Category: Self-Improvement

Playing Card Work Out

Now that we’re clear of the final summer hurdle – the three day Labor Day Weekend – many of you feel it’s time to buckle down and really work hard on leaning up your body composition, especially before the high-caloric holidays hit us between November and December.  So today I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite ways to torture my clients (probably how I got the name “Priestess of Pain”) – the Playing Card Workout.

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This workout is so versatile and customizable it can be used with kids or adults, at a gym, or at home with as little as resistance bands and/or just body weight exercises.  You can also decide whether you’re going to “play” this workout for as little as 10-minutes, up to 30 or 60-minutes, it’s your choice.

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The concept is simple: you assign a type and quantity of exercise to each of the cards Ace Through King (1-13) in a deck of playing cards.  Then you shuffle them up, and take one card at a time, perform the exercise designated for that number (or face card), and then go back and pick another.  I change up my exercises regularly but here’s one I’ve used on beginning fitness clients who have just some basic gear.  Remember it doesn’t matter the suit, just the number of the card:

  • Ace (1)          10 Burpees
  • Two               25 Jumping Jacks
  • Three            15 Push-ups
  • Four              10 Single Leg Touch Downs (each)
  • Five               25 Biceps Curls (dumbbells or resistance bands)
  • Six                 30 Crunches
  • Seven            10 Incline Push Ups (against a bench or chair)
  • Eight              50 Air squats
  • Nine               3  30-second planks
  • Ten                 15 Triceps dips (using bench, chair or counter)
  • Jack (11)        30 Mountain Climbers
  • Queen (12)    20 Crab Walks
  • King (13)       15 Shoulder presses (dumbbells or resistance bands)

It doesn’t matter if you turn over the same numbered card numerous times (i.e., you turn over two 6’s in a row – you’ll be doing 60 crunches).  Keep the pace fast if you’re only working out for a short period (10-20 mins).  For longer (30-60 mins), every 10-minutes take a 2 minute break for water and to slow your heart rate down.

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There’s an even simpler option, assign only 4 exercises, one for each suit, and then perform that exercise for the amount of times of the numbered card you pick (i.e., Clubs = Push ups, a 5 of clubs is 5 push ups).  But either way, you’ll achieve great results and it’s hard to plateau with this workout.

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This workout routine will keep boredom at bay as it stimulates your brain and challenges your body, and it has effective cardio with simultaneous muscle fatigue all built in to one fun routine.  I challenge you to try it with your whole family, and encourage the kids to assign the exercises.  For those of you who are excited that Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back at Starbucks for the season, you’ll need to work of those calories for sure, and this is a quick easy way to do it.  Cheers and good luck!

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Breathing Matters

In 2013 I first addressed how important breathing is to your fitness goals, with specific focus on breathing correctly when exercising.  Lately with all the political unrest in our country, I feel everyone is holding their breath in general and that will only serve to increase our internal stress levels.  So for that reason, I have updated an earlier post to remind us all to BREATHE!

Women in labor know full well the importance of breathing. Deliberate breath control is a natural tool (vs. medicinal) to managing pain. Those studying Martial Arts know it too, same for distance runners.  Actors, singers, dancers must all incorporate breathing into their art. But the importance of breathing for successfully improving your fitness stamina and goals is often overlooked.

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Let’s start with the clinical basics. When you breathe in, you deliver oxygen to your muscles; when you breathe out you remove carbon dioxide from your system. (Carbon dioxide is the waste gas that is produced when carbon is combined with oxygen as part of the body’s energy-making processes.)

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Most runners or cardio-enthusiasts understand the importance of proper breathing to achieve endurance for the length of their run/cardio. It’s kind of automatic. But proper breathing for those performing resistance training (weight lifting) does not happen automatically within the body, and many times the breath is even held during exercise.

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The fact is that successful resistance training must include the proper oxygen delivery and removal of carbon dioxide to the muscles. Not only is this crucial to allow energy to continue throughout your entire workout, but the specific focus of your breathing will allow you to lift more weight, more often, and therefore, burn more calories and exhaust the muscle. Exhausting the muscle is the first step to rebuilding it (through proper nutrition and rest), thereby creating more lean muscle tissue which eats fat.

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When you hold your breath you increase tension throughout your entire body. For proper muscle training, you need to isolate the tension to only the muscle(s) you are seeking to work. In other words, if your back and arms are tightened (tense) while performing a chest press, your chest is sharing the weight load and therefore not benefiting from the targeted exercise.

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So here’s a quick guideline I instruct all my new clients to memorize: when lifting, pushing or pulling (the exertion) breathe OUT. So if you are performing a biceps curl, take a breath in before you start, then exhale on the exertion (the lifting of the weight) and breath IN again as you lower the weight to starting position. If you are performing a leg press, take a breath in before you start, then exhale on the exertion (the pushing of the weight) and breath IN again as you lower the weight to starting position.

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Another aspect of breathing I wish to address is for children. Between the higher demands on their brains in school, the jam-packed schedule of school, homework, sports, etc. that many kids experience, and any tensions at home or in the world at large — breathing is key to keeping their volatile emotions stable.  Spend some time with your children each day teaching/reminding them to breathe slowly and to consciously relax any tension in their bodies.  (This is especially helpful at night before bed.) Perhaps the whole family can share in a 1-minute meditation where everyone can shed some of their internal stresses.  There are smart-phone apps or YouTube videos that can guide you through these easy (and relaxing) short meditations where breathing is emphasized.

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It’s a simple thing but it can make a huge difference in achieving your fitness goals, and as stated at my introduction, breathing through emotional stress is also paramount to keeping our bodies happy and healthy.  So breathe on … especially when watching the news!

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Stealing The Best of Crossfit

By now most people who have an interest in fitness, or at least a goal of shedding some fat fast, have heard of Crossfit. For those of you who have not, Crossfit is a trademarked style of gym/fitness approach where workouts incorporate aspects of power-lifting (think Olympic weightlifting), high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and plyometrics (jumping and bursts of speed type movements), etc.

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The benefits of Crossfit is rapid muscle gain, rapid fat loss, and an ego boost usually only achieved by completing true military boot camp (the “I survived it!” affect). The down sides are numerous however, the largest danger lies in the “no-quitting” philosophy built into Crossfit.

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For the average body (not already athletic or at least genetically athletic) the excessive abuse on one’s muscles for prolonged periods can cause rhabdomyolysis – a kidney condition that can occur when excessive muscle break down releases myoglobin into the blood stream, which clogs up the kidneys and can thereby potentially poison the body. Crossfit makes you seriously sweat too, which can thereby create dehydration. Without proper hydration, your body cannot rid itself of the toxins (myoglobin) and this can lead to kidney failure and electrolyte imbalances that can ultimately affect your heart.

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For these reasons, I have never been a proponent of Crossfit. However, recently I have begun incorporating one aspect of this popular fitness trend into mine and my client’s workouts – the power-lifting nuance. While I have always preferred a muscle isolation style of lifting (i.e., focusing my form to only using the biceps when performing curls, etc.), I have come to realize that sometimes lifting heavy enough that you need to draw upon several muscle groups to achieve the desired lift/push/pull, can definitely accelerate certain fitness goals.

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Therefore, as an example (see photo below) I might throw in a barbell squat jerk to curl to overhead press with straight arm return. By starting with a heavier weight than I might normally be able to curl 10 times, I use legs, back, and shoulders to power up that weight and then thrust it above my head.

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So while I still do not recommend entire daily workouts of Crossfit for the average client, I can advise you to consider incorporating some of their style into your weekly workouts. With careful attention to form and a lessening of the typical aggressive Crossfit style, you can still gain all the benefits, without as much risk.  As always, it’s about balance — exercising too hard vs. too little.  Find the right amount and take care of your body.

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You Really Need To Sleep!

Three years ago I presented the following post and as school has started back up (or is about to) for a large majority of us here in the U.S., I thought it would be beneficial to remind everyone just how important sleep really is.

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What I didn’t address before was how important sleep is for children/teenagers. If your school-aged child has to start school at 7:30 or earlier, it is imperative that you guide them to getting to sleep as early as possible.  Current studies show the detrimental ramifications of too little sleep for children ages 5-17, with issues ranging from lack of concentration, depression, increase in body fat, and mood swings.

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It is up to us parents to enforce earlier bed times especially when transitioning from summer break back to school hours.  If your child has trouble winding down, take away their electronics as they have been proven to be stimulants instead of relaxers, and encourage reading quietly in bed until they fall asleep, etc. It only takes a firm commitment for a week or two until the new routine is firmly in place.

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Now for the rest of you, read (or re-read) this former post and then get some sleep!

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It’s a well-known fact to those of us in the fitness profession that sleep is a key element in achievement of one’s fitness goals to lose fat (lose weight as most of you refer to it). Unfortunately, this fact is little acknowledged, not to mention followed, by most people.  Sleep is a commodity in our fast-paced, over-worked, over-committed society.  While many of is can function quite well with little sleep (especially you Moms), the detrimental effects are huge, yet hugely ignored.

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With too little sleep comes a myriad of issues ranging from depression, elevated stress levels on organs, higher blood pressure, higher risk of type 2 diabetes, reduced sex drive, inability to concentrate, deteriorated memory, etc. But the biggie is obesity. According to studies by medical professionals, people who sleep less than six hours a day were almost 30% more likely to become obese than those who slept seven to nine hours. Research has shown a direct link between sleep and the peptides that our brain stimulates to regulate appetite. Not only does sleep loss appear to stimulate appetite, it also stimulates cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods, especially at night when the body is less likely to burn those calories.

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There is also a vicious cycle that occurs in the many obese people who suffer from sleep apnea.  Even if they allow enough time to sleep, their sleep is disrupted multiple times each night which results in less quality sleep time. Thus their bodies retain more fat, increasing the sleep apnea, and the cycle continues until they are on assisted breathing devices.  I have a hard time convincing clients that if they follow my recommended course of exercise, healthy consistent nutrition, and proper sleep habits, they could find themselves off the breathing mask within months (and in many cases off their high blood pressure meds too)!

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So here are a few tips that can help improve the increase amount of time you sleep:
Prioritize: Make sleep as important as all the other responsibilities you have in your life. Schedule at least 8 hours of sleep just like you schedule everything else from getting to work on time to getting to the gym (you do schedule your gym time too, right?).  For children you really need to do the math and get them tucked in early enough to balance out when they have to get up (see chart below).

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Decompress: Many of us need a little while to decompress before we can fall asleep. Schedule about 30-minutes prior to when you want to fall asleep and do some yoga-like stretches, read a book, watch TV (as long as the show is not too dramatic or stimulating), or journaling (as noted below).

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Journaling: If you’re like me, sometimes the issue with falling asleep (or staying asleep) is an over-active brain, sorting and re-sorting tasks needing to be dealt with.  If you spend a few minutes prior to sleep writing down the issues weighting on you, or Journaling about your day and feelings, the brain will relax and sleep will be easier.

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Time your Nutrition: You mustn’t got to bed hungry, but conversely, you need to not have just eaten a meal.  Make sure your last meal/snack is at least one hour prior, but not more than two hours before bedtime.

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Womens’ Image — Gone Too Far?

In the 1960’s the women’s right movement coincided with the sexual revolution, leaving my generation and the subsequent generations to enjoy more freedom to dress as we choose, dance with abandon, and in general no longer be held to constraints that we must be covered head to toe and speak only when spoken to.

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Pioneering women broke further taboos: Barbra Streisand wearing a see-through pantsuit to the Oscars, Madonna dancing on stage in a bra and garter belt, and play-boy bunnies becoming mainstream icons. Since then there has also been a steady loosening of what’s considered sexual vs. sensual and where the line is between being an empowered woman that chooses to be scantily clad (Cher, Madonna) and an unclassy tramp who shows off her body for National attention (Anna Nicole Smith, Kim Kardashian).

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That classy vs. slutty line is so blurred now, it’s hard to teach our girls the difference between being comfortable with their bodies and in their desire to be attractive, with knowing what is too much and what sends the wrong signal. My gym has several TV screens always mounted on the wall and yesterday I watched the current music videos channel as I was on a treadmill. I saw back-to-back videos (at yeast 5) where the singer was a young women (in both pop and country music genres) who paraded around in lingerie, employing stripper moves as they danced and writhed around in very sexually suggestive positions, all the while singing about love and/or betrayal.

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As these are all current and popular performers, I realized these videos are telling young girls that is what is sexy, this is what boys want. Of course, ask any real man (even a high school boy if his head’s on straight) and they’ll say that type of girl is not at all who they want as a girlfriend, but they sure do like lusting over them just them same. So sadly, mixed signals abound, and what we’re left with is a large populous of girls and women displaying their bodies as nothing but devices for sex, not even realizing that many of our pop-culture icons have a brain in their head and are using their musical talents to build business empires (Rhianna, Beyonce, and even Miley Cirus).

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If you feel my blog today is a bit “soap-boxy” well I’m preparing my daughter to enter sixth grade. I’ve heard my share of horror stories about girls being coerced to perform oral sex on boys as early as 5th grade, and my stomach spins, and even the age-old spin the bottle has evolved to be heading into a dark closet for an imposed 5 minutes of making-out. I feel it is imperative that I prepare her to understand the confusing hormonal impulses that are going to rear their ugly head for the next several years of her schooling, and paramount to that preparation is that I help her to understand the deference between been attractive vs. sexual. That’s very difficult with all the images around her saying this is what is normal and right.

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Essentially today’s post is food for thought for all of you and hopefully we can open a mass dialogue as to how to not go backwards in women’s rights and sexual liberation, but not to keep going so far that we can have a president who says it’s okay to “grab women by the pussy.” Oops, guess we’re already that far gone!

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More Than Enough

For a long time now I’ve been pondering why so many women have low self-esteem and why even those who seem confident and strong still often feel they’re just not enough. Society as a whole still seems to regard our gender as slightly less valuable than men – look at our pay ratio’s, and the corporate ceilings we’ve yet to break, popularity of movie stars and their box office worth, and even at the idea of having a woman lead our country.

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I believe the primary reason women judge each other with such envy and jealousy stems from the feeling (or worse, their belief), that they’re not enough – not pretty enough, thin enough, young enough, smart enough. It doesn’t help that if you’re not young and/or pretty, society still values you less than even an old, ugly, racist man

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I am desperate to see this change, both for my peers, and my daughter’s generation. We are enough and we need to stop the division. There are valid and specific differences between men and women, but there is no difference in our capabilities as a species to succeed and deserve equal respect. However, until we stop competing on such trivial levels (like weight and breast size) the rest of society will not see us as equal (and enough) – primarily because we’re not demanding it.

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Having a father who abandoned me at age 6, I had long struggled with feelings of not being enough, especially where men were concerned. It’s no wonder … when a parent seemingly rejects a child, the child will always assume that gender doesn’t value them. So in my 20’s and 30’s I made it my mission to be physically strong, emotionally stoic, sexy in that tough, tom-boy with a knife kind of way, and very accomplished in all things “dude.” I rebuilt my car engine, I helped a boyfriend build a house from the ground up, and I was always the best wing-man for my male friends when out at bars.

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Now I look back at that time and laugh – I was trying so hard to be strong and independent so that men would love to have me around, not realizing how intimidating that was to most men. They liked having me as a friend, but not dating me. Once again I was still not “enough.”

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Now that I’m in my 50’s I have found comfort in knowing that I am most certainly enough, but more importantly, that it doesn’t matter to me if anyone else thinks so. Besides, my loving husband, family, and plethora of close quality friends all think I’m awesome and better than enough, and who else matters?

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So how do I impart this wisdom that took me decades to learn to those women and young girls who still suffer from daily bouts of doubt and fear that they are not as special and beautiful as that Barbie at the gym? I guess the first step is today’s post, and the subsequent steps are to keep shouting from my soapbox (aka social media) that WE ARE ENOUGH!

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Stop comparing yourself to anyone else. Love yourself, love your body, do what you can to be healthy inside and out, and remember that there is no one else like you who has lived the life you’ve had, and that makes you unique, special and more than ENOUGH.

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End of Summer Challenge

Everyone seeking to enjoy more tone to their arms, thighs and mid-section loves a fitness challenge at the beginning of summer.  But by now, as August and the back-to-school dates approach, most inconsistent exercisers have forgotten about challenges or diets and are gearing up to resume hectic lives that spiral downwards towards the holidays where everyone over-eats and then laments in January that they need to lose weight by summer!

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To those of you guilty of the above cycle, I say get off the hamster wheel and try an end of summer challenge – or as I prefer to call it Fall Fitness Challenge. So if you’re ready to get in-shape and/or want to stay in-shape even though summer is waning, here’s my recommended challenge, in 5 simple steps:

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   1.    Drink 8 LARGE glasses of water starting with first thing in the morning and ending with before bed.

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    2.    Spend 1 hour 4 x a week getting and maintaining your heart rate between 135-155 bpm.  It’s your choice how you do this, it can be cardio classes, videos at home, a rapid-paced weight routine at the gym, swimming laps, riding a bike (outside or stationary), walking up hills (treadmill or outside), or even playing a sport.  It’s one hour per day people – I guarantee you can find the time!

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    3.   Set a goal of one of the following choices and work your way up to achieving the requisite number in one consecutive session: 300 crunches; 100 push ups; 100 squats; 50 pull ups, 50 burpees, etc., or two or more of these options for a more aggressive fitness challenge.  Frame the goal(s) in one-two month increments.  In other words, decide how long you’ll give yourself to be able to perform the required number work daily/weekly at increasing your strength and stamina until you achieve the goal.

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   4.   Commit to eating 5-6 small meals a day, within little to no processed ingredients (i.e., cereal, crackers, cookies, chips, etc.) .  Practice weekly menu and food prep, and allow for one or two meals where you do not over-eat, but allow yourself to enjoy more caloric and/or processed foods & liquids.

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   5.   Spend 10 minutes a day practicing slow meditative-style breathing, and if you average less than 6 hours a night of sleep, commit to adding at least 30 more minutes. Your body will need the extra rest if you’re doing items 2 & 3.

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I recommend starting on the target date of Tuesday August 1st to begin this challenge, and keep me appraised of your results.

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Foodie vs. Age

The world is currently populated with a large percentage of food loving adults, called “foodies.” People who love to eat, cook and/or explore the myriads of foods and recipes that can be found all over the world. As woman in her 50’s raised by a woman who was a foodie before the term was coined, I love and appreciate unique restaurants or dishes and of course pairing fine wine with my meals as well. But as a women in her 50’s I am also experiencing a dichotomy to my love of food that lately has me quite annoyed.

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First is the fact that I am a fitness professional (Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Expert) and because of that I simply cannot just hang out and eat everything I want to whenever I want to. Even though I am not so strict with my nutrition that I can’t indulge in comfort foods or high-caloric meals on occasion (after all moderation is my mantra), I still feel wrong indulging in exquisitely prepared seven course meals or conversely enjoying cheese nachos at the movies. I worry that I’m sabotaging my fitness goals.

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Second, and worse for a foodie – I find that my digestive tolerance has changed and lately I can’t handle rich foods or too much wine like I used to. Everything from acid reflux, to sour stomach, or cramps and bloating seems to follow whether we’ve had a fancy night out or a dinner party with friends.

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The irony is that while around the age of 50, most of us can finally afford to explore foods and restaurants more than we could in our 20’s, and that our pallets are finally the most developed, we also find that our bodies can’t always process certain foods or quantities like they used to.

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So what can a foodie do when the body rebels? The answer for me has been to slow down. We spend so much time rushing around, it translates to eating as well. Take time when eating. Chew slowly, let the enzymes in your mouth do their job. Pay attention to all the nuances of the foods or wines you’re consuming – be in the moment by taking your time and really experiencing the meal. Sip the wine, talk with those around you, and let your body relax while you enjoy the meal.

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When not indulging in explorations of new restaurants or recipes (i.e., eating every day foods), always remember to keep your nutrition balanced with lots of fiber and water, keep your quantities small, chew or swallow enzymes on a daily basis and most importantly, savor your food. Food is nourishment and life, but it is also art and a joy when handled properly – at any age!

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10 Minutes To Smile

The other day I was in a real funk of a mood, dramas with my kid, changes of plans, unexpected bills – you know the drill. In the midst of my moodiness I decided to take a few minutes and hop on the treadmill. I pulled up an uplifting play list of songs from my phone, stuck my earbuds in, and did 30-second sprints with 30-second rests for 10 minutes. The result, I got rid of my blue mood, refocused my perspective towards the positive, and the rest of the day was great.

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After my ten-minute shake-up, I realized how easy that had been and how rewarding on so many levels, and I knew I had to share this reminder with my readers: No matter what’s going on, with as little as five minutes of aggressive movement (that doesn’t mean it has to be high impact mind you), you can lift your mood and re-energize your spirits. Plus you’ll get the added bonus of burning some extra calories or adding to the building of your muscle tone.

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It doesn’t matter if you don’t have gym equipment at home, or even if you’re not at home (i.e., traveling). If the weather is fine, take a fast-paced walk, climb a tree or some rocks. If you’ve got access to a pool, try some impromptu water aerobics (blast fun music and pretend to jazzersize in the pool).

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If you’re stuck inside: trot up and down your stairs (if you’ve got them), or perform a circuit of burpees, push ups, and crunches, or even hula hooping.  There’s always some way to MOVE for 5-10 minutes that can stimulate endorphins wake up your brain, body, and mood.

For those of you who watch Grey’s Anatomy, you’ve no doubt seen that when things get really heavy on their heads and hearts, Meredith and her friends dance their blues away in the living room with mindless music blasting. You can do this too. Your form and style is irrelevant, all that matters is that you move your body and distract your mind.

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This works great for kids too.  If they’re sulky and/or tired from a summer’s day of doing nothing but watching videos, get them up and moving in a drastic but fun way for at least 10 minutes.  Make it fun and youthful and they’ll play along — like jumping on the bed or  having a pillow fight! You’ll all benefit in the long run.

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So the next time you find yourself weighted down by circumstances – turn that frown upside-down by moving and literally shaking things up for at least 5 minutes. Your body, heart, and mind will thank you.

Being Blunt Again

In 2013 I wrote the post Can I be blunt. In light of the current erosion in our Nation’s capital (I mean YOU #45), I felt it was a good time to update and re-post it, and remind everyone that while it is paramount that we be truthful with each other, tact is even more important!

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What’s the difference between tact and blunt?  When you are being honest are you tactful in your delivery, or are you being blunt? Do you make a conscious decision when to invoke either approach or is your personality simply always tactful or always blunt? Well, let me be blunt … I recommend using both at the same time.

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The dictionary defines tactful as: “a sense of what is fitting and considerate in dealing with others, so as to avoid giving offence; having skill or judgment in handling difficult or delicate situations.”

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Blunt has a much more, well…blunt, definition: “lacking subtlety; straightforward and uncomplicated, quick and to the point.”  Also many people who wrongly pride themselves on being blunt, are really being rude.  There’s a very short and fine line between bluntness and rudeness.  Clearly our current President has ample rude-bluntness (one of the selling points for those who voted for him), and none of the tact (again, sadly, one of his selling points to his fans).

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While I am a huge proponent of being blunt (I do think there’s too much candy-coating these days), I only advocate bluntness when it is colored with tact. Tact is the tempering that keeps bluntness from being rude.

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I bring this up today because I find that often my clients aren’t honest with themselves or those around them, and a little “cutting to the chase” (i.e., being blunt) could really help them move forward in their lives.  If this resonates with you, read on…

For me, being blunt means speaking straight to the point in a quick and honest way.  I don’t like to tiptoe around an issue, hoping that the recipient gets the gist of what I’m trying to say, and with the sentiment that I intended. But unlike some people who get labeled as brutally honest (i.e., their truth tends to hurt), I feel that if you deliver your blunt honesty with compassion and respect (i.e., tact) you will not be brutal and ideally you may be helpful.

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Being too tactful (without bluntness) has it’s own set of problems. This approach often results in a wishy-washy delivery of what you think the person wants to hear. Inside you’re thinking I wish I could just tell them the truth, but what comes out is a round-about soft-ball that doesn’t really get things resolved. How much time is wasted in your life having misdirected communication because you’re trying to be tactful. If someone asks for your opinion, or you are in a position to offer helpful wisdom or advice – do it quickly, compassionately, and be succinct!

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That leads me to my other favorite word when it comes to communication between people – succinct. Succinct means: “marked by brevity and clarity; concise.”  Succinct goes beautifully hand-in-hand with bluntness, as both imply quick or brief, and being succinct when you’re being tactfully blunt is helpful as you won’t overkill your message. Get to the point, deliver your message with kindness (even when it’s constructive criticism) and then stop talking and let your words sink in.  (Again, if our current leader could only follow this advice.)

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So the next time you need to be honest about something of importance to you or another person, be tactfully-blunt, and succinct, and you will enjoy a quicker resolution and likely receive more appreciation and respect from those around you.

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