the greater your chances of success.

Does stage three sound familiar? One-on-one health coaching is perfect for you >> Online Fitness Coaching with Fitknitchick

Stage 4: Action

If you’ve already started implementing small changes and are ready to keep moving ahead, you’re well into the ‘Action’ stage. The biggest challenge you face is fighting the urge to slip back into old behaviour patterns. Strengthening commitments to exercise and healthy eating are super important, as is understanding your ‘why’ (the real reason you want to make changes to your behaviour).

People in this stage progress by being taught techniques for keeping up their commitments such as substituting activities related to the unhealthy behaviour with positive ones, rewarding themselves for taking steps toward changing, and avoiding people and situations that tempt them to behave in unhealthy ways.

Action takers; surround yourself with like-minded women. Join my online monthly group training program for 40+ females >> #40plusfitness Group Training

Stage 5: Maintenance

Once you’ve mastered ‘Action’ and regular exercise and healthy eating have been part of your daily routine for at least six months, you’ve entered the ‘Maintenance’ stage. At this point, it’s important to be aware of the types of situations that may tempt you to slip back into old behaviour patterns. For example, stressful times at work, fights with loved ones, social events with certain friends or family vacations.

Again, anticipating challenges, being able to identify them when they occur and planning an appropriate response in advance can keep you from slipping back into old habits and previous stages of change.

Which ‘stage of change’ are you currently in, with respect to fitness and nutrition?

What’s keeping you from moving forward? Share your ‘obstacles’ and ‘roadblocks’ below.

For a behind-the-scenes look at the changes I’ve recently made to my website (including stepping out from behind the caricatures in my old header and presenting my bold, energetic self to the world ;-) ), check out this Vimeo reel documenting the photo shoot I participated in at phoTobin Photography.

A PDA: Tamara’s website redesign from phoTobin photography on Vimeo.

How to stay on track while your trainer’s on vacation

*** Note that the tips in this post apply equally well to the absence of your favourite group fitness instructor and/or your regular workout buddy.

It never fails. You’ve just gotten into a groove with exercise. You’re hitting the gym several times a week and starting to see and feel the results of your efforts.

Then, out of nowhere, your personal trainer (or favourite group fitness instructor or regular workout buddy) goes on holidays.

While you might be inclined to take the week off yourself, there are plenty of ways to stay on track while your trainer’s on vacation.

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  • Pretend she’s there and keep your usual appointment. You know your way around the gym. And while you might miss her coaching (and charming personality ;-) ), there’s no reason why you can’t perform your usual routine on your own. Remember, one of her goals is to someday, turn you into an independent exerciser!
  • Ask her to create a special program for you to do in her absence. Have her include all of your favourite exercises (avoiding movements that require significant cueing) in an easy-to-follow circuit. If you feel confident about your ability to execute the program, you’re much more likely to do it.
  • Find somebody else to train with. This might be another trainer at your gym (a colleague and I regularly step in for each other when the other’s away from the gym and a client isn’t quite ready to train on their own), a friend or just a friendly face from the gym. Reach out to the woman who trains at the same time as you do and see if she might appreciate some exercise company. Read these suggestions for making partner training a success.
  • Try a group fitness class instead. If you’d really rather not set foot in the gym on your own, findan appealing sounding group fitness class and give it a try. Bootcamp, Circuit Training and Body Sculpt classes are all great alternatives to your usual gym workout. (If it’s your group fitness instructor who’s away, go to her class always; I bet she’s arranged a fantastic sub for you ;-) ).
  • Relax. Worse case scenario? You substitute daily walks for your strength workouts and skip the gym entirely while she’s gone. If you’ve been consistent with your workouts for any length of time, a week away isn’t likely to result in much loss of progress. And she’ll be relieved to know that she’s not the only one who’s hurting a bit the first day back…

Share your best strategies for dealing with a vacation-induced training hiatus…

Three Simple Feel-Good Steps to Conquering Consistency {guest post}

Today I have a special treat for you.

A guest post written by my friend and fellow fitness professional and wellness advocate, Meg Root. Meg and I ‘met’ (virtually of course, isn’t that how we’re all meeting these days?) on Facebook by way of our mutual friends Kymberly and Alexandra of Fun and Fit.

We are kindred spirits in fitness philosophy and the route we’ve taken to get there. Her approach to fitness is Accessible, Actionable and Achievable (in keeping with the Alliterative theme of her post…) and ‘Fitknitchick-approved’!

Just like you, I’m a big Fitknitchick fan! {aw shucks, thanks Meg…}

I loved Tamara’s recent post, “Everything You Need to Know About Being a Fitness Success.” Even a seasoned wellness pro like myself benefits from a friendly reminder that there’s no magic bullet for achieving our goals, and that most reasonable approaches work if we stick with them long enough.

Consistency. That was at the heart of Tamara’s message.

That scary “C” word that dangles out in front of us like the proverbial carrot on a stick. The closer we get to it with all our goal setting, program planning, and positive can-do attitude, the further away it slips, pushed by sick kids, overstuffed schedules, and mid-life menopausal mayhem. You even said it yourselves in the comments:

“The consistency part is the tough one.” SR

“Yes, so true! Consistency is key.” Bonnie

“Consistency and realistic expectations above all else.” CF

It’s one of those good news bad news scenarios: Do what you love and the fitness will follow! “Yay, I’ve always hated squats, I can do lunges instead.” But, you need to do it consistently. “Oh yeah, I forgot about that part. I’m too busy this week.”

We all know that until we learn how to nestle consistency inside of crazy—which is life, most of the time—fitness success will always seem out of reach.

That’s why I came up with a few “C’s” of my own to help you stay committed to your fitness journey even in the midst of life’s little (and not so little) interruptions.

This simple system, I call the Three C’s of Wellness, switches up the energy around the healthy choices you need to make, day in and day out, to reach your fitness goals. Instead of viewing them as a chore, or even an item to check off your to-do list before the real fun begins, you tap into the “feel good” potential of your choices, and use that energy to fuel your commitment.

Believe me, solving the crisis of consistency is as easy as 1, 2, 3 . . . Connect. Choose. Celebrate!

Connect

wellness feels goodSet aside your vision of fitness success for just a moment (trust me on this one), and think of a few words that describe how you want to “feel” on a daily basis. Happy? Healthy? Vibrant? Strong? These are some of the “feel-good” words on my list. What’s on yours?

Now, think of something—anything—that makes you feel like those words. Maybe it’s a long, heart pumping run outdoors, or one of Fitknitchick’s challenging Fatblaster workouts. Maybe your workouts don’t take you to that feel good place just yet, and “happy” means a walk on the beach with your family. We can all think of something that makes us feel good. Connecting with the way that energy feels, and bringing it to the choices you make, is the first step to conquering the challenge of consistency. Wellness feels good!

Choose

You make hundreds of choices everyday. Imagine what would happen if you prefaced each one with the question, “What could I do right now to feel happy, healthy, vibrant, strong?” and then made a choice based on that?

wellness feels goodFor example, choosing a breakfast of oatmeal, chia seeds, and blueberries propels me into my day feeling energized and fueled for wellness. Grabbing a muffin and a designer double latte . . . not so much. Sure it’s hard to get to the gym after a long tiring day at work. But you have to admit, getting your body moving has a better chance of reversing feelings of anxiety and fatigue, than plopping down in front of your Facebook feed with a glass of wine. Really, it does!

Begin to NOTICE how each one of your choices either takes you closer to your wellness zone or further away. With practice, you’ll discover that you have more control over the way your life looks and feels than you think.

Celebrate!

When you make a choice that leads to one of those “wellness feels good” moments, Celebrate! Say “Yes!” out loud and pump your fist the way athletes do after making a great play. Don’t laugh—this is based on real science. And it works.

All good habits are validated and strengthened when there is a reward at the end—an acknowledgement that you did well and you’re moving in the right direction. Tapping into the positive energy of wellness makes consistency a no brainer. Feeling good FEELS SO GOOD, you become willing to do anything to hold on to your wellness.

So, Back to Consistency

Connect, choose, celebrate . . . repeat. Filling your life up with “wellness feels good” moments is that simple. And it’s the connection to how good your choices make you feel that keeps you committed in the midst of your crazy busy life.

I agree that striving for fitness success is a healthy, even noble goal. But don’t stop there. Why not shoot for living your best life? That’s what the energy of wellness feels like. It feels good! And when we feel good, we do good—consistently.

wellness feels goodI’d love to hear what your favorite wellness words are, and how you conquer consistency when the pressure is on.

Meg Root loves to write and speak about all things wellness. Her positive, feel-good approach to wellness is a product of years spent living and working at some of North America’s premiere destination spas, where every day feels like a spa day! You can follow her wellness updates on her website, MegRoot.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

The dark side of wearable fitness trackers

*** This blog post evolved out of a conservation I had with some friends in my Facebook community. They have given me permission to share their thoughts below***

Pedometers. Smartwatches. Health monitors. Wearable fitness trackers. They’re all part of the emerging landscape of wearable technology. A landscape which promises to change the way we exercise and communicate with one another about fitness.

wearable fitness trackers

A tracker for every mood…

 

Many will keep track of your daily steps, calories burned and pattern of sleeping. Most can connect with your phone, be it Android or OS. Some can track your heart rate in real time and even provide statistics on elevation gained and distance travelled during exercise.

While I love that more and more people are wearing these devices and becoming increasingly aware of their daily level of physical activity, and that many devices have built in accountability and support communitiesI do think that there’s a dark side to wearable fitness trackers.

I recently participated in a two-week ‘step challenge’ with a dozen other bloggers. Despite my relatively active lifestyle, I finished near the middle of the pack, literally hundreds of thousands of steps behind the winners.

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This experience made me stop and question the general value of wearable fitness trackers.

While I appreciate the potential benefits of tracking one’s daily activity (heck, my favourite way to use mine is as a reminder to get up and move on those days when I’ve been sitting at my computer too long), I also believe there’s the possibility that they may discourage some people from making appropriate fitness choices.

The dark side of wearable fitness trackers
  • Might some people benefit more from them than others? I think wearable fitness trackers are a fantastic accountability tool for those just getting started with fitness (or those who have no idea what their day’s activity looks like). But for those who are already fairly active, the information they provide is unlikely to result in behaviour change. Sure, it’s nice to feel that little vibration when you’ve hit your daily step count and great to see your weekly activity report showing that you’re ‘in the blue’ most days, but are there other ways you can measure your progress that don’t involve counting steps?

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  • Is the emphasis on step count, above all other activity, misleading when it comes to improving health and fitness? Although there are numerous studies linking increased daily step counts with a variety of health improvements (increased weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, decreased blood cholesterol levels, to name a few), the same benefits (and more) can also be achieved by swimming, cycling, yoga and lifting weights. Does encouraging people to achieve 10 000 steps a day (which requires most of us to include at least an hour long walk in our already full days) lead to them prioritizing walking over other activities? Activities whose contributions to health and fitness might be more important to them, depending on age, health and goals.

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  • Is it useful to categorize a person’s activity level by simply the number of steps they take in a day? According to the activity categories of the ’10 000 steps a day’ campaign, many very physically fit people would be categorized as ‘sedentary’ or only ‘moderately active’ only because they choose to spend their daily exercise time doing something other than walking. Take me, for example. After an hour of heavy strength training, I’ll typically have racked up only 1000 or so steps. If I had spent the same 60 minutes walking the treadmill (without building muscle or improving bone density), my count would have been pushing my daily 10 000 steps goal. Given the push to share one’s activity tracker data via social media, there’s the potential for feelings of shame or inadequacy. Or even worse, the feeling like one needs to do more to avoid appearing slothful.

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  • Is there the potential for wearable fitness trackers to trigger the same ‘compulsiveness’ some experience around calorie counting and the bathroom scales? As a scientist, I value data. It allows us to quantify our behaviour and make changes if that behaviour is not leading us towards our goals. Not everyone is capable of such an un-emotional response to numbers. Many people, women in particular, become obsessive about tracking the number of calories they consume and let the number on the bathroom scale dictate their mood for the day (I know, I’ve been there). I believe there’s a real possibility that fitness activity trackers could trigger the same response in some individuals, resulting in a negative effect on physical activity and fitness in general.

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  • Is there a subconscious tendency to consume more calories later in the day because our wearable fitness tracker says we burned ‘x’ number of calories? I believe so, given the ‘how many burpees do I need to do to burn off a Mars bar’ mindset I see so often on social media. Combine this ‘reward’ philosophy with the notoriously inaccurate counts generated by most calorie counters (i.e., they almost always over-estimate how many calories burned and we, as humans, tend to under-estimate how many we consume…) it’s easy to undermine the metabolic benefits of exercise.
  • Are people actually using all the data they’re generating to make changes to their behaviour? While data is great to have, unless you’re actually doing something with it, what’s the point? When scientists design experiments, they collect only the data they need to test their hypothesis (collecting more is expensive and often, it’s impossible to determine outcomes and effects if there are too many variables to include in the analysis). Other than using their pedometers as a reminder to get up and walk around the office, I’ve seen very little evidence that the massive amounts of data being collected are actually changing people’s behaviour around fitness.

I’m curious what a longer term study of the effects of wearable activity trackers on health and obesity will reveal. Given the challenge of working with human subjects (we’re terrible at sticking to plans and have a lot of correlational variables that need to be statistically accounted for), I’m betting we won’t have a clear answer for many years to come…

Do you wear an activity tracker?

Which metrics do you pay attention to and how do they affect your behaviour?

 

Everything you need to know to be a fitness success

High rep strength training, cardio intervals, HIIT, Tabata, Crossfit, Bootcamp, Insanity, P90X, 21-DayFix, hot yoga, barre, Piyo, Zumba. What type of exercise should you do to improve your fitness?

Should you follow a low carb diet? Eat paleo? Attend Weight Watchers? Cycle your carbs? Fast intermittently? Exercise on an empty stomach? Stock up on Shakeology?

With so many options out there, is it any wonder that newcomers to exercise (or those returning to healthy living after a hiatus…) have no idea where to start?

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably tried more than a few of the above approaches. Perhaps you’ve stuck with one long enough to see results. More than likely though, you’ve jumped from program to program, attracted by the ‘next best thing’ and it’s promises of fat loss, muscle gains, more energy, six-pack abs and dropped dress sizes.

fitness success

Shhh!

 I’m going to tell you a secret.

There’s nothing magical about any of the programs I listed above. (Think about it, if there were, everybody would be doing that program to the exclusion of all other programs and those of us espousing a different approach would be out of business ;-) ).

Unless you’re a long-time exerciser with very specific performance goals, it doesn’t really matter which approach you take. Stick with any program long enough and you’re bound to become a fitness success.

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Everything you need to know to be a fitness success

  • It doesn’t really matter what workout program you follow, as long as you follow it consistently. For general fitness improvement, the best thing you can do is find something you enjoy and will do regularly. Take a look at the fittest women you follow on Facebook. Chances are some of them are runners, some are barre fanatics and some lift weights exclusively. There’s more than one path to fitness. Find yours.
  • It doesn’t really matter what diet plan you follow, as long as you follow it consistently. When it comes to eating for health (including weight loss and performance gains), the biggest predictor of success is adherence. Find an approach that you enjoy and can see yourself following for years to come. If it feels too restrictive, it probably is.
  • Own your choices and the consequences. Remind yourself that you have control over every single fitness-related decision you make. Those 24-hours in the day? Yours to spend as you choose. What to put in your grocery cart? Entirely your decision. There’s nobody who can do this for you. The good news? When you’re successful, there’s nobody else to share the credit with!
  • Be confident in the knowledge that you’re the expert of you. Who’s know you longer than you? If you’ve tried a variety of exercise and nutrition programs, you’ll already know which approaches suit your lifestyle best and are most likely to be sustainable. Pay attention to how your body responds to food and exercise. Don’t be afraid to do things differently than the ‘experts’ suggest. You’re the expert of you.
Although I offer an online fitness program catering to the specific needs and goals of women in their 40’s and 50’s, my clients don’t follow a cookie-cutter program. Together, we learn to listen to our bodies and practice ‘being the detective’ to determine our own specific formula for fitness success.
If this sounds like a group of women you need to be a part of, consider joining in for the last two months of the current session. Details and registration info can be found here >> #40plusfitness Online Training Program.

 

Three things my Fitbit Charge taught me {sponsored post & giveaway}

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you probably already know that I’m the proud new owner of a Fitbit Charge.

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It was given to me by Telus as part of their #EveryStepCounts campaign (along with a second Fitbit Charge for me to give to one of my readers… more on that later). To be totally honest, I had no real need or want for the device, given that I already possess two perfectly functional (although admittedly, less attractive) pieces of wearable tech.

What did catch my attention was the possibility of winning one of three Samsung Galaxy tablets (thereby making me ‘supermom’ when I gifted my 10-year old son with it on his upcoming birthday). Fifteen bloggers were invited to participate in the campaign, with the three accumulating the most steps over a two-week period claiming the prize. Given that I lead a pretty active lifestyle, I joined in thinking (mistakenly) the whole thing would be a ‘walk in the park’.  Fast forward to the end of the challenge and notice my position on the leaderboard;

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Sixth place and waaaaaay behind the top walkers (and winners; congrats guys!). While sad that I didn’t win the tablet (and scrambling to come up with another idea for a birthday present), upon reflection I realized that I learned three important lessons from the #EveryStepCounts challenge.

Three things my Fitbit Charge taught me
    • I’m a pretty competitive person (for better or for worse). Comparing my progress to the progress of my challengers kept me going on days where I could very easily have chosen to pass on an after dinner walk. For the first week, I hovered around the third place mark, neck in neck with another blogger. Every time I saw her cumulative step count surpass mine, I hustled to get more steps in. Even when this meant passing up mother-daughter time, an evening out with friends or a strength training workout (this is probably the only time in my life where I prioritized cardio over weights…). About half-way through the challenge I realized that obsessing about steps was undermining my every-day approach to health and fitness, hence the 6th place finish (and the DOMS I’m still feeling from my first day back on the strength training floor…).
    • I am not nearly as active as I think I am. Given that I teach (and participate in) several group fitness classes each week, hit the gym another 3 or 4 times for my own workouts and am on my feet most of the day with clients and children, I assumed that my activity level would be fairly high. I very quickly discovered that without hitting the treadmill at the gym for a 45 minute walk before I started work AND heading out again in the evening for a neighbourhood stroll, I’d barely make my 10K daily step goal. This realization made me wonder how many steps people who work in more sedentary jobs get in a day. And how on earth the leaders in this challenge were racking up so many steps (I’m thinking treadmill desks?).
    • I long to live in a more pedestrian-friendly community. My family lives in suburbia. While I’m grateful for the home and property we’ve been able to purchase, there are no services or amenities a walk-able distance from our home. All three of my children need to be driven to school. The gym where I work, as well as coffee shops, grocery stores and the public library are all 4 km away. The #EveryStepCounts challenge made me realize that I do very little walking other than for the explicit purpose of taking a walk. My husband and I are about 10 years away from our youngest child leaving the nest. We’ve already starting talking about what we’d like our life to be like then. Living closer to amenities, in a more pedestrian-friendly community is top of the list. Someplace where it’s easy to get 10K+ steps a day, just by going about your neighbourly business.

Now for the giveaway.

Telus has generously offered to send one of my Canadian readers (apologies to my US friends) their very own Fitbit Charge.

Enter by telling me, in the comments section at the bottom of the page, how many steps you THINK you get in a day, then completing the Rafflecopter entry form below.

I’ll be closing this giveaway at 12 am PST Monday, February 23rd, 2015. The winner will be notified via email (so make sure you leave one) and will have until 5 pm PST Tuesday, February 24th to respond (otherwise, I’ll choose another winner). Your Fitbit Charge will be shipped directly from Telus, once I’ve handed over your contact info.

Wishing you all the best of luck! And looking forward to hearing what your Fitbit Charge teaches you!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway