Then & Now: What It Means to be an Athlete

Then & NowAs I basked in the afterglow of a recent workout, I found myself reflecting on why exercise matters to me and what it really means to me.

I love to feel like an athlete. Several words help illustrate what my perception of an athlete:

Strong

Capable

Determined

Hardworking

Sweaty!

The more I thought about it, the realization dawned on me that I have always sought these feelings through exercise. As a tri-sport athlete in a small-town high school (I participated in volleyball, basketball, and track & field annually), I got my fill of feeling like an athlete through sports. As an adult, I have much less directed or structured athletic endeavors.

From the time I was in high school sports to adulthood, my drivers to reach that feeling of athleticism have changed substantially.

 

Competition with Others vs. Competition with Myself

In high school sports, being an athlete was very much geared toward being a better athlete than my competitors from other schools. I needed to be more than another person – more strong, more capable, just more. Now, I don’t much care where anyone else’s fitness skills are in relation to mine; if I can compete with myself and improve myself and my own fitness compared to where I was yesterday or last week or last year, I’m winning!

 

Stats vs. Health

In order to determine which of two people the better athlete is, sports statistics are used: race times, distances thrown, shots scored, wins/losses, etc. These days, I’m only comparing my statistics to my prior statistics. For me, fitness indicators include running pace, frequency of exercising, and pounds on the bench press bar. A few other numbers have been thrown into the mix, too – mainly, blood labs such as cholesterol and blood sugar that let us know if our bodies are healthy on the inside.

 

What I Can’t Do vs. What I Can Do

In competing with other athletes, it is important to find deficits and correct them to become a better contender. This results in more of a focus on can’t rather than can. For example, “I can’t consistently shoot free throws,” or “I can’t swim as fast as my competitor,” or “I can’t hit through that blocker.” When I compete only with myself, I get to focus on what I can do. Lately, my list includes, “I can run faster than before” and “I can lift more weight than last month” and “I can hold downward dog without wondering when the yoga instructor will let us change positions.” (That last one is a pretty fantastic accomplishment for me!)

 

Don’t get me wrong – sports are great! This simply reflects how my perspective on athleticism has changed over time

Whatever your reasons may be for seeking your version of athleticism, know that those are great and keep fueling that spark!

The Meaning of TRY

The Meaning of TRY

As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”The Meaning of TRY

Far be it from me to disagree with the character of Yoda, but within the realm of health goals, I disagree with this particular piece of advice.

“All-or-nothing” thinking is a common problem among those who have health goals. It is the idea that if you’re going to eat healthy, you’ll have nothing unhealthy, and if you slip up and eat something less nutritious, you give up and stop eating healthy foods altogether. Another example is if you were to set a goal to go to the gym for an hour 5 days a week. If you only have time to work out for 30 minutes, you won’t go at all.

You can see where the all-or-nothing mindset is problematic. Often, you’ll find yourself worse off as a result of all-or-nothing thinking than if you had just allowed yourself a treat and continued on with your healthy behaviors.

From my perspective, Yoda is encouraging this all-or-nothing thinking. And while that may be sound guidance in other aspects of life or in a galaxy far, far away, it doesn’t have a place in health goals and behaviors. In this area, this IS ‘try.’

Try covers the middle ground between do or do not. Try is what you do when you don’t know what you’re capable of and you want to move forward. Try is how you accomplish the small steps to reach a bigger goal. Try is how you keep yourself on track even after slipping up, and try is how you avoid making yourself crazy by being super strict with yourself. Try is brave, because it’s an attempt in the face of possible failAs long as you are trying - honestly trying - it will get easier.ure.

Here’s the tricky part, though – how do you know that you’re trying? It’s important to make sure that you’re truly making an effort and actually taking real steps toward your goals, rather than just skating by on old habits instead of making the decisions to do better, wishing things were different, and labeling it as “trying.”

Try Check-in:

  1. Do you feel satisfied with your effort, or do you feel like you could easily have done better? If you’re at the end of a workout, feeling like you’re making no progress toward your goal to run a 5K, but you still have plenty of energy, maybe you could have run a little harder or a little longer.

  2. Are you using mini-goals as stepping stones to your big goals? If you are a chronic soda drinker and you quit it cold turkey, but find yourself picking up the habit again every time you slip up and drink one soda, it would probably be helpful to set mini-goals to cut out one soda a day each week.

  3. When you have a bad day or a slip-up, are you able to regroup and continue making progress? Health is a lifelong journey, and abandoning good habits because you ate too much cake at a birthday party or you ate out every day while on vacation will be detrimental. Cut yourself some slack and get back on track.

Do and do not certainly exist. But for all the times in between when you don’t know if you can make it from do not to do, there is try. Skip the all-or-nothing mindset. As long as you are trying – honestly trying – it will get easier.

How do you try to meet your health goals?

 

Sources:

Anderson D. Moderation in All Things: How to Avoid the Diet Blues. SparkPeople. http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/motivation_articles.asp?id=729&page=3. Published 2015. Accessed April 2015.

Ways to Get Your Exercise Outdoors

As the weather warms up, we all want to get outside and enjoy it! When daylight is limited, it can be tough to decide between working out inside the gym or relaxing in the sunshine. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, though – try these ways to fit in your physical activity while playing outside and you can enjoy the beautiful weather without missing your workout.

Even better, you can take the opportunity to play outside as just that: time to go back to your playful childhood days when you stayed out ‘til dark. Here are some outdoor exercises you could try, some serious and some just to have fun and get your body moving:

  1. Go for a walk.girl riding bike
  2. Go for a jog.
  3. Go for a run.
  4. Ride your bike.
  5. Go window shopping downtown – make it into a scavenger hunt!
  6. Play catch with a baseball or a football.
  7. Look for a nearby park with a walking path and fitness stations to test your strength with various obstacles.
  8. Walk to a friend’s house for a visit.
  9. Lay out your yoga mat on the lawn.
  10. Intersperse your walk/jog/run with 30-second intervals of bodyweight exercises like skipping, lunges, burpees, pushups, or anything else you can think of.
  11. Take your dog to the dog park and run around with him/her.
  12. Climb every set of stairs you can find on your walk.
  13. Use a park bench or picnic table for step-ups, jumps, or inclined pushups.
  14. Play tag.
  15. Play volleyball, basketball, soccer, street hockey, tennis, or another sport.
  16. Go surfing.
  17. Jump rope.
  18. Return to your childhood and play hopscotch.
  19. Swim in a local lake.
  20. Grab some friends and do relay races in the backyard – do moves like running, crab walking, and leapfrogging.

So throw on some shorts and get outside to enjoy that sunshine! What are your favorite ways to get exercise outside?

Tune Scoop: The Effect of Music on Exercise

Do you like to listen to music while you exercise? People’s preferences about whether they listen to music, what kind of music they choose, and their reasons for doing so are as varied as the workouts themselves. What effect does music actually have on how people exercise?

  1. Listening to music can decrease rate of perceived exertion (RPE), or how hard you feel like you’re working. This can be great to help you work out a little longer because you may not feel as tired as quickly.
  2. You may actually enjoy your workout more. Research says it’s true – music is associated with greater enjoyment during exercise.
  3. People can be categorized as ‘associators,’ ‘dissociators,’ or ‘switchers.’ Associators focus their attention on the exercise, dissociators focus their attention elsewhere, and switchers have flexible attention focus. Music could provide the focus for attention that dissociators need, while associators may simply find it distracting.
  4. Music can help you focus on your workout longer, even if you’re fatigued. But be careful here – research showed that even if people were still focused on the workout, the music was not able to prevent their performance changes due to fatigue. If you are too tired to correctly perform the exercise, you increase your risk of injury.

Personally, I don’t tend to listen to music while I work out. Of course, I love jamming out during my drive to the gym and I enjoy if it’s playing over the speakers or if I’m in a group fitness class, but on my own, I don’t choose to plug in to my own music. I’m an associator – I love to feel my body working. For me, there’s a sense of autonomy in working out without music. Going for a run outdoors, especially, with nothing but the clothes I’m wearing, gives me a feeling of independence that I crave. My other reason for forgoing exercise music is less profound – I hate to wear headphones, and I can’t seem to coordinate my movements around the cord and it really just ends up being a distraction for me.

Although the evidence points to potential benefits of listening to music, there is not necessarily a need to add it and you’re not at a disadvantage if you don’t prefer workout music.

Do you listen to music while you work out? Share your favorite workout songs in the comments!

 

Sources:

Barzegar H, Soori R Akbarnejad A, Vosadi E. The effect of music on athletic cardio-respiratory responses and perceived exertion rate during incremental exercise. Razi Journal of medical Sciences, 2013;20:32-39.

Jones L, Karageorghis CI, Ekkekakis P. Can high-intensity exercise be more pleasant? Attentional dissociation using music and video. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, Oct 2014;36:528-541.

Hutchinson JC, Karageorghis CI. Moderating influence of dominant attentional style and exercise intensity on responses to asynchronous music. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 2013;35:625-643.

Lopes-Silva JP, Lima-Silva AE, Bertuzzi R, Silva-Cavalcante MD. Influence of music on performance and psychophysiological responses during moderate-intensity exercise preceded by fatigue. Psychology & Behavior, 2015;139:274-280.

5 Ways to Make More Effective Health Decisions

How many decisions do you make in a day? I’m not talking just about the big, obvious decisions like whether to apply for a new job or where to go on vacation. I’m talking about the small, almost imperceptible, day-to-day decisions that affect your health:

Should I have a piece of candy from the bowl on my co-worker’s desk?

Should I increase the rate on the treadmill for the last 0.1 mile?

Should I have pickles on my sandwich?

I’m not here to tell you what choices to make in the face of decisions like these – either way you choose could be appropriate depending on what the rest of your day or the rest of your week has been like, and which choices will support your mental and social health, as well (check out my article on total well-being here).

I am here to provide you with encouragement. The constant decisions we all make on a daily basis take their toll. Research has indicated that the more decisions a person makes, the more likely they are to experience “decision fatigue” and find themselves giving in to temptation. You can use this information to your advantage.

  1. Recognize that the more decisions you make, the harder it will be to continue making good choices. If you are aware of the role decision fatigue may be playing in your health, you will be more able to counteract the effect when you see it popping up in your decisions.

  2. Turn off autopilot. Be mindful of each decision you make that affects your health. Be mentally present in each decision. “Going with the flow” may lead you to making a poor choice or continuing a behavior that you have been wanting or trying to change.

  3. Set yourself up for success. You can make good decisions easier for yourself by making adjustments to your environment. For example, pack a gym bag to take with you in the morning and go straight to the gym after work to pre-empt the decision whether to leave your house again after you get home. Try packing a healthy snack (great examples here) so that you have a better option available in that afternoon slump besides the vending machine at work.

  4. Flex your decision-making muscle. You’ll be making many of the same decisions repeatedly. When you buy bread at the store, you will have to decide between white and whole-grain bread every single time. The more you make the decisions to buy the whole-grain bread, the easier that decision becomes until it doesn’t really seem like a decision anymore, but more of a habit.

  5. Use a mantra. Come up with a mantra – a short, meaningful phrase – to coach yourself through those tough decisions and keep working toward your health goals. It doesn’t matter if come up with your own or borrow one – it just needs to be meaningful and motivational for you. My personal mantra is, “Getting better, getting stronger.” It helps me through both health decisions and tough workouts.

You have to make health decisions every single day. Even though it may become easier to make those decisions, you have to be mindful and make the best choice for your overall health that you can each time a decision comes up. One choice about one decision will not make or break your health, because health is a lifelong journey, not a moment in time.

 

Sources:

Tierney J. Do you suffer from decision fatigue? The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. Published August 17, 2011. Accessed February 21, 2015.

Anderson J. Think yourself fit! SparkPeople. http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/motivation_articles.asp?id=1012. Accessed February 21, 2015.