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Do You Have an Exercise Addiction?

bodybuilderPhoto courtesy of Jeremy Brooks

While emotional eating is something we’ve all heard of (and probably participated in, truth be told), how many of you have heard the term ‘emotional exercising?’ As I mentioned last week, I’m on a journey to get fit and I’m struggling with motivation.  As I pay more attention to the people exercising around me, I’ve started wondering about the opposite end of the spectrum.  How much is too much?

At first, the concept of working out your tension in the weight room or going for a celebratory run seems like a pretty decent idea, and one that many doctors and psychologists recommend to their patients.

Many of the physical health benefits associated with regular exercise are obvious: stronger muscles, healthier body weight, better cardiovascular and pulmonary systems, lowered chance of diabetes, improved sleep and increased energy. Although the psychological benefits you can reap from regular exercise are a lot harder to monitor, staying fit has indeed been proven to ease depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.

I’ve read several studies that even showed improvements in brain function after cardio workouts, including better memory, attention and learning abilities. One recent and particularly large study that took place at King’s College in London, summed up their results as such: “Healthy body; healthy mind.”

Like all good things, exercising can become addictive.  Because of its awesome ability to activate the brain’s pleasure center, some people take exercising to the extreme, wanting more and more of the feel-good hormones that working out releases.

Take Jeff Tweedy, for example.  Jeff is the lead singer of the band Wilco, and he developed a nasty combination of drug and alcohol addictions due to the rock and roll lifestyle and a lifelong affliction with migraines (for which he took prescription pain killers).  Several years ago, Jeff went to rehab, got clean, and has been sober ever since. After rehab, he took up running.

In fact, he ran so much, he broke both of his legs doing it. When interviewed, Jeff had this to say: “Just because I found something good to do doesn’t mean I’m not going to hurt myself doing it.”

Because exercising activates the brain’s pleasure circuit so well, it can indeed become a problem – especially for those people who are more prone to addiction in general.

If you’re putting important life events and people on the back burner in order to work out, it may be time to take a look at your attitude toward exercise. Outwardly, it can be difficult to differentiate between a healthy athlete and an exercise addict. What I’ve learned is it’s the attitude that matters.

People who become addicted to exercising will lose perspective and balance in their lives. Just like a drug, working out becomes their first priority, regardless of who or what it replaces. Increased miles on the pavement, extra hours in the gym, multiple workouts every day. More is always better to the addict.

Exercise is an amazing tool for many reasons, and most of us should be doing more of it. However, if you had an ‘a-ha’ moment while reading about exercise addiction, your next move should be to find a good therapist. Leading a healthier, happier, and more balanced life will come when you are able to separate your emotions from exercise. And a little Ellen DeGeneres can’t hurt, either: “I really don’t think I need buns of steel.  I’d be happy with buns of cinnamon.”

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8 Workout Mistakes to Avoid

workoutPhoto courtesy of Whologwhy

As someone who has recently committed to adding fitness back into my life, I was definitely a little rusty at first.  I had been without a solid workout routine in over two years, and, although my lapse was justified with some pretty legitimate reasons, some extra weight had crept ont. Thus, I made the decision to go forth once again into the fray.

Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a similar situation – slowing metabolism, physical limitations, or “life got in the way.” Whatever your particular reason may have been, if now is the right time to start exercising again, you surely want to get the most out of your workouts. As you work to hone your internal self-awareness, don’t forget to acknowledge your physical self, too. Your physical body must be in good condition so you can make the most out of all of life’s opportunities. Optimal physical health and fitness will only serve to enhance enjoyment of the world around us.

As I jumped feet first into exercising again (literally – I took up swimming), I wasn’t seeing the results I had anticipated. I needed a refresher on how to get the most out of my workouts, because I was doing a few things wrong. Here are several mistakes many newbie athletes make, and how to avoid them:

  1. Refueling on Gatorade: On my way through my gym to get to the pool, I see bottle after bottle of brightly colored Gatorade or other similar drinks. Unless you’re training for a marathon – downing such a sugar-laden drink isn’t only unnecessary – it’s self-sabotage. Ditch the sugary electrolyte replacement for good ol’ H2O.
  2. Spending hours at the gym: If your idea of exercising is long, slow workouts, you’re probably not getting the results you want. Working at too low of an intensity won’t burn enough calories. If a low energy level is to blame, add more protein to your diet and avoid processed carbs. The most effective fat burning workouts are “in and out in 30 minutes.”  Short, intense workouts have been shown to burn more calories than the long, leisurely social calls that so many people call “exercising.”
  3. Reading on the treadmill: My own personal experience is this: If you have enough focus left to read, you’re not working out hard enough.  Leave the book at home and pop some ear buds in. The music will be much more inspiring than any reading material.
  4. Doing the same workout week after week: Many people (women especially) fear bulking up, so they stick to the same, repetitive cardio workouts for months or even years at a time, preventing their bodies from ever making any changes. Your muscles get as bored as your brain does, and you’ll never get over that plateau unless you switch things up.
  5. ENERGY bars: Sometimes I know I have to eat something before a workout or I’ll probably pass out while doing it. However, inhaling an ”Energy” bar is definitely not the wisest choice. Loaded with fiber, they sap your energy as your body works hard to digest them, cramping your workout (and possibly your stomach). The better selection? A banana – “nature’s Power Bar” – it has easily digestible carbs (fuel) and high levels of potassium, which helps nerve and muscle function.
  6. Avoiding the scale: Obsessing over your weight isn’t a good habit to get into, but stepping on the scale once a week has been proven to aid in weight loss. It is motivational and also keeps you from straying.
  7. Skipping weight training: For those who fear weight training because they don’t want huge muscles or are afraid of injury: rest assured. Resistance training is the key to increase lean muscles and get rid of stubborn fat areas. Switch out your cardio for some weights at least twice a week.
  8. Hating your workout: If you dread your exercise routine, you’ll probably end up skipping it more often than not, leading to stored calories and pounds gained. Workouts don’t have to include a gym! Play outside with your friends or your children, explore some nature trails or do lunges and stair runs in your own house.

The key to making your workouts successful is doing something you enjoy (at least most of the time), following a few simple rules, and committing to an active lifestyle for the rest of your (healthier) life!

To that end, tune back in to TinyShift on Monday to check out our latest giveaway – it’s bound to get your asana in gear!

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How to Do Something When You Really Don’t Want to

unmotivatedPhoto courtesy of Jamelah

You know the feeling: you’ve got an endless To-do list and you’re drowning in deadlines, but you just cannot seem to find the right motivation. Regardless of what particular goal(s) you’re trying to reach, dealing with a lack of motivation can really slow down your progress. In fact, allowing your slump to continue can cause a hefty set-back, undoing some of your hard-earned progress you have already made.

I am presently lacking the motivation to get my butt in gear and get in shape. I’m well aware of the health benefits I will enjoy after my body drops a few pounds, and I see my skinny clothes beckoning me from my closet every day. I’m also cognizant that regular exercise and healthy eating are the key to getting fit. The problem? How to overcome the “I don’t wanna”:

  1. Question your motives. The first step in finding your way past a roadblock is to reassess why you set that particular goal in the first place. Make sure that the goal in question is attainable, necessary, and will lead you to a happier and better place than where you are currently. Evaluate whether or not you really need/want to make the changes required to reach this goal. It’s possible that your goals have changed since you set out to change your life, which is why you should reevaluate frequently. If, however,  you discover that you’re on the right track, renew your confidence in the idea by imagining a future in which you have accomplished this goal. Come back to that visualization of yourself succeeding anytime you struggle.
  2. Rename your goal. Sometimes, word association can get the better of us.  For me, “exercising” brings up thoughts of sweat and exhaustion. What I really need in my life is to improve my physical endurance to overcome some of the hurdles that a connective tissue disorder throws at me. From now on, I’m going to tell myself, “Let’s go get stronger!” It may seem too simple to work, but I know that it is possible to mind-trick your own mind.
  3. Forgive yourself. One of the worst things you can do when you’re already in an uninspired frame of mind is to berate yourself to an even lower place. I know this to be true, and I’m working on being nicer to myself when I slip.
  4. Make a tiny shift. After all, that’s how we came up with our name! Most often, people feel unmotivated to do tasks that seem overwhelming. To avoid this, make your tasks as easy and simple as possible. Want to get more fit? Walk for 3-5 minutes every day. Cutting caffeine out of your life? Drop one caffeinated beverage out of your meal plan every week, or move to half-caff.  Trying to get better at keeping your house clean? Organize one room at a time, or set a timer and clean for only 30 minutes. Doing a little every day may not seem like a big deal, but what you’re actually doing is creating habits.
  5. Try to have fun. I hate reading self-help articles that say “It’ll all work out!  Just do it!” While they may be right, that doesn’t solve my problem – not wanting to do it in the first place! There’s a reason we struggle to do some of the things that will improve our lives – they’re hard! So, instead of forcing yourself to do something you hate - change it up a little bit first. Find some way to add even the tiniest pleasure to the task at hand – like adding fresh mint into your decaf tea, or buying new cleaning supplies. For me, it meant finding fun ways to get exercise with other people, like playing kickball with my kids, having a nature walk with my best friend, and taking a swim with my husband.

Finally – even the best of us have moments when all we feel like doing nothing. Give yourself permission to do nothing for a bit, because it’s your mind’s way of telling you to slow down and take a break. When you’re finished doing nothing, get back up and try again - because as the old saying goes:

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” – Japanese Proverb

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The Secret to Aging Gracefully

 

winePhoto courtesy of Robert S. Donovan

At any given moment in my life, I am busy perpetuating a lie, and many of you are, too.

We’ve been conditioned to associate getting older with negativity in many aspects, but particularly how we appeal to others. Consequently, middle age incites a mild panic as we furtively participate in rituals that promise to make us look and seem younger than we really are.

As our predicted life spans have now passed the three-quarter-century mark, many of us are faced with the reality of old age. Thus, we spend excessive amounts of money and time on cosmetics, treatments and procedures in order to maintain the illusion (delusion?) of youth. To go out into the world armed with nothing but our True Faces is akin to a triple-dog-dare, and definitely NOT something that I am up for.

However, on my journey toward complete self-acceptance and unconditional self-love, I asked myself if there was a way to age more gracefully.

And as it turns out, there is.

I was introduced to just the motivation I didn’t even know I needed in Phyllis Sues, a woman with an earnest life motto: “To look good and feel good is work. To look great and feel great is a full-time job. The reward is liking myself and living a creative life.”

Before you chalk her up to just another life coach with nothing behind her words but a high price tag, hear this: Phyllis is 53 (years older than me). Can you do the math if I tell you I’m 37?

Phyllis’ zest for life and determination to have her mind and body live as one spurred me on to learn more about the science of aging. Armed with knowledge, maybe we could all be more like Phyllis. I was intrigued by what I learned.

While there’s no denying that muscle mass starts to decrease and reaction time slows down, some areas of our brains actually start to improve in our 60s, 70s and 80s. Contrary to popular belief, neuroscientists now know that the brain’s dendrites grow longer and increase in number in our later years. Dendrites are the branches that brain cells need in order for neurotransmitters to create synapses.

This information tells us that, not only is it possible to age gracefully, but our brains are actually wired to allow us to do so! Geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Gene D. Cohen, MD confirmed that our ability to coordinate both hemispheres of the brain improve in the last third of our lives, making us better at solving emotional problems and paying attention to our life experiences. There is great potential for complete fulfillment in our later years.

Naturally, in order to take advantage of those longer, more proliferate dendrites, we’ve got to keep our bodies alive and healthy long enough to reach that stage of life in good shape. This means putting concerted efforts into moving, learning and listening to your body and mind. As the saying goes: “A dog walking through a field of cotton doesn’t come out wearing a suit.”

It’s important to have a good handle on what happiness looks like to you, but no plan is worth a damn unless it’s put into action. As Phyllis says, “There is a way to beat the clock. Stay fit and enjoy the journey. Accept the challenge and go for it!”

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