Get 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.

If it’s Monday, it must be time to move the needle! Welcome back for our third installment in our month-long quest to help you get stronger, healthier, and better-rested. (If you’re new to this program, click here first to learn about all the fun you’ve been missing).

Here’s the deal with going after big health goals: They get harder before they get easier. But if you make it through the rough patches and hang tough during a few setbacks, it does more than just build character (that annoying thing your parents used to say when you were faced with an unpleasant chore, like walking the dog in the rain). Surviving the knockdowns and the no-can-dos and keeping your eye on the bigger prize develops your optimism and determination—two things that will serve you well, in health and in life.

As we round the corner into week three of this Dream Big challenge, maybe progress has been slower than you’d like. Maybe you’re struggling to keep pace with your friend, your spouse, or your younger sibling when it comes to hitting the markers for more pushups, less sugar, and better sleep this month. That’s okay. In our book, every inch of progress counts—so long as you’re moving the needle forward, it’s taking you that much closer to the finish line.

During week three, you’ll start to reap some of the rewards of grinding through 14 days of work. Flex your arm in the mirror (go on, we won’t tell) and you might even see baby biceps forming. You may be getting the hang of this regular sleep schedule thing—and we bet cutting back on sugar is making zzz’s a whole lot easier, since you no longer have those energy spikes and crashes. This week, you’re going to build on the foundation you’ve laid for healthy habits and turn the heat up a notch as you near the home stretch.

Feeling like you could use some company? Join the #DBGT (Dream Big and Get There) community and show us what you've got! Drop and give us 10, post a shot of your sleep space, and share your sugar swaps on Facebook (make sure to tag us @healthcentral) and Instagram (@healthcentraldotcom) and we’ll reshare and cheer you on! Let’s do this—together.

Dream Big: 40 Pushups in 90 Seconds

0 Pushups in 90 Seconds
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Week 3: Develop your strength

Here’s the science: Exercise scientists used to think that aerobic activity was the only real way to improve heart health and lose weight. Strength training was good for, well, strength, they postulated, but cardiovascular health required cardiovascular activity. But recent research in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports has exploded that myth, showing that when performed consistently without lengthy rest periods, strength exercises can be just as great a boon to cardiovascular health and weight loss as an aerobic activity like cycling. So pushups, while clearly developing your muscle stability and strength, are also growing your heart and lungs and making you an overall healthier human being.

Move-the-Needle Monday: It’s all about getting stronger this week, and that means you might consider supplementing your pushups with a set of hand weights, says HealthCentral editor and certified group fitness instructor Danielle Gamiz. “If you have a set of dumbbells, add five minutes to your routine with a set of biceps curls, overhead press, and chest press (lie on your back and push weights toward the sky),” she suggests. “The greater your overall strength, the easier pushups become.”

The plan: “During week three, the focus is on longer periods of work with more reps,” says Gamiz. You’ll be working toward stringing together sets of 10 pushups until you hit (wait for it) 60 pushups a day. Don’t freak! You’re going to get ample rest between sets of 10. So even though you're exceeding your Dream Big goal by 50%, you'll also quadruple the amount of time you're allowed to do them in. Here’s how:

  • Monday: Get your timer, hit start, and do 10 pushups. When you’re done, rest until the top of the next minute—then go again. (Anyone familiar with CrossFit probably recognizes this fitness-building strategy: It works!) Do three minutes of this (30 pushups total with rest), then stop.

  • Tuesday: Same as Monday, but shoot for four minutes (10 pushups at the top of the minute, rest until the top of the next minute, then go again, four times).

  • Wednesday: Same as Tuesday, then grab a set of lightweight dumbbells (or gallon water jugs, if you don’t have weights) add in a circuit of 10 x biceps curls, 10 x overhead presses, and 10 x chest presses when you’re finished.

  • Thursday: Get your timer, hit start, and do 10 pushups. When you’re done, rest until the top of the next minute—then go again. Repeat five times.

  • Friday: Repeat Thursday, then grab your dumbbells and add two circuits of 10 x biceps curls, 10 x overhead presses, and 10 x chest presses when you’re finished.

  • Saturday: Get ready to go for the big 6-0. Hit 10 pushups every minute, on the minute, for six minutes, resting for the remainder of each minute.

Top tip: “Each round of pushups will get harder,” says Gamiz. “This is the moment—when you feel like you can’t do it anymore—when you find out what you’re made of.” Play the mental game of telling yourself when it starts to burn that you’ll do just one more. And when you do one more, convince yourself to try just one last time. And then squeeze out one more pushup after that. Mental toughness here will make next week’s goal achievable.

Dream Big: Quit Sugar

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Week 3: Spot the faux health halos

Here’s the science: You might start to feel low energy as you detox from the sweet stuff, but the good news is that once you acclimate, you will no longer be a slave to the rollercoaster of sugar highs and crashes, says Carmen Roberts, M.S., a registered dietitian and adjunct faculty instructor for Excelsior College in Washington, D.C. And heads up: A study in Physiology & Behavior links sugar withdrawal with impulsive behavior so maybe don’t make any big decisions this week. Focus on being kind and patient with yourself—and keep your eyes on the goal line.

Move-the-Needle Monday: This week is about getting at all added sugars, including those ones that have a faux health halo like coconut sugar, honey, molasses, and agave. You hear certain things about these other sweeteners being better choices because they have more nutrients or are lower on the glycemic index, but Roberts says they still count as the white stuff. “It might be a little bit more slowly digested into the bloodstream, but they’re still digested as sugar,” she says. Instead, shift your focus to whole foods. Roberts says that includes naturally sweet fruits and vegetables (like carrots) because they contain fiber which will help steady your blood sugar and help counteract the negative effects on the body.

The plan: On Monday (that’s today), make sure to start your day with a totally sugar-free drink (it’s called water, folks) and prepare for a week of near-zero added sugar by stocking up on nuts, crunchy vegetables (crunch might distract you from the lack of sweet on your plate), and sugar-free dips like hummus. For sweet cravings, choose fruit—you’ll start noticing exactly how sweet a banana or apple is once you’ve eliminated the added sugars from elsewhere in your meals. You may have trouble focusing as your body adjusts to the lack of sugar in your bloodstream, so plan to take five-minute breaks each hour at work (get up a walk around the room or if you’re working remote, seize the opportunity to work on your pushups—see above). On the weekend, have a little speech planned asking for support if peer pressure rears its ugly head–even just a quick “I’m doing this thing for my health and I need your help to stay on track!”

Top tip: When energy dips, go for a walk; it’s a smarter strategy for getting that refreshed feeling than a candy bar. “It’s a way to get your blood pumping and get that metabolism going a little bit,” says Roberts.

Dream Big: Sleep 7 Hours (or More) a Night

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Week 3: Fall asleep faster

Here’s the science: You may technically be in bed for seven hours, but how much of that is actual sleep time? A study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found an average gap of 39 minutes between the time people go to bed and the time they actually doze off. That delay may not sound like much, but researchers found that compared to people who went to sleep immediately after getting into bed, those with a sleep gap of just 30 minutes were three times more likely to have poor sleep quality, which can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and weight gain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of course, sleep duration also shrinks due to interruptions, like that midnight run to the bathroom that turned into a two-hour thought spiral about something completely unimportant.

Move-the-Needle Monday: Your plan this week? Reduce the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep by getting into sleep mode well before you head to bed. “Some form of routine to help you unwind is going to be important,” says Kannan Ramar, M.D., president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and sleep medicine physician and professor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. This routine takes place 30 to 60 minutes before you brush your teeth and slip into PJs.

The plan: At least 30 minutes before you walk into your bedroom, do something relaxing. Dr. Ramar suggests listening to soft music, soaking in the tub, practicing patterned breathing, or using a guided meditation app on your phone. (Audio only—no looking at the screen! Remember blue light exposure too close to bedtime messes with your sleep mechanism.) Do this regardless of whether you have to get up at 4 a.m. to start an early shift at work (start your wind-down routine at 7 or 7:30 p.m.) or if you’re a night owl who sleeps from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. (start winding down at 11:30 p.m.). There’s no wrong time to sleep, Dr. Ramar says, but it should be as consistent as possible.

Top tip: Do your thoughts keep you up at night? Try using your wind-down time to do a brain dump. Grab a notebook and jot down some words about all the stuff that has your brain buzzing—an argument you had that day, the garbage you read on Twitter, social issues that need solving. Once you write them down, these thoughts are less likely to get in the way of sleep at night, says Dr. Ramar, who recommends this trick to all his patients struggling with insomnia.

And that's a wrap on week three of your Dream Big challenge. Whether you’re pursuing one of these goals or all three this month, don’t feel guilty if things don’t go perfectly to plan. Maybe it’s your sister’s birthday and There. Will. Be. Cake. That’s okay, have some. Or maybe you’ve had a long day at work and pushups are the last thing you feel like doing right now. That’s okay, too. Having an off day today doesn’t mean you can’t have an on day tomorrow. Just keep your eye on that end goal (it’s getting closer!) and we’ll see you back here next week.

Contributors: Julia Savacool, Beth Shapouri, Danielle Gamiz

  • Cardio vs Strength Training Benefits: Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports. (2018.) “A Comparison of the Acute Physiological Responses to BodyPump vs Iso-Caloric and Iso-Time Steady State Cycling.” jsams.org/article/S1440-2440(18)30062-8/fulltext
  • Withdrawal and Impulsive Behavior: Physiology & Behavior. (2015.) “Sugar withdrawal and differential reinforcement of low rate (DRL) performance in rats.” pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25484352/
  • Bedtime vs. Shuteye Time: Journal of Sleep Research. (2017.) “Bedtime, Shuteye Time, and Electronic Media: Sleep Displacement Is a Two-Step Process.” pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28271575/
  • Poor Quality Sleep Health Risks: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013.) “Raising Awareness of Sleep as a Healthy Behavior." https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2013/13_0081.htm