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Give your health and fitness routine a spring clean

Spring is in the air, and all across the nation people are weeding through closets, kitchens and garages, resulting in hauls to Goodwill, curbside freebies and overflowing trash cans everywhere.

In other words, the big spring clean — in with the new and out with the old — is on.

So how might this ubiquitous wish to clean and improve translate to your health and fitness?

Personal trainer Jenny DeMarco suggests doing an inventory of what works and what doesn't in your health and fitness routine (or lack thereof).

"If you made a New Year's resolution, it's good to check in every few months and just ask some inventory questions," DeMarco says.

Among suggested questions:

• What was the original goal?

• Where am I now?

• How far do I have to go?

• What is helping/hindering that goal?

If you're having a difficult time sorting through what needs to stay and what needs to go in your routine, it could be a good time to hire a trainer to help you identify tools and goals as well as figure out whether your goals are attainable.

"Especially if you feel like you've plateaued, a trainer can help you figure out what is going on," DeMarco says.

If your routine has been consistent for a couple of months, it often needs to be switched up to yield continued progress. This might mean increasing intensity, frequency or duration, or adding a new component. We often get stuck with what we like — not what we need.

"We get into a comfort zone, and we tend to stay there," DeMarco says.

But it's not just about continuing to progress. It's also about staying injury-free.

Injuries often start to pop up after six to eight weeks of a one-sided or repetitive-motion activity, such as running, says Robert Gillanders, a physical therapist with Point Performance Therapy in Bethesda, Md.

Gillanders, along with DeMarco, emphasizes the importance of a well-rounded fitness routine, especially for people 40 and older.

"Tendon structures, for example, get very fragile as we get older," he said. "We need a broad routine, and we need to think long term."

That broad routine also includes making sure that your daily life supports your overall health and fitness. If you sit all day, for example, you are more likely to compress the lower spine, and this can be painful. So make sure to get up from your chair, walk around, do stretches and assume good posture.

"The benefit of exercise is lost if we assume schlumpy postures when we are not in the gym," he says.

Aside from variation and good posture, recovery, including sleep, is crucial for our soft tissue (muscles, tendons and ligaments) to recover and heal themselves after exercise, Gillanders says.

"Sometimes the best thing for the body is to work out less," he says.

Rebecca Scritchfield, a wellness coach and nutritionist in the Washington area, says that when the body doesn't get adequate sleep (seven to eight hours a night), it might be better to sleep in or take a long yoga class instead of going to the gym.

"Part of self-care is to listen to your body," Scritchfield says. "And if you decide to do your hard workout anyway, be compassionate with yourself."

Aside from sleep and rest, part of recovery is to nourish the body correctly, giving it enough good protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals and fat to work at its best.

Among spring-cleaning tips, she suggests doing a kitchen and pantry makeover to get rid of expired products and to donate unused nonperishables to food banks. Also, get rid of gadgets and other products you don't use. In other words, a decluttering of your kitchen can be part of creating a healthy eating environment. So fill that empty clean space with things that promote healthy habits, such as a large bowl of fresh fruit.

Stay focused on your goals and use yourself as a barometer.

"Remind yourself of the long-term benefits you will see," Scritchfield says. "And remind yourself that you are not going to love every moment. But your job is to take action."

Gabriella Boston is a fitness trainer and freelance writer.

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