Tips for a Long and Healthy Life

FullSizeRender-1When I started my journey towards a healthy lifestyle, I decided it was going to be a long-term commitment to myself to feel better and stronger each day. While I try my best to stay the course, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can feel overwhelming. I try to get the weekly recommended amount of physical activity, eat veggies, and get plenty of sleep, but sometimes I fall off the wagon. I get busy… and Netflix…and cake. The struggle is real.

Recently I’ve noticed that I have been pretty hard on myself when I feel like I can’t get the “perfect” workout done. I’ve become so focused on the short-term struggles that I have lost sight of my long-term goal of a long, healthy life. In an effort to stay the course on my journey towards a healthy lifestyle, I’ve done the only two things I know to do when face a problem: 1) I talked to my sisters, and 2) I turned to science for answers. After consulting my sources, I have come to the reassuring conclusion that I’ve been making things way too complicated. Small health changes in the short-term can lead to significant rewards in the long-term!

Here are some of the take home messages I’ve learned about healthy lifestyle choices that are helping me stay motivated (in case there any friends out in cyberspace who are struggling to start or maintain a healthy lifestyle….and because I love sharing science):

  1. Move more, sit less. Physical activity is an important aspect of maintaining well-being. Until I turned to the literature, I was under the impression that physical activity meant working out. As it turns out, there are two components to physical activity: regular workouts and limiting excessive sedentary behavior (e.g., sit less).  Sitting for long periods of time has emerged as a risk factor for poor health outcomes such as diabetes  and cardiovascular disease. The good news is that moving more and sitting less can be easily worked into a daily routine. Small changes can make a big difference over the long-term. I’ve been incorporating some fun workout suggestions from our friends at Chobani. Having a delicious 100 calorie snack or even something as easy as playing with your kids for 23 minutes can go a long way!

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Way to keep moving Baymax!

  1. Healthy lifestyles are associated with longer and happier lives. Amanda recently shared a report with me from the Stanford Center for Longevity . This report states that individuals who live longer, happier lives tend to be individuals who adopt healthy lifestyles. It was very motivating for me to read that making small healthy choices such as getting enough sleep, eating more vegetables, and moving more could help me lead a longer, better quality life.
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Veggie Cobb salad with baby kale, cucumbers, quinoa, summer squash and avocados. Yum! Choices like this can help us live a long healthy life.

  1. Social engagement is another way to improve well-being and longevity. Making new friends and joining a community of other individuals who share my love for healthy living, Disney, and all things crafty has been one of the best side effects of my journey towards a healthier life. I was excited to learn from the Stanford longevity report that social engagement, such as participating in a community and developing relationships is also associated with longer and happier living! This means that decisions to show up to ballet rehearsal, or complete a runDisney race, or have a chat with my sisters about a new recipe are also cultivating an additional predictor for a longer, happier life!!
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Social bonds are a vital part of long, healthy lives.

 

Well, friends, I think that’s all the main points I’ve learned so far. If you have any tips for maintaining a healthy lifestyle please let me know in the comments section. I am always looking for ways to stay motivated!

-Christine

Nutrition and Weight Loss for Runners

photoAfter running the Tinker Bell Half Marathon this month, I now have a bit of a gap until my next race. I will be running the Marine Corps Marathon 10K in DC on October 25th followed by the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon on November 7th. I would love to find another race for September or October (any suggestions?), but in the meantime I am trying to focus on an area I can always improve: my nutrition.

Let me start by saying that I am not a Nutritionist or a Registered Dietician. I am a Certified Personal Trainer and a Weight Loss Specialist. I’m educated on basic nutrition, various diets and basic guidelines, but I don’t prescribe diets and I don’t know everything. I’ve read the textbooks and the guidelines when it comes to nutrition, but the truth is that I’ve learned the most by doing my own experimenting with various diets and meal plans.

There are a million different diets and fads out there from the South Beach Diet to the Paleo Diet to something ridiculous called the Cabbage Soup Diet and whatever Gwyneth Paltrow is currently eating. When it comes to following a specific fad diet here is my advice – find what works best for YOUR body and find something that you can realistically stick to for a long period of time. I’ve seen people have amazing results with things like the Paleo or South Beach Diet, while others become completely miserable trying to adhere to these. Everyone is different.

For me personally, I have success with a well balanced diet that includes a lot of fruits, veggies and lean proteins (for me this is a lot of eggs) with minimal simple sugars and processed food. I do not completely cut out carbs, and this is partly because I’m a vegetarian and also because I get incredibly cranky if I don’t eat any carbs. Instead, I focus on eating an appropriate portion of complex carbohydrates. In other words, BAD = white rice, white bread, giant bowl of spaghetti and GOOD = quinoa, nuts, hummus, brown rice.

Now let’s get to the topic of nutrition while training for a race. Last holiday season, I ate about 100 too many Christmas cookies, and a DEXA scan showed that I gained 5lbs of fat in my stomach and I had gone up a few percentages in body fat. Because of this, I got really serious about my nutrition from January-March of this year. This was also the most intense time of my marathon training. I was averaging about 20-30 miles per week of training with my long runs getting up to 18 miles. By focusing on a well balanced diet, I managed to lose 6 pounds of fat, drop my body fat percentage, and not lose any muscle mass while training for the marathon.

This experience really opened my eyes to the importance of nutrition. This wasn’t the first time I had trained for a race, and I’ve been a long distance runner for awhile now. Why had I never lost weight before during training? I had consistently been the exact same weight through training for several races. After doing some research and participating in a few social media running groups, I’ve noticed this is actually the case for many people. Some people even gain weight while training for a race. So what can we do? Everyone has different goals when it comes to long distance running. Your goal may be to hit a personal record at your next race, to have the best looking tutu or just to earn as many medals as possible. If along with this, you also hope to lose weight, here are my main points of advice.

  1. Avoid Rewarding Yourself with Food: The fact is, a lot of us play a mind game with ourselves when it comes to food. We say things like, “I ran 10 miles today, so I can definitely eat that pizza” or “I worked really hard on that run today, I deserve a cupcake!” The problem with this is that weight loss is a math problem. It doesn’t care how hard you worked or how many miles you ran. All it cares about is if you reach a caloric deficit at the end of the day. Did you burn more calories than you ate? You might have burned 900 calories on that long run, but if you eat an extra 900 calories as a result, then you aren’t going to lose weight. Did you stop at Starbucks after your run to get a slice of pound cake and a Frappuccino? (I’m guilty of this.) That’s 900 calories. Try to find other ways to reward yourself. How about if you run 10 miles you can take an extra long bubble bath or binge watch your favorite show on Netflix?
  1. Don’t Overdo the Energy Drinks: Protein bars, energy drinks, and energy gels are awesome during and after a really long race, but if you’re running for less than 60 minutes, you don’t need them. Just stick to water in order to avoid adding unnecessary calories to your diet.
  1. Replenish Your Body with Healthy Food: Probably the most difficult part of weight loss is striking the balance between appropriately nourishing your body and still achieving a caloric deficit. Your body needs to be replenished with protein and healthy carbs after a long run. The trick is choosing the right foods. Avoid empty calories, or foods that are high in calories but low in nutritional value. These foods won’t help much with rebuilding your muscles after a long run. Instead, go for those nutrient rich foods to refuel after a run and to help satisfy hunger cravings. Examples include fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, grains etc.
  1. To Carb-Load or Not to Carb-Load? If your goal is to lose weight, be really careful with the carb-loading. Carb-loading is a strategy used by runners who are really trying to boost their performance on race day. The idea is to maximize the amount of energy stored in your muscles before the race, allowing you to exercise for longer without losing steam. I personally don’t do much carb-loading for half marathons. I did a little for my full marathon. I find that if I just replenish with an energy drink or a few nuts every 60-90 minutes I don’t really lose steam. Feel out your body and see what works, but don’t binge eat carbs without having a really well calculated plan for this.
  1. Incorporate Strength Training: Lastly, be sure to incorporate more than just running into your exercise routine. Incorporating strength training is really important for maintaining muscle mass while training for a race. Although your goal may be to lose weight, you don’t want to lose muscle or become a weakling! In addition, your metabolism will increase as you gain muscle, you’ll improve your bone density, and you’ll be able to run faster! For a fun Disney themed workout checkout this post. You can also find a list of exercises for long distance runners here.

Let me conclude this post with a few motivational tips that I’d like to share.

  • You’re already beautiful. If your goal is to lose weight, you’re just trying to make yourself healthier.
  • You aren’t on a diet, you’re just eating healthy. The phrase “diet” has a negative connotation and it makes me think of something miserable. It also makes me think of something temporary, but the goal is to always eat healthy – even when you aren’t trying to lose weight.
  • You only have to eat healthy 85% of the time. For that other 15% of the time, eat the Mickey cake pop and your friend’s wedding cake.
  • Do not become obsessed with the scale. It doesn’t always speak the truth. It’s better to listen to your body, focus in on how you feel and take note if your clothes start to fit you differently. Even if you don’t lose weight right away, you are immediately improving your health and longevity.

After completing my marathon at the end of March, I fell off the healthy eating wagon and gained back some of the fat I lost. It’s time to get back on track, and I hope you’ll do it with me! I plan to stay focused by sharing healthy eating posts and recipe ideas! Do you have any nutrition advice or healthy recipes? If so, please share in the comments!

I will also be posting my training plan for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon as the date gets closer.

See ya real soon,

– Amanda