Browsing the archives for the exercise tag.
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Feeling Tired? Need Energy? Here are 9 Ways to Get Charged Up

Strategies and goals

Energy to spare

In a recent e-mail to me, a correspondent talked about the problem of not having energy left after her daytime obligations:

My major problem is I have some studying to do and I am not able to do anything once I am back home. I am so tired. I’m basically brain dead too. I need the weekend to recuperate and so I am not productive at all during the weekend.

It’s a common problem: most of us seem to have days when the energy we want to have just isn’t there. Here are nine approaches that can help dredge up energy when no energy seems to be available.

1. Are you getting enough sleep? (See How Much Sleep Do You Need? 8 Hours Isn’t for Everyone) If not, are there ways you can get more, for instance by giving up a small amount of recreation time?

2. If worry is tiring you out, there are some things you can do to relieve the worry and leave more energy for getting things done. These include idea repair (see How to Detect Broken Ideas, How to Repair a Broken Idea, Step by Step, and Examples of Broken Ideas (Cognitive Distortions)), meditation (see Strengthen Willpower Through Meditation), brief walks in natural surroundings (see The Benefits of Quick, Easy, Pleasant Exercise), talking with a trusted friend or family member about worries you have, and writing in journals. Worry not only saps energy, but also makes it harder to use what energy you do have for constructive things.

3. Try to get into flow (see Flow: What It Feels Like to Be Perfectly Motivated and Some Steps for Getting into a State of Flow), a state where you’re concentrating fully on what you’re doing. Even if you feel tired at the beginning, if you really get deeply involved in a task that interests you, you can start feeling energized by the task itself.

4. Choose things to eat that will make you feel good in the short term. Of course this tends to mean whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein. Fats take a lot of digestive energy to break down and tend to make a person feel groggy, as does eating too much. Sugars tend to give a quick boost and then drop a person into a low that’s a good bit more tired than they were before the sugar high. Caffeine also tends to give a boost at one point but take much more out later. Drink enough water to ensure you’re not dehydrated: dehydration is a common cause of fatigue, as detailed in this article on the Psychology Today site. The article also contains other good anti-fatigue eating advice, like getting plenty of iron.

Of course it’s difficult to make healthy eating choices sometimes, but it can help to think about wanting to feel good right away from good food choices instead of thinking more of their long-term benefits, (though of course the long-term benefits are great, too).

5. Work yourself into an excited state about a project. Again this tends to mean talking to someone or writing about the project. This is similar to getting into flow, as it engages your mind and your interest and wakes you up.

6. Put on music that gives you a lift (see How and Why Music Changes Mood).

7. Think about things that make you happy. Reflecting on good things that happened to you over the last day, anticipating something you’re looking forward to doing soon, or thinking about someone whose company you really enjoy can make your mood more buoyant.

8. Tidy up. If your environment is messy or chaotic, you may tend to feel a little exhausted just being in it from the constant, low-level annoyance of clutter or mess. (See How Tools and Environment Make Work into Play, Part II: Letting Your Environment Help You.)

9. Meditate, or sit still for a short while. Meditation (see Strengthen Willpower Through Meditation) can help release tension and create calm and focus. If you’re not experienced in meditation, one easy way to start is with this 15-Minute Online Guided Meditation from Kelly McGonigal. Just sitting still gives you a chance to relax and let go. If you take this approach, don’t try to do anything, keep TV and music off, and just gaze out the window.

Photo by eMotionblogster karolien taverniers

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A Solution to Depression?

Guest posts

Today’s guest post is from Kari Wolfe, whose blog Imperfect Clarity passes on everything she’s learning as she works toward building a writing career, interviews fascinating people, parents her daughter in ways she never expected, and forges her own habits of success.


For years, I complained of back and knee pain.

For years, I received the same advice from lots of well-meaning friends and family: go on a diet, lose weight, breast reduction surgery, walk more.

I ignored the advice.  And my muscle pain became worse.

In April 2010, I started a 12-week-long session of physical therapy.

And everything began to change.

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My assignment, should I choose to accept it…

My physical therapist gave me exercises to do, every night, six nights a week.  And I did my exercises.

Begrudgingly.

I did my exercises, focusing on the point where they would not only be done.  I stretched all the muscles that I needed to stretch, worked all the muscle groups I needed to work.

I’m still doing my exercises.

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Well, while I’m working on this, I want to do this too…

Strangely enough, (I thought at the time, anyway) once I started focusing on my physical problems, I started paying more attention to my life.

I started focusing on an idea for a business.  My writing, both fiction and non-fiction.  I started looking for motivational material, books< and blogs, to read, to get my spirits up and centered on what I wanted to do.

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Is there a solution to depression?

The solution to depression isn’t always a pill.  While medication can be helpful, it’s honestly not the “end-all, be-all” wonder cure for depression.

The downward spiral of depression can convince you there is nothing out there.  If you take a walk, you’ll just end up walking back.  If you exercise, you’ll look funny and people will laugh at you (my very own problem).  If you try to solve the problem, you’re going to fail.

Or if you have back and neck problems, what you really need is a drug to numb the pain.

I’ve been there.

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My solution, thus far.

The solution to depression can be as simple as getting up and going for a walk.  Or starting an exercise routine.  Or tackling a long-existing problem and working toward it’s solution.  It’s not so much exactly what you do, but what you focus on.

Oddly enough, I think I like exercising when I wake up in the morning.  Yep, first thing.  Just don’t tell anyone.  Please–I don’t want to ruin my reputation.

Once my heart begins to pump faster and my physical needs (shhhh…) are met, I’m ready to rest for a few minutes and then start to take on the day.

Kari Wolfe is a stay-at-home mother of a very curious three-year-old daughter who happens to be autistic. She is a writer and maintains her own blog, Imperfect Clarity where her focus is becoming the best writer (and person) she can be by living her life to the fullest 🙂

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The Benefits of Quick, Easy, Pleasant Exercise

States of mind

In a post (“Stepping Outdoors Boosts Mood, Self-Esteem“) on her blog at Psychology Today, Kelly McGonigal talks about a new study (“What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis” by Jo Barton and Jules Pretty) that seems to indicate that even a tiny amount of activity in a pleasant outdoor environment can make a noticeable difference in mood and self-confidence. This is the five-minutes-walking-by-the-woods exercise, not an-hour-jogging-uphill-in-the-freezing-rain exercise.

All of this reinforces the important idea that exercise is not just for losing weight: see my article Nothing to Do With Weight Loss: 17 Ways Exercise Promotes Willpower and Motivation.

It’s also a good reminder of an important fact of motivation: short-term payoffs tend to be more motivating than long-term payoffs. In my post Good Exercise Motivation and Bad Exercise Motivation, I talk about a study in which participants who focused on the immediate mood benefits of exercise were a good bit more successful in sticking with it and losing weight than participants who had weight loss in mind as a goal.

And that in turn brings up an interesting insight from looking at the process of flow, in which a person is powerfully motivated by and involved in an activity in the short term. One of the prerequisites of flow is that you have some kind of feedback as you’re going along. If you can’t tell how well you’re doing, whether you’re getting closer to your goal, etc., it’s much harder to stay motivated, because you keep hesitating and questioning yourself. Feeling confident that you can be effective at making progress, according to yet more studies, is essential to self-motivation. And little wonder: who wants to work really hard at a goal when there’s no guarantee they’ll accomplish anything? Weight loss is such a relatively slow process, it’s very hard to get any definite sense of how well we’re doing it except over the course of weeks, and it’s therefore a pretty lousy motivator, no matter how much we want the end result.

This has been a bit of a rambling post, but there is one single, essential lesson here for us to take away and think about: enjoying what we’re accomplishing in the moment is extremely powerful for helping motivate us in terms of both mood and long-term accomplishments.

Photo by kandjstudio

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Tools for Feeling Better, Part II

Handling negative emotions

 

In a recent article, I began listing some of the most useful ways I know to get back on track when feeling bad, including idea repair, mindfulness, meditation, understanding schemas, and emotional antidotes. Today’s article forges ahead with 4 more tools for feeling happier and improving mood.

Flow: “Flow” is psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmilhalyi’s term for a state in which a person is concentrating intently, performing at their highest level of ability, and completely swept up in what they’re doing. It’s a very enjoyable and productive mode of being, and successfully bulldozes bad moods. My article “Flow: What It Feels Like to Be Perfectly Motivated” describes flow, and “Some Steps for Getting into a State of Flow” provides techniques for achieving it.

Exercise: Exercise often gets a bad rap as being tedious, unpleasant, and a disappointing necessity for people trying to lose weight or obsessed with fitness. The truth is that exercise is not only a way to improve fitness but also a powerful means of improving mood: read “Nothing to Do With Weight Loss: 17 Ways Exercise Promotes Willpower and Motivation” to find out more.

Just starting: A person in a bad mood with a task in front of them that could improve things often won’t do that task because when they imagine doing it, they don’t imagine feeling happier. A large part of the reason for this is something called “mood congruity,” a tendency our brains have to assume that we will always feel more or less as we do now. When we’re happy it’s hard to imagine really feeling bad, and vice-versa. Just getting started on something that could improve mood by making progress on a goal, getting into a social situation, moving around, creating a change of scene, etc. can push us over into a place where feeling better begins to seem not so distant. If you’ve ever started doing something you didn’t think you would enjoy and began to have a lot of fun, you’ve experienced the power of just starting (despite not feeling inclined to at first).

Writing or Talking it Out: Writing out thoughts, concerns, possible solutions, and possible results can go a long way toward clearing the mind and providing reasons to feel better. An intensive process of logging the details of each choice you make, Decision Logging, can provide a lot of insight into what’s going on in a person’s mind as well as immediate opportunities for rethinking things. Writing down progress, self-evaluation, and plans for the future creates a feedback loop. Free writing or keeping a journal can provide an outlet for pent-up emotions while creating clarity. Or instead of writing about what’s going on with you or how you feel, you could connect with a sympathetic and supportive friend, family member, romantic partner, or therapist and talk things through.

For more tools, see the other articles in this series: Part I and Part III.

Photo by batega

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Where Are All the Other Beginners?

States of mind

When I first started exercising seriously and consistently, in 2005, I chose to run: it was free, convenient, and uncomplicated. I had recently moved to Jacksonville, Florida, a place where you can run practically every day of the year if you avoid the afternoon deluges in summer, and I lived in a quiet neighborhood near the river. Mercifully, this being Florida, my potential routes were dead flat. So everything was lined up in my favor, but one thing did make me nervous: the lack of fat people. There I was with my 75 extra pounds (down to 14 extra now, thank you very much), and there were all the runners, who collectively looked like they ate nothing but skinless chicken breast and celery-flavored air. Why were there no out-of-shape people out there running with me? Did that mean that it wasn’t possible to do it if you were out of shape, that I was doomed to be a failure as a runner?

Before these thoughts got too far, however, math came to the rescue, a particularly handy bit of math that explains why, whenever we start something, it’s often really hard to find anyone who looks as incompetent or ill-suited as we are.

Being a Beginner Who Sucks Is Normal
Part of that effect is just the fact that, when we begin at things, we’re generally bad or not well-suited for them, since as we progress, we become better and more well-suited. Being a beginner means not looking as cool as the other kids, whether we’re talking about playing violin, studying Taekwondo, running, programming computers, or raising children.

The rest is that math we talk about. Let’s compare beginners to veterans with some made-up numbers that nonetheless show real and useful information.

Quitters
First, how many people begin something and then soon give up? It varies a lot by area, but it’s a lot. Many of our fellow beginners are vanishing after just a few half-hearted attempts.

Veterans Do More of It
How much time do beginners spend at tasks compared to veterans? It’s unlikely that a beginning violin player will be able to spend six hours a day practicing like some advanced students and professionals. A beginning runner can’t run nearly as long a time, as quickly, or as far as a veteran runner. Beginners at the dojang (Taekwondo gym) where I study have access to up to 3 classes a week, while more advanced students have their pick of 8 of them (on average, I do about 4-5 classes per week).

Beginners Vanish
And what portion of a person’s total career at something are they a rank beginner? A person might run seriously for 10 years and only be a beginner for the first 6 months, and the numbers for many other activities are similar.

The Only Beginner In the Room
So beginners who stick with the activity they’re starting might on average do 1/4 to 1/2 of the amount of that activity each week that a veteran will do (let’s say 3/8 as an estimate), and they will spend perhaps 1/20 of their career as a beginner. All of which means that for every hour of a thing a beginner does, we might reasonably guess there are 53-1/3 veterans out there doing that same thing. If you walk into a gym as a beginner and there are 20 other people in that gym, by these odds it’s unlikely that any one of those 20 people will be as out-of-shape and inexperienced as you.

Although, of course …
With all that said, those numbers are just estimates, and there are complicating factors: for instance, a whole lot more people start going to a gym than keep going to the gym, so in fact the gym numbers may not be quite so daunting as 53-1/3 to 1.

Get ready to suck!
But the upshot of all this is that beginners stick out, look bad, and are often alone doing it–but this is all just a nerd gate (a term coined by cavers, who use it to describe an obstacle that only discourages people who aren’t committed–it’s one of the terms in my book Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures). While there are sometimes ways around standing out as a beginner (for instance, taking a beginners-only class), the fact of the matter is that beginners often look silly and may tend to feel they won’t belong.

This is just a phase to push through. However awkward or difficult something is at the beginning, the only way to get really good at anything is to keep working at it (and there’s good science to support that statement!). Some runners started out skinny, and some violinists started out as four-year olds, when playing a barely-recognizable, ear-torturing rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is considered proof of utter genius, but the rest of us poor slobs will just need to suck for a while whenever we start something. And then, magically, we’ll get better and not suck, and people will look at us and say “Man, they must have always been that great at it!”

Photo by Martineric

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Everything Sucks. Reboot? Y/N

Handling negative emotions

Every once in a while, I have a day where enough seems to have gone wrong that I’m lodged deep in a lousy mood. Sometimes I’m not clever enough to be aware of this right away, so it persists until mindfulness finally kicks in with something to the effect of “You’re in a bad mood, and there is no reason for it unless it’s somehow helping you. Is it helping?”

It generally isn not helping. So I try to find my way out of that lousy mood using one of the techniques in this post.

The human brain is not very much like a computer. It changes its own structure constantly, stores information in locations scattered throughout the brain, and even runs two different systems (one neural and mostly cognitive, the other chemical and mostly emotional) at the same time. There’s more on this in my article about science fiction and the human brain at Clarkesworld.

But even though the brain doesn’t work the way computers do in many respects, it is capable of reboots: shutting down everything that’s currently running–including bad moods–and starting from scratch. However, reboots are not always easy. There are at least two things that get in the way.

The first is called “mood congruity”: this is the tendency of human beings to have trouble really imagining any emotional situation other than the one they’re already in. If you’re in a bad mood and you picture enjoying a nice walk outside, chances are it will be difficult for you to believe in your gut that the walk will be enjoyable–even if you have every reason to think it will be, and even if it generally has been under similar circumstances in the past. Whatever mood we’re in, we tend to imagine the future fitting the same mood. This is one reason the advice “Cheer up! Things will get better” often sounds so hollow. Mood congruity can be overcome, but it’s helpful to realize that the way our brians work, they’re a little limited at imagining an emotion while experiencing a contrary emotion.

Another barrier is that generally speaking, any mental control we have over our emotions happens by thinking (cognition), but cognition can change much more quickly than emotion, because so much of emotion has to do with chemicals like dopamine, cortisol, oxytocin, adrenaline, and others. The chemical states that influence our brains aren’t capable of changing nearly as quickly as our thoughts. We can go from thinking about a horrible tragedy to thinking about a really funny joke and back all within seconds, but our emotional state would not be able to keep up. This means that any mental effort to change mood needs to be kept up for a minute or two at least to allow emotions to catch up with cognition. It also means that idea repair doesn’t have its full effect right away, a subject I’ll be tackling in another article soon.

Knowing the obstacles, what are the techniques we can use to reboot our brains? Well, computers can go through a “warm boot” (rebooting through software only) or a “cold boot” (physically restarting the computer), and the same is true of our brains. A mental cold boot can be accomplished with techniques that completely clear out what’s going on in our minds. Two excellent approaches for this are meditation (which narrows focus to a very specific subject while letting everything else kind of float away) and exercise (which creates a physiological state that tends to help us cut back to a minimum of thinking).

Techniques for warm boots change attention, immediate experience, and/or thinking. Idea repair is one very useful means to do a warm boot. Other methods include emotional antidotes; visualization; and getting into a flow state (or at least distracted by something interesting for a bit).

Regardless of which method you use, rebooting takes attention, effort, and a little time. However, it often doesn’t take any more than that, and while not every bad mood can be banished in minutes, many of them can.

Photo by rofreg

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Useful tool for Nutrition and Fitness: SparkPeople

Resources

A screenshot of part of the Nutrition Tracker tool at SparkPeople

Ever since I started seriously working on my own fitness back in 2005, I have kept track of what I eat, my weight, and how much I exercise in little notebooks that I carry around with me, at least most of the time. Recently, though, a friend showed me SparkPeople, a free nutrition and fitness site. SparkPeople allows users to track what they eat, how much they exercise, and what kind of exercise they do (including both cardio and strength training categories), weight, measurements, and other fitness metrics. It’s well-suited both to weight loss and to other fitness goals and offers charts and totals of helpful values like calories, fat, protein, cholesterol, sodium, vitamins and minerals, calories burned in exercise, and more. There are other features I haven’t used extensively, including recipes, forums, goal-setting, and tracking how much water you drink. All of these features are free; to the best of my knowledge there are no paid membership options on the site. SparkPeople is supported by noticeable but well-behaved advertising.

Personally the most useful feature for me is the Nutrition Tracker, where I can tap into a very large database of foods and record exactly what I’m eating in as precise amounts as I can figure out. This allows me to receive detailed nutritional reporting. The tracking on this site takes me a little longer than my notebook method because I previously counted only calories, and I had memorized the calorie counts of most foods I ate, but it has several benefits. One is that it gives me much more information than I had on my own, protein and cholesterol totals being especially useful to me. Another is that, interestingly, I feel compelled to track everything every day–even on the days when I exceed my calorie goal, when the total is less appealing–because if I track a partial day, it feels like I’m being misleading: it would appear that I had only eaten however many things I tracked instead of that I stopped tracking. Using my paper system, there were days that I didn’t track. I like this slight extra incentive to be consistent.

A third benefit is that I’m forced to write down the specific foods I eat rather than, for instance, writing “omelette” and estimating total calories: my numbers are more precise using this system.

While I find some of the tools a little cumbersome–speaking as a techie, for instance, I’d love to see the tool for adding foods integrated into the Nutrition Tracker page as an iFrame–all in all they have been fairly easy to use and quite useful. Of course you have to have access to the Internet to update the system, but they have a good mobile phone interface that I’ve barely used but that might do the trick for people who don’t always have access to a computer.

Speaking about motivation specifically, notice that this site provides some key pieces: one is supporting detailed tracking and regular review of tracked information, which is a rudimentary feedback loop (a more sophisticated feedback loop would just add free-form discussion or journaling about what led to good and bad outcomes and how to change or stick with behaviors for best results in future). Another is the community that’s available there for encouragement and cameraderie. Yet another is focusing attention on nutrition and exercise issues, since more attention often translates to more and better motivation.

Since there are a lot of features on this extensive site that I haven’t used, I hope other SparkPeople users will post their impressions and tips in comments.

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Will a Good Habit Stop a Bad Habit?

Strategies and goals

Since I started getting serious about fitness, there have been two kinds of health habits I’ve been trying to change and improve, and they’re the same two that we hear all the time when people talk about weight loss: eating and exercise. I can tell you from experience that eating well and exercising regularly work, if they’re done the right way. What I haven’t understood until now is why picking up the exercise habit was so much easier than changing my eating habits.

In both cases, I’m trying to strengthen good habits (getting regular exercises, choosing healthy foods to eat), but only in the case of eating am I also trying to quash bad habits (eating the wrong foods or too much of the right foods).

When I started exercising, I got into good habits within a few months, habits that have improved slowly over time ever since. Eating, however, has been another story. In terms of good eating habits, I’ve been building those much like my exercise habits. Some of the lunches I’ve been eating are so filling yet light and nutritious, they’d make you weep. Well, maybe not you, but certainly someone with a sentimental streak for healthy lunches.

My bad eating habits, though, haven’t been going away at the same rate as my good eating habits have been coming in. Sure, they’ve been diminishing over time, but if the good habits had had anything to say about it, the bad habits would have been beaten to an unrecognizable pulp years ago. So what’s going on here?

Research to the rescue: A study by psychologists Bas Verplanken and Suzanne Faes gives evidence that forming a good habit to reach a goal doesn’t necessarily do anything to get rid of bad habits that might get in the way of that same goal. Verplanken and Faes make sense of this with the idea of “implementation intentions”–plans to do something specific in a specific kind of situation. This research seems to show that implementation intentions (like “prepare a healthy lunch in the morning and bring it in to work instead of buying something”) are much more useful for forming habits than general goals (like “eat a healthy lunch”). When you think about it, this makes sense: building habits is about doing something over and over again. If a person hasn’t decided exactly what to do exactly when, there’s a lot more in the way of the behavior that person is trying to repeat.

Implementation intentions, though, only cover specific circumstances and specific behaviors. So my nifty ideas for lunch can certainly help me choose a healthy lunch over an unhealthy lunch–but those same ideas will have little or no effect on whether I decide to buy some kind of high-calorie food to munch on an hour later.

The upshot seems to be that good habits can help destroy bad habits only if there’s no way for both habits to happen together. Bad habits can be overcome, and there are many tools on this site that offer ways to overcome them, but to make the best progress on that front, it becomes important for us to separate out the specific habits we’re trying to change or acquire, good and bad, so that we know which bad habits need to be tackled directly and which we can depend on good habits to crush.

Photo by Helico

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Finding Exercise You Love: The Taekwondo Example

Self-motivation examples

With fellow Blue Wave students after earning our black stripes (last rank before black belt), October 2009

After flirting with consistent exercise for two decades, in 2005 I took advantage of being in Florida to finally start running regularly. That experience, which I talked about in a

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for Jacksonville, Florida NPR affiliate WJCT, completely changed my understanding of exercise. It turned out that the very beginning of exercise, getting into the groove, was much harder than continuing–and that far from being unrelenting torture, regular exercise could actually be enjoyable.

I ought to have recognized this already: after all, soccer had been fun in grade school, ultimate frisbee entertained me during college, and I’d enjoyed fencing classes in my twenties. But neither running nor any of these other activities prepared me for what would happen when I took on a new kind of exercise in late 2006. For me, getting involved in Taekwondo was to running as April in Paris is to June in Cincinnati.

Martial arts as a family sport
A little background: I studied Uechi Ryu karate for about a year at college and had enjoyed it enough that for years I had it in the back of my head that I’d eventually want to pursue martial arts again. By 2006, my son had gotten old enough that we were looking for a program for him as well. I had assumed we’d study karate, in different classes, but when my son was invited to a friend’s birthday party at Blue Wave Taekwondo in Burlington, Vermont (the town where we lived), it was immediately obvious that this was the place for us to try. For one thing, they taught classes that parents and kids could attend together, a possibility I hadn’t even thought of. For another thing, my son’s friend’s family couldn’t say enough about how friendly, well-organized, and instructive the school was. To top this off, the school was (and still is) run by Master Gordon White, a personable sixth-dan black belt who had fought on the U.S. National Taekwondo team and won medals in international competition.

I’m not suggesting Taekwondo is every person’s ideal exercise. It’s social, very energetic, rigorous, formal, demanding, and a little rough. My older sister loves spinning and rollerblading; my younger sister loves dancing; and my father prefers canoeing, kayaking, and cross-country skiing. So I’m not so much suggesting you run out and start taking Taekwondo (although it’s not a bad idea for a lot of people), but that if you don’t yet love the kind of exercise you’re doing, there’s a good chance you just haven’t found the right kind of exercise yet.

Why Taekwondo works for me
Taekwondo offers some unusual benefits that fit my needs well. I like the people I spend time with at the dojang (Taekwondo gym), which helps. Taekwondo as practiced at Blue Wave is rigorous interval training (probably the best general kind of exercise for weight loss), and it builds muscle as well as providing a lot of aerobic exercise.

Some of the greatest benefits for me, though, are mental instead of physical: the need to always improve my fundamentals (kicks, strikes, blocks, stances, and so on) exercises parts of my brain that I suspect would otherwise be neglected. And while we’re in class I’m usually so engrossed at trying to master whatever we’re working on that the time flies by. As I talk about in my post on getting into a state of flow, some of the basic elements we need to become engrossed and driven in what we’re doing are challenge, specific goals, and constant feedback. All of these elements are available when a good instructor is teaching a complex physical skill, like martial arts, dancing, or fencing. Not everyone will connect with those activities in the ways that are needed to establish flow, but the opportunity is there.

To put the same thing more simply: Taekwondo keeps me so interested, I don’t greatly care how much work I’m doing to practice it.

Why Blue Wave works for me
Not all martial arts–or all Taekwondo schools–are created equal. Different martial arts offer different advantages, such as the directed force of Aikido; the intense focus of karate; the powerful physical grappling of judo; or the flow and speed of kung fu. Different martial arts will attract different kinds of people, although it’s important to understand that different martial arts also provide different kinds of workouts: for instance, not all martial arts are very helpful for weight loss.

Blue Wave teaches forms and fundamentals as well as Olympic Style sparring, which is a very energetic, physically demanding type of contest between fighters wearing padded safety gear. Olympic Style sparring is fairly safe and is practiced in tournaments from the local to the international level, including, of course, at the Olympics. To the best of my knowledge (understanding that my experience is limited), no other martial art offers such a well-defined and safety-conscious sport of sparring.

So Olympic Style Taekwondo sparring for me is as much a sport as a martial art, which gives more direction to my training and provides more ways to enjoy Taekwondo. But many Taekwondo schools don’t teach Olympic Style sparring, or they focus on other elements of Taekwondo, or they practice a type of Taekwondo that is not based on rigorous traditional practices. None of these kinds of schools would work nearly as well for me as Blue Wave would, although Blue Wave is far from unique: there are many excellent Taekwondo programs around the country and the world.

I could go on about what I like about Blue Wave, but if I’ve done what I intended, I’ve shown at least one example of finding a kind of exercise that really fits the person doing it, enough to provide a glimpse of what April in Paris looks like. Here’s hoping you’re already there, or if not, that April comes soon.

Photo by 2nd dan Blue Wave black belt Sandra Pavlo

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Getting Back on the Scale After the Holidays

Strategies and goals

Just before Thanksgiving, I posted How Not to Blow a Diet Over the Holidays, which contained the best information I had to offer about holding to a difficult course of fitness and weight loss during a time of year crammed with distractions, temptations, and surprises. Toward the end of the post I said, “Today I weigh 182 pounds. I’ll update this post in early January to let you know how it came out for me: I expect to have lost at least a few pounds.” Was my prediction sound? And just how useful did I find my own recommendations?

What worked
Well, my rash declaration definitely helped me focus my attention and reminded me to use the best knowledge I have. (After all, just knowing something isn’t the same thing as making active use of the knowledge), and the self-motivation skills I’ve been researching and writing about seem to have done the trick: my scale this morning tells me I weigh 177, five pounds less than I did a few days before Thanksgiving. I’ve lost roughly a pound a week over that time, most of it in the beginning of December, and am very close to my goal fitness level. (Exactly how close, I can’t be sure, as I’m not aiming for a number on the scale, but instead for a level of visible fitness.)

Did my pre-Thanksgiving strategies help me? Absolutely. I made a point of bringing food I could eat to celebrations and meals, planned what to eat ahead of time (including limits), took special care to track what I was eating, and talked freely about what I was doing to get support and to increase the potential rewards of sticking with it.

Unexpected complications
So did my own pre-holiday advice eliminate all trouble for me? Definitely not. The two problems I wasn’t expecting seem obvious in hindsight, but when I was making my plans, all I was worried about was the food that would be available to me.

The first of the surprise problems was time for exercise. I generally try to exercise as close as possible to every day. Over the holidays, there were a number of days when I would be with friends or family in all of my available time, and the idea of getting everyone up after Christmas dinner to go for a family run somehow didn’t seem very appropriate to me. Also, my habit of taking 3-5 Taekwondo classes a week was interrupted by holiday closures of the dojang (Taekwondo gym). So I squeezed in exercise when and where I could, more than once getting on the elliptical trainer or doing home Taekwondo practice well after 10:00 at night. In future, I’d want to plan better for these scheduling challenges, probably getting in some morning exercise instead of following my usual evening schedule–but I will also know to expect that I’ll get less exercise over the holidays, and to a limited extent, that’s OK with me.

The other problem I faced was a one-two punch: I would arrive home tired (though cheerful) after having eaten at irregular hours and spent the day with family or friends. I don’t know about you, but for me the combination of being tired and being off my normal eating schedule is a very bad one: it tends to make me feel hungry and inattentive, which means I’ll often just take whatever I think of first and eat it–hardly a recipe for weight loss success. A day like this broke my winning streak of keeping under 1700 calories a day and logging everything I ate, which had gotten up to 42 interrupted days. I’m now in the early days of a new winning streak, and have high hopes that it will carry me across my personal finish line as I rack up the days.

One good holiday season may be the most I’ll ever need
As I write this and do my best to extract knowledge for future (an example of keeping a feedback loop), I’m realizing that if all goes well, it’s very, very likely that when the 2010 holidays come around, I’ll have been on maintenance for quite a while, and while I’ll need to continue to be careful, I won’t need to be nearly as careful as I am now. In other words, losing weight over this past holiday season together with continued effort may mean I’ll never have to be quite so careful over the holidays again. Even if I had done no better than maintain my weight during that time, the same result would probably apply. For many people who are getting in shape, one really successful holiday season may be the make-or-break period for the entire process.

How did things go for you over the holidays? Any special difficulties or unusual accomplishments?

Regardless of how the holidays came out for you in terms of your health, we’re now at a time of year that is probably better suited to renewing commitment and redoubling efforts than any other, and we can use it to launch ourselves forward. Here’s to a powerfully motivated New Year.

Photo by oh_candy

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