Use these winning strategies to sideline mental obstacles such as self-doubt, perfectionism and procrastination and sharpen your competitive — and winning — edge.
Seeing is believing — and achieving. If what you wish to accomplish is too undefined or vague, it’s much less likely to happen. That’s why so many athletes rely on visualization during training and competition, and why so much research backs its efficacy: One oft-cited study from the University of Chicago asked participants to visualize shooting basketball free throws — the weight of the ball, how it arced through the air, the sound it made as it whooshed through the basket — and in just four weeks, their shooting improved by 23 percent.
“The times I won a competition, I was all in mentally and physically,” says Erin Stern, Division I track athlete and two-time Figure Olympia champion. “I visualized every detail of the competition — from the suit to how the stage felt under my feet to my posing to the weight of the medals hanging around my neck. Create the accomplishment in your head first, then make it tangible and it will come to fruition.”
Turn Your Focus Inward
It’s easy to get distracted by what others are doing — especially with the incessant press of social media. Do your best to prevent that interruption of your purpose first thing in the morning. “For the first hour upon waking, do not allow the outside world in, and do not look at your phone,” advises Brooke Erickson, NASM-CPT, nutrition specialist and transformation coach. “During that hour, write down your goals for that day and focus on yourself and what energizes you. That way, you won’t get sidelined and will be able to connect with your inner compass.”
Prepare for Your Purpose
When it comes to exercise, a job interview or hosting a holiday party, it’s not enough to just show up and hope for the best — you have to have a game plan in place in order to succeed. “Walking into the gym without a plan often results in endless meandering and ineffective lifting,” says Charlotte Oldbury, ACSM-CPT, NPC bikini competitor. Before you even get into your car, make sure everything you need to have for a successful training session is in place: Create a playlist, pack your gym bag, outline your workout strategy and even prep some meals to eat afterward. “Then all you have to do is follow the plan and continue with the decisions you’ve already made — simple,” Oldbury adds.
Don’t Give In to Excuses
It’s easy to give in to your excuses. They are always right there, bubbling just beneath the surface, practically encouraging you to make the wrong choices. “There will be mornings when you don’t want to wake up at ridiculous-o’clock to train, or when you’re tired, or when you’ve had a long day and don’t want to cook a healthy meal,” says Nathalia Melo, Bikini Olympia champion and NFPT-certified trainer. “Keep reminding yourself of what you want most instead of focusing on what you want right now.” Hold yourself accountable for your actions, and instead of using your creativity to conjure up excuses, use it to execute the task.
Maintain Your Motivation
Once you find your “why” — the driving force that aligns you with your greater purpose — it is much easier to stay motivated. “My older sister was the only healthy person in my family, and she taught me that it’s OK to be selfish and to want more,” says CrossFit competitor Lexi Berriman. “I’m not naturally athletic or coordinated, so I have to give 110 percent in every session. I’m motivated by learning new things in the gym and surround myself with athletes who are better than I am and who push me.” Keep your most motivating factors top of mind and remind yourself of them when you feel like throwing in the towel or doing a half-assed workout.
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Creating sacred spaces in your bedroom, living room and kitchen also can declutter your mind and cleanse your spirit.
Spring-cleaning your home is rote for the turn of the season, but you might not realize that the physical clutter and dirt that accumulates in your living space also can sully your spirit. “We all have to manage some stress and anxiety in our lives, it’s a natural part of living,” says Jameson Mercier, Ph.D., a licensed clinical social worker. “However, being intentional about how much clutter you allow in your [physical] space minimizes the amount of stress and anxiety you have to deal with and allows you to prioritize what is important.”
Use these tips to clean and purify your spaces, and transform your home into an uplifting and clutter-free sanctuary.
Your bedroom should be full of things that help you feel cozy, comfortable and mellow. “Our brains and bodies are cleansed internally each night when we go to sleep,” says Corene Summers, reiki master, yoga teacher, and a meditation and mindfulness instructor at Meditation Live. “Creating a clean and sacred sleeping space invites restoration and will leave you feeling even more refreshed and energized when you awake.”
Trade your TV for a sound machine and listen to soothing music with delta waves or to the sounds of gentle rainfall, ocean waves, waterfalls, birds or other elements of nature. A bedtime ritual such as implementing a digital curfew on yourself, meditating or practicing yoga also can help promote relaxation and peace.
“The best thing I did was eliminate my nightstand,” says Mercier, noting that nightstands are notorious dumping grounds for clutter and are the typical resting place for cellphones, which often disturb sleep.
The Living Room
This room should embody the most positive aspects of your personality and emulate the lifestyle you want to create. “Purify your air by including elements such as plants, flowers, stones and Himalayan salt lamps,” Summers says. “Pull from your travels and favorite memories, using tokens or art purchased on trips, framed photos and other keepsakes as decor.”
Boost your mood with a well-lit space, candles, and cozy blankets and pillows. Keep games, puzzles, a book of conversation starters and a deck of cards on hand for entertainment other than TV. Mercier also recommends setting up a fish tank. “Being able to watch the fish and hear the soundtrack of the water helps me relax after a long day,” he says. “Plus, the aquarium acts as a live picture that we never tire of.”
Your kitchen should be efficient and tidy. Put away seldom-used small appliances, keep often-used dry items in easy-to-access jars, and purchase pre-cut or pre-washed produce if you know you don’t have a lot of time for meal prep to minimize stress.
Also, consider stocking your pantry like they do in the grocery store: Place the things you want to eat more of at eye level so they are more visible and accessible, and put junk food and treats out of direct sight on higher shelves, Mercier advises.
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Starting the day with a moment of Zen can clear your head, but what can it do for your body?
If you’ve ever dealt with mental health issues — anxiety, depression, inability to focus — you’ve probably been advised to try meditation, or maybe you’ve been the one offering this advice to others. Meditation, once reserved for yogis and the experimental set, is how many people now center themselves and clear their heads, but this cranial activity also offers a host of benefits for your body. Here’s how.
The Science of Meditation
“There’s a lot of research out there on mindfulness and physical health,” says Sarah Romotsky, RD, health strategist at Headspace, a meditation app with more than 20 million users. And indeed, meditation has been shown to help with a range of issues, including obesity, chronic disease, pain management and even the flu: One study compared the incidence of acute respiratory infections (ARI) among three groups of adults — a control group, a group that performed moderate-intensity exercise and a group that received mindfulness meditation training. After eight weeks, the control group experienced 40 ARI episodes, while both the exercise and meditation groups reported 26 and 27 ARIs, respectively, thereby validating the efficacy of both modalities as a way to combat illness.
But the positive impact of meditation doesn’t stop at the sniffles: A systematic study review published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found a correlation between meditation and neurodegeneration, with significant increases in gray matter volume in those who meditated. Another report in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that meditation was associated with a decrease in chronic pain, and a study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science showed that college students who received six weeks of meditation training experienced a significant decrease in blood pressure and resting heart rate.
Fight the Fight or Flight
So why does the decidedly cerebral practice of meditation translate into physical health? The answer lies in our modern lifestyle. The amygdala, a cluster of neurons in the brain, reacts to stress — traffic, a work deadline, an argument with a friend — by triggering the body’s “fight or flight” response. “Our brains have been reprogrammed to react to everyday stressors the same way we would an attack,” Romotsky says. Hormones, including epinephrine and cortisol, are released into the bloodstream, causing an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and glucose levels — great if you need to fight off an attacker but not so ideal in day-to-day life. “[Over time], this response also puts us at higher risk for chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes,” Romotsky adds.
By practicing mindfulness — the state of being aware and focused on the present moment — you can train your brain to respond and react better to stressors, which can have a profound impact on both your mental and physical health. One study published in Psychiatry Research monitored the hormone levels of patients as they underwent a social stress test. Afterward, one group was enrolled in a stress management course while another group — made up of people suffering from anxiety disorder — received eight weeks of meditation training. When asked to repeat the stress test, the meditation group experienced a significant drop in stress hormones while the control group actually demonstrated an increase. The meditation group had trained their brains to better handle stress.
Stress management through meditation also can lead to better surgical outcomes, according to Dr. Rex Marco, an orthopedic oncologist at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas. Many of Marco’s patients have undergone multiple spine surgeries and deal with chronic pain, and he discovered that the use of meditation apps such as Stop, Breathe & Think have allowed some of them to wean off their medications.
“Neck and back pain trigger a stress response in the body, which in turn leads to more pain, more stress and more pain,” he explains. “Interrupting this cycle with activities like meditation and yoga allows the higher brain — the prefrontal cortex — to make dopamine, which in turn calms the stress response created by the amygdala, making the pain more manageable.”
Dr. Ruth Lerman, an internist specializing in breast health and disease at Beaumont Health in Michigan, has also seen the positive impact of a regular meditation practice in her patients’ lives — as well as her own: A three-time cancer survivor, Lerman needed to feel “a sense of safety” after her second diagnosis. She discovered a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) curriculum, which proved a turning point in her treatment and ultimately altered her approach to patient care. Lerman became a certified MBSR instructor and began offering mindfulness programming for both patients and physicians. “I can now recognize when I am getting stressed and can immediately implement techniques to manage it and alter how I am dealing with the situation for the better,” says one of Lerman’s patients.
It is necessary to point out, however, that meditation isn’t a replacement for doctor-supervised care, and you can’t “meditate away” a diagnosis such as breast cancer. But incorporating meditation into your treatment and daily life can certainly help manage your stress, which ultimately can help you heal.
Just like any habit, establishing a meditation practice takes time and patience. Some sessions may seem less focused than others, and you may not feel the benefits immediately. That’s OK, as long as you keep it up, Romotsky explains: “With a little training and a kind, friendly, guiding hand, the mind will come to a place of rest.”
Use these tips from Sarah Romotsky to cultivate a successful meditation practice.
- Meditating first thing in the morning sets the tone for the rest of your day. However, consistency is paramount, so find a time that works for you if morning is not your jam.
- Quality is more important than quantity. Start with a shorter meditation and slowly increase the duration.
- Daily meditation is not necessary to reap the benefits. Set a goal that feels reasonable — maybe 10 minutes a day, three times a week — and build from there.
- Meditation isn’t about the absence of thinking, so don’t be frustrated by distracting thoughts. Learn to step back and witness those thoughts more clearly from a place of calm.
There’s an App for That
Interested in meditation but need a little direction? These apps offer a variety of guided meditation tracks for beginners, dabblers and advanced practitioners.
Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk, narrates Headspace’s hundreds of guided meditations and mindfulness exercises. The approach is friendly and agnostic, and the app offers specialized “packs” for everything from work performance to pregnancy. Subscribers also can access programming for kids, sleepcasts and specific tracks for mindful running, commuting, cooking and eating.
headspace.com, 10-day free trial, $12.99/month
This app offers more than 12,000 free guided meditations, as well as reasonably priced 10-day courses such as “How to Beat Digital Distraction” and “Your Guide to Deeper Sleep.” Subscribers can set notifications, track their activity and connect with other users.
insighttimer.com, free with optional in-app purchases
Stop, Breathe & Think
The basic subscription grants you access to 20 guided meditations, while premium members can unlock more than 100 activities. Users begin each session by reporting how they’re feeling physically, mentally and emotionally, which the app then uses to curate a handful of recommended activities specific to the individual.
stopbreathethink.com, free basic subscription, $9.99/month premium subscription
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From spiritual journeys and active escapes to weight-loss and health retreats, your next trip is the perfect opportunity to commit to your fitness goals or take them to the next level.
Remember when vacations consisted of stuffing yourself silly with all-you-can eat buffets and sipping sugary umbrella drinks while parked poolside and when the most exercise you got was signaling your cabana boy for another round? Fortunately, couch-potato vacations are quickly becoming an outdated concept, and people are realizing their health goals need not take a back seat while traveling.
Activity-based trips are an awesome way to experience the world and stay on track with your goals. There are literally thousands of options to choose from based on your desired destination, amenities, activities, purpose and budget. Here are some of our top travel picks, chosen for their ability to put you in better touch with your mind, body and soul while also staying fit and healthy.
Blue World Voyages Cruise
When you think of a cruise, likely you picture overdone buffets laden with troughs of bacon, tacky ports of call and Hawaiian floral print as far as the eye can see. Well, get ready to rethink this impression because Blue World Voyages is redefining what it means to cruise. Blue World is the first cruise line that is 100 percent dedicated to an active, healthy clientele, and everything it does, from excursions to dining, caters to this demographic.
Blue World boasts an entire deck reserved for fitness, including a functional training center, yoga and Spinning studios, batting cages, and golf and soccer simulators so you can get your fit on any time of day. Once you’ve trained yourself silly, visit the spa deck and enjoy a luxury treatment or take a snooze alfresco in one of its Bali beds. Come mealtime, enjoy clean, wholesome food that is healthy, fresh and locally sourced whenever possible.
Enjoy exciting on-land activities such as cycling, hiking, running and golf and water sports such as snorkeling, kayaking and kitesurfing. The laid-back traveler can enjoy more mindful activities such as yoga and meditation.
- Each cruise features a once-in-a-lifetime “signature” event exclusive to your vacation that you’re guaranteed to remember forever. (These are a surprise, so don’t ask!)
- Blue World is a smaller, more intimate vessel and can take you to places other ships can’t — pristine reefs, hidden waterfalls and small, unspoiled venues. The ship also has more spacious cabins with large bathrooms and walk-in closets — no sardine-like quarters here!
- The ship is eco-friendly and operates on the principles of sustainable tourism: All waste is recycled or disposed of properly, the food is sustainable and organic whenever possible, and it uses environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Nevis, West Indies
fourseasons.com/nevis • goldenrocknevis.com
The tiny island of Nevis — most recently known as the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton — is a tranquil paradise free of traffic lights and fast-food chains. It is perfect for active travelers and offers everything from hiking, cycling and snorkeling to horseback riding, kayaking and scuba diving.
Events All Year
Swimmers should visit in March for the Nevis to St. Kitts Cross Channel 2.5-mile swim, runners should book a vacay in September to attend the Marathon and Running Festival, and chilly triathletes should travel south in November for the Nevis Triathlon on Oualie Beach.
- The Golden Rock Inn sits on 100 acres by the Nevis Peak volcano. Swim laps in the freshwater pool, wander the gardens or hike the volcano.
- The Four Seasons Nevis offers an 18-hole golf course, yoga and Pilates classes, and a volcanic-stone, hot-water pool. It’s also family-friendly with baby-sitting services and plenty of kids/teens activities.
- Take in the nature of the tropics with a stroll around the Botanical Gardens. Hungry? Visit the onsite Oasis in the Gardens restaurant for an authentic Thai lunch and a refreshing Purple Rain mocktail.
- Immerse yourself in the therapeutic benefits of Nevis’ volcanic hot springs at Bath Village.
ONE HAPPY — AND HEALTHY — ISLAND
aruba.com • manchebo.com • hiltonaruba.com
Award-winning beaches? Check. Year-round 82-degree weather? Check. More sunny days than any other Caribbean island? Check. Simply put: Aruba is an active gal’s dream come true.
June is wellness month in Aruba, and the entire island celebrates a holistic approach to vacationing. Select hotels offer special packages tailored to wellness-related activities such as fitness classes, yoga sessions, cooking demonstrations and all sorts of water sports.
- The Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa offers weeklong yoga retreats and daily yoga and Pilates classes, which are conducted beachside in two open-air shalas.
- The Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino allows guests to choose their own wellness path and offers an array of activities, including kickboxing, water sports, tennis, tai chi and meditation.
- There are plenty of direct flights to Aruba from major cities across the U.S., making it one of the most accessible islands in the Caribbean.
- Hotels participating in the One Happy Family package offer free accommodations and free breakfast for kids 12 and younger. Kids also can register for a VIK (Very Important Kid) passport, and by answering quizzes and puzzles, they will be entered to win a week’s vacation for four — including airfare!
Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa
If sand and sea are not your jam, then this Scottsdale, Arizona, resort could be for you. Located on 53 private acres, the Sanctuary Camelback caters to everyone — from lovers to extreme athletes to golfers to spa-goers. Escape your daily to-do list while enjoying yoga, Pilates, private hiking and biking tours, tennis, personal training, nutrition consulting, healthy meals and spa treatments.
Triathletes will love spending three days training with high-level experts in the beautiful Sonoran Desert. Work directly with swim instructor and Olympic gold-medalist Misty Hyman, take a guided bike ride the next day, then wrap things up with a run with a fitness instructor.
Mindfulness Meditation Retreat
Offered twice a year, this four-day retreat allows guests of all levels and abilities to immerse themselves in meditation and mindfulness practices led by world-renowned instructor Sarah McLean. In addition, you’ll be pampered with nourishing massage and body treatments, yoga and organic meals.
- Don’t miss Elements restaurant where you can enjoy meals prepared by Food Network star chef Beau MacMillan.
- The sparkling infinity-edge pool (complete with cabanas) is the perfect place to relax after a game of Zennis — a hybrid of yoga and tennis — and enjoy a Bento box lunch.
If you’re looking for a destination with healing energy vortices, exquisite scenery and a hippie vibe, then Sedona is calling your name. This laid-back town is nestled within a geologic wonderland of stunning red-rock formations and is a hub of art, nature, culture and spirituality.
Hiking and Biking
Devil’s Bridge trail offers some of the most awe-inspiring views, as well as a natural sandstone arch, which you can actually walk across for some incredible selfies. For a faster-paced excursion, take a private mountain bike tour through the incredible landscape.
- Mii Amo at the Enchantment Resort offers a full range of luxury treatments, Native American–inspired therapies, aura readings and past-life regression sessions.
- At the Gateway Cottage Wellness Center, you’ll find reiki, shamanic sound healing, intuitive readings, LED light therapy and soul retrieval treatments.
- The ChocolaTree Organic Oasis serves organic, gluten-free, seasonal ayurvedic and live foods, and its master chocolatiers offer an enormous selection of handmade, raw chocolates made from fair-trade ingredients.
- Gain a fresh perspective with a 15-minute helicopter ride from Guidance Air, where you’ll soar past towering red-rock spires and landmarks such as Cathedral Rock and Snoopy Rock.
LASTING WEIGHT LOSS
Hilton Head Health (H3) Resort, South Carolina
Visit this resort and you’ll come home with more than a souvenir — you’ll have a comprehensive game plan for a healthier life. Since 1976, H3 has helped thousands of guests lose weight with custom fitness plans, nutritional workshops and gourmet cuisine. Come for as few as three days or as many as 21 plus, depending on your goals.
- H3 provides bicycles and shuttles to the beach for early-morning and afternoon walks as well as beach yoga classes.
- The heated pool offers fitness classes for all levels, including hydro circuits, deep-water conditioning and aqua Tabata training.
- At the 2 Chefs … 2 Stations cooking demonstration, you’ll watch a pair of pros open a box of common ingredients and learn how to create unique and healthy dishes.
- True restaurant offers multiethnic, locally sourced cuisine that tastes amazing and that can be prepared to suit any individual’s dietary needs.
- Your H3 wellness coach continues to guide and support you even after your visit with weekly phone calls, a monthly panel discussion and a private Facebook community.
- Check the H3 schedule of specialty programs and attend retreats that cater to a specific demographic or goal, such as emotional eating, golf and yoga, or reinventing your life after divorce.
The Chopra Center, Omni La Costa Resort and Spa, Carlsbad, California
Like they say, where the mind goes the body follows, and if your mental health is on track, so will your physical health improve. And what better way to experience mental rejuvenation than to attend a retreat given by the guru himself, Dr. Deepak Chopra. The Chopra Center offers a host of events with an integrative approach to total well-being through self-awareness and the practice of yoga, meditation and ayurveda.
The Weekend Within
This three-day program introduces guests of all levels to primordial sound meditation. Center educators, special guests and Chopra himself walk you through various sessions, where you can explore your dosha (your mind/body type), participate in yoga, attend lectures and, of course, meditate.
The Chopra Center Spa offers a host of ayurvedic treatments, such as a srota clearing treatment, sound therapy, breast massage and shirodhara — a treatment in which a soothing stream of warm oil is poured over the forehead and onto the sixth chakra, your intuitive energetic center.
- Need a physical break from your mental training? Check out the Omni Resort’s fitness classes, tennis lessons and championship golf courses. There’s also a kid’s club to keep the little ones busy.
- The Chopra Center serves healthy and balanced meals that meet ayurvedic guidelines, meaning they are vegetarian, include all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent), and include plenty of ancient grains and legumes.
Skyterra Wellness, North Carolina
Set aside life’s obligations and invest in the powerful gift of self-care at this intimate, all-inclusive retreat. Located on 300 acres of private wooded property, Skyterra has a team of caring experts who will help you break old cycles and jump-start healthy habits.
Choose your own wellness activities each day such as fitness classes,
yoga, meditation, stress management, cooking and outdoor recreation.
Satisfy your inner explorer by taking a waterfall hike, going stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking, or taking a fitness class in the screened-in “treehouse.”
- The resort maxes out at about 20 guests, so every visitor receives plenty of personal attention.
- Skyterra offers a stress-free transition back to reality by giving you educational materials, recipes, guided meditation and a fitness app to help you continue the healthy practices you learned in your daily life.
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Use these 11 simple steps to control your thoughts and behavior — for the better.
We all have behaviors or character traits we’d like to change. Maybe you’re a couch potato who wishes you enjoyed working out or an impulse spender with mountains of debt. But even if Mother Nature didn’t provide you with the innate characteristics you desire, you can cultivate them on your own.
“Research indicates that humans are a product of both their genetics and the environment,” says Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a California-based clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear (Familius, February 2019). “We are born with certain genetic factors, yet as we grow and move through life, we can craft ourselves into the type of person we want to be.”
While you can’t change your genetic coding, you can learn to better control your thoughts and behaviors. Our experts offer these 11 tips for driving change and increasing your possibility of success.
1. Clarify your goal.
Saying “I want to be a better person” is too vague. A clearer goal is “be kinder to others,” according to Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and relationship expert at Tone Networks. To make this happen, you could practice being a better listener, showing empathy for someone in need or being more patient when driving.
2. Keep a real-time log.
Trying to recall a behavior at a later date often leads to overestimation or underestimation of what really happened, Manly says. For example, a dieter who records her food intake as it happens has a better chance of being accurate and noticing eating patterns.
3. Be proactive, not reactive.
Sometimes it is easier to change situations than it is to change your reaction. For example, if you get irritable with friends when out late on a weeknight, spend time with them on the weekend instead when you are more rested and see whether that makes a difference.
4. Manage expectations.
It is not realistic to say, “I am going to stop cursing right now,” but it is realistic to stop cursing at work to begin.
5. Start slowly.
If you rush in and don’t get it right, you might feel guilty or defeated, Durvasula says. For example, if your goal is to eat more veggies, add one serving per day to your existing plan rather than forcing yourself to eat veggies with every meal.
6. Add frequency.
As your new behavior becomes habitual, increase the number of times you practice it, say several times per day or per week.
7. Rewrite your self-talk.
Manly suggests consciously shifting a negative inner dialogue to a positive one to better achieve your goals. For instance, if your inner voice says, “I am not worthy,” change that to, “I am more than enough.”
8. Gentle reminders.
Place simple, supportive messages all around you to remind you of your goal. If you are trying to exercise more, put a note on your bathroom mirror that says, “Go for a 10-minute walk after work! You’ll feel so much better!” Manly recommends.
9. Seek support.
Your inner circle can contribute positively or negatively to your change, Durvasula says. Identify who is supportive so you have positive feedback and encouragement, and distance yourself from negative people so they don’t derail you.
10. Be kind to yourself.
See stumbles and missteps as opportunities, not mistakes. “Mistakes are the way we learn and can even be viewed as triumphs of sorts,” Durvasula says. “If you see a lesson rather than a failure, you’re less likely to punish yourself for it.”
11. Reward yourself.
Recognize your progress with a reward based on your unique desires. “For example, a warm evening bath might be a true luxury for a busy mom,” Manly says.
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Whenever you’re feeling blue, just step into the green and get an immediate attitude adjustment.
Natural environments such as parks, lakes and forests have a positive effect on body image, but you don’t have to be in the great outdoors to reap the benefits, say the authors of a paper published in the journal Body Image.
In three separate studies, researchers asked 124 women and men to rate their level of agreement with statements to determine their body satisfaction, such as I accept my body regardless of imperfections. After looking at photos of nature, participants took the body-image tests again, and both men and women scored higher than they did before viewing the images. A fourth test in which people walked through a park to test the activity’s effects on body image had similar results.
By contrast, looking at images of cityscapes such as crowded streets and tall buildings lowered body satisfaction among all participants. “Urban environments are busier and have more stimuli that require our attention,” says Viren Swami, psychologist and professor of social psychology at Anglia Ruskin University in England.
Natural environments, on the other hand, effortlessly hold our attention, which seems to encourage people to lighten up about being self-critical. “Having a space to be mindful and at peace with yourself means you’re no longer concerned with daily troubles, including how you might look,” Swami says.
Whenever you’re feeling blue, just step into the green and get an immediate attitude adjustment.
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Authentic, ambitious and altruistic, cover girl Massy Arias — aka Mankofit — is on a mission to change the world, one social post at a time.
An estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization. But despite its pervasiveness, there is still an unambiguous stigma attached to depression that makes it an unmentionable subject of conversation, no matter your race, creed, country or age. In fact, more than 50 percent of Americans don’t seek treatment for the condition, and even fewer admit to having a mental health issue at all for fear of judgment, shame and discrimination.
“Mental health is taboo everywhere, and in my country, we never talk about these things — people just get labeled as crazy, even if they are only depressed,” says the Dominican-born Massy Arias. “But I think we should be open about it, and depression should be treated the same as any other health condition.”
Exercise as Medicine
Arias is the voice of experience. She suffered from severe depression for years, hiding away in her room, sleeping for avoidance and even losing her hair. She tried everything short of prescription medication to assuage her condition, including meditation, hypnosis, herbs and cognitive therapy. Nothing worked until a friend suggested exercise. Arias had never played sports or been to a gym, but she was willing to give anything a try. Within six months, she was a new person.
“When I say fitness saved my life, I mean it,” she avows. “Movement puts you in a very positive hormonal state, changing the chemistry within your body and your brain. I was also occupying my mind with new challenges and was meeting people who were holding me accountable and making me feel good about myself. I had something to look forward to, and my life completely transformed.”
However, feeling those feels was a temporary condition, and within hours of leaving the gym, Arias would come back to earth — hard. “I ended up overtraining because I started craving that feeling of happiness — a feeling which I only felt during exercise or right afterward,” she says. “But once I started building a routine and collected a team of people and friends who helped me over that hump, things got easier. I got certified as a trainer and started teaching group classes, and everything fell into place.”
Sharing and Caring
Wanting to share her experience, Arias opened an Instagram account — a new platform at the time — and regularly posted raw and personal accounts of her struggles, failures and successes in her journey toward wellness.
“When I started exercising, I couldn’t do a lot of things, and people saw that process on Instagram and watched me go from not being able to do a push-up to doing clapping push-ups, not being able to run a full block to running a 5K,” she says. “My social media is not a bunch of curated pictures that look pretty; I don’t sell dreams — I sell reality — and you will find inspiration to keep on moving forward in everything I do.”
Providing a refreshing break from the typical narcissistic and vapid content of social media, Arias’ vulnerable authenticity garnered her rapid popularity, and she soon amassed a global following of millions, helped in no small part by her bilingual posts.
But depression was still lurking within, and after having her daughter, Indie, in 2017, Arias experienced postpartum depression, which renewed her advocacy of exercise as a defensible and valid prescription. “It was tough, but I used the same approach to help treat it as I did before — using movement and healthy food as medicine,” she says. “As long as I continue moving and eating well, I will continue to rise above my depression.”
Using this all-natural prescription, Arias once again prevailed, and a year later, she is beyond thrilled to be a mother. “Being a mom is tiring and it’s hard, but it has also made me an overall better person — a little more regimented, a little softer, more compassionate,” she says. “It also made me a better trainer and a better motivator because I can relate to so many more women who have kids. Now I have an understanding as to what women all around the world have experienced and what struggles they face with health and exercise and family.”
There are hundreds of studies supporting exercise as a valid prescription for depression. Here are just a few notable findings:
- According to Harvard Medical School, exercise causes a series of internal changes that reverse the symptoms of depression, such as the release of endorphins, which actually help block physical and emotional pain.
- Continued practice of exercise triggers the release of specific proteins that cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections, most notably in the hippocampus — the region of the brain that dictates mood — ultimately improving mental health and well-being.
- A study published in ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal determined that even modest amounts of exercise alleviate depressive symptoms on a level comparable to pharmacological drugs, and another study showed that exercise reduced depressive symptoms in patients who failed to respond to antidepressant medication. How much is a modest amount? Just one hour per week, according to research published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.
- Postpartum women who participated in exercise programs showed a significantly lower incidence of depression, and those at high probability for the condition had a reduced risk of 50 percent! This is especially good news for breast-feeding mothers who are worried about the effects medication can have on their newborn.
On the Horizon
Today, Arias juggles several sponsorships, and she is kept busy making appearances for companies such as Target, C9 Champion and CoverGirl. In fact, at the time of this writing, Arias was en route to Dallas to do an engagement in the inner city hosting workshops, an exercise class and a meet-and-greet. This sort of athletic philanthropy is her current MO, and Arias is ardent about reaching out to those with little access to exercise and healthy living.
“I never played any sports growing up, but I strongly believe that if I would have started at a young age doing what I am doing now, I probably would have been a great athlete,” she says. “That is why I am passionate about a project I am working on in the Dominican Republic: I am teaming up with a retired Olympic hurdler — a gold medalist — to build an athletic academy for performance training and nutrition. Hopefully, we can also integrate the Olympic committee and the government to be part of this initiative to help inner-city kids who don’t have the resources they need to play sports.”
She also continues to be an Instagram inspiration by living her fitness truth for the world to see, continuing to set and break goals. “Right now, I am working more on building strength and endurance, trying to be a beast!” Arias says. “I want to be able to jump higher, lift more, be more explosive and beat all the guys I train with. Be a ninja. I want to live my life in a way that changes lives positively every day. If my story can give people the confidence and reassurance that they can reach whatever goal they have or overcome any obstacle in front of them, then I’m fulfilling my purpose in this journey.”
Kettlebell Pickup (30 seconds each side)
Banded Football Squat
Banded Jumping Jack
Stand behind a kettlebell with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight and your core engaged as you hinge from your hips and fold forward, reaching down with your right hand as you simultaneously lift your left leg behind you. When your torso and leg are parallel to the floor, grab the kettlebell handle and stand back up. Reverse the move to lower the kettlebell back down to the floor, release it and stand back up to complete one rep. Do all reps on one side, then switch.
Banded Football Squat
Secure a band loop around your thighs just above your knees and stand with your feet hip-width apart so there is tension in the band. Jump your feet apart and squat down quickly with a flat back to touch your left fingertips to the floor. Explode upward, jump your feet together underneath you, then jump them apart again, touching your right hand to the floor. Continue, alternating sides.
Banded Jumping Jack
Secure a band loop around your legs just above your ankles and stand with your feet hip-width apart so there is tension in the band. Jump your feet apart and raise your arms overhead, then jump your arms and legs back together as with a normal jumping jack.
Kettlebell Stiff-Legged Deadlift to Kettlebell Squat
Banded Side Shuffle
Banded Square Bear Crawl
Kettlebell Stiff-Legged Deadlift to Kettlebell Squat
Hold a kettlebell with both hands in front of you, arms straight, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back straight, your knees soft and your head neutral, push your glutes back as you hinge forward, lowering the kettlebell toward the floor as low as you can, or until your back begins to round. Return to the start, then explosively pull the kettlebell upward in an upright row motion, catch it on the sides of the handle, and hold it at your chest as you kick your hips back and lower into a deep squat. Continue, alternating moves.
Banded Side Shuffle
Secure a resistance-band loop around your thighs just above your knees and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Kick your hips back and lower into an athletic “ready” position, core tight, posterior chain activated. Hold here as you quickly drive your right leg to the side, swinging your left arm forward and across your body. Step your feet together and repeat. Continue, taking five steps one way, then five steps the other way for the duration of your time.
Banded Square Bear Crawl
Secure a band loop around your thighs just above your knees and get onto all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips, back straight and head neutral. Turn your toes under and lift your knees off the floor to get into the bear position, then using opposing limbs, take four slow steps forward. Then use your same-side arm and leg to take four steps to the right. Use your opposing arm and leg to take four steps backward, then same-side arm and leg to move laterally to the left and complete the square. Repeat in the opposite direction.
Kettlebell Step-Out With Knee Drive
Squat With Opposite Arm and Leg Crunch
Banded Plank Step-Out and Leg Lift
Kettlebell Step-Out With Knee Drive
Hold a kettlebell with both hands at your chest, elbows down, feet shoulder-width apart. Lift your knee to hip height, then squat down on your left leg as low as you can. Stay in this low squat position as you slowly step to the right, shifting your weight to your right foot. Balance on your right foot as you lift your left foot off the floor, then extend your right leg to stand, lifting your left knee to hip height. Continue, alternating directions.
Squat With Opposite Arm and Leg Crunch
Secure a resistance-band loop around both arches of both shoes and place your hands lightly behind your head, elbows flared. Keep your chest lifted as you kick your hips back and squat down, then stand and simultaneously lift your right knee as you twist to the right, aiming to touch your left elbow to your right knee. Replace your foot, perform another squat and continue, alternating sides.
Banded Plank Step-Out and Leg Lift
Secure a resistance band around both legs just above your ankles and get into a forearm plank with your elbows underneath your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned. Hold your upper body in position as you open your right leg out to the side, touching your toes down briefly to the floor, then return to plank. Then keep your right leg straight as you lift it upward as high as you can. Continue, alternating legs.
The Short Circuit Workout
“This program is something I would do myself,” says Arias, who created this workout exclusively for Oxygen. “Because I hate all cardio except doing stairs or sprinting, I like to do circuit training for my strength work, which allows me to get in both my aerobic and anaerobic training at the same time.”
This workout contains three circuits of three moves apiece. Do the moves in order for 30 seconds each with no rest in between, and rest up to a minute in between circuits. Do three to four rounds of each circuit, depending on how much time you have.
“Use a resistance loop or weight that challenges you for each move, and try to hit your max reps with each set,” Arias advises, noting that you should use a lighter weight band loop when placing it around your ankles and a heavier one around your thighs. “And make sure you can move that weight effectively in a controlled manner.”
Why a band loop? “It’s for the booty,” says Arias, laughing, who admits she has a hard time engaging her glutes. “I had muscular imbalances and my glutes didn’t activate properly. The muscles that were tight would turn on right away, preventing the glutes from engaging. But these bands ensure those glutes will fire!”
Full name: Massy Arias
Birth date: November 23, 1988
Hometown: Dominican Republic
Current residence: Glendale, California
Sponsors: Target, C9 Champion, CoverGirl
Facebook and Twitter: mankofit
Favorite saying: “But did you die?”
Follow along with Massy as she demos her workout here.
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Sometimes your end fitness goal isn’t as valuable as the sacrifices and lessons learned along the way — and that’s just fine.
Goal setting is such a double-edged sword. I love to set goals — attainable, measurable, valuable ways to track progress in the gym and in life. Checking milestones off my list feels amazing, whether it be a new skill in the gym or seeing an amazing progress picture of myself. Ironically, the result has never been as sweet as the journey.
As someone who participates regularly in the functional fitness arena (i.e., CrossFit), I have forever been in pursuit of a muscle-up. I was afraid of the gymnastic rings for years, to the point of literally never going near them. Then one day, I just woke up. I thought, This is insane. I have been in this sport for four years and have never even attempted to do this. I was suddenly excited to take all the steps necessary every day to have a muscle-up be my end goal, even if it meant just hanging onto the rings and feeling so incredibly silly as I got more comfortable.
After a while (all the drills, YouTube videos and frustration later), it finally happened, and I swear my friends and coaches were more excited than I was. I didn’t even really enjoy the moment because my brain already had its sights set on the next big thing it could accomplish. How about two in row? I was so hyper-focused on the outcome that I overlooked all the steps it took to get there — the work, aggravation and days of wanting to give up on it.
I would have enjoyed the moment so much more if I refocused on some of the things it took to get there:
- Things I didn’t want to do but I did them anyway. I’ve turned down drinks with friends that would mess up a 6 a.m. wake-up call to the gym. I’ve held strong and didn’t eat snacks outside of my preplanned meals for the day, when I would be the only one who knew. Being mentally tough is hard but inevitably part of the process when you really want to achieve things.
- Choosing myself, repeatedly. It’s important to practice self-care and self-control, which represented change that was intrinsic.
- You are what you do every. single. day. I believe this with every single fiber of my being. It’s not just some of the days or on the weekdays — the real magic happens when you are willing to live and die by your goals. It’s a hard concept to wrap our minds around because it’s not as tangible as getting a muscle-up, losing 10 pounds or setting a new one-rep-max back squat.
- Realizing that the desire to pursue a goal is greater than the outcome of the goal. The same way it works for an addict, dopamine will push a behavior until the craving is satisfied. If the reward is powerful enough, your brain will always come back hungry for more of it. This is why achievement can become so utterly underwhelming when compared to the pursuit of the desired goal.
- You have arrived — appreciate where you are right now. I am forever on my soapbox coaching clients, practically begging for them to enjoy the journey and trust the process. Goals are awesome. I love crushing them and picturing this big life for myself, but this person I’m becoming while I’m on the way is someone I’m also equally as proud of.
More than anything, I want to appreciate the “here and now” of life — it makes the reward so much sweeter. No matter whether your goal is big or small, and as far away as you think you are, appreciate the fact that you have arrived. You’re on the journey, and that is just one of a million steps as you move forward.
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