Category: Children’s Fitness

Caring vs. Living

How much time do you spend in a day thinking or worrying about what other people may think of you? Take your time, really think about this. I know that most of us spend a great deal of time concerned with how our actions or words will affect (or have affected) our family, friends, co-workers, and yes, even strangers. This appears to be a built-in commonality to most humans – it is in our “human nature” to need each other. We all instinctively desire families and friends, and as we evolved as a civilization, that instinct created a side-affect of caring about how others view us.

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Recently I’ve been analyzing this trait we share, with the realization that while caring about approval is important, we waste a lot of time caring about the wrong issues or people.  There are, of course, millions of individuals who seem to not care what other’s think, demonstrated either by their clear disregard for anyone’s wishes other than their own, or their overly-vehement verbal claims that they just don’t care what anyone thinks (Mr. Trump?). But even for these types, I know with certainty that in some aspect, in certain circumstances, or at the very least with a select few people in their lives, these non-care-ers do in fact care very much. They’ve just adopted the habit of shrugging their shoulders and letting go of the emotional turmoil that can come with caring. Sometimes we envy those who seem to not care because it appears freeing and less stressful. But remember once you force human nature to not care, you loose a lot of joy in life that comes from caring.

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Now caring should not be confused with compassion, sympathy and empathy — which we all should strive to have more of. But caring to the point that we berate ourselves for our choices, or feel embarrassment or guilt about our actions, is the issue I’m addressing today.

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How many times have you stopped yourself from doing something because you worried about how you might look or sound. What experiences have you missed out on because of this? The sad thing is that 90% of the time no one would have judged you poorly or possibly even noticed. The remaining 10% of the time, or rather the remaining 10% of people who might have a negative opinion, they’re either strangers that you will NEVER see again, or they are friends/family who better have unconditional love for you or they’re not worth being in your lives (in my opinion)!

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Children do not start out with these concerns, they do and say what they want and live life to the fullest learning along the way how far they can go on pure instinct and the desire to find joy and fun in everything. It is only in the structured social and behavioral environment of school that they start to care – or more precisely start to temper their choices based upon their concern that other’s might judge them negatively. While sometimes this is a good lesson (i.e., not to put their bodies in harms way, not to speak out of turn, not to say hurtful things, etc.) it also crushes our inherent instincts to step out on a ledge and try something new.

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While I’m not offering a solution to this dilemma today, I simply want to bring it to your consciousness and offer the reminder that some aspects of childlike abandon could do your life some good. Adulthood doesn’t mean we should stop learning or seeking to push ourselves and our minds and constantly seek new experiences. We have the benefit of adult wisdom when it comes to protecting our bodies and minds, but perhaps we should incorporate back in some of the innocence and bravery of youth. So stop worrying so much about what other’s think and just worry about if you’re doing right by YOU!

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STAND UP

2016 was a tough year for a lot of us, and as I look forward into 2017 to formulate my goals and targets I have come to realize that a three-pronged ideal can help us find better physical and emotional health. Therefore, this year I suggest we all adopt the following mantra: “Stand Up. Stand Up Straight. Stand Up Strong.”

Stand Up:

These words double as a fitness reminder and a social cue. Anyone with a goal of improved physical shape and health should simply stand up more, walk more and sit less (or at the very least stand up and move every 30-minutes). Likewise we should all stand up for preserving our own personal values as well as America’s tenuous democratic values as we forge into unknown (and for many of us very scary) territory with Trump at our helm.

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Stand Up Straight:

I often address the rampant increase of postural distortions in adults and children here in my blog, but this year I am on a personal mission to help everyone improve their health by observing and improving their posture. Your spine is the gateway between your brain and the rest of your body. If you have curved-in shoulders or hips, and knees or ankles that rotate inwards (pronate) you are cutting off and/or shorting out a lot of nerves that bring signals to and from your brain. So set a phone or watch reminder, or buddy up with a friend and remind yourself several times a day to stand up straight and tall, keep your shoulders squared and relaxed, and remember to breathe low and slow.

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Stand Up Strong:

This one can be taken both literally and figuratively. First, you must remember no matter how tough your path is currently, this too shall pass. But the key to improving your emotional or circumstantial life is to stay strong emotionally (and physically) and remember how strong you really are. Stand up for yourself and show your strength! Second, we must all stand up in a show of solidarity and strength so we can change that which is not working for all of us. We truly need to stand up strong together against racial, gender, and LGBT discrimination, double-standards of wages and rights, religious persecution, women’s rights, and the general bullying of anyone who disagrees with the “moral majority’s” opinions (that starts with the Oval Office)!

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For those of you who find this post a bit too soap-boxy, please indulge me as I am a child of the 60’s and it’s in my nature to stand up for my rights, my health and my peers. So if you agree, repeat after me (and then DO IT): Stand Up. Stand Up Straight. Stand Up Strong!

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Bullies & Boot Camp

Every day I work diligently to guide my daughter, all her friends, and my nieces and nephews to understand how to eat and exercise so as to have healthy bodies, and more importantly, to accept (and appreciate) the bodies they have. But lately more and more I hear about the increase of cyber bulling, text bullying, and body shaming that is running rampant in many schools and it really riles me up.

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Girls of all shapes and sizes are ridiculed and taunted, whether they’re over-fat, over-thin, too tall, have acne, are shy, have large breasts, are smart, you name it, they’re made to feel inferior, shameful or inadequate. Even when their bodies offer nothing to be attacked, bullying tactics often target girls (and boys) who are sweet natured and “considerate” personalities – the back-biting cliques that have shunned them label them “nice kids” as if it’s distasteful.

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Recently one of my nieces suffered from bullying at school from one of her supposed friends for standing up to her for attacking other friends. Another daughter I know, was picked on for being over-fat since she was three, and it got to the point that by high school she wanted to drop out because she felt so isolated and alone.  Another girl I know was labeled a Lesbian when she stood up to lies and rumors that she was easy with boys. “Oh make up your mind you little twits,” I wanted to scream!

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Now this subject is not new and my goal today is not to stand on a soapbox and scream we must stamp out bullying in school and on the internet although clearly WE MUST! But today my goal is to offer a concept that has the potential to reduce some of these malicious posts, emails, and texts, and get these kids to realize once and for all that they’re all the same!

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It’s simple, let’s get these kids off their electronics and work their butts off. They say “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” and clearly truth to this concept – when kids enjoy the safety and anonymity of communicating via technology combined with too much free time – trouble ensues.  It’s just too easy to be mean and feel free from repercussions.  Plus, somewhere along the way humans in the awkward teen years have developed a need to put others down to make our own feelings of out-of-placeness more palatable.  Instead of seeking positive reinforcement, we negatively lash out at others which makes us feel bigger, better, smarter, prettier, etc.  Kids have not cornered the market in this — just look at most offices and you’ll find a scattering of immature adults (and women with low self-esteem) doing the same thing to co-workers.

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So I say let’s take all these middle-schoolers and high-schoolers and give them one hour a day of intense boot camp-style fitness. Put them together in clusters of sizes, personalities, colors, and ages and push them to work past their insecurities and force them to work together for a common goal as well.

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A myriad of positive results would ensue: fat-loss, energy boost, mood improvement, emotional barriers cleared, and, if done right, force camaraderie across clique lines through shared hardship.

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It may sound idealistic but I dare say we have nothing to lose in trying. It works for soldiers, it works when people rally to a shared cause, and it’ll work with kids, which in turn might make a future generation stop this divisiveness.

I’ll be happy to create and present this boot camp to any parents and schools who are interested. Meanwhile, I’ll continue my quest to teach girls to use their voices, and love their bodies!

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Kids and Postural Distortions

There’s no denying that things are very different now for kids then when I was a child. While the debate rages on as to whether the advances in technologies are beneficial or detrimental to our kids, one thing I know for sure is that there is an increase in “detrimental” physical issues suffered by our children as a direct result of 21st century technologies and merchandise.

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The first and most obvious negative change to children’s bodies comes from vast quantities of time spent being sedentary while assuming poor posture as they type, text, surf, and chat on laptops, tablets and smart phones.

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Along with the statistically proven increase in obesity in children due to their increased lack of movement, there are other physical issues such protracted shoulders – a rounding forward of shoulders which causes upper back muscles to carry undue lengthening, while the chest muscles shorten which decrease upper body flexibility and strength.

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Traveling downward, there is also a rise in weakened hips and transverse abdominus (muscles running from lower abs around to the delicate lower back region). This postural distortion comes from long periods of sitting with lower back curved and hips and knees stretched forward (like slouching in a sofa).

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Both of these poor-postures can cause a myriad of painful issues as our childrens’ bodies grow such as chronic headaches, back aches (between shoulder-blades and lower/sciatic region), and knee pain with reduced strength, speed and ability.

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But another postural negative issue recently slapped me in the face when I realized that although I had noticed my daughter’s pronated foot stance for quite some time, it wasn’t until she’d been consistently complaining of foot pain that I realized there was an issue needing correcting. When children (or adults) stand in an uneven manner on their feet, i.e., feet rolling inward (pronation) or outward (supination) not only will their ankles, knees and hips have alignment problems (which causes pain), but their arches will not be supported and their feet will grow incorrectly and suffer from chronic discomfort in and out of shoes.

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I now see that many children are suffering from pedi-postural distortions and I blame this on the plethora of cheaply made shoes with little to no arch support (think Toms with their cardboard soles or 90% of the shoes from Payless and Target).

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For all of these issues, the solutions are easy to implement, although they will take time and sometimes some money to fix, but the long-term ramifications are positive and well-worth the time and cost. There are corrective exercises for each that I can instruct you on (or you can surf the web), and there are devices that can help in the severe cases (like shoulder trainers or arch-supporting insoles).

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Clearly electronics and other devices that have helped cultivate our rampant postural distortions are not going away, but we can still counter-act their negative effects. I suggest you take a look at your kids’ postures head to toe (and yourself too), and get on fixing these issues before they suffer long-term pain and decreased use of joints and muscles.

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Fitness on Vacation

As we hit the midway mark of the summer I, like many of you, am readying to take a long vacation with my family. I am likewise concerned, as you may be, about how to get my workouts done while on vacation. While I am always full of well-intentioned commitments to exercise while on holiday, it may surprise you to know that I too experience a significant drop in my motivation to exercise while enjoying my time off.

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So what can we do to maintain our fitness goals while on vacation? My first suggestion is to be okay with not working out. That’s right, I said it’s okay to skip a week. In fact I frame my workouts (my own and for my clients) in 6-week intervals with a mandatory week off before a new routine starts. This allows for complete recovery and rest and readies the muscles for new abuses. I thus, try to time my vacations with that week off, or shift things around to allow for it.

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However, it is worth noting that a large percentage of people find they do not gain more body fat while on vacation as they are moving more than they do during a usual work week. Between swimming, walking, hiking, or even dodging through crowds at theme parks, you will likely burn more calories than you do during your average sedentary job. Now of course there’s the extra high-caloric intake that also comes along with vacations – more cocktails, sweets, and fried or exotic foods are common – but again if you’re moving more than usual, you might at least break even.

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Depending upon your destination, try to schedule at least one thing per week that is physically different than your norm: i.e., a snorkel trip, a day-long hike or river raft trip, a walking exploration of pyramids or volcanos, or just a family game of beach volleyball.  One “excursion” like this can utilize muscles in a way your body isn’t accustomed too, and the caloric burn of that will benefit you greatly.

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Another suggestion is for you to reserve 30-minutes every day for focused movement or exercise. If you’re walking/hiking more than usual, take a half hour before bed to stretch your muscles (improvise some yoga or pull up something on YouTube). If your vacation days are more sedentary (just sitting by the pool), then commit to a 30-minute visit to a gym or a class (offered at many resorts or on cruise ships), follow along with a YouTube exercise video on your phone, tablet or laptop, or bring your own resistance bands and attack your muscles in the comfort of your hotel room.

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My last piece of advice I can share with my fellow vacationers is this: RELAX. Life for most of us is hectic and stressful and relaxation is a huge component in your body’s ability to stop holding onto excess body fat as well as maintaining a good immune system. So let your brain unwind, don’t eat complete crap, and if possible throw in a few workouts and your vacation will be successful and your fitness goals don’t have to suffer any setbacks.

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Now go enjoy that holiday/vacation!

Tastebuds & Your Brain

We humans are the only creatures living on Earth who have elevated our need for sustenance to something close to worship. We obsess over food, turn it into art, and attach emotional elation to substances that pass over our tongue and into our system. The downside of this food obsession is that we actually give up much of our self-control to one of the tiniest parts of our bodies – the taste buds.

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Taste buds are tiny microscopic hairs that send messages to our brains detailing how something tastes – i.e., bitter, sour, sweet or salty. Our brains then send us a message back (and this is where we differ from all other creatures save for maybe primates) and somehow we’ve assigned emotions to those messages. Food was not designed to be a vehicle for emotions, yet we humans combined the two nonetheless.

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The problem is that we forget that WE are in charge – not our minds, not our tastebuds – and so we indulge and indulge and indulge. With so many foods being processed with sugars and salts that electrify the tastebuds and then the brain, we find it difficult to stop eating what tastes soooo good! Because of this, America in particular has suffered the worst affects from these over-indulged tastebuds, as we have the highest rates of child and adult obesity in the world!

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Now scientists, nutritionists, and personal trainers like myself have been telling the masses for sometime that if you give yourself 5-10 minutes after completing a moderate sized meal or snack, that gnawing message from your brain to eat more WILL cease.

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Our amazing systems also initiate a message from our stomachs to our brains when we are full. However, unlike the hyper tastebud the stomach’s signals cruise at a much slower speed, there’s a lot going on in the digestive track after all. Thus if you wait the recommended 5-10 minutes, the message finally gets through and the brain tells the tastebuds to calm down – we’re full.

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So the next time you relish that decadent chocolate dessert or delightfully salty bag of chips, remember that your tastebuds are NOT in charge. Moderation is key, and after a few weeks of this “retraining” you’ll find the reward in your waistline!

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Understanding Fat

Fat has a bad rap. Yes, American’s are overall too fat, with over 34% (78 million) of adults being clinically obese (a BMI of over 30), but our response to this epidemic is to say all fat is bad. This is not true.

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Body fat exists to help us have energy when we’ve run out of food in our systems, it keeps our temperature and circulation level, it gives us healthy skin and hair, and transports essential vitamins and minerals throughout our body.

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Fat in foods helps us maintain healthy levels of body fat – provided, that the fats you are consuming are natural vs. animal based, and kept to a healthy minimum. Good nutritional fats are avocado, certain nuts, olives and their oil, and fatty fish (wild caught salmon, etc.). But with our tendency to lump everything into a “bad” or “good” column, most American’s see all fats as bad and when they’re focused on lowering their fat percentage of weight, they eliminate these essential fats.

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Another misunderstood aspect of “fat” is that sugar has no fats and therefore it’s okay to eat – especially demonstrated by fat free snack foods (cookies, etc.) that are high in sugar to compensate for the lack of creamy additives from animal fats (butter, cream). But what many adults fail to realize is that excessive sugar in their bodies (and their children’s bodies) will convert to fat for later use – said later use usually not happening because of so many American’s put exercise and activity on the non-priority list in their lives.

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Same thing has happened to carbohydrates. The fad-fitness industry decided to label all carbs as bad, and Atkins type “diets” became the rage. But ask any of my clients who come to me declaring they eat no carbs, carbs ARE essential. They usually learn this lesson after I push them just enough in a workout to cause their carb-lite systems to flip into hypoglycemia and they are reduced to a weak sweating pile on the floor. You NEED carbs – you just don’t need processed, man-manipulated carbs (i.e., white bread, white rice, crackers, cookies, mashed potatoes, etc.

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So here’s the bottom line – you’ve got to understand that fat is important and essential to a healthy body. If you keep your healthy fats, sugars (non-refined), and carbs (unprocessed), you will be able to reduce and manage your body fat percentages. Keep eating animal facts, sugar-laden goodies, and nutrition-void breads and crackers and you’ll have more fat than your body can deal with. As I always say, do NOT diet (that implies temporary) – change your nutrition to a moderate and balanced six meals/snacks per day, and enjoy an indulgent periodically (from wine to ice cream or fried chicken), and of course, exercise effectively at least 3-4 times a week.

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One Week at a Time

Depending upon how jam-packed your life is, the old adage of take things one day at a time would be great advice to follow. However, for those of you whom time-management is not your best trait, I have found it a better practice to approach things one week at a time.

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Whether you’re a person who likes to schedule and plan every nuance of your life, or fly by the seat of your pants, laying out an outline of each upcoming week is essential to achieving your goals (whether fitness or life-changing). A 7-day time chunk with a guideline of plans will help those of you whose focus is normally too scattered, while not overly-restraining those who can’t handle anything but a spontaneous, go with the flow, life.

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Without some planning, fitness goals go out the window. You cannot eat right, you consistently drop workouts for other, supposedly more important priorities, and you do not get enough rest. Without a plan for steps A-Z, directing your career path (i.e., getting a new/better job), improving your financial state, and/or strengthening relationships do not have a chance of truly changing.

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The best part is that seven days is a small enough chunk that you’re likely to not be intimidated or overwhelmed by the task of planning. I’m not talking about every single hour of every day planned either. You’re simply going to place a few non-negotiable key tasks for each day. Keep your perspective that these tasks are commitments/ appointments that you’ve paid for (money is always a great motivator) and only under dire circumstances can you cancel them. By the end of one week, you’ll be pleased and amazed at how much progress you’ve made towards your goals. The next week will be easier, and soon you can fill the days with even more goal-achieving steps.  (This is a great practice for kids and teens as well.)

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So take a deep breath, and pull up a digital calendar on your computer or smart-phone and prepare to place 1-3 of these firm appointments on each of the upcoming seven days. If you’re wondering what qualifies as a “firm appointment” here’s a random, yet specific, list:

  • Workout (in home or at gym)
  • Grocery shopping (with a deliberate healthy list in hand)
  • Food prep (meals and snacks for several days)
  • Outdoor activities (exercise disguised as a play time)
  • Play time (down time where you enjoy a passion like movies or reading)
  • Connection Dates (time to re-connect with significant other and/or children)
  • Work enhancement (time spent on furthering your career via networking or studies)
  • Rest/Sleep (don’t disregard this one, it’s key to your mental and physical well-being)

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Once again I remind you that you only need to schedule 1-2 of these per day. In a 7-day period you should workout 2-4 times, while others things like grocery shopping and food prep might only need once a week.

You’ve nothing to lose except stress if you give this a try for the next seven days. I look forward to hearing your results, so be sure to schedule time to write me with your report!

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Kids Can Cook

At age nine, my daughter showed an interesting in learning to cook. I taught her a few simple and safe recipes to see if that was enough to satisfy what might have been a fad. But now that she is 10 she’s expressing a more serious interesting in learning to cook more than eggs, and to handle a knife. Together we watched the Food Network’s Chopped Junior and discovered that there are many children in the U.S. that are very well versed in cook, and in some cases have more advanced skills kitchen than many adults I know.

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My daughter and I sat down recently and analyzed the amount of fat, sugar, carbs, protein, and sodium in her average daily intake vs. some of her school mates’ daily diets. She saw first hand that many of her friends were ingesting far more sugars, fats, and salts in one day then she might in a week. Of course, we acknowledge that our household is not the norm. When you live with a trainer – especially one who has good cooking skills – you’re going to eat healthier than most families. But it still left an impression upon her that she wanted to focus her cooking on healthy recipes, or to follow in my tracks of taking high-caloric foods and using substitutes to make them healthier (like my black bean brownies).

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After setting down firm ground rules (like no using knives or the stove/oven without adult supervision), I have begun involving her directly as I prepare our meals. We don aprons together, prepare our mise en place (French for “putting into place,” i.e., preparing all your utensils, foods, spices, etc.) and get down to cooking. She loves telling her Dad or our guests that she was the Sous Chef (2nd to the head chef) as she proudly helps me plate and serve the meal.

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Cooking with your kids has little down-side. They gain self-confidence, learn beneficial health knowledge, make memories that they will cherish centered around spending time with you, and – added bonus – if you’re like me, you teach them to clean as you go, which lightens your burden of KP (kitchen pick up).  I’ve also discovered that along with a feeling of empowerment and pride that children feel when they can create something tasty in the kitchen, comes the added benefit of a better understanding of nutrition and how it affects the body.

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So whether you’re comfortable in the kitchen or not, I suggest you buy a kid-friendly cookbook (amazon has several written by kid-chefs), enroll your child in a youth cooking-class, or best yet – experiment with cooking healthy recipes together.

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I Challenge You!

It seems most of us like a challenge now and then. Whether it’s to push us out of our comfort zone, or to prove something to ourselves or others, people like utilizing challenges, even small ones, to shake up their status quo.  In the last couple of years I’ve seen challenges ranging from silly to stupid, and charitable to admirable. The cinnamon challenge was clearly in the stupid category, while the ice bucket challenge was silly and charitable.

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Current and retired educators from the Winchester, Va. area, all members of the Beta Iota chapter of the Alpha Delta Kappa fraternity, take part in the social media phenomenon, the ALS ice bucket challenge, to raise funds to combat Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease," Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, in Winchester, Va. From left are Karen McCoy, Kaye Reams, Betty Saunders, Jackie Brondstater, Judy Fogle, Toni O'Connor and Melody Harmon. (AP Photo/The Winchester Star, Jeff Taylor)

My current favorite reality television show, American Ninja Warrior is a perfect example of the admirable challenge – at least from my fitness-minded perspective – watching men and women of all ages challenge their bodies and abilities to achieve feats of physical awesomeness.

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So it got me thinking that perhaps I could “rally the troops” – my 3000+ followers – to accept a challenge that while it may be silly, could bestow some fitness on those of you who still dream but never DO anything to get your bodies in better shape.  Therefore, my challenge is as follows: for the next 30-days, you will do ONE 10-minute fun, silly, or challenging form of exercise per day, involving as many people as possible.

Example: challenge your spouse, kids, friends or co-workers to an in-home (or in-office) 10 minute obstacle course of hoola-hooping, jump-roping, rapid burpees, and silly-screaming jumping jacks. Or, ten minutes of free-style dancing while singing to your favorite up-beat songs (no matter how off-key or rhythmically challenged you are).

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THEN you video-tape it and upload it to your Facebook, my facebook (https://www.facebook.com/danelifefitness), YouTube, etc. The idea here is that you get your body moving at least once a day, which will clear your head, lower your stress, give you time to connect with your loved ones, and in general boost everyone’s spirits. Make it silly, make it fun, make it challenging. Challenge those around you to outdo your challenge.

Let’s make this a movement with as much impact as the Cinnamon challenge had, but without the ridiculous and insignificant consequences! I look forward to seeing what you all come up with, and I can’t wait to try your challenges myself.

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#fitlife!