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Using Your Gift Cards to Become a Healthier You: Part 2

In the last Smart Bytes®post, I urged you to STOP and think twice before using any holiday gift cards you may have received.  These cards offer a unique opportunity to help you hurdle financial obstacles you may see to changes you’d like to make for a healthy lifestyle.

use gift cards to help weight loss or exercise instead of magically disappearing

Use your gift cards to help a healthy lifestyle before they “magically” disappear

When money is tight – and it seems for many women regardless of finances — it can feel “selfish” to use a gift card for something you “should” be able to do on your own.  How much easier to use it for the kids… or after a particularly stressful day, to splurge on an impulse item you won’t care about within weeks.

In the last post, we talked about how you might use your gift card to support healthier eating habits in the New Year.  How about using those gift cards to help you overcome the obstacles you’ve faced when tackling other health goals? Here are a few more ideas to get you thinking about what could make a real difference for a healthier 2013….

If you want to amp up the physical activity in your lifestyle…

Setting specific physical activity goals and tracking your progress has been shown to help people become more active.

  • Pedometers are a great tool to help you move from a vague notion of “getting more active” to finding opportunities to do it.  Here’s a Q&A about choosing a pedometer that I wrote last year at this time for AICR HealthTalk, the syndicated column I write for the American Institute for Cancer Research. You can also learn more about selecting and using pedometers from this American College of Sports Medicine brochure or the Health & Wellness newsletter Vanderbilt University has created for their own staff.

Classes or individual coaching on some form of physical activity is an investment that pays in many ways. If you’re trying something new, it allows you to learn right from the beginning how to do it in a way that is both safe and geared to give you maximum results.

  • Classes are a key strategy for me.  I hate to admit it, but although I will move mountains to keep any professional or personal commitment I make to others, when things get busy, the commitments I make to myself are often the first to get laid aside.  By committing to some form of lessons – ideally in a group so small that it would be noticed if I were missing – I know that I’ll stick with my physical activity plans.

You could use your gift card to cover a strength-training program, or perhaps a dance class that turns exercise into pure fun (Zumba? Square dancing? Belly dancing? Salsa?).  Find a place that feels comfortable to you, whether that depends on other participants’ age, gender, fitness level, weight or type of workout apparel worn. Many fitness facilities now offer the same program type in several different fitness levels.  Don’t keep returning to something you’ve tried to do previously and hated – there’s no single form of physical activity that’s a must.  But on the other hand, don’t let past experiences rule your future. Just because you tried something once and didn’t like it, that doesn’t mean that with a different instructor or different setting or timing it won’t be great for you now.  You are not the same person you were 10 years ago, so don’t be afraid to give old ideas another try.

Appropriate shoes can make a surprising difference in the comfort of your feet and joints during and after physical activity.  Researchers conducting intervention studies that involve getting people more active tell me that people often show up in old shoes they’ve worn for years of lawn-mowing  — shoes that cannot possibly provide good support.  The best choice of shoes varies with the type of activity you’re doing as well as with your individual type of foot and walking pattern.use your gift card for supportive gym shoes to support a healthy lifestyle

  • It’s tempting to choose a new pair of athletic shoes based only on price, but they’re no bargain if they’re not right for you.  Instead, narrow the options to the shoes that will best meet your needs – you can get some insights here from the American Council on Exercise and from Discovery Health – and then look for the best price among them.

If you want to lose weight…

Please don’t fall for claims made by hosts of pills, drinks and bars promising amazingly rapid weight loss.  Advertisements and infomercials can make lots of promises, and what some call “clinical studies” don’t begin to follow guidelines for what makes a reliable study.  Before you throw away your gift card on something with little chance of helping, check information from a reliable source such as or

The strategies above to get more physically active — and those in the last Smart Bytes® post on using gift cards to help you cut down on high-calorie drinks and increase the proportion of vegetables in your meals — all provide documented help in reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.

Research shows quite clearly that keeping a log of what they eat helps people do better with eating-related goals.  The simple act of writing down what you eat actually seems to promote change in itself.  When you also track how those choices are adding up to meet or challenge your health goals, you may benefit even more.  Some foods have a “health halo”, and seeing how even nutritious foods add up in calories – especially if your portions are large or you snack a lot – can be an important eye-opener to help you keep calories at a level that supports long-term weight control.

  • Online diet analysis programs or apps for your smart phone offer you the chance to see how your food choices add up.  Do keep in mind that just because the information is on the Internet or on an app does not mean it’s perfect – the answers you get are only as good as the database on which they are based.  The good news is that a variety of programs and apps to track your eating are available free of charge.  The federal government offers SuperTracker, and here are 10 tips for taking advantage of what it can do for you. Other programs that have been reviewed as reliable choices to track what you eat include MyFitnessPal and SparkPeople.
  • So why am I talking about online programs and apps that are free in a column on using gift cards? They provide an example of forms of help to change eating habits that are readily available, in hopes that you’ll consider these options rather than turning to extreme diets and weight loss supplements that don’t work.  Sometimes the answers you get from these programs show you how what you’re currently doing is adding up in calories faster than you realized, but you are still left struggling to figure out how you can cut some calories in a way that is realistic for you and does not leave you starving.  Here’s where your gift card comes in.  If you’ve got a gift card that is in the form of a general credit card, you may be able to use it to access a session with a registered dietitian (RD).  An RD can look at the data you’ve gathered from a diet analysis program and provide fresh ideas for workable ways to change it up.  You can Find an RD in your zip code area through the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If the dietitian does not accept major credit cards, simply use the card to buy groceries or pay for something else that would normally come from your checking account, and then pay the Registered Dietitian by check.

Let’s talk:  What purchases have made a difference in helping you overcome a challenge to healthy eating or lifestyle habits? Please join in the discussion using the Comments section below… let others get ideas from  — and be inspired by — what’s worked for you.


Magician photo credit: <a href=’’>chepko / 123RF Stock Photo</a>


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