by John Stone
As Valentine’s Day approaches, most people begin losing the momentum they started with on January 1st. The tempting boxes of sweets and the allure of relaxing on the couch with your sweetheart takes hold, and before you know it, you’ve lost the drive to keep hitting the gym and eating clean. What’s more, you may find yourself becoming distracted at the gym, and the routine you were so hyped about a month and a half ago feels more and more like a jail sentence than a killer way to get back in shape for swimsuit season.
I’ve experienced this slump more times than I can even count. After years and years of resolutions gone astray, I have picked up a few crucial tricks to renew my drive, dedication and discipline, and if you’re feeling the fire begin to dwindle, take note. Here are three tried and true ways to catapult your progress and prepare your body for the sunny days that await you!
Recently, a fascinating study investigated the mental health benefits of aerobic exercise in mice, and the results might just surprise you. Researchers found that mice who ran on their wheel voluntarily experienced a dramatic increase in BDNF, which stands for Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. BDNF is responsible for helping the brain grow new synapses and neural connections. For a long time we believed that the brain had only so many cells and that’s all we get. We now know that new connections are being made all the time, and there are also times when existing connections, synapses, and nerves simply die off. BDNF promotes the survival of existing neurons, and also encourages the growth of new neurons. So not only does aerobic exercise promote physical health, increase fat burning and reducing cholesterol. It also enhances mood and memory by promoting the growth of new brain cells!
But there is a catch. Mice that were forced to run on their wheel did not experience any increase in BDNF like those mice that were allowed to voluntarily exercise. So what does this mean for those of you who are trying to make exercise a new habit for life? If you are hoping to get the most out of your exercise routine, and if the idea of increasing your mood and attention span excites you, then it’s essential to do something you find engaging and interesting. Most importantly, it has to be something you decide to do voluntarily, rather than something you force yourself to do. If you notice that you let out a big sigh before climbing onto the elliptical machine, already dreading the next 45 minutes because you’re bored sick of it, then it’s time to stop and ask yourself, what would you rather be doing? Ok, I know a lot of you will probably say you’d rather be at home sipping champagne and soaking in a hot tub. But let’s get real for a minute here. Find something physical you enjoy, something that makes you breathe hard but at the same time feels rewarding. Join a pick-up game of basketball in the gym. Racquetball or Tennis can be a killer workout and it can be a lot of fun at the same time. It can even be as simple as getting some new music on your iPod that will get you pumped up and psyched about jumping on the treadmill. Then again, why a treadmill? Find a beautiful jogging path in your area and let yourself focus on the nature around you, the wind in your hair, and the sun on your face. Whatever you decide to do, do something fun and enjoyable, and be spontaneous with it! Not only will you find yourself slimming down, but you might even find yourself smiling more often, which can really be one of the most beautiful things you can do to improve your physical appearance and mental outlook.
Find a Class or Group
In all my years of pursuing physical fitness, I can easily say I have never been in better shape than when I take a spinning class or join a small group personal training session. Nothing will ever push you quite like being in a group of other people pushing themselves. Sometimes it’s the competitive edge that moves you: If the person next to you can crank out 20 pushups, then get down there and do 21! Sometimes it is just being accountable to a group of other people. When you get into the habit of taking a class regularly, people will know when you don’t make it to class, and if you’re like most people, you will find yourself more motivated to slip on your sneakers and make it through another session just because everyone else begins to expect you to be there. Use that to your advantage and watch your waist slim down and your muscles become more tone and even tighter.
Small group personal training sessions are becoming a new standard in the fitness industry. If you can find three other people to chip in on a session with a trainer, it will be an affordable way to get that extra attention you need from a trained professional who can help you work on your weaknesses and improve upon your strengths. Having others cheer you on as you finish your last sit-up in record time can be one of the best investments you can make with your hard earned money and your precious free-time.
Feed Your Fire
You can’t out-train a bad diet. You’ve probably heard this now at least a dozen times, and I hope it’s sticking. When people ask me, “How hard would I have to work out in order to eat whatever I want and still lose weight?” I usually reply, “Harder than you will ever be able to.” Achieving your fitness goals and building your dream physique takes just as much dedication to diet as it does to working out. A bowl of your favorite ice cream can take a ridiculous amount of work to burn off. My favorite ice cream by far, is Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup. Just a small little tub of that weighs in at around 600 calories. I would have to engage in incredibly intense exercise, like a bootcamp class, for a full sixty minutes to even make a dent in that dietary disaster!
So how can we refresh our dietary decisions when Valentine’s Day and Easter roll around, taunting us with calorie-laden treats? For starters, eat more healthy fruits and get plenty of protein and fiber in your diet. One of the biggest mistakes we make in our diets is to starve ourselves and deprive ourselves of the food we need to power us through our workouts. We’re running on empty and that means we are already hungry and we have also weakened our will power to turn down those treats that inevitably end up sitting at the front of every office, or every kitchen. So make sure you are eating well, especially right after workouts, and don’t cut your calories so much that you leave yourself weak when the temptation to indulge hits you in the mouth!
Staying on course with our goals for the new year becomes harder and harder as every month passes. With holidays around the corner it becomes easier to talk yourself out of that trip to the gym, or to talk yourself into eating those brownies your Mom knows you love so much. Begin your next day with taking these three powerful suggestions to heart, and use these new insights to help you stay on track as you renew your resolution to fit into your swimsuit and look hotter than you did this time last year!
John Stone is a certified personal trainer by the American Fitness and Aerobics Association with an extensive knowledge of health supplements, diet and nutrition, as well as hormone replacement and ergogenic aids. He is the author of the blog Metabolic Alchemy, and a regular contributor on several popular discussion forums. You can contact John Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.metabolicalchemy.com to read more information on tips and tricks to enhance your metabolism and outsmart your genetic code.