As the weather gets cold and the holidays approach, many find themselves struggling to stay motivated to exercise and eat healthy.
Heather Grebert, Certified Health Coach and Certified Personal Trainer at Shenandoah Medical Center explains there are many reasons, in addition to weight loss, that make it a priority to stay on track.
“The biggest overall benefit for the majority of the population is mental health,” said Grebert. “I wish more people could have a direct understanding of that.”
Going into colder winter weather, in addition to the time change, Grebert says that making some time for exercise couldn’t be more effective for your overall health.
“Time change really has a serious impact on seasonal affective disorder,” said Grebert. “I think more people are affected by it than they even realize. I have Health Coaching clients that can recite to me the day it will begin and the exact day it will end. It is extremely impactful on their lives, daily.”
Grebert said even if it is just a small amount of exercise each day; it can make a difference psychologically. A little movement can go a long way over time when you start small and consistently stay with it.
Grebert explained that after the holidays, the negative thoughts that people have about their bodies tend to increase because they have neglected exercise and let their eating get out of control. She suggested reaching out for help when you need it.
“We have many options available from self-service exercise, Personal Training, high intensity group fitness, wellness classes, as well as one-on-one Health Coaching, which hits every aspect of mental, physical, nutritional struggles and beyond. We want to help you make an impact on your health in the best positive way,” said Grebert.
Keeping our bodies functional is a key benefit of exercise.
As we age, each year we lose muscle, Grebert explained, as well as the ease of putting muscle on. She said keeping your body in a healthy state will make it easier to live at home later in life and function normally. Without physical strength, getting out of a chair could become a struggle; going up and down the stairs will become increasingly difficult. Your home could start to become inaccessible to you.
“Looking ahead into your future, realizing deficiencies you could be experiencing and finding the right resources to aid in that is imperative for long-term functional health and staying at home over the course of your lifetime,” said Grebert.
“I don’t think people realize how important that can be to their future living environment,” said Grebert. “The physiological systems of the human body are similar to a car’s in that with the proper fuel (nutrition), maintenance and operation, it’s possible to have a long, healthy, vibrant life full of enjoyable physical activity. That is why strength and functional movement are so important.”
When discussing different fitness options, I asked what was better – cardio or strength training?
“Cardio-based activity is great for your overall fitness, adding significant benefits to your cardiovascular health, helping improve your V02max, and aiding in daily cardiorespiratory activities such as walking, using the stairs, etc.,” said Grebert.
She noted, other added benefits of cardio activity include:
Regular steady-state cardio execise that focuses on your aerobic metabolism (exercise at an intensity where you are still able to talk but maybe not an easy, full sentence). So it can not only help you feel younger, but look younger as well. Score!
Cardio training can enhance your ability to deal with stress more effectively. Exercise elevates levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol, which are hormones produced during times of stress because they help produce energy. You might become jumpy or jittery in stressful situations. Regular exercise can help your body deal with these hormones when they are released into your system.
And, cardiovascular exercise has also been shown to enhance cognitive function and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. This is a big deal. Who doesn’t want to lessen that possibility?
But, Grebert said, cardio and weight training go together hand in hand for a successful relationship with your body. When it comes to exercise, Grebert said you should consider incorporating both weight training and functional strength exercises, as well as cardiorespiratory training.
“The more muscle we can build and maintain for our bodies; it will keep our bodies strong, functioning normally and, as an added benefit, you will also have the increased ability to burn more fat at rest,” said Grebert.
Grebert said a lot of people struggle getting started with an exercise routine and suggested finding an exercise partner. Someone to hold you accountable and keep you motivated. A buddy!
“If you are having trouble finding someone to exercise with, think close to home – a neighbor, your pet or a friend’s, maybe even a friend from a distance via online can help,” said Grebert. “It doesn’t matter who it is or what distance they are from you – as long as they are inspirational and helpful in your particular world. Or maybe you want to mix it up and find a class you can attend. Camaraderie is extremely motivational and I have seen many friendships made in the process!”
She said in many instances, a high intensity class is modifiable to make it much less-impactful.
“That’s definitely an added benefit to working with a certified trainer,” said Grebert. “They are educated in anatomy-related issues and have the ability to adapt as they teach to lessen or intensify a session.”
She added to get in touch with Personal Training at SMC if you are wondering if high impact classes could benefit you. Grebert teaches two hour-long bootcamp classes and two high intensity interval training classes each week.
“We even have showers on site for convenience for us sweaty souls,” said Grebert.
Another tip, Grebert said, is to find a form of exercise you enjoy doing. She said there is a variety to choose from in our community. Once you find something you enjoy doing, it becomes less of a chore and much less effort.
“Once it becomes habitual, it’s just much easier to make it happen,” said Grebert.
When asked what she found to be some of the biggest concerns with stability during the holidays, she had this to add:
“During the holidays people tend to lose focus on the true meaning of the holidays and focus more on food with holiday parties and family gatherings,” Grebert said. “If you know you’re going to be attending a holiday party, set yourself up for success by bringing something that you know is super yummy and satisfying, but it’s also helpful and healthy. It’s much easier to have a key item or two you know you can rely on as a safety net.”
“It doesn’t mean negate the other foods, but when you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have control of what you want for your body and for your health, try to set yourself up for success,” said Grebert.” It could take the edge off of feeling like grabbing every little thing there to eat. Plus it helps you find some relief in a possible stressful situation.”
Grebert said pre-planning is key for staying on track with your nutrition. She suggested taking a fruit or veggie tray with a greek yogurt based dip or hummus (which you can find in sweet or savory forms), or possibly a fruit or veggie pizza, to holiday gatherings. And, “almost any recipe can be made into a healthier version with just a few small tweaks and I bet no one will even notice.”
Try to stop and think about how long it takes for your body to feel ‘normal’ again. Thinking about how your body is reacting to certain foods or situations can help entice you to make better choices in the long run.
Trying to stay on track with exercise is also important when you are trying to keep a steady-state weight during the holidays and always.
“If you are able to get 45 to 60 minutes of good (that place where full sentences might seem a little daunting) activity, it is going to help your body and mind stay more stable during the holidays,” said Grebert. “But anything is better than nothing. Even if it’s just 10 to 20 minutes, it can be very helpful. It really is part of the process of staying mindful and keeping yourself and your goals on track.”
Listening to your body can have a significant impact on your body composition and your healthy weight.
Grebert said, “Our society is set up for fast-paced everything. Lunches are often 30 minutes or less and that is creating a behavior to eat quickly, move forward, with no thought process in between.” “If you can, while eating try to go slow, sit down and enjoy what you are consuming. Think about the way it’s making you feel. Think about if you are actually to a satisfied point; not that over-stuffed miserable feeling. Maybe try and put a positive spin on things and think about having more for another day/meal when you choose to leave some food on your plate.”
Try setting your fork down between bites when working to find your intuitiveness with food. If you can try to eat slower; you will most likely eat a significant less amount. She said to stop and think to yourself, ‘how hungry was I when I started eating’ and ‘how do I truly feel now after I am done eating’.
“Your body is so amazing, and it truly will tell you what it needs,” said Grebert. “If you can listen; it overall can be your biggest win. She states she usually tells her clients that our bodies are much, much smarter than we are. We just often don’t take the time to hear it.”
She states that trying to eat when your body tells you that you are hungry is no easy task and trying to stop before you are mentally satisfied is an even greater one. Boredom and even thirst can be big components. If you start having the mental struggle that you think you are hungry – this is that opportunity to walk out to the mailbox and back, walk around the block, involve yourself in something else you enjoy (crocheting, online research, crossword puzzles, etc.), maybe drink some water. You may find that your choices become different afterwards. That extra 300-500 calories that you would have consumed, most likely from boredom, has now just become zero.
The stress we put on our bodies physically and mentally can play huge roles in overall health.
There is a strong correlation between high stress levels and increased weight. A variety of factors can cause this. Cortisol can spike in the later parts of a response to a stressful situation. The body’s stress response also increases the drive for big tasting foods, such as those that are high in fat and quick-release carbohydrates, as a means of rapidly replenishing energy stores.
In addition, cortisol can cause an increase in fat storage, particularly around the midsection. The fat cells that are located in the abdomen, ‘visceral fat’, are particularly sensitive to cortisol and store more fat than other areas when exposed to it.
“It can be a very frustrating, vicious cycle and it can also be difficult to get back under control,” Grebert said.
If your hormones feel out of balance, you might try some of the following suggestions:
“Things that are important are eating plenty of healthy fats (walnuts, fresh caught salmon, olive oil, avocados, etc.), drinking plenty of water, getting restful sleep and enough of it (trying for eight hours, at least, is always a good idea), and using your time wisely as far as meditating or some kind of alone time thinking and processing what’s around you (sometimes just as simple as taking time to listen to your breathing),” said Grebert. “You want to also focus on getting enough protein for your body frame and exercise schedule, as well as at least maintaining functional movement exercise (walking, biking, low intensity class participation, etc.).”
What are your thoughts with all of the different diets out there?
“I’m just not a fan of a ‘diet’ per se, in general,” said Grebert. “I’m a fan of eating healthy within your body’s range for fuel and getting adequate exercise for your body and body type.”
Grebert believes in intuitive eating with good healthy nutrients and a balanced diet with a lot of healthy color to it (a rainbow of color provides a rainbow of vitamins and minerals, she states).
“There really is no quick fix that will remain attainable for your lifetime,” said Grebert. “Every time you lose that weight in a drastic manner, and then you go back to what you were doing before (because most often you will), often it can be twice as much weight that can creep back on.”
Grebert explained every time you engage in this cycle, you will most likely gain back more weight and it gets harder each time to lose weight in the future. At that point, you run the risk of dropping your calorie intake down below your particular recommended range; creating additional negative effect on your hormonal state.
So, be mindful about what is around you and about to be around you and be thankful for what’s in front of you!