Eight little things to boost your health and fitness

When you're trying to improve fitness and athletic performance, it's often doing -- and not doing -- the little things that takes you to the next level.

When you’re trying to improve fitness and athletic performance, it’s often doing — and not doing — the little things that takes you to the next level.

Search the Internet and the bookstores long enough, and you’re bound to find “revolutionary” workout programs and diets that promise to transform your life. The thing about these deals is they have broad appeal, resonating with athletes and the out-of-shape alike.

Some of these are good: Bill Phillips made a mint with “Body for Life,” mostly because the exercise and diet plans he made were easy to follow and effective in terms of spurring fat loss, muscle gain and overall health.

Others are junk. I won’t get into those here, but if anything is promising great results from a pill or a workout plan that includes massive numbers of reps, weird gadgets or whatnot, buyer beware.

What doesn’t sell a lot of books, videos, gear or dietary supplements, however, is possibly the secret to getting where you want, and it costs nothing. And that’s doing the little things.

I’ve noticed that when I get the little things wrong, or ignore them altogether, I often don’t get the results I’m looking for in terms of maintaining my fitness or improving my overall health and athletic performance. So it’s always nice to do an audit of your behaviors and see where you could stand to add or subtract some of the little things.

DO THESE THINGS

Take the stairs. I live in a multiple-story apartment building, with my unit on the tenth floor. It would be easy enough to take the elevator every day, and most of the time, I do. But when I finish my shift at work and come home, I make a point to forgo the elevator and turn my apartment into a tenth-floor walk-up. That gives me about two minutes and thirty seconds of glute/quad/hamstring and calf work and gets my heart rate up a bit, and an added 450 feet of vertical gain every week.

Getting your vert, urban style.

Getting your vert, urban style. (pixelwhip.com photo)

If you live a few floors up, you can do the same. If you work in a high-rise building, start taking the stairs, and if that’s too much, take the elevator part of the way, then get your extra work by walking the stairs the rest of the way. When you’re about and about, skip the escalators and elevators and climb those stairs. One stair climb is small, but turn that into a daily habit over a year, and you’ll be that much more fit and strong than you were before.

Walk or ride to work. This may not be possible for everyone, and certainly the weather can dictate how you get to and from your job. But if it’s possible, consider walking or riding your bike to work. This is a particularly good idea if your workplace has a shower you can use; then your options increase even more. You might even be able to run to work, if that’s your thing. It will take some planning, and it won’t be nearly as simply as dressing for work, jumping into your car and heading down the road. But you burn no calories driving (sometimes, you consume them if you make a habit of snagging a latte on the way to the office), nor do you work any muscles. A human-powered commute will do both.

Stow the cellphone more often. I wish I had a timer to see how many minutes (hours?) a day or a week I burn just looking at my phone. And I wonder how much less intense my workouts are when I have my phone with me, even if I’m using it as a music player. I’ve found that leaving the phone out of my workout plans makes for a better-paced, more intense session than when it’s with me. Too often, a social media notification or a text message pops up, and the temptation to check Facebook or Twitter gets the best of us when we should be focusing on the task at hand. Most of the time, that stuff can wait.

Even in a non-training situation, the wonderfully connected world of that hand-held device can be a tremendous time-suck. How many more things could you get done around the house if you just left it in your bedroom for a couple of hours? How much more quickly would you get to sleep if you didn’t spend time in bed staring at that little glowing screen? How much more peaceful is that hike or run when you’re completely unplugged? If you don’t know the answer, maybe it’s time to put the damn thing down and find out.

Get more plant-based foods in your diet. Seriously. We’ve been hounded about eating our fruits and veggies. But come on, man. Just do it. The nutrients and fiber in plant-based foods are awesome for you, and if you eat enough of these (start out at getting six servings a day), you won’t need a lot of supplements you may be taking now. Put some greens on that sandwich. Build a wrap with some spinach. Make a salad a big part of your dinner. Put some berries in your cereal or oatmeal in the morning. Your body will love you for it.

CUT BACK ON THESE THINGS

Lessen your booze intake. I’m no teetotaler. Far from it. If folks enjoy a beer or some wine or a nice single-malt Scotch, I’m good with that. I like that stuff, too. But let’s talk about a few things related to alcohol, and how it affects your health.

Any alcoholic drink has calories, sometimes lots of them. Alcoholic drinks also contain sugar. Aside from a few small health benefits of having a drink every now and then, the fact is if you’re a regular drinker, you’re taking in empty calories (anywhere from 90 to 400 calories a serving, depending on what you’re drinking) that go straight into your body’s storage containers, which we know as fat cells. Popular mixed drinks, which often contain fruit juices and syrups, are tasty but they’re also massive calorie bombs. So if you want to gain flabby weight, drink up.

Alcohol also dehydrates the body. Drink too much booze, and that headache you get is actually a reaction to dehydration. Alcohol consumption will detract from athletic performance, be it during training or in competition.

I do love me some good beer. But this needs to be an occasional treat and not a daily habit if you're looking to take your fitness to the next level.

I do love me some good beer. But this needs to be an occasional treat and not a daily habit if you’re looking to take your fitness to the next level.

Lastly, let’s look at beer. The hops in beer helps spike levels of estrogen in the body, which can give the fellas those distinct beer bellies and man boobs. It can also lower testosterone levels, which will affect athletic performance and recovery as well as sex drive. And for any beer consumer, regardless of gender, these fluctuations can throw your hormones out of balance — never a good thing.

If your goal is high-level performance or weight loss, consider the effects of alcohol. A drink every now and then is fine. But as a daily habit, I’d suggest changing course.

Ugh, the sweets. This is a huge downfall of mine. I’ve love a sweet treat. A package of cookies, a brownie, whatever — after a savory meal, a sweet little dessert just sounds so good.

Like the booze, however, it’s just empty calories that goes straight to your gut/moobs/hips/thighs. The nutritional value is next to zero. If you go to a vending machine and snarf a small package of cookies, you’ll have to run an additional four miles from what you’ve already done that day just to burn that junk off.

The same is true of sugary drinks, be it sodas, fruit juices, sweetened teas, energy drinks or those delicious “coffees” that’ll run your five bucks at a lot of coffee shops these days. You’d be shocked out how many calories you drink every day.

You don’t have to go cold-turkey on this stuff, but if any of this is a daily habit, you need to rethink your daily habits. Start out by replacing one of those daily drinks with a 16-ounce glass of water. Better yet, keep a water bottle handy, keep it filled with the H2O and sip on that all day. No calories, plenty of benefits.

And erg, the fried food! You know you’re in trouble when you look at your dinner plate and it’s mostly food that is the color brown. Fried foods are tasty, satisfying, and their texture (the crunch!) is really pleasing to the palate. But fried foods also gum up your arteries and cause inflammation, two nasty side-effects that contribute to heart disease, strokes and a number of different cancers.

An occasional fried food ain’t that bad. But if you’re eating the fried stuff more than three times a week, cut-the-eff back. Replace that crispy brown stuff with the fresh green goodies I mentioned earlier.

You may think you'll run it off, but no. You won't. (popsugar.com phoro)

You may think you’ll run it off, but no. You won’t. (popsugar.com phoro)

Eat out less. There are restaurants that focus on offering dishes with locally sourced or even organic foods, and those are great. But most American eateries fill their pantries and freezers with industrially produced foodstuffs that are high in sodium, fats, sugars and chemicals that just aren’t good for you. They’re also often served in portions that a far bigger than you need (sometimes a single dinner at many popular restaurants can top 2,000-3,000 calories, not including appetizers or desserts). If you want to sabotage your diet, gain bad weight, and feel like crap, then eat out often. If you want to control what goes into your body and get healthier, concentrate on your home food prep and limit the restaurant visits. Your waistline and your wallet will thank you.

So that’s it. No huge secrets, no whiz-bang workout plans. Just a list of little reminders that will help you get faster, stronger, leaner and healthier.

Bob Doucette

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