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Challenge yourself this holiday season

‘Twas right before the holidays, when all through the house

Not a creature was dieting, not even those who grouse;

The pajama jeans clung to my waist with great care,

Knowing that seasonal eatings soon would be there;

When out in the kitchen there arose such a clatter,

I woke from a food coma to see what’s in the batter;

When what to my smartphone-strained eyes did appear,

But an oversized buffet and eight kinds of baked cheer;

More rapid than presidential debates these courses they came,

And I whistled, and shouted, and ate them all the same;

Now soup! Now, turkey! Now, gravy and potatoes!

On stuffing, on meatballs, on fried green tomatoes?!?

To the top of the plate! Top it off with them all!

Now eat away! Eat away! Eat away, all!

Depending on your perspective, this is either the quintessential holiday poem of our time, or something straight out of a personal trainer’s nightmares.  For me, it’s a little of both.

Staying healthy during the holidays is a challenge for everyone.  That’s why you’ll often hear health professionals emphasizing a goal of “maintain not gain” during these months.  Rather than set an unrealistic, food-related goal, allow me to suggest a course of action called “The 30 Day Challenge.”

My family hatched this concept after taking an overseas trip that involved getting out of our comfort zones and trying new things.  We decided upon our return that while we can’t travel the world nonstop, we can continue to open ourselves up to new challenges and experiences.

The idea of The 30 Day Challenge is to push yourself to try something new and make sure that you give it a chance by sticking it out for 30 days. Read for fun an hour a day, try a new sport, attempt to introduce a good behavior or jettison a bad behavior from your life – all of these are valid 30 Day Challenge goals, but you have to attempt the activity for 30 days and give it a chance to become a permanent behavior or habit.

My first 30 Day Challenge was to stop being the only executive in the world who hates golf. I played every weekend for a month and learned I don’t even like miniature golf. At least I gave it a shot.

Let’s fast forward to a success story…

In July of 2013 my wife called me to tell me she just signed up for a “Tough Mudder” and ask if I wanted to take part in the event with her.  I didn’t even know what a Tough Mudder was, much less what it entailed. She described it to me as a 12 mile run with about 20 muddy, army-style physical training obstacles along the way.  My wife was doing it so how could I say no?  I was in.

At the time I was 155 pounds and running six miles a day. I had great cardio but had no upper body strength. I‘d never lifted a weight or done strength training my entire life, and everyone I talked to said you need both cardio and upper body strength to get through a Tough Mudder. Uh oh.

Rather than shying away, I committed myself to engaging in 30 days of strength training with a personal trainer four days a week to prepare for the event.

[Spoiler alert] As you might have guessed, I survived the Tough Mudder and the 30 Day Challenge of strength training really paid off.  In fact, it has turned into a lifelong commitment.

Since then, I’ve been seeing my personal trainer three days a week for more than two years, adding muscle mass to my chest and biceps while strengthening my core and eliminating what had been over eight years of episodic back pain due to calcification of my lower spine! (This is to say nothing of those 20 and 30-somethings my wife and I trounced at the Tough Mudder).

So what’s your 30 Day Challenge? Have you always wanted to try yoga, kickboxing, jogging, hiking, rock climbing or maybe even a marathon?

You can make the decision TODAY – right now – to get outside of your comfort zone and commit to it for 30 days. You’ll see that 30 days is long enough to form a habit, but short enough that you won’t go crazy if you eventually dislike it. You may also find that taking on a 30 Day Challenge in the middle of the holidays is the perfect antidote to the office-based stressors of end-of-the-year reporting and sugar-laced break rooms.

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Larry Schreiber has been the President of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin, since August 2009. He is responsible for the management of sales, marketing and underwriting functions for small and large group accounts in Wisconsin, and serves as the primary contact for state regulators. He oversees Anthem's social responsibility activities dedicated to promoting health and wellness throughout Wisconsin.

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