5 Ways to Work Out Consistently

Exercise is an essential part of any weight loss regimen. But the best workout routine in the world won’t work if you don’t do it consistently. Sure, you made it to the club four times this week, but it won’t matter much if you only work out once next week. Each of us, though, are busy with work, families, and fun. So how come some people manage to work out consistently? Consider these five strategies to help you work out consistently:

  1. Set a total goal for your workout minutes weekly and make sure to hit that goal 95% of the time. How many workout sessions do you want to ideally achieve each week? How long will your sessions last? It’s important to have a definite exercise goal to focus your efforts on. Now multiply the two together to obtain your Total Goal Workout Minutes per week. Focus on hitting those goal minutes no matter what comes up. For example, if you plan on doing five 30 minute sessions weekly but a late meeting prevents you from getting to the club, make sure to increase your session durations the rest of the week so you still add up to 150 minutes.
  2. Keep a written exercise log. It’s human nature to overestimate our efforts. By keeping track of the amount of time you spend working out each day, as well as the activities involved, you’ll find you are much more aware of your patterns. Tracking also ensures that you’ll hit your target minutes that you set above.
  3. Plan on exercising daily, banking your minutes as if it was an “exercise savings acount”. If you start your week planning on working out daily, conflicts will likely occur during the week. Since you’ve already starting banking your minutes toward your weekly goal, you can afford the day off and still hit your goals.
  4. Try two exercise sessions per day. If it’s increasingly difficult to break away for 45 minutes to exercise, you may want to break it up into two smaller sessions. It may be easier for you to work out for 20 minutes in the morning before work and an additional 20 minutes right after dinner. And you can always work out longer if you are rocking it!
  5. Have alternative plans scripted and ready to go. If your regular workouts consist of running outside, what is your go-to plan if the weather is too nasty? You may be a regular at your weekly kickboxing class, but what happens if you have to miss it because of a family conflict? Have alternative strategies planned out for when your first alternative doesn’t work. For example, If it rains tomorrow and I can’t run, I will do my P90X workout DVD. If I am travelling on a business trip, I will get up extra early to work out in the hotel gym before client meetings and dinner.

What strategies do you use to stay consistent in your exercise routine?

Rev it up with High tempo interval training

I’m missing summer already. The cold and rainy weather that we had last week in Chicago was an unwanted sign that I have to be ready with a different workout for those inclement days.

Spring and summer are glorious, cardio-filled days for me. I love running in the early evening, feeling the warm breeze and remnants of the sun licking my bare shoulders. My bike and I become one. I thrive riding in the hot sun on a warm day. But those days are over.

While I will still run outside in the winter months, there are just some days that are too radical for me. But I absolutely hate running on a treadmill like a gerbil for an hour. That’s when my cardio interval training kicks into high gear.

Intervals are a great way to train different energy systems of the body. Sure, I’ll still sprint during the summer. But the forced indoor workouts allow me to measure my intervals accurately. The beauty of this type of workout is many: it’s a fat burning workout; it’s flexible and always changing; and you can get a great cardio and strength training workout in a quick period.

During the workout, simply alternate bouts of strength training with cardio intervals on the treadmill. The intervals can be as short or long as you want them to be. The key is to move FAST throughout the workout, never stopping for more than a minute to rest.

Here’s an example of one workout I did last week. Adjust it to make it harder or easier. I guarantee you’ll break a sweat!

Workout: Alternate a 10 to 15 minute running interval with a strength training interval for 3 sets of each.

Strength training interval consisted of Incline chest presses, single arm bent over rows, stepups, elevated lunges, flat bench flyes, and standing cable rows. Each exercise consisted of 12 repetitions at an appropriate weight to reach failure in 12 reps. Move from exercise to exercise without stopping in between.

Cardio interval consisted of varying speeds of running for random intervals. For example, I may do a minute at a 9 minute mile, then switch to a slower 10 minute mile for 40 seconds, then switch to an 8 minute mile for a minute.

Hot Italian Giardiniera – a Symphony of Vegetables

Giardiniera is a wonderful mixture of a variety of vegetables, marinated in a vinegar base with oil added. The blending of the various flavors creates a delightful topping for almost anything. Chicagoans all know that a real Italian beef sandwich ain’t nothing without some spicy giardiniera. Pizza enthusiasts add it to flavor the piping hot cheese.

But its collaboration of healthy vegetables makes it perfect for almost anything. We’ve mixed it with a bit of lowfat mayo to add spice to a piece of halibut; topped a roasted polenta and vegetable dish; and even used it as an interesting dip for a party. And it’s vegetarian.

The hardest part of this recipe is chopping up all the veggies. So put on some good tunes, pour yourself a glass of wine, and have some fun in the kitchen!

And congratulate yourself – by making it from scratch, you’ve participated in your very own Slow Food movement.

2 red bell peppers, chopped

2 green bell peppers, chopped

8 Banana peppers cut into rings

8 fresh jalapeno peppers, diced (add some seeds if you like it hot!)

2 stalks of celery, chopped

4 carrots, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 cup of cauliflower florets

1/2 cup of sea salt

Water to cover

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tbsp of dried oregano

1 tbsp of red pepper flakes

1 tsp of black pepper 

1 8 ounce jar of green olives, stuffed with pimentos, chopped

1 cup of white vinegar          

1. Combine the peppers, cauliflower, carrots, onions, and celery into a large bowl. Add the salt, mix, and cover with enough cold water to cover. Cover with a plastic wrap or aluminium foil and refrigerate for 24 hours.

2. After the mixture has sat for a day, drain the saltwater and rinse the vegetables with fresh water.

3. Mix together the garlic, oregano, red and black pepper, and chopped olives. Pour in vinegar and mix well. Add into vegetable mixture, cover, and refrigerate for two days before using for best results.

You can fill canning jars with the fresh giardiniera and store in your refrigerator. When using, simply add your own olive oil and mix together.

Getting Real with Your Food on National Food Day

Today is the first annual Food Day, which is dedicated to eating real food that is produced locally, sustainably, and affordably. And, of course, let us not forget healthy! You’ll see, if you are into that kind of stuff, lots of relevant postings on Facebook and Twitter about the celebration of real food, urging you to attend a Food Day event.

And in other news about “real food”, McDonalds made a major announcement: the McRib is coming back for a short time. Facebook groups have been forming, heralding the return of the sultry sandwich; geo-tagging all participating McRib locations.

Us healthy and real food activists sure have a hard time getting our voices heard above the din. Here we have our first real dedicated day towards our cause, and with one fell swoop, McD’s drowns out our noise with their announcement.

The McRib is about as unreal of a food as you can get. Generations of kids grow up thinking that barbecued ribs are perfectly pressed, boneless discs of meat, lacking in the very thing that makes them what they are: ribs! While real barbecued ribs are not what I’d call a healthy meal, if you are going to eat them, at least make them from scratch. Like I did for my two guys last night – but that’s another story.

I believe that much of the problem with our food system lies in the fact that everything is too convenient for us. Convenience that comes in a jar or box makes us disconnected from the food we are really eating. How can you determine if a food is healthy if you have absolutely no idea what is in it?

My journey this year is to really get in touch with the food I eat. While I eat healthy enough, it’s also way too easy to open up a jar of something I purchased at Trader Joe’s, perhaps an Indian chutney, or a salsa. My ancestors couldn’t do that – anything they ate, from sauces to jellies to main dishes, had to be made from scratch.

And I’m sure they ate a lot better because of that.

With that focus in mind, I decided to take on one of my family’s favorite condiments: giardiniera. Any good Italian worth their weight knows that a good giardiniera is the perfect topping for almost anything. We use it to grace the top of our roasted salmon,  we add it to a salad, it even spices up a bowl of chicken soup. (I’ve even added it to a scoop of chocolate ice cream at Jason’s Deli – it was an experiment!)

One day, at my local Caputo’s, I searched through the hundreds of different jars of giardiniera because I wanted to find one that used an olive oil bath for the mixture to swim in. To no avail, I might add – most contained soybean oil. Since I make it a practice to stay away from most soy products (80% of the soy crop in our country is genetically modified – Roundup Ready soy by Monsanto), I was dismayed and vowed to make my own.

One Sunday afternoon, I set out to make a large crock, using the recipe below. While it was pretty time-consuming, I learned several interesting things about this supposed condiment:

  • Giardiniera is really a vegetable dish posing as a condiment. There is such a variety of healthy vegetables – red and green peppers, cauliflower, carrots, onions, and more – that it could stand alone as a meal, based on its nutritional content.
  •  The reason I couldn’t find any bathed in olive oil? First, olive oil does not have a stable shelf life when other foods are introduced into it. It’s not cost effective for a company to mass produce olive oil-based giardiniera because it can’t last long on a shelf. Also, olive oil, when cooled in a refrigerator, congeals and hardens.

So I made a huge batch of it, marinated in vinegar. When we use it, we simply add in our own fresh olive oil in the amount we desire. Which also cuts down on the fat and calorie content, because the stuff from the bottle is simply drowning in oil.

I challenge you, on this first annual Food Day, to find a product that you take for granted; maybe a salsa, granola, or even soup. Make it from scratch one afternoon.

I guarantee that you’ll appreciate and understand what you are eating more.

Lentils with Spinach are a Girl’s Best Friend

Forget those diamonds – lentils are a girl’s best friend. This power-packed legume will keep your stomach looking slender and your digestive system feeling regular! At only 230 calories for a 1/3 cup serving, yoLentils with Healthy Greens & Goat Cheeseu’ll get 63% of your daily fiber requirement and one third of your daily iron and protein requirements – how’s that for a multitasking maven? And one quarter cup of lentils is equivalent to a 4 ounce serving of meat.

Lentils also help regulate your blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and prevent heart disease. And they are incredibly versatile, working well in many dishes.

My favorite all-time lentil recipe is from our local restaurant, Francesca’s Amici; their Lenticchie e Spinaci pairs warm lentils with spinach and goat cheese. Billed as just an appetizer, they are filling enough for a meal, especially when paired with a crisp salad filled with a variety of vegetables.

For a cheese, you can’t go too wrong with goat cheese – while it’s got some saturated fat, one ounce only contains 76 calories. Just use it in moderation for a bit of flavor!

I believe that the original recipe contains mascarpone cheese as well. I’ve only used goat cheese to cut down on the dairy and calories. I also add in a couple of other green, leafy vegetables to increase the antioxidants.

I also gave it a hearty and somewhat French flavor by adding in a dash of cabernet sauvignon to the legumes along with the vegetables. This can be skipped if you prefer.

A glass of Chilean Carmenere, a red wine redolent with plum and vanilla flavors, would pair wonderfully with this belly-warming dish. Perfect for when you crave a comfort food but want something healthier!

Lentils with Healthy Greens & Goat Cheese

1 16 oz. bag of dried Green Lentils, washed and drained

1.5 cups of Spinach, torn into pieces

2 ribs of Swiss chard, torn into pieces

1/2 cup of Kale, torn

Chopped celery, 2 ribs

1/2 cup of Chopped carrots

1/2 cup of Baby onions

2 cups of Vegetarian stock, organic or free range, low sodium

2 cups of water

3 ounces of Goat Cheese

2 cloves of Garlic, chopped

Olive oil

Dash of Cabernet Sauvignon

2 Bay leaves

Pinch of sage

Pinch of thyme

Black pepper, to taste

Sea salt, to taste

1. Heat a deep frying pan over medium low heat; add a bit of olive oil and heat.

2. Add in chopped garlic and baby onions; saute for two minutes. Add carrots and celery and saute whole vegetable mixture for 4 more minutes.

3. Pour vegetarian stock and water into the pan; add dried lentils and stir.

4. Add in bay leaves, thyme, and sage. Cover and simmer over medium low heat for about 30 to 45 minutes. Check frequently and add in more water if needed – you don’t want the lentils to burn! Francesca’s serves the lentils al dente, which is how I prefer them – with a little chewiness. If you want them softer, simply simmer longer.

5. Stir in spinach, kale, and swiss chard into lentil mixture until well mixed; add in a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon, if you wish. Stir in chunks of goat cheese and turn heat to low. Stir for about five minutes. Add pepper and sea salt to taste.

Is it Nature or Nurture? Helping your children to be healthy eaters.

As a child growing up in the 1960’s, I don’t recall that our family ate particularly healthy meals. The health and wellness revolution wasn’t in vogue yet. But the feminist movement was; as women began shedding their aprons for business clothes, finding ways to make lives easier became imperative. American housewives rejoiced as the dawn of convenience and frozen foods helped unleash their shackles from the kitchen stove.

Which seems to sum up a lot of my meals as a child. I’m not saying they were bad, it’s just how it was. While we rarely ate fast food or takeout, most of our dinners consisted of a traditional meat, frozen vegetables, and potatoes. Fish only appeared on Lenten Fridays, and it was usually courtesy of Mrs. Paul (fish sticks, anyone?).

Side dishes were courtesy of the Green Giant. I don’t think I really had ever seen many vegetables in their fresh, natural form until I was on my own. Who knew that peas came in a pod?

My parents were both thin as well; probably a combination of good genes and the fact that they were both heavy smokers during that era. Since they both had sweet toothes, there was always something sugary in our house. Store-bough Danishes were for breakfast, Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies packed with lunches, and ice cream bars for dessert.

So you’d think I would have grown up to be a chubby adult with bad eating habits. Actually, for about 3 years in my early teens, this was true. Once I hit puberty at age 13, my waistline and thighs expanded as my self esteem shrunk. This prompted me to begin my exploration and somewhat obsession with all things fitness and health.

This long and sometimes pothole-ridden road has led me to who I am today – someone who values a healthy lifestyle more than almost anything, except love, of course. Honestly, I can’t go more than a day without working out – I feel crabby and out of sorts if I don’t. And I love to cook and eat healthy. I’ll choose the long way to cook something from scratch (now known as the trendy “slow food movement”). And I eschew cheap, mass produced foods.

So was it nature or nurture that got me to this point? How much actual influence do parents have over how their childrens’ eating habits turn out? Was I predisposed to eat healthier, despite my upbringing? Why is it that some people crave sweets, while some can resist a dessert even if it’s under their nose?

Raising my own kids, I struggled with that fine line between teaching them to be healthy eaters and turning them into obsessed individuals with a bad relationship with food. Should I let them eat candy? Do I limit it to Halloween or allow them to have treats regularly? Would the fact that I cooked healthy meals like chicken breasts and fresh veggies rather than comfort foods like macaroni and cheese scar them for life?

In the end, I chose moderation over obsession. I cooked the occasional meatloaf and mashed potatoes for the rest of the family, but made healthier roasted fish for myself. We treated them to special visits to the ice cream shop, but did not keep a lot of sweet treats in the house. And remembering the magical fun of Halloween, I did not make a big deal about candy.

There were many times during their teen years that I wondered if I had made the right decision. My fish dinnerss were resoundingly snubbed by all. They would occasionally grumble that we never had good food in the house, like potato chips and pop. Once they were driving, wrappers from MickeyD’s and Portillos were always found in the recycling bin. I thought I’d lost them to the dark side.

In the end, example and moderation worked best for our family. Rather than endlessly lecture them on healthy eating and banish all bad things from their lives, we tried to lead by moderation. We emphasized healthy meals, but let them have the occasional comfort food. My husband and I exercised regularly, did active, fun things with them, and got them into sports.

Now they are adults. And I think they are on their own healthy journeys. My son regularly cooks dinner for us, making healthy and delicious meals like fish tacos, salads, and seafood stews. During a trip to the local grocery store, I was impressed when he bought all organic veggies for the dinner he was making. My stepdaughter is into the organic thing as well, and works out regularly.

So I guess nurture plays a huge role in how we conduct our life. Maybe the influence of my father making fresh salads daily for our dinner when I was in high school was more important than I originally thought. And my grandma preparing everything from scratch – she was a pioneer in today’s local slow food movement.

So let your kids have an occasional treat. Live your life in a healthy way most of the time – you’ll be surprised at how they’ll pick up your habits later.

Portabellas Italiano

If you are carnivorous, you’ll find that portabella mushrooms are a worthy substitute for meat. They are rich with umami, which is one of the five basic tastes. Much like a piece of roasted meat, they’ll impart that savory flavor that many people crave.

Whether a meat lover or a vegetarian, portabella mushrooms are the perfect star of any meal. In this recipe, I stuff the beautiful, plump caps with a mixture of vegetables and spices that will tickle your tastebuds. Cook them in your oven or on the grill!

In this recipe, I also use lycopene-rich tomatoes; processing the tomatoes into a sauce and combining them with olive oil helps to optimize absorption of lycopene. Men who eat at least two servings of tomato sauce per week were 28% less likely to develop prostate cancer, according to recent studies. It’s also heart-healthy and low in calories!

Make sure to buy large portabellas that are unbroken and well formed for ideal stuffing. Clean them thoroughly by scrubbing them with hot water and a mushroom brush. I usually allow 1 to 2 mushrooms per person, and serve them with a mixed salad.

Because of their savory taste, you can pair this entree with a hearty, tannin-rich red wine like a cabernet (also heart healthy). Enjoy!

Large Portabella Mushrooms (either whole or just the caps)

2 Zucchini squashes, cut into quarters

1 yellow squash, cut into quarters

3 carrots, chopped into small chunks

Swiss chard, several leafs, chopped

4 to 6 baby green onions, washed and chopped

1 small can of San Marzano whole tomatoes (substitute your favorite)

2 cloves garlic, minced

Fresh basil

Fresh thyme (or dried)

Extra virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt

Grated Parmaggiano Reggiano cheese, to taste (or your favorite Italian cheese)

1. Wash mushrooms and de-stem, if necessary. Rub a bit of olive oil on the outside of each cap.

2. Prepare stuffing. Heat a saute pan on stove, then add in a small pour of olive oil, over medium heat.

3. Saute baby green onions and minced garlic in oil for about 4 minutes.

4. Add in chopped carrots, zucchini, and yellow squash; saute until slightly browned but still crisp.

5. Pour in the can of tomatoes, chopping them into pieces. Mix with sauteed veggies and heat for about 5 minutes. Turn off heat.

6. Mix in chopped Swiss chard and chopped basil and thyme into mixture, blending well. Add a bit of sea salt, to taste.

7. Stuff each mushroom cap with veggie mixture until brimming – don’t be afraid to “smoosh” the stuffing into the cap. Sprinkle some of the grated Parmaggiano onto the veggie mixture.

8. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees or on a grill using the indirect heating method. Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until stuffing is slightly golden and mushrooms are juicy and fragrant.

Spicy Pumpkin Gumbo

Celebrate fall with this delicious and healthy soup. This soup was inspired by the pumpkin gumbo I had at our local wine bar, Flight 112 – it was so unique I had to go home and make my own healthy version!

Pumpkin and other fall squashes are incredibly nutritious. Their beautiful orange hues indicate an abundance of carotenoids, an antioxidant that helps free radical activity. Squashes are a superfood in the battle against cancer and heart disease, and are naturally low in calories.

Most of the squash soups that we see are pureed – this brothy soup caught my attention. I used a Kabocha squash, which is a Japanese variety with deep orange tones. The big pumpkins that we use for carving are not appropriate for cooking, as they are too stringy. Use a smaller pie pumpkin, which is sweeter and has a better consistency.

The pumpkin is roasted first and cut up into small chunks.  Clean the outside of the pumpkin thoroughly with soap, water and some scrubbing to get rid of any possible bacteria – remember that when you cut through hard shelled fruits and vegetables, your utensils are exposed to the germs. The skin of the kaboch squash is edible as well.

The original recipe used kielbasa for flavoring – I’ve substituted a chicken andouille sausage (100 calories and 1.5 grams saturated fat) to keep the smoky cajun flavoring that makes a gumbo delish. I’ve also added a lot of extra veggies, cuz that’s how I roll! Enjoy!

1 Pumpkin (small to medium size), washed and cut into chunks

5 carrots, cut into coins

3 stalks of celery, cut into small chunks

1/2 cup fresh spinach, washed and chopped finely

1 small onion, chopped

3 pieces of Sausages by AmyLu Chicken Andouille Sausage, cut into coins

1 box of organic, low sodium chicken broth (you can substitute veggie as well)

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1.5 tbsp of cumin

1.5 tbsp of ancho chile powder (can use plain old chili powder)

1.5 tsp of garam masala

1 tsp. of cinnamon

ground black pepper

dash of sea salt

Extra virgin olive oil

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay out the pumpkin chunks. Spritz each chunk with olive oil and a bit of sea salt. Roast for one hour. Let cool slightly.

2.  Heat a soup pan or dutch oven over a medium hot burner; add a little bit of olive oil after 30 seconds. Add the chopped onions and garlic into the oil and saute for about 2 to 3 minutes. (Cooking the garlic with the onions prevents it from burning and getting a rancid taste.)

3. Turn the heat down to medium low and add in carrots, celery, and spinach; saute for two minutes.

4. Pour the chicken stock into pan; add in 3 cups of water. Turn the heat up to medium.

5.  Add chunks of squash, skin and all (told you there was a good reason to wash it well!), into soup mixture. Although we are not going to puree the squash, we do want to mash it ever so slightly, to add texture and consistency to the soup.

6.  Add in sausage coins and all spices. Heat over a medium flame for approximately one hour.

The result: a hearty and delicious fall soup that will pair well with a crisp mixed green salad. I prefer not eating the sausage myself, so I take the chunks out. You can top with your own roasted pumpkin seeds for an additional crunch!

Lift your Chest Naturally with Incline Press

One of the most common complaints female clients have as they age is about their bustline. Gravity, unfortunately, begins taking a toll on those girls at a young age. There’s good news, though – you can give yourself a natural lift by working your pectoral muscles with the incline chest press.

The pectoral muscles sit below your breasts, which are mostly composed of fat tissue. While there’s not much you can do about the actual breast, you can create a solid foundation for the breast to sit upon, thereby giving yourself a natural chest lift.

The incline dumbbell chest press is optimal for targeting the key muscles in that area. Set your bench to a 30 degree incline. Sit on the bench, grab your dumbbells, and perform a set of 12 repetitions. Repeat 2 to 3 times.

The key to this exercise is to build muscle for the breast to lie upon. Using too light of a weight simply won’t provide enough impetus. Don’t be afraid of a heavier weight. The ideal weight is one that causes muscle failure within 8 to 12 repetitions. If you can keep going after 12 reps easily, you are not stimulating your muscles enough.

Do the incline chest press twice per week for optimal results, combining it with pushups, flat bench presses, and standing tubing flies.

Welcome to FitLife funlife!

Welcome to my blog! You’ll find a wealth of useful tips, strategies, and information to help you live a fit and healthy life to its fullest. Healthy living, contrary to popular belief, is a lot of fun. And it feels great – imagine waking up every day, full of energy and enthusiasm, ready to conquer the world!

That’s what this site is about – enjoying the many bounties that life offers, using exercise and good, nutritious food to keep you healthy and dynamic. I’m a personal trainer and wellness coach with over twenty years of experience. While gyms are great for getting fit, I’m a proponent of using the world as your gym. So you’ll find information on outdoor activities and workouts to keep your exercise fresh. From exercise tips to actual workouts, we’ll make sure you are well equipped with the best in fitness advice, all based on scientific principles. No celebrity workouts here.

I also believe in the power of food to prevent illness. Food is energy and fuel, and we should treat our bodies like the amazing, well built machines that they are. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy eating! You’ll find a plethora of healthy recipes that are easy to prepare. Most are low in calories, but I also believe in having treats occasionally – it’s all about planning those treats. Since knowledge is power, we’ll help you identify when a food is healthy or a diet disaster.

And from a social activism standpoint, I believe in local, sustainable foods. Our current food system is broken and unhealthy. Since I’m a journalist as well, I will present both sides of the story and let you make you own judgments. As with anything in life, there’s both a cost and a benefit. I want you to have the information so you can weigh the risks and benefits and decide on your own.

Whether you’re 25 or 55, you’ll find a wealth of great ideas and information on this blog, all presented in user friendly form. And I encourage you to interact in the community – provide feedback, ask questions, and let me know your own tips and strategies.

As in the attached video, this is living – and we are never too old to grab all that life has to offer us. Enjoy!