Monday, December 06, 2010

Bust Out Of Your Fitness Rut! Five New Ways To Keep Your Mind and Body Challenged

Are you in a fitness rut? Are Sundays always your long run, and Tuesdays always your gym night? I know I tend to do the same types of workouts on the same days, day in and day out if I don't catch myself and change it up. Some of that is schedule-related, it's hard to fit in a long run or bike ride on a weekday. Some workouts need to be done during hours the pool is open, or hours of outdoor daylight. But whenever possible, we should shake things up and change our routines around. It's not only better for us physically, but mentally as well.

We already know that exercise in itself causes you to grow new brain cells:

In experiments in which mice were timed running through mazes or recalling patterns, the rodents that broke a sweat on a hamster wheel performed better. After slicing into their brains, scientists discovered why: The exercising mice had grown new brain cells.

But varying mental challenges also goes a long way toward keeping you mentally and physically stronger.Both the connections between brain cells and the strength and tone of your muscles depends heavily on getting out of your ruts. You can challenge yourself in small ways: Move your kickboard and water bottle to the other end of your lap lane when you swim, run clockwise at the track. You might be surprised at how much this shakes up your workout!

Here are five good ways to shake up your workout routine, build new muscles and connect those brain cells:

1) Do It In the Dark: Are you used to going to the gym or only running or biking during daylight hours? Do it in the dark instead! Of course, safety precautions are a must, and a good headlamp goes a long way as well. Fortunately, with lightweight LED technology and reflective clothing like Illuminite, being well-lit doesn't mean carrying fifty pounds of flashlight and clothing covered in reflective tape. My favorite items are my Illuminite headband, and a couple of reflective wrist and ankle bands. They cheap, and because your arms and legs are moving they draw attention to you as you move through the darkness. You can continue your bike commute or even something dramatic like nighttime mountain biking through the woods if you're well lit (by that I do not mean by a thermos of the hard stuff). My husband swears by his mountain bike lights from GeoMan Gear. I've used the smaller one on my bike commutes and I always get comments from other cyclists about how bright it is.

2) Do It At Different Intensity: How many different tempos and durations do you use for your workouts? Chances are you have a few fallbacks: the 45 minute run. The 30 minute Ab Lab. The hour in the weight room. Try something new. Try a ten minute run as hard as you can for those ten minutes (with appropriate warmup of course!) Try using half the weights that you're used to and going twice as many reps, or twice the weight and only doing one or two reps. This guy did a spontaneous marathon one day on his treadmill. He just had his family keep bringing him food and drink! Shake it WAY up and see what happens.

3) Do It Someplace New: Does your jogging route always go down the same street? Go one block over instead. Drive to the next town and start your bike ride from there.Go to another pool (I recently took my kids to a wave pool in the next town and swam laps in the pool there. It felt completely different than my normal workout.) Visit a new gym (most will give you a week's trial membership around this time of year).

4) Do It With Someone Else: Are your workout buddies stagnant? The same topics of conversation keep coming around? How 'bout them Ducks? Okay I had to throw that in, as a UO alumni, I never thought I'd see my Duckies as #1 in the country. Find a new running group, a new yoga class time or instructor, an all-woman's hiking group, my mom even found a "Kayaking and Poetry" group. They each bring a poem, kayak to a location and take their lunch and share their poetry. Now that's keeping your brain and body engaged!

5) Do Something Completely Different: I just signed up for a Flashmob online. Yes, a Flashmob. No, I'm not a very good dancer. But I'm going to learn the choreography, I'm going to show up, and I'm going to make sure I'm standing behind at least three or four rows of better dancers! How about Parkour, Geocaching, Night Orienteering? Organize a midnight game of tag on your local soccer fields. Go on a snipe hunt. Re-enact a civil war battle, go inner tubing without a rope tow and hike up the hills. Tie your dogs to your scooter and practice dog sledding. Just shake it up and your brain and your body will thank you!

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