February is Challenge Month

So I’ve been feeling awfully tired and out of shape recently.  That means this year’s February challenge should either be exercise or food related.  (Since I have PCOS, eating sugary/refined carb foods can have an especially detrimental effect on my health and moods.)

Last year I tried the 7 min workout and I hated it so very much.  I got stronger but I dreaded that part of each day.  So that didn’t last past February.

I’ve been debating two different things.

First, I could do a healthy-eating challenge to reset my diet.  Basically this means I eliminate sugar and refined carbs entirely for the month.  No pastries, no white bread, no white pasta, no white rice, no more TJ’s orange chicken.  I know this works out pretty well for me and I tend to feel more energetic and healthier and so on and so forth.  But it removes a lot of the minor joys in my life which seems especially hard when we’re temporarily living someplace with good bakeries.  So I’m trying to cut back on the lower quality stuff, but I don’t think I want to go straight-up cold turkey.  I at least want to be able to partake at work functions, even though I know we can do better at home.

Second, and what I’m going to go with, is an exercise challenge.  After some conversation with DH, I’ve decided I should do a step challenge, as in, walk at least X steps per day.  Now, the standard step challenge is to do 10,000 steps/day.  (Or to average that per week.)  There’s not really anything scientific about that number based on my quick internet search (if anything, the “scientific” number is 7-8K, but more doesn’t hurt).  I’m not sure how realistic 10K would be for me, so what I’m doing this week is actually carrying my phone around with me and using the iPhone health app to see what my regular step usage is according to the phone.  After doing that, I’ll see what a reasonable number to up it to would be.  (It’s not as good as a fit-bit, but if I use it as a baseline against itself hopefully that will be reasonable.)  I don’t normally carry around my phone, so it says silly things like I’ve done 20 steps/day on the weekends.  The most recent time that I was carrying around my phone was at a conference where all the hotels were far away from each other, and on those days I did average more than 10K, but I did what seems like a lot of walking on those days.

A problem I’m not sure what to do about is the weather.  It has been unpredictable.  On days like today it’s easy to say, oh yeah, if I didn’t get enough walking in during the day I will totally go on a long walk after work.  But that’s a bit harder to commit to when it’s pouring rain.  Maybe I’ll have to look into youtube aerobics or something.  (Yech.)

The end goal is to feel more energetic.  If walking more doesn’t work, then I probably will have to do more than just vaguely try to eat healthier.

The plan going forward is to check how much I’ve been walking per day during a regular week, like this one, and then to set a goal for walking that is bigger than that number.  If it is embarrassingly low, I will put in an increase to a less embarrassing number each week goes on in February.

(What happened to biking or taking public transportation, you ask?  Winter + DH being willing to drive me! And deeply enjoying spending that time talking with DH instead of being on the bus by myself.  And one of the bus drivers being kind of a jerk.) (Thank goodness we’ve passed the solstice and it’s started to stay light after work.  Still probably gonna stay with the car.)

For those who haven’t been following us forever, why February?  Because February is the best month for challenges!  January may have that post-holiday guilt and new year optimism, but February has the bigger benefit of being shorter.

How do you exercise/stay healthy?

48 Responses to “February is Challenge Month”

  1. Michael @ Financially Alert Says:

    Ooohh… love the February challenge idea! Everyone uses January as their base. I like this better.

    I’m also on an exercise challenge. For me it’s about keeping my heart in shape and making sure I can curb my pre-hypertension. This year however, I’ve decided to not attack it like I usually do – i.e. planning to run everyday, rather to reconnect with a former sport (in my case – tennis) which I rather enjoy a lot as a way to “pull” me towards my goal vs. the later “push” type goal which inevitably ends up fizzling out over time.

    Good luck with the walking challenge! It’s great that you’ve setup a specific number target. Isn’t it great that technology can help track steps with such little effort on our part? :)

  2. Leah Says:

    I too use my iphone to track steps. Only a bummer when I’m wearing a dress with no pockets. I do the same — use it as a baseline against itself. Don’t pay attention to how many miles it says you do. I haven’t bothered to track that perfectly but think it’s inflated. I naturally do 3.5-5k steps a day, and I’ve been trying to push that to 7k steps over the course of the month by taking the long way to walk around my school or taking a few extra laps at lunch.

    What I’ve been doing this January is a “daily workout” challenge, but it’s not a set routine. I made a list of things that qualify as a daily workout (list to follow), and I try to do at least one every day. I’ve done fairly well because I built in some “lazy” things to still qualify.

    I can stretch for 10 minutes+ (my lazy one), lift weights for 10 min+, play wii for 30 mins (wii fit routines kick my butt still!), walk 10K+ steps, go for a jog, do an exercise DVD (like 30 day shred), go to yoga class, or go for a swim. I posted the list up near my bed along with a calendar where I write down what I did each day.

    Re: youtube videos, I keep meaning to check out yoga with Adrianne (spelling?). Several of my friends swear by her videos. There are also other workout streams on there that aren’t incredibly painful, but I haven’t used one in ages, so I don’t remember any names.

    good luck! A little extra exercise is a good challenge, and maybe some variety would help you make the habit more sustainable (if you want).

    • Debbie M Says:

      I just found out at a[n all-female] party that some gals keep their phones in one side of their bras. (You can hear it better when it’s on the side close to your ear than when it’s in the middle.)

      Bras: pockets for women.

      • Leah Says:

        I have students that do that. I don’t personally get it. Plus, wasn’t there something circulating about increased cancer risk from that? No idea if it is actually true. I mostly just don’t want my phone to get all sweaty, and I don’t think it would be comfortable.

  3. becca Says:

    The only days I got 10k steps were when I was getting around Chicago, or other kinds of traveling.
    That said, I don’t hold my phone when I run on the treadmill or do zumba, so most of my intentional exercise is missed. It’s annoying enough I might be suckered into getting a fitbit one of these days. If they invent one that A) goes in the pool B) accurately accounts for both swimming and aqua zumba and C) also plays music, then I will get one.
    Maybe I will do a February challenge for eating vegetables. I like vegetables but do not eat enough, so it might be a fun one.

  4. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    Y membership, includes childcare. I dislike exercise but I like having a break from my children more.

  5. hollyatclubthrifty Says:

    We do the T25 videos in our living room. I don’t enjoy it at all, and I mostly try to make conversation with my daughter or husband to pass the time. Fortunately, the videos are only 25 minutes long. By the time I get really sick of it, I usually just have ten more minutes to go. I don’t think I could survive a 45 minute every day!

  6. Calee Says:

    After listening to Gretchen Rubin’s habits book last year, I instituted a daily walk after lunch. It’s grown to about 3 miles in about 45 minutes. I need the trigger of lunch to tell me its time to exercise and thankfully the weather is pretty perfect here so I’ve only been rained out a couple of times.

  7. Cheyanne Says:

    I have PCOS too and for a while I was drinking 3T of unfiltered apple cider vinegar (in water) every day and I felt great! I was also drinking a strong cup of spearmint tea daily as apparently spearmint has anti-androgen properties that are helpful for people with PCOS. I didn’t notice much of a change with the tea but it tastes good so I figured it couldn’t hurt.

    Also, I bought an elliptical at the thrift store for $20. I enjoy using it as I can read while getting some exercise in ;)

  8. Leigh Says:

    I was using my phone for a step counter for a while. I found that it undercuts my number of steps by a decent amount, probably by leaving it in places a lot. For example, my phone says I got 4000 steps yesterday and the tracker I’ve been trying (Up2) says I got 7,000. I’ve realized I hate having the thing on my wrist though, so I decided to swap it for a Fitbit One. I’m excited that the Fitbit will track my intentional exercise like the phone wasn’t!

    Last year, I got an abysmal number of steps every day. So I decided my goal per day this year was 5,000 and I’ve been beating that every day! Now to make a higher goal for February since I can do 5,000/day now.

    It’s a leap year this year! So your February challenge is stuck with 29 days :)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, I’m pretty sure the phone is undercounting, but I think if I use this week as a base and make goals from that, it doesn’t matter what the actual number is so long as it is consistent. I’ve also decided it will be a lot easier to just stop counting after I get home (so I can plug in the phone), so it is missing all that random walking around the house. But as long as that doesn’t increase, it should be fine. It is very hard for me to remember to keep it in my pocket.

      Ha! Yes, 29 days. Still the shortest month though!

      • Leigh Says:

        True – consistency is key! I found on laundry days when I had a Fitbit before, I could easily get 3k steps without leaving the house…

  9. middle_class Says:

    I had been taking walks before work every morning and tracking via endomondo app on my phone. I liked seeing results at the end of the month (hours walked, miles, calories). However, flu season and dark, cold mornings put a stop to my regular walks. Right now, I’m walking every weekend with my kids. It’s more fun than exercise but at least I get more steps in. At my work, there is an unofficial “walking club” and I find that can be helpful. Have you thought of exercising with DH? What does he do to keep fit?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Today’s pants are not conducive to keeping my cellphone in my pocket.

      I mainly only exercise with DH and the kids. Before the weather got bad, he was biking the kids to school and daycare, but currently he’s as much of a lump as I am, if not more since he works from home.

  10. Catwoman73 Says:

    Oooohhhh… my second favourite topic!!!

    First off, to stay healthy, I MUST get enough sleep. And I must have a good support system to help me through life’s little stresses. I’ve learned that I can’t just downward dog my way out of having too much stress and not enough sleep in my life- so I prioritize those things first.

    Next is the healthy diet. I don’t eat refined sugar at all, and I make sure I get lots and lots of green stuff in my diet. Minimal meat and dairy. This might sound like torture, and it was at first, but now I derive as much pleasure from a delicious kale salad with beets, millet and farro, topped with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing (this is going to be my lunch today… lol) as I ever did from a pastry. It’s all what your body is accustomed to. I just don’t crave the refined stuff anymore. And I have more energy, fewer aches and pains, and my skin and hair look great!

    Exercise is the final piece of the puzzle, and the only one that typically will change for me, depending on circumstances. If I’m not sleeping well, or not eating quite as well as I should, I take a day or two off of exercise altogether to get back on track. When all is well in my life, I aim to get 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise per day, usually in a wide variety of forms- running, ballet, Wii Fit stuff, exercise DVDs (I like Jillian Michaels- they’re short and intense), yoga. Mixing it up is important to me- I don’t like doing just one activity. I get bored.

    So for me- it’s a bit of a hierarchy- with sleep and emotional support being the most important items, diet coming next, and exercise at the bottom. All in all, this approach works extremely well for me- I’m healthier now than I was in my 20s.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Sleep is also a #1 priority for me– so much so that I don’t need to change on that front!

      I do derive pleasure from produce, but I also derive pleasure from high quality pastries. This pleasure isn’t usually a problem where we normally live because high quality pastries are hard to come by (we live in shortening country, not butter), but around here they make croissants with butter (and there are brioche donuts and kougin aman and flavorful macarons and…). And I’m no longer ttc or gestating so nobody’s life depends on me not eating it, and I’m no longer allergic to wheat or nursing someone who is, so… it just doesn’t seem worth it to go cold turkey. Maybe if we were staying here longer than a year I’d have to put on more limits (it’s really easy to avoid bad quality white bread, not so easy to avoid artisan loaves). But after years of restricted eating I just don’t want to keep restricting, even if it has health benefits.

      • chacha1 Says:

        fwiw I hate kale with a fiery passion but I get a lot of (other) veggies by hiding them. :-) I make soup, or chili, or chowder, that are all mostly veggie. We may or may not have crackers with a bowl dinner (as opposed to a plate dinner), I try to keep a lid on that because of the starch. I would rather get my empty carbs from a glass of wine but sometimes I just want bread, dammit. :-)

  11. Shannon Says:

    I use the start of the semester as opposed to the start of the new year – lets me enjoy winter break – so I am right there with you. I’ve started a program on FitnessBlender.com. Don’t normally recommend things like this, but it really works for me. I am a rule follower (I will do things if people tell me to), so I ordered a schedule (for like $10-15), but you can also just search for individual videos for free. Super low key, and you can search by length, difficulty, equipment needed, etc. Maybe you can use those days where it’s raining to build flexibility or muscle, both of which are also good metrics of health.

  12. chacha1 Says:

    I am extremely fortunate in that I have no metabolic disorders, no chronic illnesses, no injuries, and no dietary restrictions. All those combined with a generally sound physical structure and good childhood nutrition/activity = staying reasonably fit is not really difficult. I like feeling flexible and strong, and I enjoy doing several forms of exercise – that helps a lot.

    I am always aware of it though, because my husband is a physical therapist/trainer specializing in old people, and I hear constantly about the mobility (and ability) deficits consequent to a lifetime failure to eat right & exercise.

    That said, I watch what I eat pretty strictly: have oatmeal for breakfast or lunch 5x a week, yogurt + granola for breakfast or lunch 2x a week, don’t snack, and am currently on a Drink Less Wine challenge because of post-surgery waistline expansion that I want to reverse; we eat pasta or rice at home maybe once a week, and never both in the same week; almost never white potatoes. We don’t keep cookies or chips around the house. 90% of my fitness maintenance is dietary.

    Also I drink lots of water, make a point of getting enough sleep, and do yoga daily. I do barre exercises and bodyweight exercises pretty regularly – not hours of them, but I do them – occasionally pick up my little dumbbells, and occasionally we practice or go out dancing.

    When I was in college, I was 5’5″ tall and my top weight was 138 (after coming home from six weeks in France eating pastries). Now at 50, I am 5’6″ tall and 140.

  13. crazy grad mama Says:

    For exercise, I run. Four times a week, with a long run on the weekend. It helps that my toddler seems to enjoy going out in the running stroller.

    Because I had an eating disorder as a teen, “eating healthy” for me means avoiding any kind of restrictive diet. I try to make sure I get lots of fruits and vegetables, and then eat the free cookies at every department event.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Focusing on getting the fruits and vegetables is a really healthy attitude.

      For me, I only eat the *good* free cookies. Problem is, the cookies out here are always good! (Whereas back home, only one of the catering places has cookies worth eating and there aren’t cookie catered events once a week like there are here. I either need to get a lot more picky or get better at breaking cookies in half or quarters. Now I want a cookie.)

      • crazy grad mama Says:

        Mmmmm cookies….

        Our department changes catering companies on a regular basis—some are good, some less so. Right now we’re with a good one, *and* the department has started hosting afternoon tea and cookies three times a week. So there is lots of eating of cookies.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Good cookies are definitely one of the major joys in life.

  14. Debbie M Says:

    These days my exercising is pretty terrible. I try to go 10K steps. I’ve decided walking down the street two long blocks and back three times a day almost gets me there–and now that I don’t walk around campus at work or two and from the bus to get to work, there’s really a lot of sitting.

    I used to get more steps by pacing at the bus stop and taking a short walk (like around the building) every time I got up to use the bathroom. (Hmm, I could do the latter at home, too–duh!)

    Yesterday I was feeling wimpy about the cold and decided to just pace the kitchen floor while reading. I discovered that my pedometer doesn’t work for pacing–it recorded 300 steps for 50 minutes of pacing when I would have expected well over 5000. So it didn’t capture much from the pacing I did at the credit union either, waiting for them to deal with my cashing in I-bonds.

    Now I’m wondering about walking at stores. My boyfriend likes to claim that grocery shopping counts as walking, but my pedometer says it counts less than half of one of my 2-block walks. Now I’m wondering.

    In the past, I’ve noticed it’s bad at noticing certain kinds of dancing (I can do an entire rumba while registering zero steps), but everything else has looked good.

    I have a pilates video I really like that I try to do twice a week but lately have been doing once a week. And I’m trying to add exercises while doing other things. So I often to squats and calf raises while brushing my teeth. And countertop pushups while waiting for the microwave (unless I’m unloading the dish rack or something).

    And I’ll get up and dance when a danceable tune comes on.

    My old gym has a special, so I’m probably going to join that again. My boyfriend and his sister like to meet twice a week for treadmill and circuit training. SO boring, but I joined them for the socializing and workout when they do that.

    • chacha1 Says:

      Debbie, my previous employer did a step challenge one year and I found that the pedometer issued picked up almost none of my activity – walking or dancing. Either my action is too smooth, or the device was insufficiently sensitive. One of my co-workers cheated by shaking the pedometer in her hand! It registered that movement as “steps.”

  15. J Liedl Says:

    Every day – rain, shine, snow, -30C with winds, whatever – I walk the dog at least 15 minutes (see extreme cold mention earlier) and usually 30-45 minutes. Three days a week I go to the gym with Youngest and work out for an hour in a combination of cardio (15-40 minutes) and weights. On days when I do a decent walk and a fair amount of cardio at the gym it’s easy to make 10k steps by my phone’s tracker but my daily average hovers around 7.5k steps on the non-gym days.

  16. Zenmoo Says:

    Perhaps if you get rained out on walking you could get your steps up by climbing a few flights of stairs?

  17. Karen Says:

    we have a 6 week “Lifestyle” challenge on at work at the moment through a neighbouring office that have their own gym so it is run by the woman who runs their gym. It’s quite good in that we have slightly different challenges each week – one for nutrition, one exercise and one mindfulness – along with challenges throughout like drinking more water, etc. So, I only had to give up white flour, rice, pasta, etc for a week and baked goods & sweets for another week. This week is giving up meat. This week the extra fitness challenge is doing push-ups for a plank and timing.

    It’s quite good as each week I am also trying to find things from the challenge to keep – so I have switched to whole week wraps for my lunches and I am still working to get 5-a-day (partly in prep for a few weeks when the challenge is 8-a-day)!

  18. Cloud Says:

    I walk almost everyday after lunch, unless it is raining. I don’t really consider that part of my exercise/stay in shape program- it is just how I clear my head and re-energize for the second half of the work day! Also, I find I solve a lot of problems and get a lot of good ideas by letting my mind wander during my walks. I find that if I think of my walks this way, I’m less likely to skip them. In fact, I get grumpy if something comes up that makes me not go for my walk.

    I do have a goal of getting back in shape this year. I’ve started working on that. My first thing was to take my after lunch walk on the days I work from home and turn it into a run/walk. I don’t actually like running, but it is the form of exercise that fits my life best right now. Since I’m easing in, I don’t run very long (seriously: I make it 2 blocks right now), and then I get my usual walk. As I get more fit again, I might go back to my old running route by the bay, but that takes more time and I’m struggling to get enough time for my business as it is. So we’ll see.

    The next thing I’m adding back in is a once a week yoga practice. I would love to do a class, but once again that isn’t realistic in how my life is arranged right now. So I do this at home. I’ve been doing yoga long enough that I can run through some poses on my own. I found a meditation timer app to use that has tones I like, so that helps.

    Once I get those habits reasonably well established, it will probably be warm enough to look into adding back my Thursday after work rollerblading outing. I really enjoy rollerblading, but once again, there are struggles with time. My rollerblade route takes me about 45-60 minutes.

    Basically, I need to work on carving out the time I need. My family will generally go along with what I propose, but sadly it is always up to me to figure out the logistics so that I have something to propose.

    My replacement workouts for rainy days are heavy bag work (something I’d like to do more of, really) and this goofy 10 minute dance workout DVD I have.

    • Cloud Says:

      Also, I’d like to say that I love carbs. I love them. All of them. I am totally with you on not wanting to give up good pastries. I don’t indulge as much as I used to, but I still indulge. My favorite treats are ice cream and cookies.

  19. MutantSupermodel Says:

    They’re doing a walking challenge at work right now but the last time I tried it I got pneumonia so I passed. Instead, I’m doing the Couch to 5K training with the app, Run Double.

  20. Linda Says:

    I’ve used my iPhone Health app as a tracker for steps, but I switched to a FitBit last spring. The iPhone app was fairly accurate for me, except when I put it in my backpack instead of in my pocket or purse. I guess having it in that stable position in the center of my back meant it moved less or something. In comparing it to the FitBit, it seemed to track steps just as accurately, though.

    Good luck with your fitness challenge! I hope to be able to do more exercise than just walking by spring so I can get rid of the extra weight creeping on during my restricted activity. Carbs are my comfort food, too, and since I’ve been in need of comforting lately…well…I think you get the idea. ;-)

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  22. First Gen American Says:

    For the first time in a long time, my usual tricks don’t work. It used to be that when I started exercising, healthier eating would naturally follow and the weight would come off without much effort. The energy I got from excercise made me crave less sugar and it was a double whammy. This time around, it’s been 4 months and I still crave sugary things and I have not lost any weight.

    I’d be interested in people’s success on how to curb the sugar cravings. Oh…I guess the other thing is that I can’t have caffeine anymore. That used to substitute the urges for sugar.

  23. notofgeneralinterest2 Says:

    Fitbit synced to iPhone helps a lot, but walking either on ice/in rain/in snow or some combination has slowed me down a lot. Also, being stuck inside with endless work and no rewards (which walking is) means that I’m fighting the temptation to eat too much out of boredom.

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