Establishing Habits for a Productive Life

Posts tagged “health

Change your mindset, improve your running

So much of our ability in running comes from having the correct frame of mind. Oftentimes we fall short of our goal because our mind tells us we can’t do it, we’re tired, we’re sore, we’re bored, etc. Here are some simple tips I’ve found to help me overcome those mental barriers and push through.

Lean into the pain. Avoidance of pain is one of our most instinctive human responses. Although certain types of discomfort do signal potential injury, there are also plenty of aches and pains that are simply signs that you are pushing your body.  “You need to push through discomfort to see performance gains,” says John Raglin, Ph.D, in Runner’s World Magazine. So don’t stop running next time you sense the first hint of pain.  Instead, listen to your body.  Try to recognize if the pain is a sign of growth or a sign of injury. If it’s a sign of growth, push into it.  Let that inspire you. Know your body is trying to reach limits it hasn’t before, and that’s how you’ll become faster and stronger.

Set ambitious goals.  I’ve learned one very simple psychological trick: if I tell myself I’m going to run three miles, I’ll be exhausted after three. If I tell myself I’m going to run seven, I’ll be exhausted after seven.  For a long time I kept thinking that four miles was my limit, and eventually I realized that I wasn’t moving past four simply because I never aimed to run more.

Identify short-term targets. Take it one step at a time.  Focus on making it to the top of the hill, then to the end of the street, down the next block.  Try to push through to the end of the song you’re listening to or try running especially hard for the next 30 seconds.

Look for little victories.  Congratulate yourself after each mile or after each stretch. One small reward system I’ve implemented is allowing myself to sip from my water bottle after each mile.

Refocus your thoughts. It’s okay to tune into your body, but it’s also okay to tune out and let your mind wander.  Do you have a project at work to mull over? A friend you’re excited to see? Or maybe you would prefer to tune into your surroundings, whether that means observing nature or even making up stories about passerby.  Whether running is your time to process things in your everyday life or to ponder more abstract ideas, this kind of mental activity is good in that it distracts you from physical discomfort. When your mind zeros in on the pain, your body actually increases its stress response, thereby aggravating that discomfort.

Visualize goals. If you begin your run by saying “There’s no way I’ll reach my goal today,” chances are you won’t.  Visualize yourself achieving your goal. Imagine yourself telling your friend, partner, or workout partner “I ran ____ today,” and the sense of pride that accompanies it. Recall past experiences where you did accomplish your goal.  How did that feel?

Remind yourself why you do it.  What are your motivations for running? Do you run to lose weight? To train for a marathon? To decrease your stress levels? To impress a friend or partner? Whatever the reason, imagine how much closer you’ll be to that goal if you push through to the end.


Six Secrets to Smarter Decision-Making

“The single most important factor in determining your health is not your parents, or even your environment.  It is the quality of decisions that you make every day.”  – Dr. Daniel Amen (child and adult psychiatrist, self-help advisor, author and medical director of the Amen Clinic)

Let’s face it: we all know what foods are good for us, we all know we need to exercise, we all know we should quit smoking.  We are bombarded with information and advice about how to get healthy.  The problem is not a shortage of information. It is implementing it in our own lives on an everyday basis.

In fact, an eight-decade long study found that the single largest biological factor linked with longevity was conscientiousness.  What seems like our permanent state of “health” is, in large part, the consequences of a lifetime of decision-making. We might tell ourselves that we’ll make better decisions tomorrow, but bad decisions quickly turn into bad habits. And as we age, the consequences become more and more magnified.

The question then is, how do we help ourselves make better decisions? We all know what we should be doing, but we often act in contradicting ways.

I find that my moments of poorest judgement come when I am in a weakened mental state. Have you ever noticed that you tend to make the laziest, most unwise decisions when you are tired, starving, cranky, stressed, or intoxicated? In these states, reaching for that donut may seem like the only thing that will help you get through your day. It is so easy to justify bad decision-making to ourselves, especially when in the short term, it may be easier or more fun than the alternative. Unfortunately, if we tend to indulge our cravings in this way, we might be asking ourselves 3 months down the line, “Where did those 5 lbs come from?”

There are several steps we can take to prevent ourselves from falling into these weakened states in the first place (in order words, ensuring that our brain is well-equipped to make the best possible decisions):

  • Keep your blood sugar stable. Eat high quality, small meals four to five times a day.
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep daily. Six or less hours of sleep decreases blood flow to vital organs, particularly the brain.
  • Eliminate toxins.  Heavy drinking or drug use will impair your judgment, making you more likely to do things you might not normally.  Not to mention, the carbs from alcohol probably aren’t going to make those fitness goals any easier.
  • Lose weight.  Did you know that the more weight you put on, the smaller and less efficient your brain becomes?
  • Meditate. A UCLA study published in March 2012 found that meditators have larger amounts of folding in the brain’s cortex than non-meditators, enabling them to process information more quickly.
  • Worry a little bit.  The Longevity Project also found that those with the “don’t worry, be happy” philosophy were a little more inclined to slack on their health than those who worried a small amount.

The type of temporary satisfaction we seek by indulging our cravings or weaknesses may provide pleasure in the short-term, but before you reach for that bag of potato chips, ask yourself if the subsequent guilt and regret is worth it.


Wake Up & Run! The Half Marathon Training Program: Halfway to the Half Marathon

Well, folks, I’m halfway there.  Just completed my first ever six-mile run, and I am proud to say that it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I anticipated.

To be completely honest, what I was most afraid of with this run going into it was the monotony.  Six miles is a long distance, and at 10 mins a mile, that’s a full hour of running.  I was getting really bored on my treadmill even on the shorter runs, and the high school track is equally monotonous.  So I ventured out into uncharted territory – that is, a nicely paved path about half a mile away from my house – and just started running.  Since I knew the road would be relatively flat, well-paved, and straight, I just ran and ran until my Nike+ Running app alerted me that I had run three miles, at which point I turned right around and ran back toward where I came from.

I also had all conditions working in my favor: it was a beautiful, 72º evening, I was well-fed (having had toast with peanut butter a half hour before) and well-hydrated (I even brought along the nifty water bottle I won at my last 8K!), and I had Songza to keep me company. It was one of the most enjoyable runs I’ve been on so far.

I feel so empowered.  Four weeks ago I never would have thought that I could run six miles without a break. Now that I’m halfway there, the half marathon is seeming much less daunting.

12 miles, here I come!


Getting Started with Yoga, Part I: Yoga “Mat”ters

There are many benefits to practicing yoga in a studio: the teacher is knowledgeable enough to correct your mistakes and prevent injuries, the atmosphere is focused and distractions are reduced to a minimum, and you are guided in your flow as opposed to having to construct it yourself. At the same time, there are days when we simply don’t have the time to get into a studio for a class, or times when we can’t afford to pay the premium costs of most studios.  Or perhaps you aren’t looking for a terribly strenuous practice, maybe just a few minutes of quick stretches at the beginning or end of your day.

In this series, I’ll offer a few suggestions to boost your home practice – everything from equipment, flow routines, playlists, recommended reading and more.

Let’s start with the essential equipment. If you’re new to yoga, I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of money on equipment up front. You should explore whether yoga is right for you first before committing to all the expensive add-ons.

The only item that is truly necessary is a good yoga mat. They can vary widely in price so it’s important to think about what exactly you’re looking to get out of it. Are you hoping to travel with it? If so, prioritize thinness and weight.  Do you know that your mat will be going through a lot of wear and tear? Invest in durability. Check out the helpful chart from About.com below to compare technical specifications of five very popular mats.

Gaiam Kulae tpECOmat Jade Harmony Lululemon 
The Mat
Manduka PRO
material PVC TPE rubber polyurethane, rubber PVC
thickness 1/8″ 1/8″ 3/16″ 3/16″ 1/4″
weight light (2.2 lbs) light (2 lbs) mid (4 lbs) mid (5.5 lbs) heavy (7 pounds)
length 68″ 72″ 68″ or 74″ 71″ 71″ or 85″
biodegradable no yes yes no no
odor no no yes (rubber) slight (rubber) no
soft yes yes no yes no
traction fair good good good good
durability poor poor good good good
price $22 $39 $65 $68 $94

I first began my practice out with a $10 mat from Target, and it wasn’t long before I grew frustrated with its thin cushion and poor grip.  I ended up buying two more mats until I finally decided to just make the investment and buy a mat I wouldn’t have to keep replacing. Though the Manduka mat is expensive, it is built to last and may be the last mat you buy for many years.

Clothing. I’ve seen people practice in everything from spandex shorts to loose linen clothing. The main objective with your clothing is that you are comfortable and able to move about freely.  In a class, the instructor often prefers that you wear tighter clothing so they can see your form and make corrections if necessary, though if you are simply practicing in your home, this is not essential. And men, when practicing in a studio, please no loose-fitting shorts. No one needs to see your junk during a down-dog…

That’s it for the essentials, but if you’re ready to deepen and enhance your practice, here are some other things to consider:

  • To absorb all that sweat, I recommend buying a yoga towel for your mat.  Especially in Hot Yoga, it can get pretty slippery.  I own the Gaiam Yoga Thirsty Towel and that has worked well for me.  It will protect your mat both from sweat and dirt, thus enabling you to go longer periods without having to wash your mat.
  • To keep your mat smelling clean and fresh, I would recommend Manduka’s Yoga Mat Spray. Nobody likes to smell a week’s worth of practice during their child’s pose. (I’ve also heard that you can also put your mat in the washing machine by itself with a tiny bit of detergent on a low setting.)
  • To deepen your stretches, the Manduka Cotton Yoga Strap is useful, especially for those hard to reach places. If your hands can’t quite lock behind your back, or your fingers can’t yet stretch past your toes, this strap can provide that extra leverage.
  • To facilitate your poses, I would recommend the Iyengar block. The block functions as an extension of your body, allowing you to reach more difficult poses.  In place of, or even in addition to the block, I would recommend a Traditional Mexican blanket.  They can be very affordable and in many instances can take the place of your block in providing support.  They are also commonly folded up and sat on for meditation because they elevate the booty just a couple inches off the floor, allowing blood to flow to your legs so they don’t fall asleep. If you’re practicing Restorative Yoga, you can also the blanket for warmth.

And that’s it. Namaste!


Finding motivation even on the toughest days

When I made the commitment to start training for a half marathon, I knew it was going to be physically difficult. What I didn’t anticipate, however, were the emotional hurdles that would inevitably get in my way. That is, life.

I recently went through a tough break-up. When I woke up the morning after, I was emotionally wiped out. I wanted nothing more than to stay in my pajamas all day, hide in my house, and eat chocolate.  Inevitably, my half marathon training schedule flashed open on my desktop, reminding me I needed to run 4 miles that day. Naturally, I resisted. I was so laden with mental and emotional stress that I felt drained of all energy and motivation. And in a way, I think I told myself I couldn’t run because I was “in mourning”, and continuing with life as normal would insult the magnitude of the situation.

Even though running always cheers me up, I spent the day moping about and as a result, felt even worse. The next day, I acknowledged how counter-intuitive this kind of behavior was. I knew I needed to force myself into action. I started small: I laced up my shoes. I stepped outside, and I told myself that even if I managed a ten-minute jog, I would be proud of myself. Almost within minutes of being outside, however, my spirits lifted. I ended up running far more than I had anticipated (4 miles at 9 mph – a personal best). When I came back home, though I still felt sad, I felt more empowered to deal with and process those feelings.

When we are going through an emotional low period, whether it’s the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, or simply being in a funk, getting out the door can be the biggest challenge. We might tell ourselves “I’ll take one day off – it won’t make a difference,” or with feelings of futility, ask ourselves, “What does it even matter anymore?”  This kind of thinking is dangerous, however, because exercising not only provides a space for us to process and think through whatever we might be going through, but physically speaking, it releases endorphins. It allows us the freedom to move on with a clearer mind and lighter heart. You don’t have to run that 8K on an especially rough day, but don’t let your emotions keep you inside, as that might simply prolong those negative feelings.

What are your tactics for powering through with tough days?  How do you rally the motivation to get out the door?


Wake Up & Run! The Half Marathon Training Program, Part II: The Schedule

Here’s the 12-week training schedule I’ll be following for the next 11 weeks (I’ve already completed Week 1). In order to hold myself accountable, I’ll post an updated chart at some point in the future of what I actually ran, my pacing for each run, and what activity I did on my cross-training Sundays.  Hopefully the distances will be pretty similar, if not identical!


Banana Chai Smoothie

After a long workout, I always look for something to cool me off without weighing me down.  I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect snack for a while, and I think I’ve finally found it.

This smoothie is packed with potassium to ease your sore muscles, calcium for your bones, carbs to reboost your energy level, and a unique spicy twist to keep your taste buds interested. Mix in some Vanilla Whey powder for an energy boost after an especially tough gym session, or throw in some extra ice cubes to chill out after your afternoon Bikram.  A twist on the traditional Banana Chai Smoothie, this recipe incorporates Trader Joe’s delicious “Spicy Chai Mix,” so you can still get that exotic Indian taste without a kettle!

Banana Chai Smoothie Ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1 large-sized banana
  • 1 scoop Trader Joe’s Spicy Chai Mix
  • 1 cup (8 oz) Almond Milk, Soymilk, or regular milk
  • 1/4 cup instant oatmeal
  • 2-3 ice cubes
  • 1 scoop Vanilla Whey Powder (optional)

Toss ingredients in a blender and mix until incorporated.  Pour into a glass and if you wish, top off with a dash of cinnamon! Now towel off that sweat, put your feet up, and enjoy!


23 1/2 Hours: The Single Best Thing We Can Do For Our Health

Dr. Mike Evan’s visual lecture on “The Single Best Thing We Can Do For Our Health” is at once extraordinarily simple and incredibly powerful.


Wake Up & Run! The Half Marathon Training Program, Part I: Before You Start

Join me on my journey to run a half-marathon.  In this series, I’ll be outlining my training program and loggin my progress along the way in order to (1) hold myself accountable, (2) seek help/advice from any readers who may be more experienced, (3) connect with any readers who are also in training and looking for support/encouragement.

Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an expert in the slightest degree. I’ve only been running seriously for the past few months, so I’m still new to the whole thing. If you have any advice, I would be more than happy to hear it in the comments below.

I’ll go into the specific training plan I’m using in the next post, but for now, here are some fundamental tips I’ve picked up about training wisely for a half-marathon:

  • The Shoes. Choosing the right gear is important, but the shoes are perhaps the most essential.  I decided to do the barefoot thing all out for this training program so I’ll be alternating between my Vibram FiveFinger Sprints and my New Balance Minimus. Since I feel fairly educated about the risks and adjustments associated with barefoot running, I think I can make these two shoes work for the long distance.
  • Cross-Training.  I will devote every Sunday to cross-training, which for me will probably be swimming, a yoga/pilates combo, or maybe just a visit to the gym where I will rotate between spinning, weights, the erg, etc.
  • Mid-Week Training.  My base distance will be 3 miles.  During my mid-week training, I will stick mainly to this distance while slowly increasing my pace, elevation, etc.
  • Race Pace. Since my ultimate goal is a half-marathon, my race pace will be 9:00/mile. One day a week, I will run the assigned distance at this pace.
  • Rest Days. The rest days are as important as the running days.  When I first started running, I tried to run every day of the week. To my surprise, I ran stronger after my first rest day that I had been running previously. Rest days are essential for our muscles to regenerate and get stronger.
  • Indoor v. Outdoor Training.  I’m conflicted over how much training to do on my treadmill v. outdoors.  While I enjoy running on the treadmill because it tracks my distance, pace, and elevation exactly, I recognize that the treadmill is somewhat easier in that the “conditions” are always perfect: no wind, average temperature, humidity, etc.  In addition, the treadmill provides more “give” and is thus a little gentler on your knees and ankles, you never have to run downhill (which I find very hard on my ankles), and instead of learning how to keep your own pace, the treadmill electronically determines it for you. I’m going to try to strike a balance between the two – maybe three treadmill and two outdoors days each week.
  • Races. A lot of sites recommend running shorter races (5k or 8k, for example) before your half marathon in order to (1) have a concrete goal for the near future, (2) make sure you are comfortable in the race atmosphere and you know the proper protocol, and (3) check your time/progress.  I’ve just signed up for an 8K (“Into the Wild Rockin’ Summer Race”) on September 5th, so I have 15 days to prep for that.

Training begins tomorrow – see you on the track!

Sites I’ve found useful:


“I don’t have time to work out…” and other excuses we tell ourselves

I don’t have the right equipment, the right shoes, the right shorts, the right sports bra.
I just showered, I don’t want to get sweaty.
I’m so out-of-shape I’ll make a fool out of myself.
The gym is too far, I don’t want to waste time driving.
I need to send emails.
I haven’t eaten yet. I just ate.
It’s too early. It’s too late.
It’s too hot. It’s too cold.
I’m tired.
I’ve had a long day.
I don’t look good in my work out clothes.
I only have a half an hour, it’s not enough time.
My iPod isn’t charged.
It’s a Saturday morning, the gym will be too crowded.

Do any of these sound familiar? Acknowledging that you set up these barriers for yourself is the first-step. Abolishing them is the next. The solution is not to wait for the perfect time, but to understand and deconstruct these mental blocks.

“I wish I could go for a run/to the gym/to yoga class, I just don’t have time.”  Especially at school, this is my go-to excuse.  I’ve found that in a society where “busyness” has become an indicator of drive and ambition, being too busy to squeeze in even the smallest activities (“I have no time to sleep,” “I can’t even sit down for a meal.”) is simultaneously a complaint and a bragging point. Though I may actually be busy, I find that sometimes I consciously or unconsciously add more items to my plate in order to feel less guilty about not being active.

When I tell myself I can’t work out because I have too much to do, I’m hiding under my work.  It reality, it comes down to a matter of prioritization. Can I sacrifice the 30 minutes I spend on Facebook over the course of the day? Can I work with more focus and efficiency to free up time in the evening?

I challenge you to listen to the excuses you tell yourself and question them.  Where are they really coming from? How can we reframe our thinking in order abolish mental roadblocks we set up for ourselves? Will there ever be a day when all conditions are perfect: when we are in-shape enough to not feel embarrassed or in adequate about running, when we will be well-fed, well-rested, have the perfect gear and the perfect weather? Most likely not.