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How to find an exercise group that’s right for you

One of the best ways to stay committed to working out is to find a group, gym, or club that’s a good fit for you.

How do you do that? Here are a few things to consider.
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Ask around

Know some one who does a little bit of lots of activities? Running, cycling, weight lifting, and martial arts, for example? Or some one who focuses on an activity you may want to try? See if they have any suggestions about how you can get started.

Be a guest.

Most group workouts encourage participants to bring a friend for free. It can be a great way to meet some of the people and to try the workout for free. Most group instructors/ trainers will give you extra attention to make sure you stay safe through the workout and that’s a good thing.

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Ask your doctor for a recommendation.

If you’re under doctor’s care, can he or she recommend an exercise program? Yoga, to relieve stress, or water aerobics for low impact activity?

Explore community education offerings.

It’s a chance to try a new activity at very little cost and for a limited time. If you find you love it and want to continue, that’s usually an option.

Try meet ups in your area.

The Meet Up website connects people with the same interests. Read the group description to see what they’re all about. There’s a wide range of groups in most areas, everything from tennis to fitness camp workouts.

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Visit local gyms and try group classes.

Most gyms offer a trial membership so you can try a class for free.

Find a group you’re compatible with in these areas:

Activity

  • Find something you enjoy.
  • Be open to trying different activities. You may find that you like something you didn’t think you would.
  • Be teachable. You may think of the details as “common sense” but that’s not always the case. Listen, watch, and learn.

People

  • Group culture – Every group has its own culture or “vibe”. Find a group that’s a good fit. For example, if you’re a beginner, you may be overwhelmed in a group with very competitive members. She may need a more laid-back group.
  • Values – Look for a group dynamic that’s in line with your personal values. For example, a “party all the time” culture may not be the best fit for a non-drinker.

These are just a few things to consider when looking for the right exercise group for you.

Find what works for you and helps motivate you to stay committed to your goals.

Have fun with it!

 

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What is Balance Training and Should I Be Doing It?

Today, we continue the series on the benefits of exercise (you can click here to read that post in case you missed it) and specific types of exercises. (Read about Cardio Workouts here and Strength Training here.)

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According to Harvard Health Publications, guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend a well-rounded plan of “aerobic activity, strength training, and balance exercises.”

What’s balance training?

It focuses on improving and/or maintaining stability (not falling over). Stable movement improve overall mobility.

Some types of training that emphasize balance are:

Yoga

Pilates

Various core and agility exercises

Some martial arts practices, such as Tai-chi

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  • Strengthens core muscles
  • Improves stability and mobility
  • Requires little to no equipment
  • Multiple variations of simple movements
  • Helpful to people at all fitness levels

In-house fitness expert, Mark Montalvo, says this:

“As we age, balance usually decreases resulting in falling or injury…this is why balance training is so important. It develops proprioception, which simply means how we move our bodies through space and time.

He says effective balance training should be performed in multiple directions of movement, in an unstable environment. It can be as simple as walking on a straight line or standing on one leg.Weight loss photo courtesy of pixabay published on strong-woman.com

Complicate that by standing on one leg while throwing or catching a ball.

Drawbacks/Risks

  • Must practice good form to reduce risk of injury
  • Progress is hard to measure

So, everyone can benefit from balance training, no matter the level of fitness. Being able to stay upright and stable will go a long way to keeping you healthy and well.

Remember to check with your health care professional before starting an exercise program. This is especially important if you’re under doctor’s care for a health condition.

What’s Strength Training and Why Should I Be Doing It?

What’s Strength Training and Why Should I Be Doing It?

I’ve talked about the benefits of exercise (you can click here to read that post in case you missed it) and specific types of exercises. (Read about Cardio Workouts here.)

Today, I’m covering some basic information about Strength Training.

You’ve probably heard you should be doing some sort of strength resistance training.

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Many women dismiss the idea because of a pre-conceived notion that “strength training” means bulked up biceps and oversized thighs, and walking around saying (in a deep voice), “I pick things up and put them down!”

But that’s the stuff of comic books and make-believe. Women who “bulk up” put forth tremendous effort, specialized nutrition, and intense training to achieve those results.

Strength Training – What is it and what are the benefits and drawbacks

Strength Training is focused movement of weight.

Benefits of strength training are:

  • Strengthens bones
  • Strengthens muscles
  • Improves stability and balance
  • Especially good for women who lose muscle mass more rapidly than men and loss is accelerated with age
  • Versatile – Can be mixed with many different types of exercises

    Artwork by Mark Montalvo
    Barbell

In-house fitness expert, (my husband) Mark Montalvo, says this about strength training:

“Most women don’t want to do strength training because they don’t want to bulk up. Strength training does build muscle. However, women who build large amounts of muscle mass while lifting weights are usually doing other things to enhance their results.

Strength training is important because it helps reduce body fat and burn calories for longer than just doing cardio or any other type of exercise. It can significantly help in maintaining a healthy weight.

It also helps preserve and build bone mass, which is important as we age. For women in particular, building bone mass helps reduce the onset of osteoporosis.”

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  • Requires equipment
  • Must practice good form to reduce risk of injury
  • Some people find weight lifting hugely boring – lifting things up and putting them down isn’t very exciting
  • In order to ensure proper form and technique, you may need a coach or trainer

 

Most weight lifting will not accelerate the heart rate for prolonged periods of time (anaerobic) so in order to get full-body benefits, you need to incorporate some kind of cardio.

 

As always, it’s important to check with your health care professional before starting an exercise program, especially if you’re under doctor’s care for a health condition.

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Exercise and Good Nutrition: Why You Need Both

The first time I trained for a half-marathon, I thought, “Okay, this is good.  I’ll be burning a ton of calories running all these miles and I’ll probably drop a few pounds. Awesome!”

And, yeah, I burned lots of calories, but I didn’t lose weight. Not at all.

The saying goes: You can’t outrun (or out-lift, out-train) a bad diet.

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That means, exercise alone isn’t enough.

If you really want results, you need both: regular exercise and good nutrition.

How can it possible that even when you’re burning a lot more calories you don’t lose weight?

One possibility is a phenomenon called “The Halo Effect”

The Halo Effect

In a nutshell, it’s when you think something or some one is so good it’s hard for you to be objective.photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com

When it comes to fitness, the halo effect is:
I work out so I can eat whatever I want.

Sure, I can have dessert and a jumbo margarita! I just ran 10 miles.

 

I’m running a 5k tomorrow. I can have an extra serving.

The Halo Effect results in a person losing objectivity and allowing herself more high calorie indulgences or “rewards” because she worked out.

Thus the saying: You can’t outrun, out-lift, or out-train a bad diet.

In my experience, nutrition is way more critical in losing and maintaining a healthy weight than exercise, but it’s also the more challenging component.

And, it seems that the nutrition piece becomes even more important with age. You may be thinking, “I used to be able to eat whatever I want and never gain a pound.” [I’ve never said that, personally.]

So how do you do it? What’s the easiest way to get the best results from all your hours at the gym?

Here are a few tips on how to incorporate exercise and nutrition for the best results

Eat clean

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Simply put, eating clean means eating whole foods in their most natural form as possible. For example, if you have a choice between an apple, apple sauce, and an apple flavored, gluten-free fruit chew, the apple’s the best choice. Choose minimally processed food with no added sugar whenever possible.

Eat more vegetables

At every meal, have at least one serving of vegetables, and shoot for 2 – 3 servings each meal. Starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes don’t count. 

Drink water to stay hydrated

The standard recommendation is to drink half your body weight in ounces every day and even more than that if you’ve been sweating. Adequate hydration improves all bodily functions. Not drinking enough water can cause dehydration which can result in problems such as headaches, constipation, muscle cramps, and more.

Be aware of added sugar in beverages and choose accordingly

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Sports drinks, soda, fruit juice, adult beverages, and sweetened coffee drinks often have a ton of added sugar and a ton of extra calories.

Many restaurants now have calories per serving listed right on the menu and others have nutrition information on their website. It’s worth taking a look.

Read labels for ingredients and serving size

When you look for calories on the label, don’t forget to check the serving size.

For more information, read How to Read a Food Label

The most important thing is to find what works for you and then stick with it. For more recommendations and nutrition tips at How to Start Eating Healthy and Stick to It

Over the past few years of working out and finding what works best for me, I discovered that exercise has many benefits but losing weight isn’t one of them. Maybe that’s because of the Halo Effect. I don’t know for sure.

What I know for sure is that making good nutrition choices improves my overall feeling of health, wellness, and fitness. I make my share of bad choices and I’m not anywhere near perfect, but when I do these things most of the time:

  • Eat clean
  • Eat my veggies
  • Drink water
  • Avoid added sugar
  • Pay attention to food labels

I get better results. It’s most likely, you will too.

How about you? Do you agree with the statement: “You can’t outrun a bad diet”? What works best for you?

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What’s a Cardio Workout?

So, we know exercise is good for us – good for the mind, good for the body.

But what comes to mind when you hear the word “exercise”?

Is it running on a track, doing calisthenics like in gym class, dancing, weightlifting, running a half marathon, walking, yoga, or something else?

Recommended Guidelines

According to Harvard Health Publications, guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend a well-rounded plan of “aerobic activity, strength training, and balance exercises.”

Over the next few weeks, I’ll touch on each of these 3 different exercise categories:

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Cardio/Aerobic

Strength

Flexibility/balance/core

Starting with Cardio/Aerobic

Is cardio the same as aerobic exercise?

You’ll hear both terms, but cardio and aerobic workouts are the same types of exercises.

Aerobic literally means “with oxygen”. Cardio (cardiovascular) gets the heart pumping or increasing heart rate.

Cardio Workout:

Activities that get your heart pumping for a sustained period of time, such as cycling, swimming, running, power walking, jump rope, rowing, calisthenics like jumping jacks and running in place, etc.

Usually, you know you’re doing a cardio workout when you’re breathing heavier than normal, but not so heavy that you can’t catch your breath.

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Benefits of Cardio

According to Mark Montalvo, a Certified Personal Trainer with more than 25 years experience in the fitness industry (and my husband), one of the primary benefits of cardio is to get your heart pumping.

He says, “Your heart’s a muscle and, like any muscle, you have to work it. The way to do that is by increasing your heart rate and putting a little bit of stress on it. One of the easiest ways to do that is to go for a walk, and what I mean is to intentionally set aside time, 15-20 minutes, to go for a walk that can increase your heart rate, so it’ll get you’re heart pumping.

It’s not just a stroll. You want to move with a purpose as if you’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry. Imagine that your bus is at the bus stop and you’re a block away and you’re trying to get there before the bus drives off – that’s the kind of pace your want to have, that hard walk. It’s in addition to the normal walking around you do every day.”

If you’re mostly sedentary now, going for a walk would be a good exercise activity to start because it’s accessible and doesn’t require expensive equipment.

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Risks of Cardio

Overuse/Impact related injuries – Repetitive, high impact activities can cause injury. As always, finding equipment, like a suitable pair of shoes, will go a long way in keeping you healthy and active.

No focus on building muscle (aside from the heart) – Cardio works the heart but doesn’t build other muscle groups, not directly anyway. Loss of muscle mass puts women at higher risk for osteoporosis, so it’s important to incorporate strength training with cardio activities.

I’ll be covering strength training and flexibility/balance/core workouts over the next two weeks.

Read Newsflash: Exercise is good for you! for a list of the research-based benefits of exercise.

As always, it’s important to check with your health care professional before starting an exercise program, especially if you’re under doctor’s care for a health condition.

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News Flash: Exercise is good for you!

Oh, have you already heard that? Not news? Well, “exercise” can be many things to many people, from jumping jacks to kayaking to running ultra-marathons and everything in between.

Seeing a super-fit athlete doing a high intensity workout may be a little intimidating. You may think, “I could never do that.” And maybe you’re right.

But even if you can’t do that, you can do something.

And something is better than nothing. The key is to find what works for you and start small if you need to.

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Showing up is the hardest part.

I’ve blogged about exercise in different contexts like Group Exercise: Why it’s better than going solo, Exercise: The First Step is the Hardest, and The Hardest Part of a Workout is Showing Up, and more.

But I think I jumped ahead a little, so today, I’m going to list some of

The benefits of exercise

These are well-documented, research-based benefits … and I can attest to these myself.

Exercise:

Improves mood

Exercise increases endorphins – the “feel good” hormones.

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Looking at the workout board.

 

Reduces stress

Again, balances hormones and lowers cortisol levels – the “stress” hormones.

Improves brain clarity

In the book Life Reimagined, Barbara Bradly Hagerty spoke with Kirk Erickson, researcher at the University of Pittsburgh who found “nothing will keep you as mentally acute as raising your heart rate a few times a week. Nothing.”  Exercise is good for the body and mind.

Physical strength and muscle tone

Movement calls for muscles to flex. Focused movement beyond daily activities stresses muscles and keeps them strong. It’s like most things, use it or lose it.

Helps strengthen bones

Exercise strengthens bones by stressing them. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation “Exercise plays an important role in building and maintaining bone strength.”

Improved balance and stability

As we age, we’re more at risk for falling. Regular exercise helps strengthen muscles and bones and improves our ability to balance and recover from near-falls.

Graphic courtesy of pixabay published on strong-woman.com

 

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to be going through different types of exercise and refer to my on-staff Subject Matter Expert (SME) about the benefits of several types of exercise – what they are and their benefits.

Have you experienced some of these benefits? I’d love to hear what you find to be the greatest benefit. Please share in the comments below.

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5 Reasons to Take Care of Your Health Now

We’ve learned a lot about the human body and staying healthy over the past 60 years. As a result, we’ve seen changes in public policy, surgeon general recommendations, and what’s considered “healthy”.

This 1949 Camel cigarette commercial claims, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.”

 

And I love watching The Twilight Zone. That was a show ahead of its time, and a sign of the times as the show’s creator, Rod Serling, regularly appeared with a lit cigarette.

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Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone

 

Cigarettes are still around. Many people choose to light up despite the warnings. Some struggle to kick the habit. Still, far fewer Americans smoke in 2017 than did in 1950.

We got the message: smoking’s bad for your health.

(If you smoke and would like more information about quitting, go to smokefree.gov for information, tips, tools, and support.)

These days, the public health warnings have shifted from the dangers of smoking to warnings about health risks of obesity and a sedentary lifestyle:

Obesity is the new smoking.

Sitting too much is bad for your health.

Whether or not you believe the claims, I think most people would agree that eating nutritious food and exercising regularly (specific recommendations vary, but generally agree on moderation, reducing processed foods and more vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and lean meats) are better for your health than not.

Will public health warnings lead to restricted food marketing and regulations on less healthy food, like they did with cigarettes?

Maybe.

Or, you can do what’s best for your health, take care of yourself, and adopt a healthier lifestyle now.

Even without a Surgeon General’s warning.

It’s hard to stay motivated to eat right and exercise. I struggle with it too. It helps to

Look at it as an investment.

Not just for now, but for your future.

Here are 5 reasons it’s a good idea for your future to take care of yourself now:

Feel better now and in the future.

Many health conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, are cumulative and progressive. Whatever you can do now to minimize your risk will help your health today and years from now.

Do it for quality of life, not just quantity.

Better to be well and strong enough to do what you love for all your days, rather than being restricted because of your health. Your actions now will help determine whether you’re able to dance with your grandchildren or have to watch from the sidelines.

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Sitting idle
Improved mobility.

What if you live to be 90? If you have to worry about whether you’ll fall or if you have limited mobility, you’re more likely to stay home and limit your options for activity. Regular exercise conditions your whole body and improves mobility as you age.

Lower cost of health care.

Who knows what the future will bring in the area of health care costs? It’s expensive to be sick. Eat and exercise to prevent lifestyle-related illnesses. It may prevent you from putting your financial health at risk in the future.

Ingrain good habits.

It’s hard to break bad habits. Think about those cigarette smokers who were killing themselves, but were so addicted to nicotine, they couldn’t quit. Take baby steps and keep it simple. Do what you can to live a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritious food and exercising regularly so you can keep those good habits going.


It’s amazing to see characters in old movies and TV shows smoking on airplanes, in elevators and hospitals. Will super huge sodas, extra large cinnamon rolls, and king size candy bars ever be an oddity?

That’s hard to imagine.

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4 Ways In Person Shopping is Good for Your Health

Recently, my daughter and I needed something to wear to two separate family occasions, so we went shopping the old fashioned way – at a store, in person. We went through the racks of dresses, thinking about both occasions and venues and what would be appropriate for each. We picked out armfuls of dresses and then tried each one on and decided Yay or Nay. Even though neither of us like to shop, it was fun.

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The excursion got me thinking about the shopping experience and how it’s changed so much over the years. We’ve seen huge retail stores shut their doors and there’s always discussion about how brick and mortar retailers can compete with online shopping.

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There are definitely benefits for shopping online, but when it comes to your health, there are real benefits of shopping in person – the old-fashioned way. Here are a few

Health benefits of shopping in person:

1. Gets you moving

The American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps a day as an activity goal for heart health. In person shopping will get you way more steps than online shopping. If you struggle to find time to work out or get moving throughout the day, think of your trip to the store as an opportunity to get moving.

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2. Gets you out of the house

Getting out of the house can be good for your mental health. A change in routine helps stimulate the brain even if it takes more energy. Instead of relying on things being delivered to your door because you just don’t want to get out, when you need something, do it the old-fashioned way.

3. Interaction with people

This might not always seem like a benefit because people are not perfect. I know. People don’t know how to drive, how to scan their credit card, walk too slow, are always in your way, etc especially when you’re in a hurry. If you’ve had a rough day at the office and you’ve had plenty of human interaction, a shopping trip to anywhere for anything is just not what you want. In that case, leave it for another day if you can. Otherwise, go be with people.

4. Tactile stimulation

Shopping the old-fashioned way gets your senses going and stimulates the brain. Why do you decide to buy a particular product? Is it mostly what you see? When I was trying on dresses, I wanted the dress to look nice on me, but I also wanted to feel good wearing it. That experience is impossible to duplicate online. For now, at least.

Consumers have lots of shopping options. When it comes to your physical and mental health, there are some benefits to doing it the old-fashioned way.

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10 Things to Do to Keep You Healthy and Happy Through the Holidays

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It can also be overwhelming and stressful, making it a challenge to stay happy and healthy. As always, it’s important to do what you can to take care of yourself so you can be your best.

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on strong-woman.com
Stay healthy and happy this holiday season.

Here are 10 things to do to help you stay healthy and happy through the holiday season:

1. Get moving

Do what you can to get your body moving. If you track your steps, shoot for at least 10,000 steps a day. Or get outdoors and go for a walk or run. Get active by going for a bike ride, Or ski, bowl, hike, golf, Frisbee, Frisbee golf, dance, go to a workout class – whatever.

Some of the benefits of exercise – helps relieve stress by lowering cortisol, the stress hormone, and increasing endorphins, the feel-good hormone. Equalizes hormone levels.

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Get moving.
2. Take 3 minutes

Start your day with at least 3 minutes of quiet time. Yes, you’re busy, but investing at least 3 minutes every morning will help put you in a positive state of mind and set the course for your day. Use the time for light stretching, deep breathing, positive encouragement, silent prayer, or just silence.

3. Smile

You’ve probably heard the phrase: Fake it ’til you make it. What’s really cool about fake smiling is that your brain doesn’t know you’re faking your smile. You’re smiling. That’s it. The action sends a signal to your brain that you’re okay – guess what? – you feel okay, maybe even a little happier. It’s like magic. So especially when you don’t really feel like it, smile.

4. Laugh

Fake laughing follows the same principal as fake smiling in helping you feel happy. Laughing is a little less convenient because for some reason it’s not normal to just bust out laughing for no reason.

Our bodies are such amazing creations and the mind-body connection is real. You may have heard of studies that use laughter yoga for pain management. It works. So when you feel a little stressed, laugh like Santa Claus “ho ho ho” and then throw in a “ha ha ha”. Repeat. Get a friend to join you for double the laughs.

5. Hydrate

Drinking water is so important to keep you feeling your best. Busy holiday schedules tend to disrupt healthy habits so keep a glass of water at hand and drink up. How much water should you be drinking? What’s usually recommended is half your body weight in ounces, more if you’re sweating.

image of a cup with water on menopause strong-woman.com
Hydrate
6. Limit Alcohol

While water helps hydrate, alcohol dehydrates. Studies released in the past few years make headlines when they shout, “Hey, doctors say wine’s good for you!” Those same studies recommend limiting alcohol to one serving a day for women, two servings a day for men. One serving is of wine is 4 – 5 ounces. To put it in perspective, that’s slightly more that half a cup.

7. Eat healthy

Keep it as simple as you can. Eat more vegetables, limit sugar, and control portions. Eat small meals and snacks throughout the day so you don’t get over-hungry and you’re able to be more mindful of your food choices. Read more suggestions about making good food choices at Take Care of Your Body.

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Choose healthy snacks.
8. Sleep

It’s a hectic time, but sleep is the time when you’re body re-charges and rejuvenates. Schedule your sleep time and do your best to stick with it. Try shutting down electronic devices, including phones, tablets, televisions, an hour before your scheduled bedtime. The blue light in electronics is thought to inhibit the sleep hormone, melatonin, making it harder for you to get to sleep.

9. Give up on perfection

Those Christmas specials and holiday commercials don’t seem real – the ones where homes are perfect, the holiday table looks beautiful, the turkey is roasted to golden perfection, and there’s a brand new luxury car in the driveway. If it works out that way, excellent! But if it works out like the dinner in A Christmas Story where the turkey winds up on the floor and the family ends up going out for Chinese food, that’s okay too.

10. Have a heart of gratitude

As always, and especially when life gets hectic, have a heart of gratitude. When you consciously recognize the people and things you’re grateful for, it helps take the edge off and so you don’t sweat the small stuff.

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Have a heart of gratitude.

Those are the 10 things to do to help keep you happy and healthy through the holidays:

  1. Get moving
  2. Take 3 minutes
  3. Smile
  4. Laugh
  5. Hydrate
  6. Limit alcohol
  7. Eat healthy
  8. Sleep
  9. Give up on perfection
  10. Have a heart of gratitude

Keep your health and happiness on your list of things to do this holiday season. Finish 2016 strong and be ready to welcome a new year feeling strong and happy.

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on strong-woman.com

Dream of the finish and then get started

Mindset Monday

Whatever it is you desire – whatever you wish were true for your life, believe in yourself, dream of the finish, and then get started and keep going. One step at a time. Rain or shine.

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on strong-woman.com
Start and then keep going.
Go the distance

The conditions for the annual San Antonio Rock and Roll Marathon and Half Marathon were miserable this year. It was cold and the rain was constant.

Even so, people of all different fitness levels and ages showed up to run the 13 or 26-mile course.

It’s hard to imagine running that distance being soaking wet from head to toe. There’s no way to stay dry. Those athletes could’ve stayed home and said, “Yeah, that’s gonna be horrible. I’m not doing that.”

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on strong-woman.com
One step at a time

But they didn’t. Everyone out on that course made a decision to show up at the starting line and run the course, one step at a time, one mile at a time, until they crossed the finish line.

Truly awesome.

Isn’t the same true for any goal, aspiration, hope, or desire?

Dream of the finish line, but don’t expect to start there.

The only way to cross the finish line is to cross the starting line.

In between, you’ll need determination, grit, commitment, and action. When things get tough and uncomfortable, stay strong in your belief.

And then keep moving forward. One step at a time; one mile at a time.

Amazing things are accomplished by those who start and then keep going. Rain or shine. There’s no reason it can’t be you.