Category: Fitness/Personal Training

Our bodies were designed to move.  That is how we evolved as a species. It is only very recently with the technological advances of the past century or so that we started living a more sedentary lifestyle, and it’s killing us.  Sitting too much greatly increases your risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.  Even if you go to the gym four times a week and eat healthy foods, sitting too much will still increase your risk of these deadly diseases.  A recent study published in The Journal of American College Cardiology “indicated that the amount of leisure time spent sitting in front of a screen can have such an overwhelming, seemingly irreparable impact on one’s health that physical activity doesn’t produce much benefit.” In fact, if you sit for more than six hours a day, your risk of heart disease goes up 64%.  The problem is that when we sit down, our body sort of goes into sleep mode like a computer would and, it turns out, too much sleep mode is no good for our bodies.  Our circulation slows down, our metabolism slows down, and the enzymes that help break down fat drop 90%, including the enzyme that breaks down the fats (lipids) in the blood stream, which could be why prolonged sitting is associated with such a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

So, what to do?  The solution is actually not as daunting as one might think.  All you need to do is add more moderate activity into your daily routine and break up your periods of sitting down.  Moderate activity is not equivalent to killing it in the gym, but rather more like a brisk walk.  (For optimal health, you need both, one does not replace the other.)  Some of our sedentary time cannot be helped, like when we are driving.  But time in front of the TV, for instance, is optional and can be shortened.  Also, you don’t have to be sitting the whole time when you do watch it.  You can walk briskly on a treadmill, for instance, while you watch your favorite program.  Alternatively, foam rolling is a great practice you can adopt while watching TV, and it’s much less expensive than a treadmill.  (Foam rollers typically retail between $20 & $40.  It is a great self-massage tool that activates your muscles at the same time.)  You can also periodically stand up and do jumping jacks or squats or lunges.

Many people find that most of their sedentary time is due to their line of work which has them sitting at their desk, in front of the computer for most of the day.  However, that, too, has a pretty easy fix.  All you have to do is get up and move every 20 – 30 minutes.  If it’s helpful, set a timer on your computer to remind you.  It’s not enough to just stand up; you have to move to get the circulation flowing in your body again.  Some other tips for sedentary office work are:

  • If you are doing something in your office that doesn’t require you to be seated, such as talking on the phone for instance, get up out of your chair and pace the room during the conversation.
  • Rather than send an email to your co-worker down the hall, get up and go talk to her.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator if you have one in your building.
  • Take a few 10 minute brisk walks throughout the day.
  • Get a ball chair, which keeps your leg muscles more active, your back more straight, and decreases the risk of getting too comfortable.  (We do not recommend a standing desk, because standing is not moving and prolonged standing without movement carries its own health risks.)

Sources:   NY Times, The Hazards of the Couch by Roni Caryn Rabin

How Sitting All Day is Damaging Your Body and How You Can Counteract It by Thorin Klosowski, Lifehacker

Women’s Health Magazine, Your Body’s Biggest Enemy, by Selene Yeager

In our fast-paced, driven culture, where the competition is fierce, and many of us work long hours only to come home and run our kids to soccer and ballet and Tae Kwon Do, and somehow, someway, get dinner on the table, then help our kids with homework, after which we finish the day with laundry, dishes, and our own “homework” that we didn’t have time to finish at work, it’s no wonder that most of America is sleep deprived and places sleep last on the list of priorities.  “There isn’t enough time for a good night’s sleep,” we protest.  But, here’s the thing.  The consequences of consistent and chronic lack of sleep are too dire to ignore, and too serious not to put forth every effort to make it a priority in your life again.

Chronic sleep deprivation is responsible, directly and indirectly, for obesity, heart disease, lowered immune function, memory loss, lowered learning ability, fatal accidents, depression, suicide, risky behavior, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and kidney disease.  On a short-term basis, sleep deprivation can cause problems with learning, focusing, and reacting.  You may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, remembering things, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change.  You may take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes. So, while our business world is set up to reward those who ‘put in the long hours’, in actuality, the ones who go home and get some rest are more productive and better able to make sound judgments and decisions.

You may be wondering, “How much sleep is enough?  And how do I know if I am getting enough sleep?” On average, adults need 8 hours of sleep, but some operate optimally with only 7, while others need 9.  It varies from person to person.  One way to check if you are sleep deprived is to keep a sleep diary.  Here is a link to a great sample diary, as well as more in depth information about sleep and sleep deprivation:

A quick note about napping and sleeping ‘extra’ on the weekends:  Napping is wonderful, and if you can manage a half hour to an hour nap in the middle of the day, you will wake up with the freshness of morning.  Your quality of work will improve and you will be more productive, not to mention in a better, brighter mood for the latter half of your day.  But, a nap does not replace lost sleep from the night before.  There are specific things your body and brain get from the continuous sleep and corresponding sleep cycles that do not occur during a short nap.  As for sleeping extra, this also does not make up for lost sleep and can, in fact, exacerbate sleep deprivation because regular sleep/wake times are an important component to your body’s ability to get a good night sleep on a regular basis.

The following are some simple steps to help you sleep better:

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule.  Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.  Also, try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. Limit the difference to no more than about an hour. Staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body clock’s sleep–wake rhythm.
  • The hour before bed time should be quiet and relaxing.   Avoid bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen, which may signal the brain that it’s time to be awake.
  • Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. (A light snack is fine.)
  • Avoid nicotine, caffeine, sugar and alcohol before bed.
  • Exercise daily and spend time outside if possible. (Try not to exercise after dinner, as it might keep you awake.)
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.  Your bedroom should be designed as your sleep sanctuary.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.  If dehydrated, your body will respond as though it’s in stress, and stress hormones are “awakening” hormones.
  • Do something relaxing before bed.  Adopt some relaxation techniques, meditate, or take a hot bath, for example.

A recent article in USA Today highlighted two research studies, which showed that when overweight children feel ostracized or left out, they tend to eat more and exercise less.  Both studies were conducted at the University of Buffalo where scientists have been studying the effects of different situations on children’s food intake and activity levels for a few years now.

In both studies, the kids would play a computer game that replicated ball tossing.  One set of overweight and normal-weight children’s characters were excluded or ostracized in the game and another set of normal and overweight children’s characters were included.  For the research study centered on food intake, the children from both sets (excluded and included) had a chance to eat as much as they wanted for about 15 minutes after playing the game.  The overweight children ate 200 calories more when their video character was excluded from the game than when the character was included.  The normal-weight children didn’t eat more when their video characters were excluded or left out.  Assistant Professor Sarah-Jeanne Salvy, lead researcher for these studies, thinks one possible reason for this is that overweight children seek food for comfort after they feel ignored.

In the study that focused on activity level, the findings were that both the normal-weight and the overweight children were less physically active after their video characters were ostracized or left out.

The findings of these two studies speak to a snowball effect that could likely happen for children who are overweight or obese.  Overweight and obese children, unfortunately, are often left out, ignored, or ostracized by their peers in all types of situations, whether they be social or physical, like in gym class or on sports teams.  These types of situations can cause them to overeat and to be less physically active, which will cause more weight gain which, in turn, will lead to more situations of being left out or ostracized.  It is a vicious cycle.  How do we break it?

If you are a parent with an overweight or obese child, it is important to address the emotional issues underlying your child’s weight gain, as well as the tendency to seek comfort from food, sometimes called emotional eating.  For some children, it may be beyond the parent’s scope and ability to tackle this all themselves, in which case it may be necessary to seek the help of a licensed therapist or counselor in order to help your child fully deal with these types of issues.  Also, it would be wise to encourage any and all physical activity your child shows interest in.  They may feel too ostracized by their peers to be ready for any organized sports, but they could very well be up for a hike or bike ride with you, for instance.  Incorporating physical activity into family activities is a great way to increase activity levels in your overweight child.

On the other end of the spectrum, if your child is of normal weight, you could help tremendously by encouraging your child to include those kids who are often left out and ostracized.  It is hard for kids to do this completely of their own volition, because being accepted is so important to children and teenagers.  But if you can instill the important values of being kind, empathetic, inclusive, and non-judgmental, you will not only help the overweight children, you will also help your own child grow up to be a thoughtful, generous, kind, accepting adult.

For thousands of years, we humans lived active, social lives set primarily in the great outdoors as hunters and gatherers and, later, farmers.  It is only in the past few generations that we have become an industrialized society that lives a much more sedentary, indoor existence; an increasingly less social existence as we continue to rely more and more on avenues like phone, email, texting and social media to communicate and stay connected with each other.   It is the exact opposite of what our lives used to be.  Today, through experience and scientific research, we are learning that this is not at all good for us; that, in fact, much of our mental and physical health issues, such as depression, chronic stress, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and mood disorders is caused by and exacerbated by this new lifestyle we’ve been leading these past few years.

I am not advocating a return to the Stone Age, trust me.  There is a lot that we have gained as a species in our evolution from then until now that I would loathe to give up, no matter what the benefits.  Rather, the challenge is now to find the balance of both worlds; to reincorporate into our new, industrialized way of living some of the old ways that we have lost to our detriment.

Recent scientific research has shown that cavemen (and women) were protected naturally from many of the conditions and issues we face today by three key elements of their way of living:  1.) the time they spent outside in nature 2.) their physical activity (exercise)  3.  an abundance of social, human to human contact.  The next question is how do we incorporate more of these elements into our lives now?  I know that many of you reading this post lead very busy lives.  Most of us are way too busy, myself included.  But this is too important to shrug off with “I’m too busy.”  Getting sick, either physically, mentally, or both, will surely make a bigger dent in your ability to accomplish your tasks than scheduling some time to exercise, spend time outdoors, and socialize.  The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a ton of time.  A few (4-6) hours a week will go a long way.

A great way to incorporate these key elements is to combine them.  For instance, you could go for a bike ride, a walk, or a run with a group of friends outside.  To be clear, it is important to be in as natural a setting as possible.  If you live in a city, find a park and do the exercise / physical activity there.  There is also a wonderful new trend of outdoor fitness classes.  They are usually group classes, which makes them social, and they often take place in parks and other natural settings.  For those of you who are in our area, Evolution Fitness of Cherry Hill, NJ runs a great outdoor class every Wednesday and Saturday.  Below is a short video of one of the classes.

Another way to incorporate these key elements is to bring them into activities you already do.  For instance, if you are someone who works on the computer a lot, why not bring your laptop to a local park and do your work there?  If you are someone who already exercises a lot, say at a local gym, why not exercise outside on the days you are not strength training?  You could run, walk, bike, or just do a stretch and recover workout.  If you get together with friends and family on a regular basis (which is great), maybe you could try to do more active, outdoorsy things with them like go on a hike and then have a picnic; or just have a picnic and play a game of touch football or volleyball or soccer.

Another great way to help incorporate these key elements is to do them “in bulk” so to speak.  This is geared more towards the being in nature and socializing elements, as it is not good to exercise for too long a period of time, and results will be best with shorter, more regular workouts.  But, say you have a “free” day, on Sunday perhaps, and you could spend 3 or 4 hours outside with friends or family, one hour of which could be doing physical activity.  That would do a lot to carry you through to the next week, leaving you able to spend maybe only 10 – 15 minutes each day outside, which might be more manageable in your schedule.

In conclusion, there are many different ways to incorporate these key three elements of nature time, human to human social time, and physical activity into your everyday life.   It is of the utmost importance to do so.  It will increase your health and happiness ten fold, and we could all use a little more of those things.  It’s all about finding the balance that works for you.

Here at The Listening Center, we are big admirers of Rachel Cosgrove.  For those who have not yet heard of her, Rachel Cosgrove is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, co-owner of a successful gym in California called Results Fitness, columnist for Women’s Health magazine, and best-selling author of a fabulous book we highly recommend, The Female Body Breakthrough.  (If interested, you can learn more about Rachel by visiting her website

Recently, I caught a video of Rachel on You Tube taken during her visit at Todd Durkin’s gym, Fitness Quest 10, also in California.  The video focused on a talk she gave to some of the members at the gym, focusing on the themes and messages of her book, The Female Body Breakthrough.  At one point, Rachel described for the audience the 3 major components to achieving overall health and fitness.  (Bare in mind, these 3 components apply to men as well.)  She used the analogy of a stool, each component comprising one leg.  They were:  exercise, nutrition and mindset.  If one leg of the stool is weak or out of balance, then the whole fitness stool is off kilter, unstable, and out of balance.  What struck me the most about the talk Rachel Cosgrove gave that day at Fitness Quest 10 was what she said about the importance of one’s mindset:

“… {I} realized the women who really made that change long-term, and lost the weight, lost the clothing sizes, and were able to do it and keep it off long-term, and really change their bodies for their LIFE, were the ones who were able to change their mindset.”

Makes sense, right?  It’s something many of us have learned in some aspect of our lives – maybe not health and fitness, but we can all instinctively understand that lasting change only comes when our mindset has also changed.  Those of you who are Biggest Loser fans have seen this theme play itself out season after season.  Every single Biggest Loser contestant in every single season needed to, at some point, face and come to terms with whatever it was in their mindset that had caused them to become obese.  For some, it was a self-image issue.  For others, it was an emotional issue.  Still others were a combination of the two and even other issues I haven’t touched upon.  Universally, they ALL needed to change their mindset to achieve the lasting success they desired.

A person’s issues with food can often be tied to emotional issues.  Food is a substance that can be abused as a means of escape like any other.  Unlike any other, however, it is not a substance that can be abstained from, as one would abstain from drinking alcohol if one were an alcoholic.  Everyone needs to eat, after all.  This means that you have to completely change your relationship with food, as well as heal the emotional issues that caused your food addiction in the first place.  Sessions with a licensed counselor, ideally one who is holistic in his/her approach and who is open to working in conjunction with others who can also help you on your journey, such as a nutritionist and trainer, could be instrumental in changing your mindset for lasting success.  Some issues run too deep and too wide to grapple with and decipher all on our own.  Getting the help of a therapist during your journey will help create that lasting success you desire.

Another common mindset issue that needs to be changed in order to achieve the health and weight-loss you desire is negative self-image and self-talk, coupled with low self-esteem.  Far too many of us say very mean things to ourselves – and believe them!!  No wonder we feel awful, and hopeless, and discouraged when we constantly tell ourselves that we are fat, and ugly, and sloppy, and lazy, etc., etc.  All this negative self-talk only causes us to turn to food even more for comfort.  Make a promise to yourself right here and now that you will cease the negative self-talk and replace it with positive talk.  You will tell yourself that you are beautiful, and fit, and healthy, and productive.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe it at first.  In fact, you can count on not believing it at first.  After all, you’ve had years of conditioning yourself to believe just the opposite.  However, the more and more you replace the negative talk with positive, the better you will begin to feel and the more you will believe the positive vs. the negative.  Eventually, the negative voice will grow weaker and weaker until she/he ceases to exist.

To sum it all up, changing your mindset is the key to making any lasting change you seek in your life.  While this post has focused on it in terms of weight-loss and health, your mindset is the key to success in any endeavor you take on.  It should be your first priority.  If you find that you are unable to effectively change your mindset, do not be afraid to seek help.

If you were to Google “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”, you would be hit with page after page of people advising you to apply this concept to all areas of your life.  Some will focus more on how it can help you in business, others on its benefits in exercise and health, others for its effect on relationships and social life, and still others on how it benefits you, the individual.  But, while the focus may change, they will all say the same thing:  Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is the key to success.

We are creatures of comfort, naturally.  Most of us resist change because we don’t like feeling uncomfortable.  But, change cannot occur in any aspect of our lives until we leave our comfort zone and switch up the status quo.  When you are uncomfortable, you are pushing your boundaries, trying new things, stretching yourself to do something you have not yet done.  This is the source of growth and change.  In your workouts, for instance, pushing yourself outside your comfort zone translates into achieving that next level of fitness, whatever it may be for you.  In your relationships, being vulnerable and uncomfortable is how you create true intimacy and form new bonds.  In your career and business, taking risks and working on things you haven’t “mastered” yet is how you will grow your business and advance your career.  Being uncomfortable leads to growth and change.  Ever went through a big growth spurt as a kid?  Remember how uncomfortable (and sometimes even painful) your body felt right before?  Discomfort before growth and change is a universal principle that can be applied across the board in all areas of life.

So, how does one get comfortable with being uncomfortable?  Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?  Here’s the thing.  While you will never be completely comfortable with the discomfort – how could you be? – you can become more and more accustomed to “dealing with” the feeling and, eventually, embracing it.  Our normal reaction to feelings of discomfort is to avoid what is making us uncomfortable, to push back and resist it, to procrastinate, or eat too much, sleep too much, drink too much, become moody, and many other unhelpful coping mechanisms.  Instead, try something different next time.  When you feel yourself tensing as a result of discomfort with whatever you are facing in that moment, pause and check in with your body.  Pay particular attention to your breath.  If you are tense, your breathing will most often be shallow and short.  Consciously take a few deep breaths in through your nose, sending the breath way down deep into your belly and lower back.  Visualize yourself harnessing all that nervous and uncomfortable energy with each deep breath.  Then, once you feel more centered and in control, use that newly harnessed energy to follow through and accomplish whatever it was that was taking you out of your comfort zone and into uncharted territory.  One day in the not-too-distant future, when the growth has occurred and you’ve expanded your life, you’ll be happy you did.

TLC Kids Fitness is a youth fitness and nutrition program we’ve developed here at The Listening Center.  The primary goal of TLC Kids Fitness is to educate the children on exercise and nutrition in a fun, hands-on way and, also, in a way that will empower them to continue these life lessons even after the formal training ends.  We have run this new program several times with great success for kids who are currently receiving behavioral health services from a local NJ State funded case management agency.

As many of you who are familiar with The Listening Center know, we are a counseling and wellness provider who believes in the mind – body approach.  We are deeply concerned with the growing number of children in our community who are obese, as well as the trend towards sedentary living we see in youth today.  We created this type of program as a way to help children and adolescents cope with not only their physical needs, but also to help with  their particular emotional and behavioral challenges.  We know from both the leading research of the day and our own clinical experience, that exercise and nutrition play a large role in the emotional and psychological health of an individual, young and old alike.

TLC Kids Fitness is currently run as a 7-week program, meeting once a week for 90 minutes.  The program utilizes the American Council on Exercise (ACE) “Operation Fit Kids” curriculum along with the expertise of our own staff, who hold both ACE certifications in personal training as well as Youth Conditioning Specialist certifications.

Each week the kids participate in an age appropriate work out with two trainers, Coach David and Coach Brian.  Coach David and Coach Brian focus on exercises that the kids can do anywhere, rather than ones that can only be done in a gym-type setting because it is a goal of the program that what the kids learn is sustainable once they leave.  Coach David and Brian focus on exercises, circuits, and exercise games and obstacle courses that utilize little more than the kids’ own bodies.  Another focus for the fitness piece is that the exercises are to be functional.  Coach David and Coach Brian steer away from isolation “body-building” type exercises, emphasizing instead full-body, compound movements based on natural movement patterns.  These are much more effective in getting a person functionally fit.  The over-arching goal of the fitness piece is that it is FUN for the kids.  As any parent knows, if it’s not fun, your kid’s not going to want to do it.

After the kids work out, we move into the next segment – nutrition.  Each week, there is  a different focus.  For instance, one week we focused on walnuts as an excellent source of brain food.  We brought in some walnuts, still in the shell, so the kids could see how walnuts, in their natural state, resemble our brains.  A different week we introduced them to pomegranates in a similar way.  Again, as with the exercise piece, our goal for the nutrition portion is for it to be fun and engaging so that the children leave the program excited about healthy food, rather than with the feeling that eating nutritious food is something they “should” or “have to” do.  The kids also receive a large bag of fresh fruits and vegetables each week. The idea is that this will help enforce what they learn and encourage both the children and their families to make some healthier food choices.

The final piece of this program is the time spent with the clinically licensed therapist, who is present for the full 90 – minute session each week.  As these kids are facing emotional and behavioral challenges, the clinical therapist is there to assist in any situations that might develop, but also to lead group discussions at the opening and closing of the 90 minute sessions.  This time serves to give voice to the children so we can understand how they are responding to the program.  It also helps reinforce all that they are learning.

While this program has been highly successful and it has been wonderful to see the positive change in these kids lives, there are some limitations to the continued success of the program…..not surprisingly, the biggest limit is funding.  This program works best if the child is able to go through it more than once, so a recurring model would be most ideal, allowing for repetition, consistency and true learning and behavior change. This model would also afford the children ample time to develop the ever – important trust and relationship building with the coaches and therapists. Currently, we are seeking grant money for this type of expansion.  If you or anyone you know would like to be a part of this wonderful program that helps the children in our community and speaks to a need that is currently unaddressed, please contact us through our website.

We are also exploring the same type of programming for private practice clients and would be happy to discuss and develop very specific programs to meet your individual and group needs. Please let us know if you have any questions about this option as well.

Jack LaLanne, who sadly passed away just this January, is often referred to as the founding father of the fitness movement here in the U.S.   He opened what is considered the first gym in 1936 in Oakland, CA and before the likes of Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons, he was publicly preaching and instructing on the benefits of exercise and proper nutrition through his talk show that aired between 1951 and 1985, as well as numerous books and videos.  He invented many common exercise machines we see in gyms today, as well as the “Jumping Jack”  – a standard exercise move aptly named after him.  He is also well known for some of his amazing feats of fitness, including swimming from the notorious Alcatraz island prison to San Francisco while handcuffed and towing a thousand pound boat — on his 60th birthday no less.

I didn’t realize until researching this blog post that Jack LaLanne was sickly as a child.  When he was a teenager, he dropped out of school for a year because he was ill.  He was thin and weakly and wore a back brace.  He was also very shy and withdrawn and avoided being with people.  He was depressed and felt hopeless.  He even contemplated suicide.  That’s hard to imagine when all you know of Jack LaLanne is the exuberant, happy, and go-get-‘em person we all loved.  According to him, that side of him didn’t emerge until he got healthy by eating better and exercising daily.  At age 15, his mother took him to a nutrition lecture with Paul Bragg, pioneer nutritionist.  The lecture changed his life.  After that day, he stopped eating all the cakes, pies and ice cream that had dominated his diet before.  He ate only whole, non-processed nutritional foods, no meat or dairy, occasionally fish.  He exercised every day.  He lived a vibrant life until age 96.  Not bad at all.

What we, in our modern times, can easily forget is how revolutionary some of his ideas were at the time.  He was often viewed as either a phony or a total nut.  For instance, when he encouraged the elderly to lift weights, the doctors of the day thought it was a terrible idea.  They thought it would be a good way to break bones, nothing more.  Now, of course, we know Jack was absolutely right and that it actually helps the elderly to NOT break their bones.  When Jack advised women to also lift weights, doctors of his time thought it would hurt their ability to bear children, and popular opinion was that it would make a woman less attractive, i.e. too masculine.  Of course, we now know that neither could be farther from the truth.

In researching this blog, I had the pleasure of watching some clips of Jack LaLanne’s television show back in the 50s, when it was still black and white.  (I’ve provided links below for two of my favorites, but there are many more on You Tube.)  I was struck even more by how ahead of his time he was.  He was talking about things that even now are not completely accepted by the entire general public, although I think more and more are coming around.  Even then, he understood the connection between the mind and the body, most likely in a very organic way as he lived both extremes in his life -  completely unhealthy and depressed as a child and then completely healthy, happy, and full of zest as a man.  I think that’s why he could speak with such authority about it and many other related topics.

More than anything, I find myself inspired by Jack LaLanne’s life and legacy, for not only was he successful in his career and a positive influence on America, but he also had a loving family and home life.  He fills me with hope because, while there are still many things and ideas today that the general science and medical community still has not quite embraced as they should, I know that if we just follow his model and continue to speak out and stand in the truth as we know it, science and popular opinion will eventually catch up.

You Tube Videos:


Parenting is not easy, as any parent reading this blog knows all too well.  With the rapidly rising childhood obesity rate in this country, many parents struggle to instill sound and healthy fitness and nutrition habits in their kids.  Factor in the onslaught of commercials for readily available and tasty sugary, salty, and fatty foods, coupled with the recent technology bursts of computers, TV, and video games that entice kids to spend way too much time sitting down, not to mention school lunches that often lack the nutrition your growing children so desperately need, it is no wonder parents feel overwhelmed – like they are fighting a losing battle.

However, take heart.  It is easier than you might think.  After all, it was not all that long ago that these processed foods didn’t exist, nor did all the technology, and children were somehow still capable of being entertained and having fun.  It may take a little bit of effort at first to make some of the necessary changes, but as soon as your kids realize that these new changes are actually fun, they will stop fighting and start enjoying the new activities and foods, just like you did when you were little!

There is a great book on the market today titled 365 Activities for Fitness, Food, and Fun for the Whole Family.  The author, Julia Sweet, is both a mother and a fitness expert.  It is a wonderful book filled with creative and innovative activities to help your whole family adopt a healthy and fit lifestyle together.   Some examples include obstacle courses using everyday household items, “commercials” exercising where you and your family do different exercises during commercial breaks, fun and nutritious foods like “gummy jewel necklaces” made with an easy, homemade fruit juice gems recipe, or “tree house banana butter” (you’ll have to read the book to find out what that is!).  Plus there are some great relaxation activities to help calm your children and teach them the importance of quiet time, innovative birthday party ideas like the “Health-Spa Birthday Party”, fun and different activities to do while on family vacations, and much, much more.  It is a book I highly recommend to any and all parents who wish to instill good nutrition and physical health in their kids and family.  Plus, as a bonus, all these activities will help bring your family closer as you do them together, unlike TV, computers, and video games which are sadly solo-oriented and not something families often find themselves enjoying together.  Above all, I think this book can help unlock you and your family’s imagination to create your own unique family fitness activities and fun, nutritious foods.

Our bodies were designed to move.  While sitting still for long periods of time, day after day, will contribute to a myriad of health problems, moving around will help your circulation, your digestion, your metabolism, your muscles and joints, not to mention your brain.  On a whole, people are much more productive mentally when they take the time to move around.  In terms of our evolution, the human species has survived and thrived with movement.  It is only in very recent, modern times that humans have become so sedentary, and health practitioners and scientists are finding more and more that a sedentary lifestyle is an unhealthy one.

If you are like millions of other Americans with a job that keeps you chained to your desk, it is extremely important that you make time throughout your day to move your body, especially on the days you do not plan to exercise.  Although, to be clear, it is important to move your body around even on the days you do plan to hit the gym.  It is simply not advisable to sit at a desk with little or no movement for hours at a time.  Also, it is important for your eyes to get a break from the computer screen they’ve been staring at.  Finally, while you may be tempted to forego taking the time to move your body around on those days when you are just swamped with work, taking 5 minutes every hour or so to do some light exercising/stretching will actually increase your productivity.  Sitting for long periods of time causes decreased energy, decreased blood flow to the brain, and listlessness.

Here are a few simple exercises you can do at work:

(IMPORTANT:  Check with your doctor first before beginning any new exercise regimen.)

60 Second Full Blast Cardio

It is very beneficial to both your heart and your longevity to improve what is called your heart rate variability – you heart’s ability to go from 0 to 60 in mere seconds.  So, every once in a while, get up from your desk and do 60 seconds worth of cardio at full speed.  You can do jumping jacks, run in place, or simulated jump rope for instance.  If you have a stairwell nearby, run up and down it for a minute.

Simple Strength Exercises

As any personal trainer worth his/her own salt will tell you, you don’t need weights to build strength.  All you need is your body and a little imagination.  Some examples of simple strength exercises for the office:

  • Squats against the wall
  • Lunges (front, back, and to the side)
  • Dips using a sturdy chair (triceps exercise; test your chair gingerly first)
  • Desk pushups (test the desk to make sure it will hold your weight)
  • Using water bottles as weights:  Overhead press (shoulders); Bicep curls

Simple Stretching Exercises

Too many of us overlook stretching, but it is so important to the health of our muscles and joints to keep them mobile and loose – especially when you’re sitting in one position for long periods of time as you do at work.  Here are some simple stretching exercises:

  • While sitting or standing up tall, reach your hands up to the sky.
  • Standing, lace your hands behind your back, pinch your shoulder blades together, lifting your chest and chin.
  • Standing, bend forward with a flat back.  You should feel this in your hamstrings.
  • In your chair, with your hips facing forward, twist your torso to the right, while keeping your head looking towards the left.  Reverse.
  • Gentle neck rolls from side to side.
  • Gentle shoulder rolls, front and back.
  • While standing, circle your hips, to the right and then to the left.
  • Gentle ankle rolls.

Other Tips

Whenever possible, move. Do a lap around the office.  Take numerous trips to the water station.  Walk at lunch.  Take the stairs.  Don’t send an email to the co-worker down the hall – get up and walk there.

Get some sort of reminder system going. There are many great (and free) applications you can download to your computer that will sound an alarm so you can be reminded to get up and move your body.  (It’s easy to get caught up with what you’re doing and forget, trust me, I know.)  One example is an application called Cool Timer.

Invest in a ball chair. A ball chair will help to keep your body active even while it is sitting, because it engages your core.  With a ball chair your core has to work to keep you balanced on its circular, uneven surface.  It also will help you keep good posture.

For your eyes: Every time you exercise, take care of your eyes at the same time.  If you have been focusing for a long time at your computer screen or another short-distanced object like a document, spend a couple of minutes forcing yourself to focus on objects far away from you.

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