Your Life Ruts
"I've hit a weight-loss plateau, and now my scale won't budge."
Once you drop pounds, your body becomes more efficient at burning calories, which makes losing more weight difficult. The fix: Tweak your workout.
Turn up the burn. "Go faster, not longer," says trainer Michael Torres, a performance development coach and the founder of Shift Performance Training, a company with locations in Miami and New York City. A high-intensity session zaps more calories after you stop working out than moderate exercise does because your body maintains increased levels of certain fat-burning enzymes, says Michele Olson, PhD, a FITNESS advisory board member and professor of exercise science at Auburn University at Montgomery. In fact, a new study found that running sprints can increase your VO2 max, a measure of metabolism, by as much as 13 percent. Adding strength-training sessions can move the needle too. Do 20 minutes of resistance and you'll not only burn 128 calories during your workout but also continue to torch more afterward because lifting weights raises your resting metabolic rate.
Tune in. You know that listening to music makes you move. Now research shows that it can also increase the intensity of your effort and decrease how difficult it feels. People in a study at Brunel University in London worked out 15 percent longer and felt 12 percent happier while doing so. For the best results, use your most motivating tunes during the last part of your workout, when you tend to feel more tired, lead author Costas Karageorghis, PhD, says.
"My social life has stalled."
While our average number of Facebook friends grew from 262 to 303 in the past year, our number of real BFFs is diminishing: A Cornell University study found that adults now have an average of just two close confidants, down from three 28 years ago. To increase your social currency:
Nurture the relationships you have. "Life is always changing: People find new jobs, get married, have kids, and move, and that often brings a shift in friendships when the ties are weak," says Shasta Nelson, the founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, a site that connects women to potential friends in their area. But when the bonds are strong, you'll stay close to the same people for the long term. To forge better connections, Nelson suggests "cross-training" your friends. "Relationships deepen when we practice more ways of being together," she says. So instead of settling for a one-dimensional office friendship, invite your cubicle neighbor to join you for a weekly Zumba class. At least once a month, ask your Spinning class buddies to go to brunch or the movies.
Get out more. Yeah, yeah — that's a no-brainer. But the truth is, you've got to be strategic about it. "Familiarity comes from being in the same place at the same time consistently," says Andrea Bonior, PhD, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and the author of The Friendship Fix. Join a class, volunteer group, or book club that speaks to you; that way, you'll be more apt to find people you click with. Chat with anyone who seems open to making friends, and really listen to what she has to say so you can follow up the next week and eventually branch out from small talk. For instance, if a prospective pal tells you that she's going on vacation, be sure to ask her about it when she gets back. Soon the conversation can evolve into, "Hey, it's always so much fun talking. Would you like to grab dinner?"
"I used to look forward to my workout, but now I can barely drag myself to the gym."
If you've been doing the same exercise routine for a while, you've probably hit the wall. Petra Kolber, a Reebok global fitness ambassador and an instructor for FitnessGlo, an online exercise-video program, calls this a mental plateau. Your brain is simply crying out to be challenged.
Step out of your comfort zone. Take a class or try an activity you've never done before. (Isn't it time to find out what the fuss over stand-up paddleboarding is about?) When you're learning a new skill, your muscles — including your mental ones — will get a better workout than they did from your old sweat session because they haven't yet adapted. Feeling the exercise working will invigorate you.
Motivate yourself even more by creating goals for your chosen activity. For instance, if you decide to start cycling, sign up for a road race later in the year.
Give it a rest. Yep, you heard right. "When it comes to reenergizing, taking time out can be as important as sticking to a routine," Olson says. Fitness buffs we know who have tried it say a brief absence really does make the heart grow fonder. To prevent your break from turning into a long-term habit, keep it short — about a week — and, for extra incentive, make a date in advance to work out with a friend on your first day back.
More Rut Busters
"I haven't had a raise or a promotion in two years."
You're not alone. The average bump in base pay hasn't surpassed 3 percent since 2008, according to World at Work, a human resources association, and only 11 percent of companies offered cost-of-living increases in 2010, a survey found. Still, there are ways to get ahead.
Find new rewards. Feeling financially fit isn't just about increasing the cash flowing in, but also decreasing what's going out, says Amanda Augustine, a job-search expert for TheLadders, an online career-advice site. For instance, if you want to take classes to further your career, see if your company will pay for them. Save money — and time — on commuting by asking to work from home once a week (make the case to your boss that you'll be more productive). Or request an extra week of paid vacation.
Explore your options. Start looking for a new job. This requires a three-pronged approach: networking with real-life connections, enlisting the help of recruiters, and making use of virtual resources. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date, join relevant professional groups, and make sure your online presence (your tweets, your public Facebook postings, your comments on websites) reflects well on you. If you find a position you're interested in, look for key terms in the job description and use those exact words in your resume, Augustine says. And apply right away; an analysis by TheLadders suggests that people who send in their resume 72 hours after a position is posted have a 50 percent smaller chance of having it looked at. "By then, the hiring manager is simply too inundated," Augustine says.
"My weekends are boring."
One minute it's Friday night and you're on the couch, plotting your weekend activities. Next thing you know, it's Sunday night and....you're on the couch, wondering where all the time went. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey, people devote about three hours a day on weekends to chores and errands. On top of that, we spend about five hours a day online, according to findings from eMarketer, a digital market research company. Here's how to save your weekend from being sucked down the (dirty) drain.
Quit making to-do lists. Instead, start filling in the appointment calendar on your phone, says Lauren Zander, a cofounder of the Handel Group, a corporate consulting and private coaching company based in Ridgefield, Connecticut. "Actually plan your day," she says — meaning, give everything a start and stop time so you don't get sidetracked. To make housework more manageable, Jan Jasper, an productivity consultant in New York City and the author of Take Back Your Time, suggests small cleanups throughout the week. Scrub the tub after you shower one day, dust the living room the next, and so on. "You'll be less overwhelmed by Saturday," she says. As for the Internet, unless it's crucial for work, limit screen time.
Play by new rules. Ask yourself what you would like to accomplish long term. Improve your tennis game? Learn the guitar? Run a half-marathon? Use your weekends to take concrete steps toward that end: Practice or train and involve someone else to help make sure you do it, Zander says, whether it's an instructor, a workout partner, or your husband. To spend more time with her children while also pursuing a new hobby, Zander takes a weekly art class with them. "If it's 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday, then I'm at the studio with my kids; that's the rule," she says. "Most of us are conditioned to abide by rules. Create a specific one and follow it."
"I love my husband, but our marriage has grown stale."
Intense passion wanes over time, says Helen Fisher, PhD, the author of Why We Love. The good news: You can definitely reignite the spark.
Be bold. Research shows that (surprise, surprise) boredom can lead to marital dissatisfaction. "While we're creatures of habit, we're also creatures of novelty," says Pepper Schwartz, PhD, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington and the coauthor of The Normal Bar, about the secrets of happy couples. "We get bored easily, so it's important to break up the routine and remind each other that we can be romantic." For instance, try a new wine bar or restaurant once a month. Variety stimulates dopamine activity and helps keep a relationship hot, Fisher says. Or take up an adventurous hobby together, such as surfing or rock climbing. Exciting activities ramp up our adrenaline, which can help stir up passion, Schwartz notes.
Make each other a priority. We schedule meetings, soccer practice, and so on, but we don't schedule couple time, says Sallie Foley, a lecturer in the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan and a certified sex therapist. The solution? Set aside 15 uninterrupted minutes every night for the two of you to talk about what happened the day before. "Unlike discussing the day that just ended, you'll have perspective and be less likely to fixate on the negative," Foley says. Share what excited you, what amused you. No complaining, mentioning chores, or checking electronic devices. Period. What's important is connecting on a consistent basis, Foley says, so that you rediscover what's interesting about your husband and remember why you fell in love.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, November/December 2013.