Dream Big—and Get There This Month

Welcome to our HealthCentral series, where we challenge you to a big goal every month—then help you get there through actionable steps on Move-the-Needle Mondays each week. Whether your dreams of self-improvement involve fitness, food, or feeling your emotional best, we’ve got something for you. Let’s get started!

WELCOME TO THE third month of our Dream Big challenge, where we help you reach that goal that you thought was just too crazy-big and impossible to accomplish. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from putting together these challenges, it’s that anything—even the most ambitious, complex goal—is possible when you take baby steps.

This month we’re arming you with the tools to go after three big challenges related to your fitness, nutrition, and mental wellness. Each week, we'll kick things off with our Move-the-Needle Monday column, breaking down the details for each of these goals, to help you succeed in reaching them by the end of the month. You’re going to get there, and we’ll be there with you. (Show us your progress on Instagram or Facebook at #DreamBigGetThere.)

Ready to take a step? Keep reading for this month’s goals—plus your Week 1 Plan.

Dream Big: Think Only Positive Thoughts for 24 hours

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Week 1: Identify Negative Thoughts

The science: Thinking happy thoughts may seem trivial, but research shows it has the potential to boost your health and well-being. Focusing on the silver linings in life may even help you live longer. Research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that optimism is related to an 11% to 15% longer life span, on average. It also increases the chance you’ll live to be 85 or older. Yes!

Move-the-Needle Monday: The first step on the path to positive thinking is to get good at identifying each negative thought when it pops into your brain, says Allison Chawla, licensed social worker and clinical psychotherapist, intuitive counselor, and a certified life coach in New York City. Then, come up with a new, positive phrase or thought to replace it. For example, if you’re thinking: “I have too much work to get done today, there’s no way I can do it,” replace it with: “I am good at what I do and will do my best to tackle it today.”

“You want to keep [the positive thought] succinct,” Chawla adds. “If you make it too complicated, you’re just going to get overwhelmed and flip the switch back to the negative thought.” Once you’ve settled on the positive version, repeat it to yourself until you believe it. By getting in the habit of stopping negative thoughts in their tracks, you can start to rewire your brain to think differently (aka, positively) moving forward.

The plan: Journaling is a great tool to help you start identifying and letting go of negative thoughts. It’s so helpful that Chawla suggests all her clients start journaling every morning, even if it’s very brief. Again, you want to keep it simple—even just writing down a sentence or two can make a huge difference.

Here’s what to do: Keep a pen and notepad next to your bed; When you wake up every morning this week, take a few seconds to jot down whatever negative thought or worry you have. Think of it as a “purge,” or “wiping the slate clean,” Chawla says. Your journal is where negative thoughts go to die. “You’re emptying the space [in your brain] so positive thoughts can then enter,” she explains.

Top tip: If you’re self-conscious about it or nervous someone might see what you write down, rip it up and throw it away after. Seriously. You don’t have to keep what you write, but you don’t want it to consume your mind, either. So just write it down, get it out, throw it away, and make room for the positive.

Dream Big: Lift Your Bodyweight

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Week 1: Prep Your Body

Here’s the science: Want to feel like a superhero? Increasing your strength so you can benchpress your own bodyweight will help get you there. And while the sense of accomplishment sounds great, the health benefits you’ll get along the way via the strength training it takes to get there are even better. A few: strong bones, weight management, and upping your quality of life, according to the Mayo Clinic—oh and according to a 2018 study in JAMA, boosting your mood).

Move-the-Needle Monday: Your aim this week is to get used to the movements that will train the muscles involved with a benchpress (the chest muscles, anterior deltoids, shoulders, and triceps), 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.

But first, bear in mind that your starting point matters a lot. Realistically, says Costello, for even a seasoned lifter, “you should expect to be 20 to 25 percent stronger by the end of the month.” For example, if you’re 150 pounds, you’d want to be lifting about 75% of that (around 115 pounds) at the start of this program to make it to your bodyweight by the end. But for everyone else, the goal here, really, is to get you stronger.

This baseline test will tell you what’s realistic: After a warm up (like 10 minutes of 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. That’s the baseline you’ll need to keep in mind as you kick off your program.

The plan: Proper form on these exercises—especially when using heavy weight—is crucial. If you’re not familiar with the exact way to perform any of these moves, now is the time to book an appointment with a personal trainer to go over the exact placement and any modifications you may need for each. And having a spotter who can step in and grab the weight when you’ve pushed your limit a little too far is key to safety!

Monday, Wednesday and Friday perform three sets of each of these moves: benchpress, chest fly, shoulder press (seated or standing), and tricep extension. You’ll want to do each move with progressive overload, so for the first set use a weight that gets you to muscle failure in 10 reps, then rest for a minute. For the second add weight to get to muscle failure in 6. Then for the third, add weight to max out in 2 to 3 reps. Any of these moves can be done with free weights or on a weight machine if you prefer.

Then on the weekend, take at least one rest day or, if you’re feeling up to it, try an active recovery routine like yoga.

Top tip: Train your back on your days off! Although this specific plan is focusing on the benchpress, weight training your back on the in-between days will ensure you don’t end up with imbalances that can throw you out of whack says Costello. His suggestion: Train as if you’re doing the corresponding challenge for a pull-up. The moves that would get you there: Assisted tricep dips, lat pull-downs, reverse flies, and bicep curls.

Dream Big: Go Vegan for a Week!

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Week 1: Start with Vegan Lunches

Here’s the science: Is being a vegan a worthy goal? The science says YES. Research shows that people who follow a vegan diet typically have a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure, lower body mass index (BMI), and a decreased risk of cancer.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a greater consumption of plant-based protein (vs. animal protein) plays a role in supporting a longer, healthier life (and can help prevent death from cardiovascular disease, the leading killer of Americans, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Move-the Needle Monday: To ease into vegan life, start with a meatless midday meal first (and don’t worry about going 100% plant-based just yet for breakfast, dinner, and snacks). If you’re headed to work or school first thing in the morning, you’ll have time to plan and pack your vegan lunch the night before. If you’re working from home, take a real lunch break with a plant-based meal that’s easy to prepare.

Brandy Leno, a nutritionist and culinary specialist for the Howard County Office on Aging in Columbia, MD, suggests making a soup that you can go to all week long. “My favorite vegan lunch recipe is a curry made with chickpeas, potatoes, roasted cauliflower, and finished with some coconut milk, lime, and cilantro. Any soup in general is a creative way to get a balance of carbs, fats, and protein all in one pot!” Leno adds.

The plan: You don’t have to go soup-to-nuts if you’re more of a sandwich-eater. Just swap out your lunchmeat for vegan cheese, a veggie burger, or a powerhouse sandwich filled with hummus, sprouts, tomato, and lettuce. Need more protein? Trade in your turkey sandwich for this protein-packed salad:

Spring Onion and Herb Chickpea Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

  • 2 Tbsp. avocado oil mayo

  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

  • 1/3 cup spring onions

  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Mash beans in a large bowl with a fork and add remaining ingredients. Mash together and serve open-faced on toast or as sandwich filling.

Top tip: Need some variety from soup and sandwiches? Make a nutritious and delicious entrée salad topped with beans, nuts, tofu, and seeds to get your protein fill, then add some fruit and veggies to the mix.

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

Help for Muscle Soreness: Frontiers in Physiology. (2018.) “An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5932411/