Steptember – will you putting a spring in your step?

Yippee, just one more sleep until spring and Steptember. Nope, its not a spelling error, Steptember is just an innovative way of repurposing the first month of a new season in an energetic way.

Steptember has been initiated by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and they are asking us to take 10,000 steps a day for 28 days straight to assist people with cerebral palsy – a condition that affects movement. I love that they are asking Australia to get stepping because the positive side effects of moving more are so many.

Imagine that you are in store looking at a label with the following benefits listed:

This product can assist in the prevention and management of heart problems, diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and lung problems including asthma. It can also aid in keeping the joints and muscles mobile, increase strength and balance and is a great way of putting bone in the bank. You will be more productive in the two hours after you take it with a 24-hour improvement and if you take it for 20 minutes every second day, it will halve the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. And last but not least, it makes you look and feel a million dollars.

If this were a description of a drug, everyone would be falling over each other to get it. Here we are describing a multi-faceted performance enhancer called exercise and the benefits are obvious immediately, impressive in their magnitude and wide reaching. Despite this, although backed by irrefutable clinical evidence, little or no cost and a glowing rap sheet, around 70% of Australians are not getting enough of it for optimal health.
In the world of health promotion, exercise is continually on the agenda and yet in many first world countries the rates are well below ideal with dramatic negative impact on almost all major diseases.

Regular exercisers are familiar with the feeling of endorphin release during exercise and many people report this as being a major factor in increasing their motivation for wanting to do more. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain medication and are neurotransmitters found in the pituitary gland and around the nervous system. Endorphins interact with human opiate receptors, which reduce your perception of pain. Serotonin, an endorphin associated with depression, is usually produced in response to pain and stress but there is increasing evidence that this also occurs during exercise. The good news is that the amount of exercise does not need to be excessive and around 20-30 minutes at a moderate intensity can cause endorphin release. Exercising to exhaustion can cause endorphin levels to drop significantly but on the upside new exercisers may experience stronger effects of endorphins than someone who has been exercising regularly.

The Australian Government has some practical advice for those contemplating an exercise routine:

  • Think of movement as an opportunity not an inconvenience -opportunities to improve your health include walking the kids to school, parking your car further away from your destination
  • Be active everyday in as many ways as you can
  • Put together 30 minutes of exercise each day – you can accumulate 30 minutes of exercise across the day when the opportunity arises
  • If you can, enjoy some vigorous exercise for extra health and fitness

But back to Steptember. On the back of a long and cold winter, spring seems the perfect time to kick-start a new exercise routine doesn’t it? Gunning for 10,000 steps each day for 28 days in Steptember, also seems like a perfect way to get yourself started.

There are a few different ways to keep track of your daily steps – you can try a Fitbit or similar device or most smartphones come with an inbuilt tracker you can use too. Measuring your daily stepping action can be a powerful way of being accountable and can provide the motivation you sometimes need to have to keep your health at the forefront of your mind.

But here’s the kicker. Its one thing to think about doing 10,000 steps every day but quite another to actually do them. Research shows when it comes to achieving goals, the chance of success increases by 33% if it is shared with others and by up to 72% if money is put on the line. A super cool concept called Promise or Pay combines these two approaches to help you stick to your goals by donating to charity if you don’t follow through and encouraging others to donate if you succeed. To me, Steptember and Promise or Pay seem to be the perfect marriage.

Are you joining me in stepping it out in Steptember?

Personal bests and PB’s – what are you striving for?

The past two and a bit weeks have been exciting, exhilarating, tearful, stressful and most of all extremely lacking in the sleep department. You may recognise these things in yourself if you have been following the journey of our Australian athletes (or your own country) achieving their personal bests in the Rio 2016 Olympics.

I love watching all the sports but for me some of them are extra special because some of the athletes competing have worked with me over the past 4-8 years. I have found myself holding my breath a lot, jumping up and down and screaming at the TV in every waking moment. No matter what the sport, it is hard not to urge on every single athlete out there who are doing their utmost to achieve their own personal bests when they have worked so hard and for so long to get to this international stage.

Of course, every athlete has their eye on the ultimate prizes – bronze, silver and gold with each countries success inevitably measured by the number and type of medals they win.

My three kids were glued to the TV right next to me, just in case they missed any demonstration of athletic skill and courage. This was a real fear, especially with the sprint events that are over in the blink of an eye! It was the perfect opportunity to talk to them about winning, losing and simply trying their best. They watched the joy, elation, disappointments, devastations and missed opportunities that come with elite sport and recognised the same emotions they experience in the grass roots sports they participate in. A valuable reminder to them all that winning is most certainly not everything.

As the Olympic Creed states, “The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Many of our athletes achieved their personal bests. Imagine pole vaulting a height you have never conquered before, being the first Australian in 40 years to make the final of the 1500m track event or even qualifying for the Olympics for the very first time. All incredible achievements from athletes competing in fields of the best of the best and where races are won by teeny tiny fractions of seconds.

Watching those finely tuned athletes celebrate and acknowledge their personal bests got me thinking about how we do or perhaps don’t recognise our own personal bests in our everyday lives.

Lets face it, looking after your health and well-being is an ongoing job and one that requires dedication and discipline, which quite honestly at times can be rather testing and difficult. When was the last time that you congratulated yourself for eating a healthy breakfast or getting up to exercise on the dark, cold winter mornings or racking up five serves of vegetables in a day or keeping your productivity high by staying hydrated? I’m betting almost never.

We are so much better at criticising ourselves for NOT doing things like only eating one piece of fruit today or missing one exercise session in a week or not being able to resist one little piece of chocolate, rather than focusing on the positive actions that we take.
Think about the ways in which you can note and acknowledge your personal bests each week:

  1. What are you measuring? Get really clear about what this is for you – is it eating less salt, more fibre, daily breakfast or more water? Put some numbers next to your targets so that you know when you hit them.
  2. Take stock each week – use some weekend time to reflect on what you have achieved rather than what you have not. High fives all round if you tallied up some personal bests or if not, think about what you could alter to get them nailed next week.
  3. Get visual – I love a good list or chart and they are perfect for showing me where I am up to and what I have completed especially when looking at racking up ticks for good sleep, consistent exercise or eating well.

Focusing on the positives along with your small and not so small achievements will always propel you towards your own personal bests – don’t let them slip by unnoticed.

Compelling vision

Compelling visionHaving just returned from a break in the European winter over the Australian summer, I feel a little behind the eight ball with a month already crossed off the calendar.  But actually, I think that’s kind of lucky. I avoided the trap of false new year promises which are often stated the minute the clock ticks over into the new year. I love that January is a time when many of us take a well-earned rest, spend time with family and friends and generally regroup. But it’s also a time when we can find ourselves making grand sweeping statements to all and sundry about what we would like to achieve in the new year and for the overwhelming majority of the population, these goals or resolutions are directly related to our health.  So why then by February, are those plans for most just a fleeting memory? If you are contemplating making a change to your health and your life, are you clear about what you are trying to achieve? This is where a compelling vision is essential. A distinctive and compelling vision is vital in business and can be just as important for your health and well-being. A clear vision can drive extraordinary personal results and provides a solid focus for your decisions and actions. Your vision can paint a picture of a future with a desirable and attainable state. A worthy partner of a compelling vision for a healthy life is future pacing. Future pacing is a Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) technique used in therapy or coaching. It is the process of mentally rehearsing yourself through some future situation in order to ensure that the desired behaviour will occur naturally and automatically. An example of this is successively waking in the morning to exercise instead of repetitively hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock and missing out on an exercise opportunity. When working with my clients to educate them to make changes to nutrition, exercise or any other aspect of their health, I always ask them to make a commitment to changing just one thing before they walk out of the room. I ask them to write a note addressed to themselves stating what it is they are going to do and how and when they are going to do it. Robert Gerrish, founder of Flying Solo Business Micro-Community, has an interesting slant on the very same method. His is called a Letter from the Future and the instructions work like this.

“Sit yourself down, somewhere nice – a place where you feel calm, comfortable and creative. For many this is not the office, but might be another area of the house, at a public library, in a café, park or at the beach. Turn off your phone, clear your mind and write me a letter. Yes, really. But here’s the thing: the letter is from the future. One year from now. It’s a letter that describes your view of the ideal world. It’s not where you are now; it’s where you want to be. In your letter tell me what you’re up to. How your health looks. What about friendships, relationships, your outlook on life and your health. Name names, be specific, get it all down. Take your time and keep it real. You may even like to have a close friend, partner or family member undertake the same exercise. When it’s finished, send it to me c/o your own address. When you receive the letter, I give you permission to open it, read it carefully and circle the major advances from your current situation in red pen. These are your goals for the year ahead, the areas of life, work and health that demand your attention. If done well, your Letter from the Future will reveal an inspiring destination to head towards. From there, you just need to start the journey.”

Later this week ‘Get Your Body Buzzing’, my 8 week online program kicks off for the first time in 2015 and could be just the ticket for identifying and taking action on your compelling vision for 2015. You can take a look at the nitty-gritty at www.juliemeek.com.au/gybb-next-step/  

Celebration Time

“It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to” 

Jim Jarmusch

I admit that I am on the very bottom of rungs in the world of yoga ability. I am impatient and sadly very inflexible but I keep going because I know that the outcomes of this persistence will be worth it both mentally and physically. A few days ago as I was struggling to maintain my twisted pretzel shape and beating myself up about my incompetencies in my yoga class, I took a breath and told all the little voices in my head to be quiet.  I then asked myself a question, “Instead of being negative and focusing on what you can’t do (yet), how about reflecting on what you have achieved so far?” I had made the effort to get to the class and there was a whole lot of stretching (and pain) going on and although it probably didn’t look particularly pretty, I was actually doing yoga.

Most of us usually celebrate our biggest successes in life such as a new job or a career win without acknowledging how important our smaller yet sometimes more significant achievements are. In the world of health and your own personal performance, worthy milestones might be eating breakfast after many years of skipping it, getting out to exercise in the rain, cementing an exercise routine, completing your first 5 or 10km run, losing 1kg, reducing your cholesterol levels, engineering an extra hours sleep every night, taking time out for yourself to relax, having the energy to get out and play with your kids, implementing a handy strategy to reduce stress levels at work or just plain feeling good about yourself.

I work with a lot of high achievers in the sports and corporate world.  Both are very disciplined, work very hard, have crystal clear goals in mind but are their own harshest critics. Whether it is a World Championship placing or successful negotiation of a deal, they cross the achievement off their list and keep going, often without giving themselves a high five for a job well done. What about your list?  Are you crossing things off it without reflecting on what you have achieved and giving yourself the recognition you deserve?

Weight loss is a perfect example.  I hear people flog themselves about their inability to lose more than 1kg each week or downgrade the achievement of ‘only’ losing 5kg.  Have you ever considered that every time 0.5kg breaks its friendship with you, you have just waved goodbye to the equivalent of 500g margarine or butter?  And what about the fact that you are feeling and looking pretty awesome and your clothes sit rather nicely on you now?

Patting yourself on the back for putting runs on your physical and mental health board is essential to a long term win but you could formally  recognise your successes by writing a daily, weekly or monthly report addressed to yourself. Writing a self-report is a great tool that enables you to hit the pause button and reflect on your successes and wins.

Whether it is exercise, food, stress or sleep, stop focusing on what you’re not good at or what you haven’t done yet and celebrate the smaller yet hugely significant successes along the way. After all, its those incremental steps that get you across your own personal finish line.

The State of Happy = Health

With our lives conducted at a fast and furious pace these days, have you noticed that the pursuit of happiness now seems to be an Olympic event? It seems there are so many hoops to jump through to achieve this nirvana state rather than it just finding you. There is much made of the eternal search for happiness across all media modes perhaps indicating our interest in the subject and the desire to get some. Various dictionaries define happiness as “the state of well-being that is characterized by contentment through to intense joy.” Of course, this will differ between individuals. It is possible that the pursuit of happiness is fraught with danger, as results are never guaranteed and you never know what will be found along the way or at the end of the journey. There are always classic times in life that we remember and feel clear moments of happiness like finishing high school, earning your first dollar, doing fun stuff with your friends, getting married or the birth of children.  For me, some of my happiest moments include sitting on the back lawn as a kid with my parents and siblings in summer eating watermelon with the juice running down my chin; riding the waves on my first surf mat and spotting a dolphin when running along the river. Being happy doesn’t need to be complicated, achieved or completed. Very often it can be found hiding in the simplest things. There are a number of global ‘experts’ on happiness and, while there are various schools of thought, most agree that the following aspects can significantly influence our happiness.

The Life Juggle  – for most of us, having many balls in the air including work, home, play and relationships, is a relentless challenge. It can be difficult to feel happy and at peace when you are stressed and trying to keep a balance in your life. It is often difficult to say no to others but before you say yes to someone else, check first that you are not saying no to yourself. Kicking Goals – to give yourself direction, regularly set goals or plan things to look forward to. This gives your life meaning and a sense of purpose. It could be something as simple as making plans for the weekend or organizing your next holiday. Health and Performance- there is no doubt that your health and well-being is key to your overall happiness. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the most basic of needs have to be met before other aspects of your life can be addressed. If you are suffering from poor health, the issues causing this should be tackled first. Networked: research shows that those people with a strong support and social network are happier and healthier. A sense of community and belonging is essential to our well-being. Inner peace: reducing stress in your life is a bit like decluttering your home. Some items need kicking to the kerb, some need regifting and others remain cherished. Sometimes the same type of spring-cleaning is necessary in your own life. This may mean clearing space to do the things you truly enjoy, learning to relax through meditation or music or finding some ‘me’ time.

I recently interviewed my very own 91 year old Nan in the pursuit of uncovering her secrets to happiness. I figured she may have gathered at least a couple over the past nine decades.  Growing up in the UK during World War II and wife of a career military man has meant that she has experienced some tough times in her life but she is a tough one my Nan. Although at 91 years she now lives with heart issues, Nan is still an avid reader (without glasses) and sharp as a tack.  This nonagenarian has lived independently until only a few months ago and has only just entered a new phase in her life, moving into a low care aged facility where she enjoys plenty of visits from her extended family of nine grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. I have often wondered about the secret to Nan’s longevity, health and happiness. She believes it is due to her placid and calm nature. I think it is because she has never gone looking for happiness, it found her while she was content to be in the moment.

Nan -Happy Nonagenarian
Nan – Happy Nonagenarian