Dream Big—and Get There This Month

Welcome to our HealthCentral series where we challenge you to a big goal every month. Whether your dreams are fitness, food, or mental health-related, we’ll help you get there through actionable steps on Move-the-Needle Mondays each week. Let’s get started!

So, here’s the thing—goals aren’t/shouldn’t be something we do to feel productive around the start of a new year. Aspiring to something bigger and better is beneficial 365 days of the year. We know you know this; otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

Odds are, you’ve got some dreams in life. Those dreams are probably on the ambitious side, and they likely did not come with an instruction manual. Maybe they’ve been on your wish list for a while, or maybe they’re part of a pact you made that is starting to crumble—not from lack of will, but from lack of guidance to get you where you want to go.

We feel you. That’s why, each month we’re going to set three big challenges related to your fitness, nutrition, and mental wellness. Then we’re going to kick off each week with our Move-the-Needle Monday column, breaking down the details to help you create the habits, mindset, and technical know-how to be successful in reaching your monthly goal. You’re going to get there, and we’ll be cheering you on—check us out on Instagram or Facebook at #DreamBigGetThere).

Ready to get started? Keep reading for this month’s goals—plus your Week 1 Plan.

Dream Big: Read an Entire Book This Month

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Week 1: Read 15 Minutes Every Day

The science: Sure, reading helps you relax, exposes you to new perspectives, and gives you an escape. But did you know it might help you live longer, too? Yale University scientists followed more than 3,600 adults over the age of 50 for 12 years to learn whether reading—books in particular—led to better longevity. The results? People (no matter their wealth, health, education, or gender) who reported reading books for 30 minutes a day lived nearly two years longer than those who read magazines or newspapers.

Move-the-Needle Monday: Before you start reaping the benefits of regular reading, you’ll need to select a book to tackle this month. Shake off any pressure to read something that’s “good for you” and select a book you’ll actually enjoy. Browse booklists on GoodReads or Barnes & Noble. Better yet, ask a friend. We did. Meet LaShawn Wiltz, a Decatur, GA-based lifestyle blogger and Instagrammer, who recently launched a book-subscription service called Pouring Over Books. Wiltz herself has already finished 42 books so far in 2021! Being a mom and a business owner means finding small pockets of time to get her reading in—she always has a book with her just in case she gets some unexpected downtime. Wiltz considers reading an important piece of her self-care. “It gives me a way to not have any responsibility. My only responsibility is to find out what happens to the characters in this story,” she says. We asked Wiltz to recommend some of her recent favorite titles:

The plan: This week we’re keeping our reading sessions short and sweet. Find some time during your day to sneak in just 15 minutes with your new book of choice. Try to stick to an everyday schedule instead of skipping a day or two and then ending up with an obligatory 30- to 45-minute cram session. Remember: We’re building a new habit, so try fitting it in at the same time every day.

Top tip: We think a doable length to target for this month’s book selection is around 300 pages—50 pages more or less is fine, but you’ll want to adjust your reading plan to make sure you can finish at month’s end. Tackling a 300-pager means you’ll be reading roughly 75 pages per week to finish by the end of our challenge. You can do this!

Dream Big: Run Three Miles in 30 Minutes

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Week 1: Establish Your Training Baseline

Here’s the science: When it comes to the benefits of running, scientists have found quite a few. From boosting heart strength to increasing lifespan, pounding the pavement is one of the healthiest forms of exercise you can do. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that those who run leisurely had a 30% and 45% lower risk for all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, respectively.

If you’re already running on the regular, increasing your speed can help increase your body’s ability to be more efficient at things like pumping blood and using the oxygen you breathe. Consider the next four weeks a time to fine-tune your body’s systems…and get faster as a result.

Move-the-Needle Monday: On day one (that’s today!) run for 10 minutes. Afterwards take note of how much distance you covered running at a normal or moderate pace. “Knowing where your start line is helps you appreciate where you finish at the end,” says our virtual running coach for the month, Andrew Watkins, director of strength and conditioning at Sports Performance Lab in Middletown, New Jersey.

A note on pace: An easy pace is one where you can easily carry on a conversation without being breathy. If you were to rate your effort on a scale of one to 10, it would rank a two to three. A moderate pace is one where that conversation starts getting breathy and it ranks four to six on the effort scale. Finally, a hard pace makes talking difficult and the effort ranks at seven or above.

The plan: You’ll be running three days this week. But, whatever you do, “don’t skip the warm-up,” says Watkins. “Countless athletes jump right into activity and never think about a potential injury until it's too late. We don't just want to be faster; we want to have healthy ranges of motion throughout every stride we take.” Having a solid 10 to 15-minute warmup helps make your muscles and ligaments more mobile, which in turn helps prevent injuries as you increase the speed and intensity of your runs.

  • Monday: Running workout #1

    • Warm-up by walking for five minutes, then jogging slowly for five to 10 minutes.

    • Run for 10 minutes at an easy pace then walk for one minute.

    • Finish your workout by running 10 minutes more at a moderate pace.

  • Tuesday: Cross-training

  • Wednesday: Running workout #2

    • Warm-up by walking for five minutes, then jogging slowly for five to 10 minutes.

    • Run for 12 minutes at a moderate pace, then walk for one minute.

    • Finish your workout by running 12 minutes more at a hard pace.

  • Thursday: Rest

  • Friday: Running workout #3

    • Warm-up by walking for five minutes then jogging for five to 10 minutes.

    • Run for 13 minutes at a moderate pace, then walk for one minute.

    • Finish your workout by running 13 minutes more at a hard pace.

  • Saturday: Cross-training

    • Do 30 minutes of swimming, cycling, or yoga.

    • Do 10 minutes of stretching.

  • Sunday: Rest

Top tip: Hydration is just as important as your training. Make sure you’re drinking water during the day. Doing so will help prevent cramping, encourage stronger muscles and better tendon elasticity that aids in speed and injury prevention. To make sure that your body has enough fluids, try to avoid feeling thirsty. Remember, thirst is a latent predictor of hydration needs. If you’re thirsty you are already dehydrated.

Make it harder: Don’t shy away from inclines. Hills are your friends! Running up hills helps improve your cardiovascular fitness and eventually makes you faster on the flatlands.

Dream Big: Intermittent Fast for One Week

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Week 1: Ease into Intermittent Fasting

The science: It’s the latest trend in the weight loss world: intermittent fasting (IF). And it’s not just hype. Research has shown that in addition to weight loss, it can reduce inflammation, improve blood sugar and lipid levels, and reduce blood pressure, even when your daily caloric intake stays the same. And, unlike most popular diets that focus on WHAT to eat, intermittent fasting is solely about WHEN to eat. This is an attractive option for people who don’t want to follow a meal plan or count calories.

There are several ways to approach IF. All guide you with regular time periods to eat and fast, but the most popular is the daily approach, which centers on eating during a six or eight-hour period and fasting for the remainder of the day.

Maybe you’re already sold on this approach to weight loss, and you’re eager to try it. Before you do, remember, IF isn’t for everyone. Ryan Andrews, a registered dietitian and adjunct instructor for SUNY in Purchase, NY, advises, “Intermittent fasting is discouraged for people who participate in high amounts of physical activity, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people with a history of disordered eating.” People with diabetes or insulin issues also need to proceed with caution.

Reminder: IF is a meal-timing plan, not a license to eat whatever you want during non-fasting hours. So, put down the deep-fried chicken wings and the bag of chips. (We know. It hurts.) And let’s get started.

Move the Needle Monday: We’re here to walk you through, step by step over the course of four weeks, the best way to go from having never fasted before to fasting each day for seven days straight—establishing a habit that sets you up for better health. Andrews recommends starting slowly. “I like the idea of allowing a 12-hour gap between dinner and breakfast for most everyone. It's a healthy practice that offers little risk. If you are in the routine of eating dinner at 8 p.m. and breakfast at 6 a.m., try to eat dinner by 7 p.m. and breakfast at 7 a.m. This change alone offers a 12-hour gap between feedings and might be enough for your body to see the benefits.”

The plan: Start your week by choosing a 12-hour fasting time frame that works best for you. If you are an earlier riser and like to work out in the morning, waiting until 10 a.m. to eat may not be realistic. If you are a night-owl, you need to choose a 12-hour window that allows you to eat a later evening meal before you begin your fast.

To put it plainly: Once you’ve had your first meal of the day, take your last bite of food within the next 12 hours. The reverse is also true: Once you’ve had your last meal of the day, whether it’s a 6 p.m. or 9 p.m., wait 12 hours before eating anything the next day. The only beverages that are allowed during your fast are water, coffee, and tea. Calorie-free drinks, such as diet soda, or calorie-free foods made with artificial sweeteners (like sugar-free gum) are not allowed, since research is still mixed on the effect that these sweeteners have on digestion.

Top tip: Dragging in the morning? You ARE allowed to have black coffee or green tea before breaking your fast (and you’ll never think of the word break*fast in quite the same way), as long as you skip the cream and sugar, that is.

Contributors: Danielle Gamiz, Carey Rossi, Carmen Roberts