Category Archives: Fitness

physical fitness

Homeward Bound

To me, the best part about vacation is the break from routine. I stay up a little later to watch a movie or extend an evening out, or I jump under the covers much earlier because I don’t have to pack lunches, do laundry, or finish a bunch of other chores before the next day. A huge perk is I get to spend loads more time with my ever-changing little guy and my semi-neglected husband. Vacation also forces me out of my eating habits and exercise routines in both good and bad ways.

I get into patterns of pretty much the same meals and snacks at the same times every day at work and at home. Eggs, Luna and Kashi bars, string cheese, canned soup, baked (frozen) chicken tenders and sweet potato fries, and salads are some of my current daily menu items. Vacation often reminds me about other foods that I’ve forgotten exist. That’s a good thing when I rediscover broccoli or hummus or seared tuna…not so much, when memories of espresso brownies with fudge frosting and peppermint stick ice cream are revived. And, speaking of ice cream, I am all about it when I’m on vacation. In my world, ice cream is the thing vacations are made of. I guarantee you I will have a chocolate chip cookie dough hot fudge sundae this week. Maybe two. And, I can’t wait!

One other thing that vacations change for me is my workouts. Again, health-wise, it has its pluses and minuses. A change in my exercise rituals is a good thing because it’s nice to surprise my body with something different every once in a while. It’s a break for some of the muscles that get overused and a wake-up call to others that are getting rusty. My vacation exercise style is a not-so-good thing because I get a good amount of variety and weight training in my normal, non-vacation life. I’ve written about the weight-lifting, Zumba, kickboxing, and step-aerobics classes I take and teach and about all there is to love about exercise classes. They are totally what work for me in my day-to-day life. They motivate me to get to the gym, stay there for at least an hour, change up what I do, and keep me coming back for more. When I’m on vacation, I’m still motivated to be active. It’s just that I do what I prefer, which usually involves minimal weights and lots of cardio—because it’s vacation, and I do more of what I like on vacation.

For instance, this morning, I started the day with 45 minutes on the elliptical trainer at our hotel while reading my all-time favorite magazine, Women’s Health. That was the first time I’ve read a magazine in several months…possibly since my last vacation. That was also the first time I’ve hopped onto an elliptical machine in ages. It felt WONDERFUL!

Anyway, as you may have guessed, I’m on vacation. Yesterday afternoon when my husband got off work, we began the 12-hour journey by car from our home in Connecticut to my old stomping ground—Dayton, Ohio. We spend many vacations there with the friends and family I grew up with. In my books, fancy cruises to tropical islands pale in comparison to a good old-fashioned visit to my hometown. And, my husband and I agree we prefer driving to flying—because halfway to our destination, we splurge and stop at a hotel with a pool and premium cable (a luxury for us because we don’t have even basic cable at home). That’s where we are now.

Within the hour, we’re headed out for the second leg of our journey to The Buckeye State, the place I still consider home. I can’t wait to see my friends and family!

Exercise Classes: The Good, the Great, and the Glorious

A couple nights ago, my one year old decided he didn’t want to play in the gym nursery. And, knowing all too well how to get what he wants, he wailed at the top of his lungs until mama came back to get him. After being pulled out of my favorite Zumba class just as it was getting started, I came close to challenging him at a crying contest. But, instead of causing more of a scene than we already had, I admitted defeat, scooped him up, and left. As I was driving home and thinking about how much mama needed that workout, I realized I have a slight (?) addiction. I rely almost exclusively on exercise as my stress relief. At least three evenings a week, I enter the door to my gym, tattered and torn from the miscellaneous stressors in my day. Exactly one hour later, I exit transformed.

My life is not all that difficult. It’s just that I’m not very good at dealing with the little annoying things that come up between sunrise and sunset: deadlines at work, my 2nd grade stepson refusing the dinner I prepare, my toddler not being able to tell me what he needs. The minor stuff adds up over the course of the day, and I need a major release. I find that in exercise classes.

I mentioned in some of my other recent posts that May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. I’ve already talked about the benefits of exercise and how to overcome excuses and barriers to getting active. Before we head into June, I wanted to squeeze in at least one or two more posts on exercise. Today, I thought I’d mention my personal favorite way to work out. Although there are millions of great ways to get and stay active, I have to say I’m actually quite picky about how I do it. I’m all about the classes. Here’s why:

No more going it alone! My very favorite thing about classes is they are full of people like me who are all there for the same reason—to sweat! Sure, I’m there to de-stress, while the guy on my left with the sweatband may wish to reduce his blood pressure, and the woman in the pink biker shorts behind me may hope to someday fit back into her skinny jeans. Still, ultimately, we’re all there to work. I love the people factor—people to complain to about the difficulty of mustering the energy to make it to class, people to grimace or moan with me when things get tough, and people to share in the relief and success of making it through when the class is over.

Motivating, knowledgeable instructors. There is always someone up front whose sole purpose is to keep you safe… and especially to keep you going! Besides pushing you to your full potential and guiding you through proper form for the motions, instructors are usually there to answer your questions before or after class.

Upbeat music. There’s a pretty sizeable body of scientific research showing that music and exercise make a fabulous team. When people work out to music, they work harder and are more likely to stick with it. That doesn’t surprise me at all—who doesn’t want to move when there are some good tunes and a solid beat playing in their ears?!

A way to clear your head. Focusing on choreography means I can’t think about whatever is stressing me out. With each instructor’s cue that enters my head, one of my destructive thoughts is shoved out. And, concentrating on pushing myself physically is a great way to empty my mind.

Something for everyone. Wanna fight? Try kickboxing. Love to swing your hips? Try Zumba or another dance class. Always wanted to be able to touch your toes or stand on one foot without wobbling? Try a yoga or pilates class. My favorites are weightlifting—a class that devotes one five-minute song to each muscle group, and step aerobics, which I love so much that I teach it!  What’s your thang? You may not know until you try them all.

Ready-made workouts. Even those among us who live to exercise get in ruts. Before I started classes, I did the elliptical trainer and ….NOTHING ELSE. Besides overworking certain parts of my body and underworking others, I was totally bored with it…for like five years. The beauty of most exercise classes is they are designed to optimize your workout. Most include the ideal recipe of highs and lows, strength training and cardio, and warm ups and cool downs for a balanced, whole body workout. That way, you don’t have to think about fancy equations for giving your body what it needs. That part of the work is already done. All you have to do is show up!

Structure. The times are already set for putting them into my schedule. When a class that I like occurs at a certain hour, it’s on my calendar. Instead of doing everything else and then hoping that I find time to exercise, I plan for exercise and then work the rest of my life around the classes.

Accountability. Once you go regularly, there are a couple accountability issues. If you don’t show up for a class you usually attend, people start asking where you were. Sometimes I go to class against my will just so I don’t have to prepare 100 excuses for next week when everyone asks why I didn’t make it. Also, I can remember so many times I’ve started a bike ride or a run and five minutes in decided I wasn’t in the mood. Not so much with a class. Once I’m there, I’m kinda stuck. Who wants to shimmy past swaying booties to get to the exit? Or weave through a crowd whose punches and kicks you have to dodge just to reach the door?  Plus, I find that 99% of the time, once I’m there, I don’t want to leave!

Fun! Have a good time while you work out. This one is a little redundant to some of the above because it’s probably the people sweating with me, the personalities of the instructors, and the music that make exercise classes enjoyable. But, I can’t leave it out because it’s a biggie for all us group fitness fans.

Okay, I know, I know. I need to simmer down on the enthusiasm. I totally realize that exercise classes are not for everyone. I also admit that I’m a little biased as an aerobics instructor myself. But, it was my passion for the classes that led me to get certified. Plus, I actually attend far more classes than I teach.

If you’ve never tried exercise classes, my suggestion is to give it a shot. Many gyms offer free trial passes, so there’s really no reason not to try it out. You might actually find something you like (plus childcare usually comes with your gym pass!). And, if you’re like me, you may find it’s a major stress reliever…and as I say time and time again, we, moms, can never get enough of that!

The Dog Ate My Sports Bra

When it comes to exercise, we all have our excuses, many of them legitimate, some of them…well, not so much. Whatever our excuses, we have just as many good reasons to overcome our excuses and get moving. With the warm weather coming and May being National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, what better time to stop making excuses and start getting active?

Here are some common excuses and some tips for overcoming them:

I just don’t have time.

Do you have 10 minutes? Some studies show that you can reap all the same benefits of exercise (and possibly burn more fat) by being active in 10-minute chunks. So, if you have a 30-minute lunch break, can you eat for 20 minutes and take a walk for 10? When your child goes down for a nap, can you tackle your task list after 10 minutes of jumping jacks or jumping rope?

Be creative with your time. Talking on the phone? Walk around while you do it. Need to do some major reading? Do it on an exercise bike. Can’t miss your favorite show? Lift some weights while you watch. Have to get from point A to point B? Walk or bike instead of driving.  Or, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. Already walking? Hey, put a little pep in your step: jog or walk quickly instead of trudging. Or, make the walk a little longer—take the scenic route into the office, or park at the back of the lot at the grocery store.

Make time. Consider reevaluating how you spend your time. Does everything you do in a day, week, or month reflect your goals and values? If not, maybe some activities can go, and exercise can take their place. If you don’t see any room for deleting activities, talk to your partner, mom, or friends. See if they can help out with dinner, dishes, or the kids so that you can have a chunk of time at least a few times a week to do something good for your health. Make exercise a priority. Let others know how important it is to you and how they can help you achieve your exercise goals.

I don’t have the energy.

Fit it in before your tank hits empty. Many people find the most success starting their day with exercise. Others do it right after work. Either way, you’re more likely to actually exercise before your brain is drained and your body is ready for bed. Find a time that works for you.

Make sure you’re eating enough to fuel your workout. As an aerobics instructor, I hear quite a bit about people’s attempts to lose weight. Though I try to hold my tongue unless someone asks for my advice, I have a hard time with folks whose attempts to lose weight include going on some crazy starvation diet AND trying to exercise like a maniac. The two just don’t go hand in hand. Though you don’t necessarily have to eat more when you become more active, you certainly need to eat enough to keep the engine running. Make a commitment to healthy eating or at least eating enough that you have the energy to move your body.

Schedule it and stick with it. Put it on your calendar, and don’t give yourself the option of backing out. Start your day with physical activity. Not a morning person? Bring your workout clothes with you to work, school, or wherever you go during the day. Then, instead of going home, where you may second guess your decision to head to the gym or out for a bike ride, go straight for the activity. Get it done, and then go home to relax.

Just do it! Even the most committed among us have trouble mustering up the energy to get ourselves going at times. After all, we have millions of other things sucking our energy reserves dry. However, once we push ourselves out the door, we usually find that we’re even more energized after we exercise. Being inactive makes us feel more tired. When it comes to exercise, using energy creates energy; so, just do it already!

I don’t have childcare.

Find a gym with a nursery. I’ve been working out my entire adult life, and it’s true, having kids did throw a wrench into the routines I had going. One thing that worked for me was finding a gym that provided childcare. Look for a clean nursery and staff with whom you will feel comfortable leaving your little ones. If your child isn’t used to being left with strangers, start by leaving him or her just ten minutes the first day. Then, gradually build to a longer nursery stay for them and a longer workout for mommy.

Exercise with your children. There are a lot of options out there for those of us with kids. Classes are offered in which moms can work out with their young ones (I found a great article on that here: http://www.babyzone.com/mom_dad/fitness_nutrition/article/mom-baby-exercise). Not into classes? Take a walk with your baby in the stroller or carrier or the kids at your side. When my son liked his jumper (he’s over it), I used to do aerobics videos while he watched my feet and jumped along with me. If your kids are older, dance, jog, bike, or lift weights together. Your kids can benefit from the activity too. Plus, exercise is more fun with someone else!

I have a bad [insert body part here].

Engage in low-impact activities. I so hear ya on the aches and pains! With every birthday that passes, I seem to have a new twinge somewhere on my body. And those can be real barriers to certain types of activity, depending on where they are. The good news is that there are so many different types of activity out there. You’re sure to find something that doesn’t bother your [  ]. Swimming, walking, and yoga are three low-impact ones.

Work with an expert. If you have a serious injury or health condition, chances are exercise, if done properly, can make you feel better, not worse. However, you may need the help of a professional who specializes in sports medicine to identify what will work for you.

Check your posture and form. If something bothers you when you are exercising, you may not be moving safely during your workout. Consult with a personal trainer, fitness instructor, or your doctor for help with positioning your body. One easy tip to protect your back is to always suck in your tummy no matter what you’re doing.

I hate [insert type of exercise here].

Find something you love. Would you ever say that you hate food altogether just because you don’t like beets or liverwurst? None of us love all types of exercise. The trick is finding something you can look forward to doing on a regular basis. Walking around the park, biking through the streets of town, dancing in your kitchen, running through your neighborhood, swimming at the lake, learning how to swing dance…what sounds fun to you? Most gyms also offer a variety of classes: spinning, step aerobics, weight lifting, kick boxing, and dance, which can be even more motivating, because there’s good music, good company, and someone up front coaching you through the motions.

Change it up. Even the things I love the most can turn me away if I overdo them. Sick of running on the treadmill or walking down the same streets? Sign up to walk or run for a cause. Tired of the gym? Go hiking, skiing, or rollerblading. The added bonus is mixing up your routine can work more muscles and keep your body challenged so you gain even more benefits than if you were doing the same thing all the time.

Do something you love while you exercise. Even if you swear there is no exercise you enjoy, remember that all you really need to do is MOVE! Take a walk around the mall (go shopping!). Clean your house to music. Plant some flowers. Chase after your children. Whatever. You get the picture: do anything to get your blood pumping.

I can’t afford to join a gym or buy exercise equipment.

Don’t spend the money. Can you afford a pair of sneakers? Hey, you don’t even need those, really. Being active doesn’t require spending a small fortune. Although the classes and machines the gym offers or fancy equipment in your living room may be more motivating for you, it’s certainly not the only way to go. Exercise equals moving your body, and there are millions of ways to do that without belonging to a gym or using expensive gear. For starters, use bags of flour or sugar or jugs of water as weights, or do lunges, squats, push ups, crunches, and hovers on the floor.

Rethink your budget. If you truly believe that joining the gym or owning an exercise bike is the only way for you to commit to exercising, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your spending habits. Maybe the daily Dunkin drinks or monthly bills such as cable TV or Netflix can be reconsidered? Gym memberships start as low as $20/month, depending on what you’re looking for and where you live. And, with a few pieces of inexpensive equipment—some dumbbells, a jump rope, and an exercise ball, for example, you can do quite a bit.

I’ve tried, and I just can’t do it.

 Think about what went wrong. Were you a little overambitious? Were you forcing yourself to do something you hate? Was it the wrong time of day for you? Give some careful thought to what got in the way of your commitment to exercise, and do things differently next time.

Think about what went right. Remind yourself of what you did like about exercising. Did you have more energy? Feel more confident about yourself or your body? Enjoy the time to yourself? Make a list of what you liked and make sure your new plan focuses on those things.

Don’t think it has to be that hard. Too many people fail at exercise because they set out to do too much too fast. If you’ve found good reasons not to exercise in months or years, what makes you think you’re all of a sudden going to be able to work out every day for an hour? Start slow. Set small goals. Even five minutes a day is better than nothing. Prove to yourself that you can do a little before you try to do a lot.

Go public. A little support can go a long way. Tell your family, your coworkers, your Facebook friends about your goals and your accomplishments.  They’ll cheer you on and maybe even check in to make sure you’re staying on track. Sometimes we need some outside help to keep us going, and that’s okay.  

Starting singing a new mantra. Just listen to yourself with all those “I can’t”s.  Let’s channel The Little Engine that Could here, people. Though you’re going to need a little more than “I Think I Can”s, an optimistic attitude is a step in the right direction.

Well, that was a long post. I guess I had a lot to say. What do you think? Any new revelations about how you can make this whole exercise thing work? I don’t know about you, but all this sitting and typing makes me want to get up and go! If you’re not feeling quite as excited as I am, consider making a list of all your personal excuses for not exercising and how you can overcome each one. Good luck!

Why exercise?

I started my day yesterday with a 3-mile walk for the March of Dimes: March of Babies. As I pushed my little guy in the stroller and spoke casually with other moms, I looked at everyone around me. People of various shapes, sizes, colors, and ages had gotten up early on a Sunday morning and were all walking for a cause. And, it was a beautiful thing.

What’s your cause?

My philosophy in life is that anything I do should have a good reason behind it. Whether it’s having a glass of wine at the end of the busy day or hitting the gym four times a week, I like to do things with a purpose. My personal purposes vary widely from maintaining my sanity, to keeping physically fit, to being a better mom, wife, friend, and person. Yet, the idea is the same: the way I spend my time should reflect my values and my goals.

With all of this in mind, I decided that before I launched into a bunch of tips and suggestions for how to be physically active, it made sense to discuss why we should even bother with exercise at all.

It makes me feel like a natural woman

It’s natural to move our bodies. Our prehistoric ancestors did it when they chased down their dinner or were chased by a predator. Our great (great? great?) grandparents did it when they chopped wood to keep warm in the winter or scrubbed their clothes with washboards. As time has passed and technology does everything for us (microwaves, cars, heaters, washing machines; the list goes on and on), we have become less active. It’s unnatural that we don’t keep active anymore.

What can physical activity actually do for us?

There’s a lot of scientific research out there to prove that we should get back to what’s natural and get moving. Here’s what the research says about the benefits of regular exercise:

It improves our moods. Exercise pumps chemicals into our brains that make us feel content and relaxed. It also reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. Let exercise be your happy pill!

It helps us manage our stress. You know what I did Saturday morning before throwing my son’s first birthday party at my house? I went to the gym and lifted weights for an hour. Before: psycho mom with laser beam eyes and a blowtorch mouth. After: calm enough to host a party. The scientific evidence shows I’m not the only one who can manage her stress with exercise.

It gives us energy. Who doesn’t need more fuel these days? When we get our bodies moving, oxygen and nutrients start shooting into our tissues, and blood starts circulating to our hearts, lungs, and blood vessels. All our organs and muscles start working better, and suddenly we have more energy to devote to the important things in our lives, like our children and our partners.

It helps us sleep better. Exercise helps us fall asleep and stay in a deeper sleep. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime—it may have the opposite effect!

It enhances our sex lives.  Feeling a little less frisky these days? Or did you exercise right before bedtime and aren’t quite ready to sleep? Then, practice making babies. Being physically active increases women’s arousal, decreases erectile dysfunction in men (read: take your partner with you when you exercise if you want more action), and gives both sexes more confidence and energy that tends to lead to more sex.

It strengthens our muscles and bones. Exercise builds our muscles and makes our bones more solid. This is especially true for weight training and high-impact sports, but even simpler activities such as walking work. Stronger, healthier body, anyone?

It can positively affect our kids. We hear it all the time: healthy moms make healthy children. Well, it’s not just an old adage. Pregnant women who exercise have fewer backaches; less constipation, bloating, and swelling; and increased energy, mood, strength, and endurance for an easier labor and recovery to take care of baby. And, when mom exercises, the baby in her belly has a stronger heart. Who knew? Not pregnant? The same applies: parents who are fit tend to have kids who are more active. And, children who exercise are healthier physically and mentally.

It prevents diseases. Routine physical activity, whether it’s our jobs or what we do in our free time, reduces risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and colon and breast cancers. Enough said.

It extends our lives. So, I already said we’re less likely to get diseases if we exercise. But, if we’re one of the unlucky ones who does get cancer, heart disease, or the like, our chances of surviving it are much better if we exercise. Better yet, studies show that those who exercise regularly reduce their risk of death from any cause.

It improves quality of life. Who wants to live forever if your quality of life is no good? Well, exercise has that covered too. Exercise increases quality of life well into the golden years.

It aids weight loss. And if all that’s not enough, then, yes, one major reason some people exercise is to lose weight. It speeds up our metabolisms, and torches calories. I’m mentioning this one last, because Lord knows, it’s an overrated reason to exercise. If the only reason you get your butt off the couch or out the door is to drop a few pounds, that reason alone is probably not going to be enough to keep you at it. And, it shouldn’t be. After all, the majority of moms (people!), I know want to lose weight—be it 10 pounds or a 100, and are a little happier when the number on the scale goes down. And, if you exercise, it most likely will. However, it takes a while, and that can be discouraging. The good news is research shows that even if you don’t lose any weight when you exercise, you still reap the health benefits.

Convinced yet? Now that we know there are at least…count ‘em…eleven…good reasons for exercising, next time we can talk about how to actually fit it in. In the meantime, let’s go dig those gym shoes out of the closet…

References:

Maffeis, C., Talamini, G., & Tatò, L. (1998). Influence of diet, physical activity, and parents’ obesity on children’s adiposity: A four-year longitudinal study. International Journal of Obesity, 22, 758–764.

Penedo, F.J., & Dahn, J.R. 2005. Exercise and well-being: A review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 18 (2), 189–93.

Sallis, J.F., Prochaska, J.J., & Taylor, W.C. (2000). A review of correlates of physical activity of children and adolescents. Medical Science Sports Exercise, 32, 963–975.

Warburton, D.E., Nicol, C.W., & Bredin, S.S. (2006) Health benefits of physical activity: The evidence. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 174, 801–809.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/HQ01676

http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp119.cfm

What is your exercise mindset?

I’m going to do something most of you aren’t going to like: I’m going to throw you into a category. While I know exceptions may exist, my observations of every mom I know lead me to believe there are four types of moms (people?) out there, when it comes to exercise. Here goes:

  1. The Completely Committeds. You know who you are. You get your four, five, six, or more workouts in per week. Rain or shine, in sickness and in health, on busy days, bad days, holidays, and even vacation days, you’re on the treadmill, pumping iron, or strolling by my window with the kids and dog in tow. “To be or not to be” active is not a question for you. It’s a given. I know this category best because I live in it. Exercise is my savior, my therapy. I do something physical nearly every day because it gives me energy, confidence, and clarity of mind, and it keeps me healthy.
  2. The Bipolars. No one really likes to identify with this group, although I believe you also know who you are. These mamas have spent their entire lives going through spurts of exercise routines, often more rigorous than realistic for them, and then dropping them shortly thereafter. You may identify with this category if your life has been speckled with several well-intentioned attempts to exercise regularly, but then you have fallen off the wagon. Have you made more than a dozen of the same New Year’s resolutions to “get active”? If so, I may be talking about you here, and you are not alone—I think most people I know actually fit into this category.
  3. The Nonchalants. These mamas may not be reading this post, except out of sheer curiosity about those in the world that actually think about exercise. If you are part of this group, you don’t really give physical activity much thought. You’re not pushing it out of your mind because you feel guilty (I would say this is a characteristic of the bipolars), but you simply go about your day without worrying about exercise. Most nonchalants who I know are either naturally thin without exercise (and are envied!) or are sufficiently active throughout their day without thinking about it.
  4. The Haters. If you fall into this group, you likely will admit it loudly and proudly. These are the folks who don’t “waste time” exercising. They talk about treadmills being for rats in cages, and physical activity being overrated. They’ve made little attempt to get active through the years, and are totally okay with that. If you truly fall into this group, you are likely not reading this post. (So, why did I even write that last sentence?!) When most haters see the title of this or a related post, they roll their eyes and move on with their inactive days. While I do know a few moms who genuinely fit into this category, I think it’s a minority of people. In fact, I think there are some bipolars out there, secretly disguised as haters.

Which one are you? (And, truly, I apologize for lumping you into one of my broad generalizations—I’m totally up for debating this if you want to throw a comment at me.) Today is the first day of National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, so I’m planning to use exercise as a theme for at least a few posts over the next several weeks. I just wanted to use today’s post as an attempt to make you think about your approach to exercise. No matter if you fall into the completely committeds group and are looking for some reminders about why you are there…or if you are one of the bipolars looking to upgrade to the committeds level and find something you can stick with for life…then, no time is a better time than the month that’s themed to be all about it. So, let’s get moving already! In my next posts, I’ll give you some ideas for why and how. Are you in?