The holiday season can often come with stress and sleepless nights. It’s the perfect time to focus on a little rest and relaxation in the name of beauty.
It’s supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.” It’s a time when families come together to celebrate the holidays, give back to their communities, exchange gifts and prepare their favorite family meals. It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this particular time also comes with stress and sleepless nights. There is so much to do and never enough time to do it. Jam-packed parking lots and stores, endless holiday cards to send and searching for gifts for the ones you love can take a toll. And with all of the holiday parties we have to attend, looking our best can be a challenge.
It’s time to focus on a little R&R in the name of healthy looking skin. Can it be done? Absolutely! Does stress and lack of sleep really affect our appearance? You bet it does. Unfortunately, when we are feeling stressed or tired on the inside, it also shows on the outside. And trust me, it’s not a good look. A good night’s sleep and a bit of relaxation can truly affect your inner and outer beauty.
I know it seems impossible to relax during the hectic holiday season, but it’s a MUST in the name of beauty. Stress can wreak havoc on both your appearance and your overall wellness, including your heart, digestion, weight, memory and sleep. When it comes to our skin, stress can bring on breakouts and cause dehydration, which can lead to fine lines and wrinkles. Stress can cause hormonal imbalances and affect our skin’s barrier function, which could potentially affect our immune system. And don’t get me started on the effects of stress on the hair. If you aren’t interested in turning gray or experiencing hair loss over the holidays, then it’s time to unwind.
To help you relax, it’s important to find a little “me” time even during the busiest time of the year. If you can find just five minutes a day to do a little meditation, it will serve you and your appearance well. Just by entering into a relaxed, peaceful state you can release chemicals into your body that will help to counter the stress hormones you are creating. It’s so simple!
Managing stress can be difficult. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to get our stress levels under wraps.
Once you have mastered the art of relaxing, you will likely notice a change in your appearance, as well as your demeanor. In addition to relaxing, we must also get a good night’s sleep, or it’s all for nothing. Many people admit to losing sleep at night due to stress. And others admit to being even more stressed out because they are too tired to deal with holiday activities. It’s a vicious cycle.
Remember, as crazy as it sounds, we call it “beauty sleep” for a reason. I often say a good night’s sleep should be everyone’s number one, go-to beauty tip. There is nothing like that youthful, healthy looking glow you get after a good sleep. Couple a good night’s sleep with your favorite nighttime skin care products and you will look fantastic and refreshed. During the holidays we tend to stay up later celebrating, wrapping presents or putting the finishing touches on our favorite DIY holiday project. Whatever the case, this is not the time to skimp on sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies release more cortisol than usual. Cortisol, a stress hormone, in excess can have us looking tired and stressed out in no time. Our skin can become a bit inflamed and it can affect our collagen. And over time you will begin to notice less firmness in your skin and compromised elasticity. The result: fine lines, wrinkles and dry skin.
A restless night also shows under our eyes. There is no amount of concealer that will cover those dark under-eye circles when we are exhausted. When we don’t sleep, the blood vessels found directly under the skin around the eyes become dilated and we end up looking like a raccoon.
When we are sleeping, our body goes into repair mode. This is when the repairing and renewing of our cells occurs. This is vital for our entire body, but when it comes to our skin it also helps to fend off early aging. Think of sleep as your most important beauty aid, and do your best to get a good eight hours every night. A good night’s sleep will make it easier to face the daily stresses this season. After all, we want to look our best during the holidays.
The holidays are what we make of them. And this really is a wonderful time of year that we all should be able to enjoy to its fullest. It’s all about friends and family. And everyone wants to look their best, rested and relaxed. After all, we have a brand new year to look forward to. So, let’s look our best in the name of reduced stress!
Think about running on a treadmill. Are you filled with warm thoughts about competing against yourself or even catching up on a show as you jog? Or does your blood run cold as you imagine time slowing down and your run begins to feel like self-inflicted punishment?
When it comes to running on a treadmill, it’s very rare that someone thinks it’s just okay. Usually, people either love it or hate it! But with cold weather upon us and the sun setting earlier, many people feel there is only two options––to get on the human hamster wheel or risk freezing outside.
The winter months are famous for making us gain holiday pounds. So, let me share with you a few tips to help you spice up your treadmill routine throughout the winter holidays, which can prevent you from hanging up your running shoes until the spring.
If you are fortunate enough to be using a newer treadmill where you can adjust the gradient, then you’ll have fun creating a challenging outdoor trail run.
Whether you fancy running up a steep mountain or creating rolling hills, it’s easy to break up the monotony of a flat course by simply pressing the incline button. I love hill running and enjoy the challenge of increasing the gradient every 60 seconds. An added bonus with being in control of the gradient is that if the hill feels too steep, just take it down a notch. Now, you can’t do that when you’re running outside!
Music is known for being a great motivator, especially when it comes to exercising and sports performance.
The joy of modern technology is that you can create entire playlists of all of your favorites. Spend time going through your music collection and pick out songs that make you smile. Find that one song that makes you want to dance––it will be perfect motivation for you to turn up the speed and run a little faster. I have been known for putting my motivational song on repeat and running so fast that the treadmill is shaking.
This is a matter of preference, but running or walking at the exact same speed for the entire time is just not an option for me.
Interval training has so many added benefits. Not only does it stop you from getting bored, it can help you to push yourself to burn more calories in less time. A great way to interval train is to run at a 7/10 difficulty level for 45 seconds, then walk or jog at a 3/10 difficulty for 30 seconds. Training in this way for 30-45 minutes can significantly improve your cardiovascular fitness and endurance.
If you want to do a steady state run without adjusting your gradient and speed, then take your mind off your run by playing with the treadmill functions.
Many newer treadmills are equipped with heart rate monitors and calorie burn counters, which can make it fun to set yourself up with mini challenges! Try and keep your heart rate within your target range and guess how many calories you will burn every two minutes. Or you can pick one of the programmed running plans and let your mind puzzle over one of the challenges in your life. It’s better to think through a thorny problem while running than when you’re trying to sleep.
Set a few goals before you start your run, and then don’t be afraid of breaking it up into manageable chunks.
Don’t just get on the treadmill without a goal, because chances are you will step off sooner if you don’t have a plan. If your goal is to run five miles but you get bored after two miles, then make a conscious choice to take a break. That way you can keep your commitment to do all five miles––you’ll just break up your run and refocus along the way. So, get off to do some light resistance work or abdominal crunches, then get back on. The important thing is to get back on.
If you’re willing to go out and brave the winter chill, many gyms also offer classes led by an instructor that incorporate both running and weight training. The group atmosphere is fun and can help motivate you.
The benefit of training on a treadmill is that you can precisely monitor your distance and time without the variables of rough terrain and inclement weather slowing you down. Remember to only go at a pace that feels right for you. It’s tempting to push yourself too hard if the person next to you is really pounding out the miles, but you won’t be helping anybody if you push yourself too much. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and stay injury-free. After all, that person on the next treadmill could be an ex-professional sprinter like me!
All in all, a treadmill is a wonderful tool to help keep your health and fitness goals on track. But personally, I always think that mixing up your routine can be useful and I enjoy both indoor and outdoor running. As they say, ‘A change is as good as a break.’ So, if you experience treadmill boredom, then make a change and head outdoors. The wind in your hair and pavement under your feet might be just the thing to remind you why you love running. And feeling the winter snow, rain and wind might be the thing to reawaken your devotion to the treadmill.
It’s possible, if not likely, to pack on five pounds between now and January––and it’s easier than you might think. Most people only add a pound or two over the holidays. But when you look at what a few extra indulgences can cost you, the calories add up fast. Gaining five pounds before the New Year would mean taking in an extra 17,500 calories or so between now and January. If that sounds like a lot, you’re right. Here’s how sliding down the slippery slope of holiday weight gain can happen.
First, we’ll turn back the clock to October 31. The average Halloween bucket holds about 250 pieces of candy at about 35 calories each. If you’re like most people, you bought too much, so you may have put away a couple of pieces a day for a few weeks. That would have given you a 1000 calorie head start.
Going forward, we come to Thanksgiving. We’re no longer content with just Thanksgiving Dinner––we’ve morphed the holiday into Thanksgiving Day, since we spend a good part of the day eating. Many people plan the main event early in the day––it makes it that much easier to squeeze in a repeat performance later in the evening. Total calories for the day could easily top 5000 or more. Conservatively, that’s about 2500 more than the average person needs.
Now in the thick of it, your workplace sometimes can be your undoing during the holidays. Grateful customers and clients, or even coworkers, flood the office with cookies, candies and tins of caramel popcorn. If you eat two handfuls of caramel popcorn three days a week for a month (2200 calories), and three pieces of chocolate candy a week for a month (1600), you could gain a pound by January.
You’re bound to have more goodies at home, too, when the gift baskets start to arrive. You could easily eat 10 mini muffins over the course of a few days (1000 calories), or make a few dives into the salami and cheese crackers (700 calories). Bake a couple batches of holiday cookies or gingerbread and you’ll be in trouble, too. An extra 6 cookies (and a few samples of cookie dough) could set you back another 500 calories or so.
Now throw some cocktail parties into the mix. Hors d’oeuvres are little calorie bombs, averaging about 100 calories each, and some alcoholic drinks, like sweet martinis, can easily top 300 calories. Two parties = two thousand calories = two-thirds of a pound. Tack on what you’ll get from a couple of potato pancakes and some beef brisket at a Hanukkah party (1000 calories) and could be almost another pound up.
It shouldn’t be hard to pick up the remaining 5000 calories or so, especially when you’re faced with foods like pecan pie (500 calories a slice), prime rib (800 calories for 8 ounces) and creamy artichoke dip (600 calories in a half cup). And then Christmas brunch might consist of a slice of quiche (500 calories), a giant cinnamon roll (500) and a cup of eggnog (400).
Finally, it’s likely that you could couple all this eating with a bout of inactivity. If you give up your daily 45 minute walks (175 calories) until New Year’s Day, you’ll be facing your next weigh-in with a sense of dread.
A smooth running digestive system relies on the right foods at the right time.
Of all our bodily functions, we probably focus more on our digestive system than any other. I’m sure one reason for this is that we have plenty of opportunities to ‘touch base’ with our digestive tract and take a reading. After all, you get signals from your digestive system all day long—everything from “Feed me!” to “Could you loosen the belt a little!“ and “Air comin’ your way!” Your digestive system has a way of speaking up—and has a lot to say about what you put in it—as well as how much and how often.
Many of us eat too much or eat too fast. We don’t eat enough fiber. We skip meals and then subject our systems to a gigantic plate of food. Considering how much use and abuse our digestive systems have to withstand, it’s a wonder we don’t suffer more than we do. Gas, bloating, “having a hard time going” —not a day goes by that someone doesn’t complain to me about one of these common digestive problems. Let’s look at what you can do to ease any strain on your digestive system.
Common digestive system disturbances: gas, bloating and irregularity
Gas production is a normal part of the digestive process, and unless it’s excessive, it usually indicates a healthy intake of fiber and a well-functioning digestive tract. Most foods that contain carbohydrate—anything from beans to bagels—are not completely broken down during digestion. So, the resident bacteria in your intestines take over, producing gas as they complete the digestive process. The average person passes gas about 14 times a day, releasing about a half liter of gas in the process.
Some people describe feeling bloated after eating—sort of a ‘puffed up’ sensation that comes on rather quickly, mostly in the upper abdomen. It is often the result of air that gets trapped in your digestive tract, which can come from a surprising number of sources. Often, it’s simply a matter of swallowing a lot of air while you eat—which often happens if you eat too fast or do a lot of talking while you’re chewing. Sometimes carbonated beverages can leave you feeling bloated, since you’re taking in a lot of air along with your liquid. Some people get that bloated feeling when they eat a fatty meal. Fat delays the time it takes for food to leave your stomach, so it can leave you feeling uncomfortable.
Irregularity is one of the most common digestive complaints—it’s also one of the most misunderstood. Many people think if they don’t visit the bathroom on a daily basis, they’ve got a problem. But if things are moving smoothly—whether it’s three times a day or three times a week—you probably don’t have anything to worry about.
Fiber is the structural portion of a plant, so it’s found in good-for-you foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Adults should be eating in the neighborhood of 30 grams of fiber a day, but the average intake among adults in the U.S. is only about a third of that. Our busy lifestyles contribute to the problem. When we’re eating on the go, we’re less likely to find fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Aim to have a fruit or vegetable with every meal or snack, toss some beans into a soup or salad, and choose whole grains over refined “white” breads, cereals, rice and pasta.
Your digestive system is home to thousands of strains of beneficial bacteria that help to break down foods that are resistant to normal digestion. This allows you to obtain more nutrients from your foods. The bacteria in your system also help to keep the growth of other potentially harmful bacteria at bay—thus promoting healthy digestion. While the idea of consuming bacteria in your diet may not sound appealing, the probiotic bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented foods can promote digestive health. Aside from yogurt, you can pick up some of these “good” bacteria in other fermented soy products (miso, tempeh, kefir), as well as in pickled foods like cucumber pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Fluid helps the fibers in foods to “swell” and helps to add more bulk to the material passing through the lower digestive tract, which keeps things running smoothly. Watery fruits and vegetables go a long way towards meeting fluid needs, but it’s still important to drink fluids throughout the day, too.
Exercise isn’t just for the muscles you can see—it’s good for the smooth muscles of your digestive tract, too. Exercise stimulates the muscles to contract, which keeps things “moving along.” Exercise is also a great stress-reducer, which makes it particularly good for those whose digestive systems act up when they get stressed out.
When you go too long without eating, a couple of things are likely to happen: you’ll eat quickly because you’re so hungry, and you’ll eat too much because you’re starving. Either way, you could end up with a touch of indigestion. Your digestive system is likely to be a lot happier if you eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day.
Often when people are bothered by gas, they figure the best thing to do is to eliminate ‘gassy’ foods like beans or broccoli from the diet. But rather than eliminating these healthy foods, try eating just small amounts over several days to give your system time to adjust. Similarly, if you’re trying to add more fiber to your diet, work your way up to the recommended 25-30 grams of fiber gradually.
When you eat too fast, not only does it lessen the enjoyment of your meal, but you’re more likely to swallow air which can lead to gas and bloating. And when you eat too quickly, you’re more likely to overeat since it takes your stomach about 20 minutes to tell your brain that you’re full. And that can lead to further digestive discomfort. Lastly, when nature calls, be sure to listen. Too many people put off visits to the restroom if the urge to “go” strikes at an inconvenient time. Sure, the urge may pass—but if you put it off, you’re more likely to have trouble getting the job done.
Don’t let your fitness plan be part of what’s stressing you out! Instead, focus on calming techniques and a gentle yoga stretch.
Life is stressful, and stress can cause both weight gain and anxiety. If you need some tips on how to calm your mind and temporarily escape the chaos that life often brings, then my meditation tips and gentle yoga routine will be perfect for you!
Many people consume foods that are high in sugars, fats and salt to help them feel good during times of stress. Junk foods stimulate the pleasure center in the brain, especially during times of stress. I can personally confess to reaching for the cookie jar during several chaotic moments when my triplets were babies. Imagine three babies learning to walk at the same time! In fact, just thinking about it makes my blood pressure rise and that was six years ago. I discovered that exercise made me feel good and provided me with a longer lasting calming effect, compared with the temporary satisfaction I received from my cookie escape.
The harsh reality is that the feel-good factor we get from consuming these sugary and fatty treats is short lived. In addition, consuming these foods can lead to poor overall health and weight gain. Finding other ways to manage stress is very important. During times of stress, I turn to yoga and meditation to help me relax.
It’s not always practical to jump into an exercise routine in moments of stress. Exercising your mind is just as important as exercising your body. Today, I want to share with you a great way to regain your focus, calm your mind and at the same time avoid the pitfalls that come with reaching for the cookie jar in times of stress. Yoga and meditation are not new concepts. Rather, they are ancient practices that are associated with some wonderful health benefits.
Sometimes after a long day, I like to unwind with a gentle yoga routine. This is also a great way to start the day—it clears your mind and sets a positive tone for the day with a few simple yoga moves. Take a look at my gentle yoga routine in the video below, and then follow it with some meditation to help calm your mind.
In my opinion meditation is simply a term for spending some time disconnecting from the chaos of life, and attempting to quiet your mind and be in a calm state of awareness. A recent conversation that I had with a friend made me realize that meditation is often misunderstood. These common misunderstandings get in the way and stop people from giving it a try. He told me, “I’ve tried meditation in the past because my job is so highly stressful with incredibly long hours, but I quit meditating because I thought I was a terrible meditator. I could never totally clear my mind, so I would get frustrated and quit. But now I understand that having thoughts is simply a part of the process.” What he said is exactly how I used to feel about trying to meditate!
As with all things relating to health and fitness, there are many schools of thought and many methods. Today I will share with you my practical tips for calming your mind and reflecting on your day with simple and practical meditation advice.
Don’t think that you need a completely silent and secluded place to practice. In the real world and especially in a home with kids or at the office, finding complete silence is almost an impossible task.
Do try to remove yourself from all major distractions such as phones, computer screens and incredibly loud spaces. Simply turn your office chair away from the screen. If you’re at home, close your bedroom door.
Don’t convince yourself that you need any special equipment such as a yoga mat, bells, or blankets, because I want you to understand you can meditate anywhere. The less stuff you rely on, the easier it will be to take a quick moment to practice.
Do try to sit or lie down in a comfortable place where you feel relaxed. You can keep your eyes open or close them, just do what feels right for you.
Don’t force yourself to start breathing with a specific style, like belly breathing or nose breathing. It can initially put you off or even make you feel light-headed. You can work on breathing technique once you start to feel comfortable with meditation.
Do focus on your breath. Feel the air coming in and leaving your body. Simply be aware of your breath and how it feels.
Don’t start thinking negative thoughts when your grocery list or to-do list starts to creep into your mind.
Do redirect your focus away from your grocery list and back to your breathing.
Don’t have a long list of affirmations or goals that you think about or chant out loud.
Do have one or two key words that help you to relax or guide you towards positive sense of well-being.
Aim to find 20 minutes of quiet time for yourself once or twice a day. Remember that meditation is considered a practice, just like yoga. So yes, that means it may actually take practice to feel the full calming effects.
My Sunday run is what I call my ‘mommy escape.’ I relax and clear my mind by focusing on my breathing, and if I have trouble relaxing I simply rhythmically count my strides 1-2, 1-2. I then focus on my breathing and do some yoga stretches. Before I know it, one beautiful hour of calm has passed me by and I am ready to go full steam ahead with keeping my kids safe while they play. They may have mastered the art of walking, but now it’s all about climbing trees and riding skateboards! It helps me to take my 20 minutes every day for my sanity.
I hope my relaxation techniques help you find a balance between staying fit and calm.