Ask Amanda: Total Recall

The timing on this legit reader-request #AskAmanda could not be more perfect as I’ve just returned from a wonderfully indulgent vacation in Japan.  She asked me how I get myself back on track after a weekend (week…month…year…life….) of too much food, too little exercise, and a general lack of health and fitness habits.

To give you an idea of what I mean when I’m talking about overdoing it, take a peek below. Over the five glorious days I spent in northern Japan, a typical day of eating looked a lot like this:

As you can imagine, upon my arrival back to Singapore, I solemnly and quietly slid my bathroom scale away under the sink, vowing to give myself a week to “recover,” and devised a plan on how to get back to my fit, firm self after a weekend of overindulgence.

Step one: food.  Whenever I need to clean myself out, I don’t go for the typical quick fixes (think juice cleanses, starvation diets, or some protein-shake regimen).  I simply buy the clean, healthy foods I enjoy and commit to eating them – and only them – for about a week.  For me that looks like:

  • breakfast: none; I return to my intermittent fasting program
  • fast breaker meal: banana or apple with natural chunky peanut butter
  • lunch: can of water-packed tuna mixed with plain hummus and 1/2 avocado
  • snack: a cup of full-fat Greek yogurt with blueberries and nuts
  • dinner: 1/2 avocado and 3 eggs over German bread with a side spinach salad

Sure, it’s not super exciting, but it definitely works – and that’s what matters to me.  The ingredients are cheap and simple, there’s barely any cooking involved, and I like all the food listed here.  I pair every meal/snack with 1/2 liter (16 ounces) of water and make sure I drink at least one container of coconut water (especially important in the Singapore climate) per day to offset all the dehydration of the (black) coffee I tend to gulp by the gallon.

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Step two: workouts.  When I’m coming back from an inconsistent or nonexistent workout schedule, I like to come back with a week of two-a-days – either an endurance cardio workout in the morning and superset weights in the afternoon, or a HIIT workout early and a slower weights program later.  I don’t overdo it in either workout session, but I do like to make up for lost time a bit and recommit my body and mind fully to exercise.

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Step three: sleep and skin.  After even one weekend of indulging, especially at age 33, I can see the effects of too much alcohol and sleep deprivation all over my (bloated, dull, patchy) face.  I like to use the first week back to do some serious rehab on my skin (think exfoliating scrubs, hydration mask, and heavy-duty eye cream every night, plus a scheduled facial as soon as I can make time for one), and get tons of sleep (for me “tons” is anything above 7 hours, and I cherish every second of it) until I no longer resemble the walking dead.

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If the Korean girls do it, I’m doing it – cleanse, tone, eye cream, face mask – ALL OF IT!

Finally, a wonderful step four: massage.  Sure, I was just on vacation, surrounded by leisure time and onsens aplenty, but I was also crammed into an economy-size airplane seat for about 10 hours each way and traveled two red-eye flights to make the trip happen. When I got  back, my neck felt like it had been strangled and my sore legs (from two days of snowboarding after an 18-year hiatus from the sport, sigh) felt like they were radiating pain.  I like to get a nice, deep, almost-painful massage to work out the travel tension and body aches from a whirlwind trip and help me get back in the mindset of work, business, and responsibilities again.

What are your best post-vacay rituals?  How do you get back to your healthy routine?

Ask Amanda: Bulletproofing Your Bod

First of all, welcome to 2017, loyal readers!  Some of us (cough, nearly all of us, especially if you live in the United States) had a rough n’ tumble 2016, and it’s time to forget all that jazz and look ahead, hopefully and with determination, to absolutely KILLING IT this year.

Problem is, it’s tough to get out there and kill it if you’re kicking off 2017 sneezing and wheezing like a used pair of bagpipes.

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January brings us many things in the fitness industry.  On the good side, packed-out gyms are full of eager beginners looking to make a lasting lifestyle change.  On the bad side, overcrowded facilities are stuffed full of sniffling half-sick lumps of humanity spreading their germs all over the place.

Ick.

It’s the perfect storm of a lot of people coming together in a naturally fluid-filled (think lots of dirt, sweat and maybe even a few tears) environment during a particularly virus-friendly time of year, and contagious illnesses do tend to abound during these early winter months.

So what can you do to boost your immune system and, as I like to say, bulletproof yourself against the common viruses that seem to take out half your office this time of year?

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First and perhaps most obvious of all, commit to an almost-OCD level of hand washing.  If you touch something that anyone else has touched (an elevator button, a dumbbell, a computer key, a phone), don’t you dare touch your mouth, nose or eyes until you wash those filthy hands.  After I’m done working with a client, I scrub like a doctor going into the OR before I even think about handling my phone, computer, or god forbid, FOOD.

Second, and easier said than done, get regular and ample sleep.  7-9 hours is the recommended amount for active adults; you may need slightly more or less based on your individual lifestyle.  Studies show that people who don’t sleep normally or adequately get sick, and people who get enough sleep have stronger immune systems overall (and are less likely to be obese, which is a story for another time).

Third, as the wise Hippocrates famously said, “let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food.”  What he meant is that you can actually protect your physical health simply by eating a nutritious, balanced diet (some of the top choices to include in your everyday diet include citrus fruit, broccoli, ginger, garlic, almonds, and papaya).  As for the more “advanced” immunity-boosting foods, consider:

  • Fermented foods (think sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles, miso, and kefir) go a long way in providing healthy probiotic bacteria
  • Coconut oil contains lauric acid, a compound that converts in the body to a compound similar to breast milk (and we know how good THAT stuff is!)
  • Berries have super-high antioxidant capacities (bonus for wild blueberries, top notch) and powerful phytochemicals, without the sugar of comparable fruits
  • Green tea (especially when made from quality matcha) has nearly 17 times the antioxidants of the aforementioned berries and 7 times more than dark chocolate, plus a nice hot cup can feel great on a sore throat and give you a little energy boost, too

And finally – what kind of trainer would ThisFitBlonde be without a summary mention of exercise as an immunity-boosting tool?  Getting your heart rate up and breathing more heavily can literally help flush bacteria out of your lungs and airways, and some studies show that exercise causes certain beneficial changes to your white blood cells (the body’s disease-fighting cells).  It can also relieve stress (a major factor in propensity for common colds, flus, and illnesses) and make you feel better overall, even if battling a little sniffle.

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Whenever I have a new client that tells me they’re the type to “always get sick,” I have to have a little chuckle, because I know that we can start them on a positive chain of wellness responses – regular exercise leads to better sleep quality, better sleep leads to a stronger immune system, a stronger immune system leads to less fatigue and days off due to illness – the benefit list goes on, and it all starts with just a few dietary additions and strong sessions in the gym.

What are your best at-home or natural remedies for the winter sniffs and sneezes?

Ask Amanda: Fly Away With Me

I just checked in for the first legs of what is about to be an absolute whirlwind of flights – Singapore to Melbourne to Adelaide on the first leg; Adelaide to Bali to Singapore to San Francisco to Phoenix on the return.

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God, I hope not

Whew.  I’m already exhausted and I haven’t even left (or packed, but that’s another story).

That said, with all the air travel I do (and the propensity toward colds and flus this time of year), a loyal #AskAmanda reader asked me how I possibly manage to stay healthy through the festive season – and I admit, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve.

Some of these are going to be a bit redundant from the last time I wrote on this topic, but there’s more to staying healthy while traveling than just popping Emergen-C (though I do recommend it) and a lot of it bears repeating.

First off, prep yourself for your travel plans.  So many people get swept up in the holiday season and don’t pack or prepare for what’s ahead – which ends in a lot of stressed-out rushing, last-minute forgetful packing, and utter exhaustion before you even hit the security gates.  Be thoughtful with your packing, choose comfortable clothing (and if you tend to swell like me, compression socks and loose pants) for the flight, toss an empty water bottle in your bag for some in-flight hydration, and take the time you need to actually get to the airport, no stress – believe me, it helps.

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Second, arm yourself with nutrition.  Skip the over-salted, under-nutritious airplane and airport food and bring yourself a nice bag of nuts, homemade sandwich, and bottle of water so you don’t starve or dehydrate on those oh-so-dry airplanes.  If you wanna get really fancy with it, wrap up some hummus and crackers, or even slice some fresh veggies for a quick in-flight crunch (and feel victorious while everyone else is wrestling open a laughably tiny peanut bag).

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Third, focus on hand washing and sleep, in that order.  The moment you hear someone with a hacking cough or wet sneeze on the plane means you’ve probably already come into contact with something they’ve touched or breathed on, and it should be a red alert to jump up and wash your hands (or in a pinch, use hand sanitizer).  Most of the common colds and flus can be combatted with this simple act, yet it’s the thing so many travelers forget to do that leaves them landing with a sniffle of their own.  And I know it’s easier said than done, but SLEEP – sleep! – if you possibly can.  Close your eyes, breathe deeply, use a neck pillow, do whatever you gotta do so that you don’t arrive at your destination a wacked-out, sleepless mess.  (Ladies, throw a nice thick face cream on before you doze for an extra spa-like bonus as you catch your crucial zzzs.)

And finally – don’t forget to move.  The aforementioned hand washing is a great excuse to get up from your seat, and when you do, take yourself through a few easy stretches to encourage circulation, keep your muscles active, and maintain mobility so that you don’t land feeling stiff and tired.  I always grab an aisle seat to make getting up as easy-peasy as possible, and my average rate of standing movement is about once per hour (believe me, on these 17-hour long-haul direct flights, even that seems like a feat!).

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The long story short of it is this – with some simple planning, healthy eating, comfy clothing, and basic moving, you’ll avoid the common travel bugs lurking within those big metal tubes, and ensure that your Christmas is a happy and healthy one.

What are your tricks and tips for travel?  How do you arrive feeling refreshed and relaxed?

Ask Amanda: Sunny Side Up

As winter  approaches (in the Northern Hemisphere, sorry Aussies – save this entry for like, May or June) and the days are getting shorter, I find that a lot of my clients struggle more with sticking to their exercise routines.

Sure, there are lots of other factors affecting workout adherence around this time of year – holidays that center around unhealthy food, festive parties and events taking over the schedule, and demands from kids and family for costumes, cupcakes, party prep, and what-have-you wiping out even the most dedicated exercisers.

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But I want to focus on something near and dear to my own heart: the sun.

I have always, always been a morning person (much to the chagrin of many of my friends and my long-suffering sleep-a-holic husband), but I qualify that with this: I am actually a sunshine person.  When the sun is up, I want to be, too – and when it’s dark outside, my spirit and motivation are black and sad (ok, dramatic, but you get my point).

This being said, being this type of sunshine person (especially in my line of work, where a “late” morning starts at 7:30am) is all well and good when it’s summertime and the sun is out at 5:15am – but not so much when it’s the dead of winter, the weather is already freezing and it’s pitch black until 7:45.

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Add to this my current situation – living directly on top of the equator, where the sun rises at 7am and sets at 7pm daily – and where I still must get up at 5-5:30am (in the aforementioned soul-crushing darkness) at least five days of the week, and you’ve got quite a pickle.

I present all of this information as long introduction to a great #AskAmanda question – how in the hell do you get motivated to exercise when it’s dark outside (whether that means early in the morning, or later after work when your energy is shot)?

First of all, don’t make darkness an excuse.  I know you guys are probably up to here with my no-nonsense advice when it comes to getting your workout in, but I only offer up the tough love with just that – love.  In reality, only about the first two minutes of waking up in the darkness really sucks (you know, those glorious first two minutes after the alarm where your bed is so warm and your PJs are so comfy and you just want to live in your bed forever and ever).  Once you get up, flick on a light, and get moving, life isn’t so hard.

Second, set up a decent mini-ritual to look forward to.  For me, it’s a piping hot pot of really good coffee (right now that’s Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Spice, imported from the States and literally giving me life for the next few weeks).  For you, it might be a shower with a really nice-smelling soap, putting on a podcast you’ve been waiting to listen to, or saving a certain breakfast food you really enjoy for “only” the days you wake up for a workout (treat yo’self).  However small and whatever it may be, make it special to you, and it’ll matter.

Third, sleep in your (clean) workout clothes.  Sure, this may be easier said than done (I tend to wear compression gear for my workouts, so I’d actually prefer not to sleep like a cased sausage), but it’s a surefire way to make the journey from bed to gym a bit shorter, a lot easier, and using a lot less brainpower (a superb thing when you’re just struggling to tie your shoes at 6am).  If this is too much, at least lay out your clothes and necessities so that there is no dread, confusion, or struggle in the morning – just pick up, dress, and go.

Next, consider being a bit silly (especially if you live alone).  Wake up and put on “Baby Got Back” and bust a little 5:45am move in your mirror.  Buy one of those complete crap gossip magazines and commit to 30 minutes on the treadmill to read it.  Download a hilarious YouTube workout video and do it in your living room while wearing baggy sweatpants and an old college T-shirt.  Nothing is too stupid if it makes you laugh AND gets you motivated enough to skip the snooze button and commit to a lil’ old workout.

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My final tip is this: if waking up in the darkness (or again, dragging yourself to the gym after work once it’s already dark) is too painful, find another time to work out.  Maybe you need to commit to a lunchtime power hour.  Perhaps it’s a 3pm living-room booster while the kids are taking their naps.  You might be the type that can space out three 10-minute HIIT workouts throughout the day so you don’t have to wake up a half hour before the sun.  Whatever time you can consistently work out is the best time for you to be working out (path of least resistance and all that, guys).

Whether it’s changing seasons (hello, winter) or lack of seasons (hello, Singapore), there will be shifts and changes in even the most established routines from time to time – and it’s up to you to roll with the punches, re-prioritize, and figure out a “new normal” that fits your needs, schedule, and preferences.  If you make it happen, it will happen – so in the great words of the NIKE marketing gods: just do it.

When do you like to work out?  What are your strategies for getting up before the sun?

Ask Amanda: Clean House

A few months ago a loyal client asked me a tough question and it’s taken until now for me to figure out how to answer it.  She is a dedicated client; works her buns off in the gym and does her best to shop for and prepare healthy meals.

Her problem, though, is a common one: her family doesn’t eat clean – and doesn’t want to.

How hard is it to prepare a nice, clean meal of chicken breast and broccoli and have your kids begging for mac n’ cheese?  Or to stick with a piece of grilled fish and salad when the husband brings home a bag of deliciously greasy-smelling McDonalds?  Or spend your time putting together a big batch of quinoa pilaf for the whole fam and they turn up their noses?

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In my opinion, what happens at home is about 100 times more important than what happens in the gym, and more often than not, is also a better determinant of how successful you will be on your fitness program.  You can hit it hard on your exercise program but come home to a den of temptation – and once you’re in the comfort of your own home, it’s a lot easier to give in.

I used to be a huge fan of the TV reality show The Biggest Loser, and it used to kill me when you’d see episodes of the newly-health-conscious contestants going home to their families and seeing their entire program unravel because their partners and kids refused to support their new wellness routines.  Time and time again you’d watch these formerly-obese people return to the toxic environments that enabled them to become that way, and like a caged wolf released back into the wild, they’d slip right back into their “natural” habits.

So what do you do when you want to make a lifestyle change and the people around you don’t?

My first answer comes with a lot of tough love: find new people to be around.  Ok, so that’s easier said than done when it comes to family, sure – but if you are part of a group of friends that gets their kicks from sitting around eating junk food, hating on “skinny people” and lamenting how hard/unpleasant it is to get up and exercise, it may be time to surround yourself with some new, more positive influences.  Find a bootcamp of like-minded people.  Hire a personal trainer to be your fitness partner.  Recruit a lunch buddy at work that will go get salads with you when the entire office orders in a pizza.  You control who you let into your inner circle, and if you can find a tribe that supports you, you are more likely to find success.

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Now onto the family/home issue more specifically.  If you are serious about making a lifestyle change, especially if it’s a critical issue of health (you need to lose weight because of prediabetes, for example), you should be able to have an open and honest conversation with someone who truly loves you about why you need their support.

Don’t let anyone belittle or rationalize away your reasons for wanting to make a positive change; see if you can work together to create and post an actual, written action plan (i.e. “we cook dinner at home three nights per week” or “I take walks at lunch every weekday”) that you can point to whenever there is some tension about wanting to do/eat/add/eliminate something in your life.  Never be afraid or ashamed to ask for what you need from your partner, especially if it is something that matters to your long-term health and happiness.

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As for the “kids food” issue, this of course is a bigger philosophical discussion than I have room for in this little ol’ blog (and truth be told, as someone who is not yet a parent, I may as well stuff my foot in my mouth before I talk about how someone else should raise their kids).

But what I can say is this: children are children.  They will eat what they are provided or they will hold out until they’re truly hungry, but either way, you are the parent and you are in control of what goes on the plate.  If you don’t put mac n’ cheese in the house, there is no mac n’ cheese in the house.  If you demonstrate healthy habits by putting green vegetables on the table at dinnertime, even if they don’t touch them at first, they will still see the example of you making a commitment to healthier options at home (remember those somewhat-creepy “I learned it by watching you” anti-drug commercials in the 90s ?  Yeah, it applies here too).

It make take time, effort, and a few tears to make healthy changes happen in your household – but as they say, nothing worth having comes easy.  When it comes to your wellness goals, you’re the one in charge – and where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Pioneer the positive habits and attitudes you want to embrace, and one day, the people around you will want to do it without their hands being forced.  Be your own best example.

How do you deal with less-than-supportive peers when you’re working toward a goal?

Beachin’ in Boracay: A Memoir

Folks, it’s been over two months since I had one of the most epic vacays of my life – and if you’ve been following me on Instagram, you got to see up close and personal some of the absolutely incredible moments I was able to spend (along with my wonderful travel companion and fellow blogger Justin Walter from Around the World with Justin – check out his post on our trip here) in Boracay, Philippines.

Let’s be real: I think we could all use a little beachside throwback in the depth of winter.

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Our first day in paradise

Here’s the thing about Boracay – location is everything.  Like, all the things.  You need to be centrally located (Station 2 is my personal reco), and you sure as heck want to be directly on that long stretch of beautiful white beach (aptly named, White Beach).  We were lucky enough to enjoy a sponsored stay on one of the only resorts in the area that spills out directly from the lobby onto the sand – The District.

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Unedited gorgeousness that is The District

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Not even kidding that this is #nofilter on White Beach

You guys, The District is The Sh*t.  From the moment we checked in, we were greeted with the utmost in friendly service and professionalism – every staff member made sure to say hello, ask how we were doing, and make sure we we comfortable throughout our stay.  Nothing felt forced, and every interaction was pleasant and easy.

Oh, and did I mention our actual room?  Take a look around this baller suite:

The bed was so comfy it was damn near impossible to get up each day (but hey, those beach chairs don’t fill themselves) except for the siren call of the delicious (included!) breakfast.  Mangoes do not get fresher than this, my friends – and again, the service at breakfast (including the action omelette and noodle stations) was impeccable.

But let’s not get hung up on staying inside the hotel.  The amazing beach chairs were our favorite places on property, and also where we spent most of our lazy, luxurious days – drinks in hand, sunscreen on, in and out of the bath-warm water all day long.  There are kayaks, jetskis and stand-up paddleboards to rent (beach staff will arrange it for you at a very reasonable cost) – that is, again, if you can get up out of your lounger.

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In the epic words of 311, “I’ll be here awhile…ain’t goin’ nowhere…”

At some point you start to feel guilty from all the luxury, but The District has you covered on that, too – they’ve got a full service gym that is cool, clean, and wonderfully equipped – a little bit of heaven for a trainer like myself, who actually likes working out on vacay.

The daytime in Boracay can only be beat by one thing: the nightlife.  As soon as the sun starts to set (which it does, early, in the winter), the island starts to liven up.  We watched the sunset each night from our perch atop the Star Lounge restaurant, over freshly grilled seafood (or, like my friend Justin, some less ocean-y options), delicious wine and cocktails, and chilled-out music – absolute paradise.

The District is right in the middle of all the nighttime action – steps from D’Mall (tourist trap but must-see scene nonetheless), amazing clubs like our fave Epic, and all the cool local beachfront action (I bought these delicious garlic peanuts from a beach seller for about 50 cents and it was the perfect boozy snack before bed).

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I’m not drunk, you’re drunk

Our stay was only a weekend, but it will last in my memory forever – it is far too easy to fall in love with the slow-paced beach lifestyle, amazing scenery, and warm service that characterize both Boracay and The District.  We cannot wait to come back and walk into this lobby again soon…

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For more information: The District Boracay
T: (63 2) 234.9058  |  T/F: (63 2) 234.5917  |  M: (63 917) 7737572
Email address: reservations@thedistrictboracay.com

Soaring Through the (Healthy) Skies

Readers, you may have noticed that I travel from time to time.  And by time to time, I mean a lot.  And by a lot, I mean I am averaging about one international trip per month these days (add to that that I already live abroad in Singapore) and I rarely, if ever get sick.

[Funny but notable aside: I actually did get sick last week in Singapore, after three unusual weeks without travel (sore throat and swollen glands; it was harsh but passed in three days with the aid of honey lemon, sleep, and one dose of DayQuil to get through a long workday).]

That being said, I am a really healthy person and I am very lucky to have always been that way – but I’m not without a few tricks up my sleeve for staying healthy when I’m out and about.  Sure, a solid foundation of healthy habits (read: eating decent amounts of vegetables, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly) helps, but here are my strategies for getting through my travels healthfully:

Wash your damn hands.  Seriously guys, this is the #1 thing you can do to combat the most common offenders (cold and flu) and especially when going through airports, where you’re constantly sharing germs between boarding passes, magazines, seats, and who knows what else, it’s a must.

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Pop the herbal remedies.  I am partial to plain ol’ echinacea (although I know others swear by Vitamin C or Emergen-C or Airborne) because for me, it works.  Not only does it help stave off a cold, but it can actually cut down the days of suffering if you already have one, which ain’t too shabby.

Hydrate.  Nothing makes you feel worse than getting off a plane feeling swollen, dry, and lethargic – all of which are symptoms of dehydration.  I like to chug a bottle of water en route to the airport, take the empty bottle through security, then fill it up again and chug as I wait to board.  One final fill-up for the plane and I’m set for the trip (related: skip the sodium-laden airplane food and snack boxes – go for coconut water, fruit, unsalted nuts, and packets of oatmeal for a quick hunger fix).

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Sleep as much as possible.  Got an hour flight?  Zonk out with relaxing music (or noise-canceling headphones, if you’re bougie) and get a solid nap.  Longer flight?  Be “that guy” and do everything in your power to get comfy and steal a snooze, including using a neck pillow, taking a soft blanket, wearing fuzzy socks, and slipping on an eye mask (bonus points if it’s scented with something soothing like chamomile or lavender).  There is no shame in this game, folks, and ye who sleep on planes arrive refreshed – not frazzled.

Know your health care options.  When the best-laid plans to stay healthy go awry (case study: my massive head cold a few years back while flying in for my niece’s 1-year birthday party where I was a surprise guest and had to be “on” among a sea of friends and family members for many hours), always know where and how to find a reputable doctor, no matter where you are.  I love Amino’s “find a doctor” service, where you literally just type in what you have/need (example: bronchitis), fill out a quick bit of information about yourself, and boom – you’re connected to doctors in your area that can help.  It’s a lifesaver!

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As the saying goes, the best offense is a good defense – so make sure to prep yourself for healthy holiday travel this year and spend the holidays feeling great – not sniffling under the mistletoe.

What are your best healthy travel tips?  How do you stay well over the holidays?

Workin’ in a Winter Wonderland

Ok guys, it’s crunch time.  Christmas is next week.  The holidays are here.  And I know everyone is pressed for time, energy, and sanity.

That’s why I’m popping in with a quickie post – to share a quickie workout! – that you can do anywhere you are, without equipment, in just 20 minutes.

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Don’t say I never gave you nothin’, readers.  Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season with friends and family!

What are your favorite indoor exercises?  How do you stay healthy during the festive season?