If It’s Monday, It’s Time to Move the Needle

This is it—the final step forward in this month’s Dream Big challenge. Ready to cross the finish line? Get your week four plan, here.

Remember the elementary school experiment where you used a magnifying glass to direct the sun onto a leaf and, well, burn a hole into it? So it goes with the three Dream Big challenges we’ve been working on for the past month. You can’t achieve anything unless a goal is centering your passion and effort.

Whether you chose to read an entire book this month, run three miles in under 30 minutes, or intermittent fast for a week, we hope that you were able to use our tips to bring the heat and achieve your goal.

To document your successful finish, join the #DreamBigGetThere community and show us what you did on Facebook (make sure to tag us @healthcentral) and Instagram (@healthcentraldotcom) and we’ll reshare. We’re so proud of you!

Dream Big: Read an Entire Book This Month

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Week 4: Read 30 Minutes Every Day … and Finish Your Book!

The science: Reading is one of the mental-stimulation activities doctors often recommend for keeping our brains sharp and dementia (particularly Alzheimer’s disease) at bay as we age. There’s science to support this idea. Researchers in Hong Kong tracked more than 15,000 dementia-free people over age 65 for five years. At the end of the study, dementia risk was significantly lower in the participants who did some type of intellectual activity every day—examples included playing board games and, wait for it… reading! The benefit was independent of other health issues and lifestyle considerations.

Move-the-Needle Monday: It’s time to finish your book! By the end of this week you will have made your way through an entire book in one month. Give yourself a pat on the back, then keep the one-book-per-month goal going by selecting your next title. If you loved the book you read this month and want something just as satisfying, try plugging in the title at What Should I Read Next? and it will spit out suggestions for your next read based on what you like.

The plan: This week’s daily goal is 30 minutes of reading. If that feels like a big haul, split it up. Read 15 minutes first thing in the morning, then 15 more minutes before bed, or 10 minutes after breakfast, 10 minutes after lunch, and 10 minutes after dinner. However, you choose to get it in, you should finish 75 more pages—the last bit of your 300-page book selection.

Top tip: Congratulations! You did it. As you continue your reading habit, you’re bound to dip into seasons when you lack motivation to crack open a book. Keep in mind, some books just bore you, says LaShawn Wiltz, a Decatur, GA-based booklover, lifestyle blogger, Instagrammer, and owner of the book-subscription service Pouring Over Books. If so, switch to something that will hold your attention. Wiltz, who reads at least 100 books per year, says she often sets books aside when she gets bored or mad at the characters. “People think they’ve got to finish a book even if it’s bad. If it’s really not going well, I will put it away and come back to it,” Wiltz says. Remember: Reading is good for your health, but it’s also supposed to be enjoyable.

Dream Big: Run Three Miles in 30 Minutes

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Week 4: Run Your Fastest 3 Miles

Here’s the Science: To run faster, visualize yourself running faster. Sit in a quiet place and picture in your mind what you’re wearing, where you are jogging and then eventually running. What are the sights and sounds? How does the ground feel under your feet? Imagine the wind on your face.

It is this imagery that professional runners tap into before training sessions and races. And decades of sports psychologists have found that psyching-up before an activity improves your performance. A series of studies published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that when male sprinters used imagery right before their sprints, they ran faster than when they didn’t. So, this week, before each run, imagine yourself running three miles in 30 minutes.

Move-the-Needle Monday: Over the past three weeks, you might have found a rhythm to your running. It could be that you do best when you start slower for the first half and then progressively get faster through the last half of your run. Today, use your fitness wearable or running app to plan your goal run. Where will you run it? Where on the route should you be to make your goal at 10 minutes? 20 minutes? What is the plan if you’re slower or faster than planned? Once you have your plan, practice it during Wednesday’s run and reflect afterward. Specifically, visualize what you need to do to run your goal on Sunday.

The plan:

  • Monday: Running workout #1

    • Warm-up for 10-15 minutes with a light jog.

    • Run for 27 minutes.

  • Tuesday: Rest

  • Wednesday: Running workout #2

    • Warm-up for 10-15 minutes with a light jog.

    • Run for 30 minutes.

  • Thursday: Rest

  • Friday: Running workout #3

    • Warm-up for 10-15 minutes with a light jog.

    • Run for 20 minutes.

  • Saturday: Rest

  • Sunday: Goal Run

    • Warm-up for 10-15 minutes with a light jog.

  • Run for 3 miles.

Top tip: Keep your eye on the 3-mile goal. During your final run, keep an eye on your pace. Check-in after 10 minutes and adjust your pace accordingly. “If you feel like you won’t complete the 3 miles in 30 minutes, that’s okay—all runners have good and bad days,” says Andrew Watkins, director of strength and conditioning at Sports Performance Lab in Middletown, NJ. “Take note of your time and pace, and try to beat it another day.”

Dream Big: Intermittent Fast for One Week

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Week 4: Eliminate the Morning Meal Altogether

The science: If you needed another reason to continue with your intermittent fasting (IF) goals, consider this: Caloric restriction alone has been shown to help to prevent a whole host of ills, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, oxidative stress, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, according to multiple studies. Research also shows that IF appears to guard against several age-related conditions, including neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. And, periods of IF can result in improved learning ability and memory, too. All the reason to see this thing through to the finish line: mastering the 18-hour fast.

Move-the-Needle Monday: You’ve made it this far—now what? If you’ve fully adjusted to the last fasting period, you’re ready to move to the next level: consuming all your meals within a six-hour period, then fasting for the remaining 18. For most, this means eliminating the morning meal altogether and moving to a pattern that includes two substantial meals and a healthy snack in between.

The plan: For best results, eat your lunch at noon, a snack at 2:30 p.m., and dinner at 5:30 p.m. For lunch, choose a combination of protein and carbs when you break your fast (like a wrap with turkey and cheese, or a veggie pizza). Snack time is the best time of day to eat more carbohydrate-rich foods like cereal with milk or yogurt and fruit. Since carbs are digested more quickly, this will help you still feel hungry at dinner. At dinnertime, choose protein-rich foods and foods that contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats to help you feel fuller for longer at night, when most people start to feel hungry again. A grilled salmon salad topped with nuts and avocado, or a tofu stir fry made with veggies and olive oil are both good choices. Drink low-fat milk between meals if you’re feeling too full at mealtime.

Sound impossible? Ryan Andrews, a registered dietitian and adjunct instructor for SUNY in Purchase, NY, advises, “With nutrition, a level of individualization is required. For some, strict IF works very well for their physiology, body rhythms, schedule, and lifestyle. For others, not so much. So, don't feel like strict IF is mandatory for improving health and body composition.” That means if you can’t realistically stick to this limited of an eating window each day, consider trying the alternate day fasting approach (also called the 5:2 approach). This allows you to eat regularly for five days each week while limiting yourself to just one 500- to 600-calorie meal on the remaining two days. Research shows that the 5:2 method can be equally effective as the daily approach for both weight loss and cardiovascular risk reduction.

Top tips: Well done! You’ve made it to week 4 and a full week of intermittent fasting! Even if you couldn’t quite make it over the 16:8 finish line, practicing any type of time-limited eating has benefits. Your body has likely adjusted to this new way of eating, but if you don’t think that you can sustain this approach every day, consider trying it just a few days each week.

Larry Cheskin, M.D., a professor of food and nutrition studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, who has studied IF and its effect on weight loss, says, “The trick is to provide a time-controlled break from eating, while maintaining an overall reduced calorie intake.” Meaning, research shows that any method of IF, even if it’s not every day, will lead to some weight loss. And you’ll still achieve some health benefits even if you can’t stick to a strict fasting and feeding schedule every day of the week.

Contributors: Danielle Gamiz, Carey Rossi, Carmen Roberts