Tag Archives: Stress Management

What’s in a Goal?

6 Nov

Think back in your life – specifically to the goals that you set.  How much time went in to satisfying your most memorable goal?  I don’t know if I would list this as my greatest achievement, but it will definitely last in my memory as a very rewarding goal that took more than a year to achieve.  What I’m referring to is my recent completion of the Chicago Marathon on October 10.  The impetus for this came from a conversation with my mother in the summer of 2009.  She asked if I would ever be interested in running a marathon, and I immediately gave her an emphatic NO!  The conversation meandered to marathon relays, half marathons, and shorter races, with my Mom finally saying, “Well I’m going to do it.” This was going to be her 50th birthday present to herself.  At the time I couldn’t think of a better present than to surprise her in Chicago and run the race with her (unfortunately, I was thinking that she was referring to the half marathon).

So, when I discovered later that she was talking about the full marathon – 26.2 miles! – I decided that, while although still a surprise, I had committed to this present, and was going to stick with it.  March 2010 rolled around, and I was signed up for my first marathon.

While I had a good amount of support and expertise from friends and colleagues, it definitely seemed like a daunting task to undertake.  For one, I AM NOT A RUNNER.  I have been playing soccer for over 20 years, but endurance running is not something I have ever enjoyed.  Secondly, I was not interested in affecting my physique or fitness (strength) levels in an effort to become an endurance athlete.  And probably most importantly, I had no idea how to train for a marathon, or how I was going to fit the training in with all of my other time constraints.

Well, courtesy of a client, I had the beginnings of a great training program: “Run Less, Run Faster” by Pierce, Murr, and Moss.  This program seemed right up my alley – only 3 days per week of running with only 1 of them being long runs.  So while running for distance was never my thing, I jumped into it with all the enthusiasm I could muster.  Boy was that a mistake; starting from a minimal training base, I bit off more than I could chew, and was pretty sore after every training run for a few days to follow.  That all subsided, fortunately, and I was able to accumulate a good training volume.

The big surprise was definitely a surprise – Mom had no idea I was coming, and I definitely put a smile on her face.  I was conscious that my arrival might put a crimp in her pre-race routine, but fortunately that was not the case: it became a real family affair with the rest of the family around for support.  Picking up the participant packet and walking through the race expo left me with a feeling I wasn’t expecting-anxiety.  This was the first time I started to question my training and preparation.  Was I ready? Had I trained long or hard enough?  The gravity of the impending marathon was finally starting to weigh on me.

All those questions and doubts disappeared when I awoke at 5am for the race.  The jitters never came back and I was ready to go!  After the starting gun went off, and my mom and I gave our parting good lucks, I was off.  Since I had trained for months by myself, racing by myself wasn’t hard to get used to, and I was running high with all of the other runners and supporting spectators.  As the finish approached, a huge weight seemed to lift off my shoulders (too bad my legs didn’t feel any lighter).  Walking through the finishers’ corral, all I could think about was rooting my Mom onto her own finish.  Unfortunately the throng of fans, spectators and racers made it impossible to reunite at the finish. However, the post-race party really hammered home what this goal meant to me: not only did I work really hard to accomplish an extraordinary physical feat, but I did it to support someone very close to me.  And that gratitude and happiness of sharing the marathon with her was the greatest reward.

So what goal are you working on?

Willpower: A Limited Resource?

6 Nov

When it comes to exercising more and eating healthier, “I need more willpower” is one of the most commonly uttered statements.  Several articles have highlighted studies showing willpower or self-control is a limited resource.  In other words, we only have so much willpower to draw on and it can be depleted quickly.  I am going to suggest something radical – not only do you have all the will power you need – it is a renewable resource!  The question is not “how can I get more willpower?”  The question is “how well am I supporting that vital resource?”

Let’s imagine that you are making nutritional changes to achieve a weight loss goal, and you are invited to a dinner holiday party with friends.  The goal for the evening is to eat only the foods deemed appropriate for weight loss.  Your first encounter is a table is filled with an assortment of enticing cheese and cream filled nibbles, chips and dips, and crudités.  Relying on your willpower, you pass up the cheesy, creamy delights, skip over the chips and dip, and settle for an array of tasty fresh vegetables.  After a glass of wine and mingling, the main course is laid out.  As you settle down to enjoy a beautifully prepared steak and crisp salad, you are offered a baked potato, garlic bread, and pasta salad.  Thinking about your goals, you refuse the additional food items.  However, the person offering continues to tempt you, making statements like, “oh, it’s just one potato” or “you don’t want any bread?” and “go ahead and have some pasta salad.  It’s salad after all.”  Still calling on your willpower, you politely refuse the additional food items.  As the meal continues, and the wine flows, you find yourself eyeing the bread across the table, thinking more and more about that steamy hot potato, and continually refusing a helping of pasta salad has become increasing difficult.  At last the meal has finished, and you are thinking “just in the nick of time!”  Then it happens, as you make your way out of the dinning area you run right into the dessert table.  Cookies, cakes, and holiday pies are all there looking delightful.  You take a deep breath and reach down for more willpower only to realize there isn’t any.  At this point you might be thinking, “Yelp! I need more willpower.”

Here is some food for thought: what if we changed the way we interpret willpower?  What if willpower becomes more of a resource?  And, what if that resource was supported by our thoughts and actions?  Willpower is defined as the strength of will and mind, or the determination to carry out a decision.  Willpower is also referred to as self-control.   Interestingly, the term resource can be defined as a supply or support that can be easily drawn on when needed.  Resource can also be defined as the capability to deal with adverse circumstances.  These two concepts are complimentary.  Rather than defining willpower as the unending ability to just say no, willpower becomes the determination to carry out a decision, and the ability to deal with or find solutions for over coming obstacles.

The next question is how to support or assist this resource.  Here are three tips for supporting your willpower:

1)   Develop a realistic and well-formed plan for over coming obstacles. Before developing a plan, the obstacles must be identified.  In the example above, the obstacle was food items considered off limits at a holiday party, and the plan was to avoid those foods.  First, how realistic is that plan?  To attending a holiday party and not partake in the foods you enjoy?  Rather than dabbling in deprivation, make a conscious choice to indulge some of your favorite foods, and pass on the other less exciting temptations.  Mentally and emotionally, choice is much more powerful than denial.

2)    Feed your brain. An interesting study found a relationship between blood glucose levels and self-control.  People in the study that had higher levels of glucose demonstrated greater willpower when compared to people with lower levels of glucose.  Therefore, having a snack before heading out to the party may not just keep your hunger in check, but may also support your willpower.  The study also found that restoring glucose helped replenish self-control, so when you feel your willpower reserves getting low try a piece of fruit.

3)    Laugh a lot and think positive. Not only has research has found that both laughter and positive thoughts boost self-control, but laughter has been shown to strengthen the immune system, reduce food cravings, and relieve stress.  I can think of a better way to enjoy a party, and improve health and well being, than to share laughter with friends!


Pope-Parker, T.  How to boost your willpower.  The New York Times. http/well.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/06/how-to-boost-your-willpower/

Scott, E.  The stress management and health benefits of laughter: The laughing cure.  About.com:Stress Management.  http://stress.about.com/od/stresshealth/a/laughter.htm

When Things Slow Down…

1 Oct

“When things slow down, I’ll be able to get into a routine and focus on me.”
“After the next deadline, I’ll go back to eating right.”
“Once the kids are back in school, I’ll start exercising regularly.”
“I can’t get enough sleep; I don’t have time to prepare my own food; I’m lucky to squeeze in two sessions at FIT a week, BUT when things slow down….”

In the chaotic rat race called life, the majority of us are over-booked, over-worked and over-committed making it very difficult to find time for the basics: sleeping, eating healthy, exercise, water intake, etc.  Regardless of whether you are a full time mom, working and parenting, or retired, the majority of us fill our plates until they are over-flowing.  On a daily basis, I hear clients, friends, family, etc. say “I’m just so busy.”  For some of you that means, traveling non-stop for work, and running from deadline to deadline all while juggling family life.  For others it involves driving to and from school, from one appointment to the next, and finishing the day with kids at three to four different locations for practices followed by homework.  And then there are some who have a very busy day of bed, bath & beyond, home depot, and Costco followed by a hair appointment, nails, etc.  Everyone’s definition of being “busy” is different, but what seems consistent is that as life gets hectic, the first things pushed to the bottom of the list are the things that keep us running and energized: sleep, nutrition, exercise, water intake, etc.  But when things slow down, you’ll address those again, right?

When things slow down you’ll have time to sleep for more than 4-5 hours, you’ll have time to prepare food for the next day, you’ll have time for that hour-long workout, right?  The reality is, in some way, shape or form you will probably always be busy: as soon as next week’s deadline is met, you will take on another one.  While it is inevitable that there will be weeks where everything does slip because of one task, deadline, or project that takes precedent, in general we have to stop using “I’m just so busy” as an excuse for neglecting the important components of our health and wellness.  These components actually energize us and enable us to perform our jobs and daily tasks more effective and efficiently.  Below are a few tips for addressing these neglected components in the midst of the crazy, hectic times:
1.    Something is Better than Nothing: can’t squeeze in a hour workout, how about 7 minutes of squats, push ups, and sit ups?  Or Tabata squats for 4 minutes?  That burst of “something” may help you reach your weight loss goals faster than that longer slow run you had planned to squeeze in anyway.
2.    Control what you Can and Move on: your company is serving a ‘bad’ meal, the school function is all junk food, etc. etc.  You can’t always control what is put in front of you but you can control how much goes into your mouth.
3.   Take 10: how much can you get done in 10 minutes?  Set a timer and for 10 minutes and do what you didn’t think you had time for:  workout, cut up veggies/prepare a quick meal for the next day, a quick cat nap.  All it takes is 10.
4.    Can’t Sleep?  Don’t stress it. It’s only one night.  Chances are you will not be affected that day and will crash the following night (the key is allowing this crash to happen!).  See Matt’s tips for getting a better nights sleep.
5.    Evaluate your “stresses: understand and appreciate the good stress and learn how to manage the bad stress.
6.   Learn how to say NO: did you just say “yes” to yet another project?  Evaluate and prioritize what is piled on your plate, establish healthy boundaries, and know that it is okay not to do it all.

Balance in a Hectic Life

1 Oct

We are back from summer holiday, back to school and heading right into the holiday season.  I couldn’t believe it when I walked into a store over Labor Day weekend to see Halloween decorations hitting the shelves.  It did make me think about the cycles our clients go through during the year.  August is always a bit quieter around FIT as clients squeeze the last drops of summer out before the fall schedule begins.  Then there’s much excitement in September as the kids start back at school and life gets back into its ‘normal’ rhythm- until end of quarter PTA meetings, carpools, a sick child, and the like disrupt it.  I once heard a professional clown give an inspirational talk about the rigors of adulthood.  Her central theme was that life is a lot like juggling and there are certain tricks that we can all learn to help us keep all our balls in the air.

Intellectually we all know that we need to take care of ourselves and have heard the statement ‘you can’t take care of anybody else until you take care of yourself.’  Still, there are an alarming number of us who continue to promise that we’ll take care of ourselves once ‘things’ settle down and we’ll just do our best in the meantime.  Like most endeavors, the ‘taking care’ probably sounds like a lot more work than it actually is… when most people hear about Serena doing an ironman (or two as the case may be), the response is, and rightly so, something awestruck like, “Wow, I could never do that!”  But, the fact is Serena had never done a triathlon prior to 3 years ago, hadn’t swam competitively, and was only a recreational runner.  I’m certainly not saying that any one could do the same, but I am pointing out that with commitment, anything is possible.

First step?  Prioritize.  All of us have lots of things that we ‘should’ or feel we need to do, so what’s the easiest way to get started?  For some, the best starting point will be the thing that will have the greatest impact. For others, the first step will be the thing that seems least disruptive to their current routine.  This may sound silly but my first step was to get rid of my instant espresso machine that required little more than a push of a button first thing in the morning and switch to a french press with freshly ground delicious coffee.  Seriously, that was my first step toward taking care of myself when I made the commitment – what it translated to was that first thing in the morning I was taking 4 minutes to do something for myself, and that small act in and of itself made a big difference in my mindset during the early morning chaos that is our life.  For those old enough to remember, I refer to this as my “Calgon, take me away,” moment of the day.

If I could recommend the one thing that I felt would have the greatest impact on the large majority of clients, as well as friends, it would be sleep.  What would it mean to go to bed 1 hour earlier?  30 mins?  Next would be the quality of food choices, followed closely by physical activity.  Having said that, leading up to and in between the Big 3, there are the little steps, like making and enjoying a cup of freshly pressed coffee.

Social Wellness: A Benefit of Group Training

7 Aug

When it comes to physical well-being, exercise is considered an essential part of wellness. In the case of exercise at F.I.T., the contribution of group training to social wellness should not be overlooked.

It was at the end of an hour session during a very intense (remember intensity is relative) workout, and Mike was fighting through “one of those days.” Mike wasn’t going to quit, he never does.  But what I really found inspiring about that day was the other 5 group members.  They stayed after the session to cheer Mike on to the end.  And, after Mike finished the workout laying on the floor exhausted, the group helped break down his barbell and cleaned-up.  That’s CrossFIT at F.I.T.: everyone working as hard as they can, pushing themselves to their individual limit, and sharing the experience.

We’ve all been where Mike was at some point in our training.  And what I love about training with the CrossFIT group is that when I’m not having my strongest day, the motivation and support the group provides will push me through the workout.  Then there are the days that the WOD (workout of the day) favors my skills and I’m able to be the inspiration for others in the class.  It goes both ways and it changes direction daily just like the WODs.

There is inherent competition in the group setting and we welcome it because it
pushes us beyond what we thought we were capable of and allows us to reach our next level of fitness.  But more important than competition, there is a camaraderie that bonds the group, makes the workout enjoyable, and keeps everyone positive and consistent with their training, which is ultimately the key to everyone’s success.

The above example is why we consider the community at F.I.T. to be a key ingredient to the wellness and success of our clients.  Having a connection to the people in a workout group not only increases adherence to an exercise program, but, as we know and studies support, exercise is more fun when done with friends.

As Seen in the Los Altos Town Crier – Lifestyle modifications key to preventing heart disease

20 May

Los Altos Town Crier – Lifestyle modifications key to preventing heart disease.

Please share your thoughts and for more information, join us at FIT for Part 2 of our Anti-Aging Lecture Series, June 1 at 7:30 p.m.

Young at Heart featuring Cate Collings, M.D. discussing women and heart disease, including:

• The cardiovascular system and how it works.

• Signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

• Risk factors – controllable and uncontrollable.

• Ways to lower your risk and protect your heart.

Exercise and Your Heart

7 Feb

Read time: 1.5 minutes

How Often?
There’s no argue that exercise is good for your heart. How much exercise, though, depends on everything else that you do — for example, if you sit behind a desk all day, then you’ll need more exercise; if you’re active throughout your day, then you’ll need less.
Intensity is important to add into your exercise program — regularly if you’re less active, or periodically if you’re more active. Intensity in this context means elevating your heart rate, sometimes abruptly and often very high. This allows the heart to adapt to stressful situations, physically or psychologically.
Intensity conditions the heart to increase or retain its ejection fraction, the power of its pump to circulate blood through the body. Healthy circulation is good, both in resting and in activity.
Exercise Emphasis
While it’s true that more people need to get up and exercise, what’s not too clear is how much is right for the heart. Different organizations and even various experts give different answers to how much is right. But there’s no clear answer.
The health of your heart relies on multiple factors, and exercise is only one. Many people over-emphasize exercise, both in volume and intensity. If chronic high-intensity exercise brings joy, then that’s one thing. But many data show that such high volume and intensity may not be required for improved body composition or is even necessarily better for the heart.
In fact, the stress of chronic high-intensity exercise may detract from heart and overall health. Chronic high-intensity exercise has been shown to increase oxidative stress, cortisol, inflammation, and down-regulation of anti-oxidative capacity. Good way to age quickly.
Also, the stress that “we must get in the exercise,” or the guilt of missing it, may negate whatever benefit that might have been gained from the exercise itself.
The heart probably benefits from regular activity, with a mixture of low intensity and periodic high intensity. The slight increase in cardiac pump rate that comes from casual walks, the high pump rate that comes from sprint work, and the increased contractile tension that comes from lifting weight are probably good inclusions for your heart.

Let’s Talk about Stress

7 Feb

Stress is a fact of life, and not all stress is bad.  For example, some stress can be exhilarating and even motivating, such as taking on new challenges or meeting deadlines.  The acute stress of too many demands and an overwhelming schedule can result in distress and discomfort.  However, chronic, unmanaged stress can result in an increased risk for illness and disease.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States and a major cause of disability.  While the linkages are not yet fully understood, many studies have shown a relationship between stress and heart disease.  For example, a 2004 case-control study found an association between increased risk of acute myocardial infarction and the presence of four psychosocial stressors; work, home, financial stress, and major life events.

Considering the physiological mechanisms of stress: accelerated heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased serum cholesterol, and fluid retention resulting in increased blood volume, it is not difficult to image the adverse cardiovascular effects.  Although, more research is needed to determine how stress contributes to heart disease risk, stress management is considered an important intervention for reducing disease risk and improving overall health.  Stress is multi-factorial, and the extent of the effect of a stressors’  varies from person to person.  There is no simple solution for coping with stress, however there are several interventions that are very effective. Here are just a few:

•    Exercise – daily exercise reduces the physiological mechanisms of stress, as well as depression and anxiety.

•    Mediation and Breathing – calms the mind, reduces muscular tension, reduces heart rate and blood pressure, and improves blood circulation.

•    Yoga and Stretching – decreases resting heart rate, and enhances physical relaxation.

•    Laughter – reduces stress hormone, and improves blood flow.

Heart health is important and a healthy lifestyle that includes a positive attitude, fun, physical activity and relaxation will help reduce the ill effects of stress, and improve overall quaility of life.


Rosengren, A., et al. (2004). Association of psychosocial risk factors with risk of
acute myocardial infarction in 11,119 cases and 13, 648 controls from 52
countries (the INTERHEART study):case-control study. Lancet, 364, 953-

Greenberg, J.S., (2004) Comprehensive stress management.  New Your, NY:

So Much to Do, So Little Time

17 Sep

A while back, before I myself became a mom, I marveled at how many moms put the needs of others ahead of the needs of their own.  Some of this is unavoidable; a sick child definitely trumps an appointment for a workout.  Others, I’m not so sure.  The same holds true for all of us, whether it’s work, family or something else, it seems for many of us, our ‘default’ is to put the needs of some one or some thing above the needs of our own.

Whether you stay at home mom, work or both, there is typically a small window of time to yourself.  When considering how to spend this time, how often do you ask yourself, “What can I do for me?” And how often is the answer something that is good for you, is scientifically documented to combat stress, and might even be fun if you approach it with the right attitude?

I consider myself fortunate because I love being active.  I love lifting, I love running, I love hiking . . .the list goes on but for my first few years as a mom, I did abercrombie runvery little of any of it.  You could, and I did, write this off with the excuse that my children came first, that between work and them, there was no time left over.  Somewhere in my transition to motherhood, I forgot how much I enjoyed exercising and simply added it to my list of things to do.  Inevitably, it fell to the bottom of the list and then became one more thing I felt guilty about not getting to.  Whether due to work or kids, I know I’m not alone in this sentiment.

I talk to moms and dads frequently who explain that they feel like they don’t see their children enough as it is, they just can’t feel good about taking more time away to go exercise.  I speak to executives who make the argument that getting things done at work makes their life less stressful because they can’t relax if x, y, z didn’t get finished.  I totally understand and respect all these objections but do ask the question, “Would the extra 3 hours per week (1 hour 3 times per week) away make you a better parent? A better employee?  A better boss?  Would it help others in your life to see you the way you would like them too?”  Sometimes in our hectic lives, we can all be guilty of overlooking the quality of the time we spend versus the quantity.

As I mentioned in last month’s article, getting started is never easy but once I did, an old feeling returned, that feeling of accomplishment, that feeling of strength plus a new feeling, the feeling of being proud of myself, not for exercising per se, but for making time to do something that made me feel good.  Every time I workout, overcoming the pull of children saying mommy don’t leave or the lure of my inbox flashing new messages of things I’ll have to get to later, it’s about doing something for me and that alone makes me smile inside.  I hope the the next time you had planned to go do something active and something comes up (the laundry is piling up, phone calls need to be returned, work needs to be done) that you can remember you in all of it, make yourself the priority, and do something active that will make you smile inside, and maybe even outside too.

Who Wants to be Normal?

26 Jun

I was looking through one of my old reference books that got interested in sports nutrition and helping people lose weight called The Leanness Lifestyle by David Greenwalt – a motivating book and a good read (www.leannesslifestyle.com). David Greenwalt has helped hundreds of people of various lifestyles lose weight, as well as being a competitive bodybuilder for over 25 years. I would recommend it to anybody interested in losing weight and or preparing for a bodybuilding contest.

On the first page of the book, Greenwalt explains how the Surgeon General of the United States reported that more than 60 percent of the U.S. is overweight or obese. This means that over 100 million people in this country fall into this category. Impressive. Do you think most of the country is impressed? Why or why not? Are you one of them?

One definition of “normal” is “being approximately average or within certain limits.” Well, if 60 percent of the US is overweight or obese, then that would mean to be at a healthy weight is not the norm – in fact, it would mean that being at healthy weight puts you in the minority.

So what would that mean to be a “normal U.S. citizen” with regard to his/her body and health?  David Greenwalt has some in-your-face definitions I would like to share with you with regard to normalcy in America:

  •  Normal is being a man with 25-30 percent body fat. A healthy man will have less than 15 percent body fat.
  • Normal is being a woman with 35-40 percent body fat. A healthy woman will have less than 23 percent.
  • Normal is walking around with a huge Goodyear tire at your equator.
  • Normal is huffing and puffing if you have to walk three flights of stairs. God knows you would never walk them for the heck of it.
  • Normal is earning the right to eat at all the best restaurants  (which of course serve portions big enough for a family of four).
  • Normal is spending five full minutes looking for the closest parking space at your favorite department store because you deserve it.
  • Normal is being embarrassed poolside.
  • Normal is having your kids embarrassed for you.
  • Normal is ordering a Big Mac combo with a Diet Coke because you’re “watching your weight.”
  • Normal is the father who drinks after work with his buddies. Normal is the tension in the house when he comes home half-in-the-bag. Normal is the fear and confusion his children feel when they see their father drunk, feel the tension between the parents, and hear the arguing. Normal is having excessive drinking ruin times that should have been good.
  • Normal is drifting through life without a plan and without any real goals, other than making it through the day.
  • Normal is eating a whole box of Snackwells or an entire bag of Baked Lays potato chips because they are low-fat or fat-free.
  • Normal is going to a buffet and eating as much as humanly possible because you paid for it.
  • Normal is setting up social functions around food and drink.
  • Normal is continuously rewarding your children with food for everything they do well.
  • Normal is not becoming educated and falling for “one-fact diets.”
  • Normal is relying on your body to help you work your butt off in the office and with clients for 12 hours a day, but not making time for exercise and good nutrition for optimal daily performance.
  • Normal is thinking that you must Either work hard at the office Or follow a healthy lifestyle.
  • Normal is going home tired and crashing without taking a moment to tell the people closest to you that you love them and care.
  • Normal is excuses, excuses, excuses.
  • Normal is claiming you are doing better than you were, so isn’t that enough? Good enough almost never is.
  • Normal is using junk “food” to make you “feel” better.
  • Normal is going from one fad diet to another, losing weight, then gaining twice as much back rather than changing your lifestyle.
  • Normal is getting a gym membership, working out for two weeks and giving up because you “just don’t have time.”
  • Normal is looking at others heavier than you and giving yourself a pat on the back for not being as heavy as them, as you eat your doughnut.
  • Normal is having a blood pressure of 145 over 100.
  • Normal is having Type II diabetes for no other reason other than excess body weight.
  • Normal is having joint problems below the waist for one reason – excessive weight.
  • Normal is a total cholesterol of 300+.
  • Normal is preaching the “I’m a victim”-speech versus “I’m a victor.”

As you can see, this is not a pretty picture he has created of American normalcy, but is he wrong? The choice is yours: you can settle for mediocrity or strive for excellence. In his book, David Greenwalt makes one point very clear: you cannot make normalcy your goal and reach your potential. Unfortunately, in this country, our health and fitness level are not normally viewed as a goal worth achieving.