As a mom, it's easy to put everyone else's needs first. This year, give yourself the gift of good health. You deserve it.
Below, you'll find 10 terrific gifts to give your body and spirit a healthy boost. Reward yourself with at least one of these before this spring:
Foam rollers: No, we're not talking about those little pink things that women used to stick in their hair. Foam rollers—made from dense foam and available in 1-foot and 3-foot lengths—massage sore muscles and help you stretch as well as increase balance and flexibility. "These are easy things you can have at home," says Tonya Gutch, senior personal trainer, Cooper Aerobics Center, Dallas. "They're great for stress relief, tight muscles and posture." You lie, sit or kneel on the foam rollers to perform movements. Some come with instruction sheets; gym trainers also can advise you on best techniques. Rollers sell for about $8 to $20, depending upon size and density.
100 more a day: Forget deprivation. Choose to give yourself 100 more calories of expended energy every day. All you have to do is add a little more movement to your day: walk around the room while you're on the phone at work or home, take a 15-minute walk at lunchtime, even just jiggling your legs or sitting on a fitness ball while you sit in front of the computer increases your energy output. So does standing instead of sitting, so stand when you can. The American Dietetic Association says burning 100 extra calories a day (without compensating by eating more, of course!) can help you lose 10 pounds in one year. And you don't have to think of it as "exercise" or a "diet." For five more sneaky tips for losing weight, click here.
Deep rhythmic breathing: No time for healthful activities? This one takes only 3 minutes a day (do it while you're making a hot drink in the microwave). Breathe in deeply for 5 seconds, expanding your abdomen, not your chest; then exhale for 5 seconds and repeat. "The part of your brain that kicks off stress cannot be stressed if you are breathing deep, slow and rhythmically," says Ann M. Pardo, MA, director of behavioral health at the Canyon Ranch spa in Tucson. Deep breathing causes your brain waves and heart rate to slow down, she adds, and decreases blood pressure. Brief daily sessions are all you need. Pardo suggests doing it while showering or driving. For more on developing a meditative practice, click here.
Pedometer: You've thought about getting one of these simple step-counters and now's the time. Just last month, a review of research studies showed that participants (mostly women) who wore pedometers regularly significantly increased their physical activity. What's more, they also significantly decreased body mass and blood pressure. Pedometer wearers who set specific goals for step counts added more than 2,000 steps per day (equivalent of one mile). You can find good pedometers for about $20. Clip one to your waistband and watch your step count grow!
Quit for good: Whether you smoke a few cigarettes a week or many more, there's nothing better you can do for your health and your future than to finally stop smoking. It's the best gift you'll ever give yourself. If you're a light smoker, now's the perfect time to quit—before your use increases and withdrawal symptoms become more difficult, says Cynthia S. Pomerleau, PhD, an expert on women and smoking and director of the Nicotine Research Laboratory at the University of Michigan. Heavier smokers (10 cigarettes a day or more) should consider using the nicotine patch, nicotine gum or prescription quitting aids.
What about the weight gain that many women dread will happen if they quit? "I think the real deep-down fear is that weight will spin out of control," says Pomerleau. She suggests accepting a small weight gain while quitting, but taking moderate steps (no diets!) to balance eating and physical activity. These include eating lower calorie foods and drinks and being active at times when you would have had a cigarette (waking up, coffee breaks or when craving hits). "It's important for women to know that smoking affects many aspects of appearance, not just weight," she adds. "Smokers age faster. Smoking causes skin wrinkling, crows' feet, premature graying, tooth loss, halitosis, stained teeth and fingers, cracked nails" and more.
Schedule a quit date within the next few weeks and stick to it. Get rid of all cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays. Hang with your non-smoking friends and get support. It's time. To get more tips for quitting or to send an eCard to a friend nudging them to stop smoking, click here.
Knit: Knitting's not just trendy, it's good for you! For under $10, you can outfit yourself with a take-almost-anywhere hobby that helps you chill out as well as warm up. Relaxation response expert Herbert Benson, MD, of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital, found that the repetitive movements of knitting help you set aside intrusive thoughts, relax and lower stress. Sitting and knitting with other women is also a "tend-and-befriend" behavior that reduces distress.
Muscle massage stick: You may have seen athletes being worked on with these sticks by experts, but they're also good for self-administered comfort. The plastic sticks (about $30 to $50, depending upon size) have rotating pegs on their surface that relieve muscle tension and soreness. "It's like you were rolling dough," says trainer Gutch. "Roll it up and down your back and hamstrings. Sit in a chair and slide it up and down the back of the calf." Sounds like heaven, especially after a long workday or if you've overdone your regular exercise routine.
Sneakers: When was the last time you replaced the athletic shoes you wear for exercise? If you can't remember, it's probably been too long. And if you wear those shoes for everyday living as well, it's likely they've lost much of their shock-absorbing strength. The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine says that running shoes should be replaced after 350 to 500 miles of running (about 60 hours of wear, calculated on a pace of 8 minutes per mile). To get tips for buying the right sneakers, click here.
Teaball: This inexpensive (under $5) metal infuser ball on a chain holds loose tea leaves while they brew in your cup or pot, but keeps them out of the finished product. Many tea lovers think loose tea has more flavor, which can increase your enjoyment of a beverage whose beneficial antioxidants may help prevent cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and cancer. In tea shops, you're likely to find a wider selection of teas as loose leaves rather than in individual tea bags. Read more about the health benefits of tea by clicking here.
Resistance bands and tubing: Hate the weight machines at the gym? Don't have space (or the budget) to bring those strength-training behemoths home? You can get the resistance training your body needs—at far less cost—with lightweight, easy-to-store rubber bands and tubing. Available in both latex and non-latex products, these bands can travel with you to keep your workout on schedule. They're so light they can be incorporated into aerobic or walking routines. Some come with handles or belts to add to their effect. Prices start at around $5, so you might want to get extras as stocking stuffers for your friends.