Spring is here, and all across the nation people are weeding through closets, kitchens and garages, resulting in hauls to Goodwill, curbside freebies and overflowing trash cans everywhere.
In other words, the big spring clean – in with the new and out with the old – is on.
So how might this ubiquitous wish to clean and improve translate to your health and fitness?
Jenny DeMarco, a personal trainer (itrain4life.com), suggests doing an inventory of what works and what doesn’t in your health and fitness routine (or lack thereof).
"If you made a New Year’s resolution, it’s good to check in every few months and just ask some inventory questions," DeMarco says.
Among suggested questions:
• What was the original goal?
• Where am I now?
• How far do I have to go?
• What is helping or hindering that goal?
If you’re having a difficult time sorting through what needs to stay and what needs to go in your routine, it could be a good time to hire a trainer to help you identify tools and goals as well as figure out whether your goals are attainable. (Losing 30 pounds in 30 days? Probably not.)
"Especially if you feel like you’ve plateaued, a trainer can help you figure out what is going on," DeMarco says.
If your routine has been consistent for a couple of months (congratulations – you stuck to your New Year’s resolution!), it often needs to be switched up to yield continued progress. This might mean increasing intensity, frequency or duration, or it might mean adding a new component.
If there was no flexibility and core ingredient in your routine, then maybe add yoga. We often get stuck with what we like – not what we need.
"We get into a comfort zone, and we tend to stay there," DeMarco says.
But it’s not just about continuing to progress, aka getting stronger, better, faster; it’s also about staying injury-free.
Injuries often start to pop up after six to eight weeks of a one-sided or repetitive-motion activity (such as running), says Robert Gillanders, a physical therapist with Point Performance Therapy in Bethesda, Maryland.
Gillanders, along with DeMarco, emphasizes the importance of a well-rounded fitness routine, especially for people who are age 40 and older.
"Tendon structures, for example, get very fragile as we get older," he says. Our bodies are not the same as they were a decade or two ago, and we have to accommodate for these changes, says Gillanders, who treats plenty of ankle, Achilles’ and knee injuries, often as a result of repetitive-motion exercise.
"We need to be more intentional about what we are doing," he says. "We need a broad routine, and we need to think long term."
That broad routine also includes making sure that your daily life supports your overall health and fitness. If you sit all day, for example, you are more likely to compress the lower spine, and this can be painful. So make sure to get up from your chair, walk around, do stretches and assume good posture (neutral spine).
"The benefit of exercise is lost if we assume schlumpy postures when we are not in the gym," he says.
Because, let’s face it, who spends as much time in the gym as they do sitting at a desk?
Aside from variation and good posture, recovery, including sleep, is crucial for our soft tissue (muscles, tendons and ligaments) to recover and heal themselves after exercise, Gillanders says.
"Sometimes the best thing for the body is to work out less," he says.
Rebecca Scritchfield (body kindnessbook.com), a wellness coach and nutritionist in the Washington area, says that when the body doesn’t get adequate sleep (seven to eight hours a night), it might be better to sleep in or take a long yoga class instead of going to the gym and running or lifting weights.
"Part of self-care is to listen to your body," Scritchfield says. "And if you decide to do your hard workout anyway, be compassionate with yourself."
"Recovery, sleep and reducing stress will be more important for building strength and fitness than the actual exercise," she says.
A good sign you’ve had enough sleep is if you wake up without an alarm clock going off. Among sleep hygiene tips, which most of us have heard ad nauseam: dark, cool room, no electronic screens, and getting to sleep and waking up at roughly the same time every day.
Also remember that a lack of sleep tends to be linked to bad eating habits. Without enough rest, the body releases stress hormones that make us crave salt, fat and sugar, Scritchfield says.
"Sleep is absolutely critical to your success," she says.
Aside from sleep and rest, part of recovery is to nourish the body correctly – giving it enough good protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals and fat to work at its best.
Scritchfield, who is not a fan of diets, says you should aim to fill half your plate with veggies followed by whole grains and a healthy lean protein.
"We have normalized extreme diets," Scritchfield says. "Food should nourish us, not be an obsession."
Extreme diets, she says, yield early success and then often result in gaining the weight back and then some.
Among spring-cleaning tips, she suggests doing a kitchen and pantry makeover to get rid of expired products and to donate unused nonperishables to food banks. Also, get rid of gadgets and other products you don’t use. In other words, a decluttering of your kitchen can be part of creating a healthy eating environment. So fill that empty clean space with things that promote healthy habits, such as a large bowl of fresh fruit.
"If you are looking right at it, you are more likely to eat it," she says.
But let’s say that your stress has been crazy or that you simply indulged with friends and family in a hamburger and a doughnut. What to do?
"Be kind to yourself. Eat it and enjoy it," Scritchfield says, and maybe next time you will choose a healthier dessert.
In fact, say both Scritchfield and DeMarco, working toward health and fitness goals should always start and finish with kindness toward yourself.
"Let go of judgment, comparison and perfection," DeMarco says.
Stay focused on your goals and use yourself as a barometer. Become an expert on yourself. (Over time, you will learn how your body responds to external stimuli, whether it’s exercise, sleep or nutrition.) And stay consistent.
"Remind yourself of the long-term benefits you will see," Scritchfield says. "And remind yourself that you are not going to love every moment. But your job is to take action."