Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Tips

For most of us, the holidays is a time of getting back together with family, old friends, trips home or away, big meals, time off of work, late nights and completely different schedules.  For some, this can be quite the shake up to either the regular workout routine or simply the personal fitness goals.  Who's going to tell Aunt Betty that you're not going to have a slice of her famous pie this year?  Why damper the holidays by forcing yourself to eat smaller portions than you'd like just because you don't have the time for that long afternoon run?  Don't fret!  This is where some imagination comes in handy.

Whether you're trying to keep those holiday desserts from sticking to your mid-rift or simply trying to find a way to lose a couple extra pounds, the center of that goal should be one thing, Increasing Your Metabolism.  So here's a quick insight on how that works.

Metabolism, for our purposes here, is the rate at which the body uses up energy stores, whether those be immediately available glucose, stored glycogen, stored fat, or protein.  Those of us who are attempting to avoid GAINING weight are looking to burn through the food that we are eating at that time.  Those of us who are looking to LOSE weight we already have are looking to burn through energy the body already has stored. 

The first question you should ask is "How does my body burn up energy?"  The answer is, your muscles.  As your muscles do work, as they move, they use up that energy and of course, the more they work, the greater amount of energy they will use.  The second question you should ask is "How do I burn the most calories in the least amount of time?"  The answer is A) use your biggest muscles and B) use as many muscles as possible.  Think of this as your family.  The biggest person in the family is the hungriest.  My uncle Karl at 6'6" can out eat everyone by two or three plates, but at some point, he's going to slow down.  So while my family definitely wants him at dinner to be sure we get through all the food, we'll also need other people, grandparents, parents, some cousins, aunts, uncles, maybe a couple neighbors.  Finally, those people looking to LOSE weight may ask a third question; "How do I lose weight specifically in one area?"  Unfortunately, the answer is you can't.  Energy usage is global in your body, so doing situps to try and shrink your stomach or bicep curls to try and lose weight on your arms is useful, but extremely inefficient.  Your legs have bigger muscles and they will burn through energy anywhere in your body just as easily.

In the long-term, increasing the amount of muscle you have increases the amount of energy your body in total can burn through.  However, over the holidays, very few of you I'm sure will be looking to do some serious weight lifting.  Heck, we can't even get a half hour by ourselves without little cousin Jonathon jumping into our laps or Grandma handing us yet another cookie.  So we have to look to the short term and be imaginative with the time we have.

In order to increase our metabolism, we have to work our muscles, but we don't have time to get to the gym to do our typical 1-2 hour workout.  So why not split your workout into five minute bursts throughout the day?  While you're in the kitchen helping to cook or set for the meal, use your calf muscles to lift yourself up onto the balls of your feet a few times.  If you're passing around a gallon of milk, do a couple bicep curls with it.  If your little cousin jumps into your arms, swing him around a few times (he's just as good as a dumbbell weight).  If you get a few moments to yourself, do a few squats, maybe some quick pushups or crunches.  You may think it's insignificant, but the little things you do throughout the day can REALLY add up.  You may not burn 1000 calories all at once like you're use to, but burning 30 every 20 minutes over 8 hours burns 720; a vast improvement from nothing.  And this is all a type of what's called "circuit training."

Circuit training is typically very simple exercises done in succession (little rest inbetween), meant to be done within maybe 5-20 minutes in total.  These types of workouts are designed for people that don't have the time to get to the gym.  Typical exercises include various types of pushups, situps, squats, lunges, tricep dips using a simple chair, and tons more.  Very little if any equipment is needed and these can be done anywhere - at the gym, in the office, the kitchen, or in the living room.

The last thing I would want anyone to think is that they don't have time to get in shape, or that it is inevitable that they will lose the shape they've worked so hard to obtain.  It may take some imagination, but workouts are anything that makes a muscle work.  Heck, even focused thinking burns calories.  You don't have to be at the gym to get results, you don't even have to workout every day or change into workout clothes.  All the little things you do throughout the day are tiny little workouts. 

With that, I will wish you all a Happy Holidays.  I am traveling home myself for my own celebrations and will be in and out until the new year, so if I don't make it back on here until afterwards, have a safe and happy holiday.

Stay fit!

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