Are You Ready for Move-the-Needle Monday?

Because good things come in threes, it's time for the third week of your Dream Big challenge. We've got all the details (and the science) to help you take your health to the next level.

It’s the third week in our month-long quest to help you get stronger, healthier, and happier. (If you’re new to this program, click here first to get caught up to speed). We know you’ve been putting in some serious work with your chosen challenge—waking up early, eating tons of veggies, or keeping a positive outlook on everything. If you haven’t already, please stop what you’re doing and give yourself a pat on the back. You rock!

But this week we want you to brag on yourself…just a bit. It’s time to tell the world (or just a friend or family member) about the personal goal you are crushing. Being descriptive in what you want to accomplish and holding yourself accountable to other people will help you get there faster.

An easy way to put yourself out there is to join the #DBGT (Dream Big and Get There) community and show us what you've got on Instagram or Facebook at #DreamBigGetThere, and we’ll reshare and cheer you on! Let’s do this—together.

Dream Big: Think Only Positive Thoughts for 24 hours

walking meditation

Week 3: Get Moving

Here’s the science: Exercise is a known mood booster, so it probably comes as no surprise that physical activity can help put your mind in a better place. One research review published in Journal of Happiness Studies found positive associations between physical activity and happiness, with as little as 10 minutes a day or one day a week of exercise making a significant difference.

Move-the-Needle Monday: “I’m a very firm believer in moving,” says Allison Chawla, a licensed social worker and clinical psychotherapist in New York City. “The morning tends to be a time when people’s thoughts overwhelm them. You wake up, and your brain wakes up,” Chawla says. Cue the negative thoughts and stress about all the things you have on your to-do list. Getting your body moving first thing (after you jot down a few things in your journal) helps get your thoughts moving, too—think of it as literally burning off the negative thoughts with each step you take.

The plan: Go for a short walk first thing in the morning. As you’re moving, breathe out the negative thoughts and breathe in the positive. Set an intention or mantra for the day and repeat it in your head as you walk. For example: “I have gotten through busier days before,” or, “I am capable of more than I think.” When you get back and sit down to work or parent or whatever is on your plate, you’ll be ready to approach the day with a positive headspace. Your mindfulness practice will make it easier to recognize when your thoughts stray toward the negative. When they do, you’ll have the tools to stop and refocus.

Top tip: If vigorous exercise is your thing, that’s great. If not, that’s great, too. Exercising and taking care of your body doesn’t have to involve pumping iron at the gym or getting totally breathless in a bootcamp workout if that’s not your jam. The best way to move is by doing activities that you actually enjoy. That can be walking, running, dancing, tennis, or even golf. The morning walk is a great place to start, but if there’s a different form of movement you’d rather do, make that your go-to.

Dream Big: Lift Your Bodyweight

chest fly

Week 3: Focus on That Mind-Body Connection

Here’s the science: You might slowly start to feel something clicking in your brain right around now. “There's a neurological adaptation that occurs first when you get used to lifting heavier weight or pushing or pulling heavier loads,” says Jamie Costello, MSC, certified personal trainer, functional movement specialist, and vice president of sales and fitness for Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa in Miami, FL. Indeed, a recent study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that when lifting to muscle failure, the brains of participants who lifted high amounts of weight fired more of the nervous system’s motor neurons to the muscles, causing a greater increase in strength gains over people who did more reps with lower weight (despite similar increases in muscle mass).

Move-the-Needle Monday: Your goal is to increase your load by 5% from last week if you can. But take note: If you are feeling too sore from weeks one and two, or don’t feel ready, it’s perfectly fine to repeat the same weight as you did last week and pick the plan back up the week after. If you try to push through, says Costello, “you actually are doing a disservice to your body because you haven't recovered.” If this happens, don’t see it as a failure—your muscles are adapting so you’re still making progress. The important thing is to listen to your body!

The plan: You’ll repeat the moves from week one, aiming for an approximate 5% increase with each step. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday perform three sets of each of these moves: bench press, chest fly, shoulder press (seated or standing), and triceps extension. For each, you’ll select the weight that gets you to muscle failure in 10 reps, then 6, then 2 to 3. On the weekend, rest up or do some light yoga or stretching if that feels good.

Top tip: Sleep! Catching your zzzs is always important, but when you’re in the middle of an intense weight-training program, it’s non-negotiable. After all, it is the body’s repair time, which could explain why a study published just earlier this year found that sleep deprivation following lifting sessions increases the bodies’ inflammatory response. But bonus: a 2018 research review concluded that exercise helps enhance sleep quality, so it’s likely you’re snoozing better these days anyway!

Dream Big: Go Vegan for a Week

collard greens

Week 3: You’re Ready for the Main Meal

Here’s the science: You probably know that regularly swapping out steak for a plant-based protein can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, and even early death, according to Harvard Health. But are you worried you can’t meet your protein needs without meat? “The key is to eat a variety of foods from vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains,” says Amy Allen-Chabot, Ph.D., a registered dietician and professor of nutrition at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, MD.

Ryan Andrews, a registered dietitian and adjunct instructor at the State University of New York in Purchase, agrees, offering this advice: “Build your diet around a variety of plant foods, and eat at least one cup of cooked legumes each day.”

Move-the Needle Monday: Going vegan does take some big-picture consideration. Focus on how best to meet your protein, calcium, and iron needs through plant-based foods. Eating a variety of foods like soy, nuts, whole grains, seeds, beans, and vegetables will ensure that all essential amino acids are present to make complete proteins, says Andrews.

Include calcium-rich leafy greens (like kale and collard greens), as well as broccoli and bok choy. Plant-based milk alternatives are fortified with calcium and often contain more calcium than cow's milk. Tofu made with calcium sulfate is also an excellent source of calcium.

To up your iron intake, include enriched grains, legumes, dried fruits, and leafy greens. To enhance iron absorption from plant sources, regularly consume vitamin C-rich foods such as citrus fruits, strawberries, peppers of every color, and tomatoes to maximize your body's iron absorption.

The plan: Stuck on how to build a balanced vegan dinner? Andrews offers this advice: “Finding some go-to dinner options is one of the most important things you can do.” He suggests the following easy-to-make supper staples:

  1. Tempeh tacos, using crumbled tempeh simmered with taco seasoning, then loaded on a tortilla of your choice and topped with avocado, tomatoes, olives, lettuce, and salsa.

  2. A loaded potato, which is basically the baked potato of your choice topped with spiced lentils, braised greens, and hemp seeds—yum!

  3. How about a falafel bowl, which is rice or millet and falafel topped with hummus, hot sauce, roasted mushrooms, and a tahini sauce? Any of these options is filling enough to be your main meal.

Top tip: Do vegans need vitamin supplements? Possibly. “It can be difficult to attain all of the nutrients we need from food alone. If you are committing to veganism for the long-term, it's wise to introduce a vitamin B12 supplement. Request lab work from your doctor to assess if other supplements are needed,” Andrews advises.

Contributors: Amy Marturana Winderl, Beth Shapouri, Carmen Roberts, R.D.