Let’s Do This: Move-the-Needle Monday

It may be the last week of this month’s Dream Big challenge, but it’s just the beginning of your goal crushing status. Finish strong with this step-by-step guide.

Congratulations! Whether it feels like it took forever to get here or it went by in a flash, you made it to the finale—week four of our month-long challenge where we’re mastering weightlifting, veganism, and the power of positive thinking. (If you’re new or need a refresher, click here before you continue.)

You’ve reached the top of the mountain (a.k.a. that goal you’ve been wanting to reach for-ev-er), which we know took a whole lot of hard work and commitment. We hope you’re basking in this moment, but we know you’re probably also thinking to yourself, “What’s next?”
For starters, don’t stop! You’ve climbed the mountain, so to speak. Now, climb the mountain faster or climb a slightly bigger mountain. There’s always room to be a little bit better today than you were yesterday.

The other thing you can do is invite others along on the next journey with you. There’s power (and accountability) in numbers. You also have a virtual crew cheering you on over on Instagram and Facebook—find us at #DreamBigGetThere. See you at the top!

Dream Big: Think Only Positive Thoughts for 24 hours

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Week 4: Practice Gratitude

The science: Positivity doesn’t just give your heart a figurative boost. It may actually make your heart physiologically healthier. One study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that people with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within five to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook.

Move-the-Needle Monday: “Putting out gratitude brings positive feelings back to you. It’s contagious,” says Allison Chawla, a licensed social worker and clinical psychotherapist in New York City. So, this week is all about making gratitude a regular part of your routine. Showing gratitude really just means recognizing the good things that happen to you throughout the day and stopping to appreciate them. It’s recognizing and acknowledging the good and positive.

The plan: This week’s plan is to find one way every day to show gratitude. It can be as simple as smiling (with your eyes, if you’re still masking up) at the person who hands you your coffee over the counter, saying thank you to the taxi driver, or sending a quick text to a friend to tell them how thankful you are for them. When you combine everything that you’ve learned this month—recognizing negative thoughts, mindfulness, movement, and finally, gratitude—you’ll be able to start a cycle of positive thinking that benefits you and everyone around you. Eventually, optimism will be your first instinct—and everyone will be better off because of it.

Top tip: “Remember that you’re going to have bad days, but the main goal is to find tools to manage them better and recover from them faster,” Chawla says. Practicing gratitude will help you remember that even when things aren’t going your way and you’re feeling negative thoughts, the sun is still going to rise. “It’s about managing the negativity better and faster instead of letting it consume you like it may have in the past.”

Dream Big: Lift Your Bodyweight

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Week 4: Take Note of Your Gains

The science: You may notice your ability to focus at work sharpening this week, thanks to the lean, mean muscles you're building. A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that after five weeks of weight-training, lab animal's brains produced genetic markers indicating the creation of new neurons. Researchers concluded that this indicates the training could help “restore cognitive deficits.“ Muscles and brains of steel? Count us in!

Move-the-Needle Monday: This week we invite you to pay attention to the shift in your body as you work out—you should be feeling more in control, more sure of your movements, and overall stronger. So, take some time to appreciate how much your body can do and celebrate your progress regardless of whether you actually bench-press your weight or just get closer to it! Whatever gain you see, 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, says to remember, “You've hit a new level!”

The plan: On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday perform three sets of each of these moves: benchpress, 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, aiming for a 3% to 5% increase over the week before. Then, Sunday is the big day—time to check your progress by repeating your baseline test, hopefully maxing out at your bodyweight!

Here’s a reminder of that test: After a warm up (10 minutes of easy cardio followed by 10 bench presses done with a weight you can easily lift) and with a spotter present, load up the bar with a heavy (for you) weight you feel confident you can push up one time. After you successfully lift it, wait a few minutes, add a bit more weight and try again. Repeat until you hit the absolute max of what you can lift one time.

Top tip: Building muscles requires protein—1.2 to 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, according to The Mayo Clinic. But that doesn’t mean you need to clear out the chicken breast section of your local grocery store! “While you do desperately need protein to repair and rebuild the muscle, it does not have to come with the amounts of animal flesh people traditionally think of,” says Costello. Instead, get the essential muscle building block from plant-based options like legumes, nuts, and quinoa.

Dream Big: Go Vegan for a Week

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Week 4: Go for a Full Week of Vegan Eating!

Here’s the science: If you’re looking to lose weight and keep it off, adopting a long-term vegan diet might be the way to go. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that a low-fat vegan diet had better outcomes for weight loss, body composition, insulin sensitivity, and cholesterol levels when compared to the Mediterranean diet—another reason to go vegan not just for a week, but potentially for always.

Move-the Needle Monday: What if you feel, well, deprived eating plants alone? “Cravings can certainly be hard to beat,” admits Brandy Leno, a nutritionist and culinary specialist for the Howard County Office on Aging in Maryland. “In my experience, the longer I ignore a craving, the more likely I am to want to binge on that food later."

Fortunately, Leno points out, with things like dairy-free ice cream and plant-based "meat" products, it's easier than ever to find a vegan solution to those cravings. "Make sure you’re not just hungry," she advises. "Cravings can come more frequently or feel more powerful if you don’t eat enough throughout the day." If the craving persists, it's OK to give in once in a while. "Go out and order a small serving of what you’re craving or make something at home and share most of it with friends, family, or neighbors so that you’re not stuck with leftovers,” she says.

The plan: Looking for a healthy vegan snack? “I like whole grain crackers with bean dip as a light lunch or snack,” says Amy Allen-Chabot, Ph.D., a registered dietician and professor of nutrition at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, MD. Baked chips with salsa or guacamole can also be satisfying, she adds. Have a sweet craving? Try dairy-free ice cream, pudding, or yogurt made from milk alternatives, or bake some homemade vegan brownies.

Top tip: What happens if you fall off the wagon, or don’t want to give up your weekly burger night? Or maybe you’ve tried the vegan experiment and realized you’re just not ready to completely give up meat? Here’s the good news: Research shows that replacing only 3% of animal protein sources with plant protein was associated with 10% lower overall mortality in both men and women—so even making a few plant-based substitutions in your diet can help you achieve better long-term health.

Vegan Diets and Type 2 Diabetes Risk: Nutrients. (2018.) “Insulin Resistance in Overweight Adults: A 16-Week Randomized Clinical Trial.” http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/10/2/189/htm