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  • Writer's pictureDr. Kristen Mitteness

Improve Your Brain and Body with These Monthly Challenges

Updated: May 29

Staying healthy doesn't have to be complicated. And most of the time it isn't. It's simple, really. We just have to put in a bit of work. But, what if I helped you make it just a bit easier? This year, I'll be releasing one challenge each month for you to incorporate into your day. The goal is to make these a habit so you can continue to improve, even as you age. I'm not into resiliency. We can do even better than that. I much prefer being anti-fragile. Join my monthly newsletter to stay up to date on each one!

JANUARY: Balance

I chose balance for January because if you are in Winnipeg like me, you know it is icy out. And, also like me, chances are you take a slip at least once a winter. As we age, we naturally lose the ability to balance putting us at risk of falling and being injured. Improving your balance doesn't mean that you won't ever slip, because you will. But, it does mean you have a better chance of catching yourself when you do slip. Yes, please.

GOAL: You are able to stand for 30 seconds on each foot individually. This is a good marker for children and adults, alike.

If you can do it, great! You can make it harder by doing it with your eyes closed. If you can't, then we have work to do. You can practice balancing on one foot while you wash your hands or brush your teeth. If that's still too hard, then you are a great candidate for the heel-toe walk. Aim to practice this once per day if you didn't not pass the goal. If you did pass the goal, practice balancing with your eyes closed once per week.

FEBRUARY: Bedtime Routine

Sleep is so, so, so important for your health. "According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 3 adults in the United States reported not getting enough rest or sleep every day." 1 in 3?! So, chances are you could use some help with sleep. I find this especially true due to all of the artificial everything we are exposed to through the day: artificial light, artificial temperatures, artificial food, artificial beauty products. Yes, all of these things make life a bit more comfortable in the short term. But, at what cost? And could it be affecting your sleep? A bedtime routine will look different for everybody. You may have to spend the month trying to find the right combo that works for you. All of us need different amounts of sleep, but most of us need 7-9 hours. While eating well and exercising during the day can and will influence your sleep, you'll probably want to focus on the 1-2 hours before you want to be in bed. Maybe you would benefit from avoiding screens for 1-2 hours before you want to go to bed. Maybe you would benefit from not eating snacks. Maybe you would benefit from reading a book for leisure. Maybe you would benefit from an Epsom salt bath. Maybe you would benefit from some light stretching. Maybe you would benefit from dimming all of the lights in the house and lighting a candle. Maybe you would simply benefit from actually going to your bed earlier.

GOAL: Find the right bedtime routine combo that works for you and stick to it. It's a short month after all.

MARCH: Jumping

The ability to jump is a great indicator of power and joint stability. Like a lot of our physical ability, as we age, we lose power unless we actively use it. Lucky for us, physical ability can improve if we work on it. And working on it can be much easier than we realize. It can also be modified for all abilities. Here are some ways to test your jump, if you feel capable:

  • Vertical jump - jump for height

  • Long jump - jump for length

  • Jump rope

  • Jumping jacks

  • Drop jump - jump or step off a height of choice

  • Box jump - jump or step on a height of choice

  • Hop scotch

  • Single leg jumps or hops - stationary, front and back or side to side

  • Double leg hops or jumps - - stationary, front and back or side to side

  • Trampoline jumps or hops

  • Run in place

  • Jump squats

Here are some great modifications to get you better at jumping without actually jumping:

  • Heel raises

  • Toe raises

  • Mountain climbers - with hands on ground, elevated or on wall

  • March in place

  • Mini jumps on a soft surface

GOAL: Pick two to three jumping exercises that you can do and do them 3 times per week. Aim for 10-20 repetitions each time. Feel free to switch them up. Make it even more fun with this toddler dance party song!

APRIL: Protein

Chances are, you aren't eating enough protein. Most of us aren't. Protein is critical for feeling satiated, recovering from injury or exercise and muscle development and repair. It's also very important for conception and pregnancy. Growing a baby requires a lot of nutrients! My general rule is to aim for 1g of protein per pound of ideal body weight in pounds. Is your ideal body weight 150 lbs? Then, I want you to aim for 150g of protein. However! First, you need to determine how much protein you are currently eating. From there, you can start making changes. If you aren't already eating 100g per day. Aim for that first. That is about 30-40g per meal. After that, you can increase it even more. According to Nutritionix, one egg has 6g of protein, 3 ounces of chicken has 20g of protein and 3 ounces of ground beef has 23g of protein. When our protein needs are met, we feel better, we function better and we can often naturally meet our health goals with a bit more ease.

GOAL: Track your protein intake and adjusted accordingly. Aim for a minimum of 100g per day and upwards of 1g of protein per pound of ideal body weight.

MAY: Mile-a-Day

I've been doing this monthly challenge for years and love it! The challenge is to get outside and move your body for one consecutive mile every day in whatever manner you prefer. Walk, jog, run, bike, skate, whatever! It's a fun month to see all of the changes in the spring and, for most of us, a mile is do-able. If it isn't, pick another distance you prefer. Read this blog on the benefits of walking if you need some extra inspiration: 5 Reasons You Should Go For a Walk Right Now.

GOAL: Walk (run, jog, bike, whatever!) for one consecutive mile every day this month.

JUNE: Get outside

I'm doing the 1000 hours outside challenge this year (2024). That is the equivalent of about 3 hours outside every day for the entire year. When you live in a northern climate, 3 hours outside in the winter is not always feasible, so we're currently aiming for 4-5 hours per day. Yeah, that's a lot. And near impossible if you work full time indoors (unless you are doing an hour before work, an hour at lunch and 1-2 after work). So, for your challenge this month, you are going to pick a time that would be somewhat challenging for you to complete every day or average each day. If your goal is an average of 1 hour per day, you would reach 30 hours for the month. If it's 4 hours per day (like me), I'll accumulate 120 hours this month. I find the accumulation helpful in case there is a day it is super rainy or something comes up and it's harder to get a good amount of time outside. The reason I picked June for this challenge is that if you are in the northern hemisphere, we get much more sunlight! And are more likely to be outside a bit more. Here are some tips for accumulating that outdoor time: eat (and if possible, cook) outside, read outside, walk or bike to work or errands, park further from where you are going, meet friends for an outdoor hang (patio, park, zoo, outdoor pool), go camping, workout outside, work, do as many things you might do inside outside instead.

GOAL: Choose an amount of time (1+ hours) to spend outside on average every day this month.

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