The Weather Outside is Frightful

And that television is so delightful.

Darkness, cold, and snow has descended. To keep this from being an utterly depressing season, we have decided to cram three major holidays into a a two month span. And we love to celebrate with food. 

Myth-busting time: Common knowledge says that the Average American (AA) gains 5 pounds between Turkey Day and New Year’s. BUSTED: The AA gains only 1 pound during that time. Today Show Clip Citing Study

Exciting, but the problem lies in the fact that since it is just one measly pound, the AA does not make an extensive effort to lose it. Nor, will they try to prevent it from showing up on their frame. 

One pound is not as measly as you may think:

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That’s a decent amount of space!

Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead? Sorry, couldn’t help but throw that out there! Muscle is denser than fat, so while a pound of muscle weighs the same as a  pound of fat, it takes up considerably less space on your body:

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Tis the season for hot cocoa, roaring fireplaces, and snuggling up with loved ones. Don’t let that one pound sneak up on you, though. There is something magical about the quiet chill of the early darkness. Grab your boots (or triple-layer your socks…the fashion police won’t catch you, promise), your hat and your gloves, and fend that pound away by

Walking! It’s easy! And you can do it in your neighborhood or on a trail!

Snowshoeing ( 4.1 million do it! )

Skiing 

Parkour ( because who wants to attempt this without a blanket of snow to catch your fall? )

Outdoor ice skating

Happy Trails!

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Re-introduction!

May I welcome myself back? 

I’ve kept, so far, from chatting about myself too much (at least, I’ve tried), as the purpose of this blog is not so much a journal of my life, but rather a resource for you, Reader. However, I should explain my absence. 

I can’t even remember when my last post was. I believe it was well before my son was born. Work was exhausting me, and while I kept up with the walking and yoga, I felt less than fit. It paid off though, as my labor and delivery went as well as we could have hoped for. I was walking around the L&D floor while the Hubster was pushing Little Lion’s wheeled bassinet the day after D-Day. We took our first walk with the stroller our first day home.

Little Lion went through a stint with strolleritis, so I resorted to walking with him in a wrap. Which would have been fine if it had not been for our 100+ degree summer. Luckily (?!?) for me, Little Lion was waking up at 0600, so we could walk before it got hot. 

When he was 4 months old, 2 magical things occurred: Little Lion appeared to be cured of his strolleritis, and I had gotten back down to pre-baby weight. 

When he was 5 months old, I picked up the pace and began to jog again. Which meant I did my first 5K that weekend! 

He’s now 7.5 months and we’ve logged 105+ running miles. And countless more walking. 

So, that’s where I’ve been. There’s a lot going on here, but I’m back to writing and I look forward to keeping back up with and sharing with you the latest and greatest health, fitness and wellness research!

Valentine’s

Oh, the day of chocolate!

Many mark this as a Hallmark Holiday, but really like any day it’s a reminder of things we often push to the back of our minds or fail to recognize on a routine basis like we should (veterans, independence, new beginnings). Why we show our love our affection with dinner and candy is something I have failed to research, and true there is nothing quite like a gourmet meal or luscious chocolate.

Even better are the gifts that truly live on, and not in the form of accumulation on the thighs or in the arteries. Flowers die, but a flowering plant provides color and life in the midst of winter. A massage is temporary yes, but it relaxes and stimulates the entire mind, body and spirit. The ultimate gift is the gift of health, but ironically it is a gift you have to give to yourself before you can share it with others.

Enjoy your dinner, chocolate or wine. But also enjoy your time spent with your Valentine, and vow to care for yourself in order to be around for them for years to come.

(MORE!) Quotes on Fitness, Health & Sports

 

A vigorous five mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world. -Paul Dudley White

Exercise to stimulate, not annihilate. The world wasn’t formed in a day, and neither were we. -Lee Haney

If a man achieves victory over his body, who in the world can exercise power over him? He who rules himself rules over the world.-Vinoba Bhave

Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live. -Jim Rohn

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. -Thomas Edison

My motto was to always keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging. -Hank Aaron

Physical fitness can not be achieved by wishful thinking nor outright purchase. -Joseph Pilates

Just because you’re not sick doesn’t mean you’re healthy.

Many so-called spiritual people, they overeat, drink too much, they smoke and don’t exercise. But they do go to church every week and pray ‘Please help my arthritis. Please help me bring up my strength, make me young again.’ – Jack LaLanne

I fear not the man who has practiced 10000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10000 times. -Bruce Lee

Our food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food. -Hippocrates

Finding Your Motivation

There’s a sign-up board at work for “The Target Loser Competition.” Adding Biggest in there is evidently a trade-mark no-no. The HR gal and I were chatting about it (mainly to ban me from adding my name—not that I was going to—due to my temporary state!) and she mentioned, “I just need to find my motivation again.”

We had to get back to what we were being paid to do after that, but motivation is now on my mind.

There are various factors that can motivate you to take charge of your health, but they fall into 2 categories: Internal and External (formally known as Intrinsic and Extrinsic).

Being externally motivated comes from outside oneself (money, 1st place, fitting into a certain size, weighing a certain amount). External rewards can be motivating for a short period of time, there is no doubt about it. And, there is nothing wrong with external motivation. The problem with external motivation is that it depends on internal factors, such as self-control (http://mmrg.pbworks.com/f/Ryan,+Deci+00.pdf).

Why can this be a problem?

If you are working towards seeing a certain number on the scale, and you plateau, you may very well throw in the towel, dropping your exercise routine or trashing your nutritional habits. If your motivation is to win a competition, you may get to race day and immediately be unable to catch up to the person in front of you; depending on your personality, this could either make you train harder or give up and never train for a race again. I just recently started Pintrest-ing, and I see a lot of “Fitspiration” “Thinspiration” and plain old “Inspiration” boards that people pin (okay, mainly that women pin), and they often include photos of models—both regular models and fitness models; it can be motivating to try to look like someone else, but what happens when it dawns on you that no matter how much work you put into it, you really do have big bones and you’ll never look lithe like Melissa Miller…or your metabolism is too fast and your budget too tight to eat and workout to become big and ripped like Arnold?

Internal motivation on the other hand seems to have a more lasting effect, particularly when it comes to health and fitness. Internal motivation comes from a desire to be healthy—whether than means working to avoid heart disease, achieving peace with oneself, or embracing the edge of your ability no matter what that may be.

Sometimes the two overlap. If you want to have the energy to chase around your children on the playground, is that an external factor or an internal factor? Are you doing it for your kids, or for you?

It very well could be both.

WHY are you pursuing your goals? WHAT is going to get you up off the couch? WHAT is going to get you to chose the whole-grain pasta with marinara sauce over the cheese-laden lasagna?

You may need a partner. You may need time alone. You may want to do it to increase your self-esteem. You may want to do it to look better in your jeans. You may need to enlist the help of a professional. You may want to compete. You may want to do what you can to avoid certain diseases or illnesses.

There is no right answer.

Some Thoughts: Healthy Eating

The basis for this entry: One gal at work, every time she and I are in the break room at the same time on lunch she makes this comment:: “See Rachel, you’re a healthy vegetarian! That’s so awesome.” It’s nice, but it’s gotten me to thinking, because she’s said this on more than one occasion and I find it amusing.

There is a myth about vegetarianism being ‘healthy’ or ‘healthier’. As we were signing *yet more* paperwork at the car dealership, our car salesman made a comment along the lines of how he was thinking of being vegetarian so he could eat healthier, then went on to talk about veggie burgers. And herein lies my thought process about the entire situation.

I won’t bore you with the process of how I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian nor how I am on the brink of becoming a vegan, because it involves a lot of philosophical and spiritual beliefs and opinions and that is not the point of my blog. However, I do want to address the myths and misconceptions—and some concerns—surrounding this form of eating.

An easy explanation of vegetarianism is “not eating anything that has a face” or “not eating anything that has a mother.” Veganism is “not eating anything derived from another creature” including cheese, honey, milk and it often extends into not buying leather or fur.

Americans spend about $142 billion on meat (beef, chicken, veal, lamb, pork) each year (http://www.forbes.com/2009/03/24/eating-red-meat-lifestyle-health-red-meat-study.html). The suggested serving is about 8 grams of protein per pound of body weight; the interesting thing is that you don’t need to eat this all at one time, and in fact your body can only process so much protein at a time anyways (just ask anyone who’s ever tried downing gainer-protein shakes that take 3-5 scoops of protein powder; you don’t want to be in the same room as them once it starts getting digested!).

If you consume a variety of good-portioned fruits, vegetables and whole grains throughout the day, you will easily meet your protein needs; in fact, you can meet your calcium, zinc, iron, omega-3 and certainly fiber needs through veganism or vegetarianism so long as you are eating more than just rice, beans and broccoli. Fat, vitamin D and vitamin B-12 for vegans can be obtained from nuts, the sun, and fortified foods or supplements. (http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/vegan.htm#protein)

It is all too easy, though, for vegetarianism/veganism to become unhealthy, just as any diet plan can. After all, pasta, bread and white rice count as vegetarian/vegan! While carbs are not the enemy—vegetables and fruits are carbs!—too much grains can weigh you down, they are easy to eat in large quantities, and they don’t provide all the nutrients you need.

Also, there is just as much junk food available to vegetarians and vegans as there are for omnivores/carnivores. Fake-meat, which is processed soy to look and taste like chicken nuggets, corn dogs, ground beef and yes, burgers, are not any healthier than the products they imitate, even if they do have less fat. They are still over-processed junk food. And many vegan/vegetarian frozen dinners are extremely caloric and sodium-dense. There are vegan/vegetarian crackers, cookies, fruit snacks….sugar!

The concerning side of veganism/vegetarianism is when people use it as a front for an eating disorder. Just as bulimics can look ‘normal’ from the outside, with a healthy body weight or even being overweight, it can be hard to distinguish if someone is eating only salads out of personal beliefs or to restrict their diet. It is all too easy to have a strict, low-calorie diet in the name of animal rights. It gives restrictive eating a purpose beyond weight and size, but can be ultimately used solely for the purpose of losing weight and maintaining a low body weight. At risk of ‘using’ vegetarianism/veganism for non-religious/spiritual/ethical reasons are teen girls (http://www.nedic.ca/knowthefacts/documents/Vegetarianismanddisorderedeating.pdf), and teenage vegetarians have higher rates of eating disorders than do their non-vegetarian counterparts.

This is not to say that all vegetarians/vegans are hiding an ED, just as not all exercisers are hiding a body image disorder.

The point of all this to show that, without moderation and variety, vegetarianism/veganism can be just as unhealthy or dangerous as anything else in the fitness and nutrition world.

Adding in more fruits and vegetables and whole grains into the American diet is certainly not going to hurt us. Well, as long as those grains and produce aren’t laden with genetically modified organisms…but have I preached enough for today?

Take-home point: Meatless Mondays, non-calorie-bomb salads and other efforts to include more produce and whole grains into your diet is a healthy choice.

You Don’t Have Time to Not Make Time

Without a doubt, this is the craziest time of year. Work, holiday hours, party planning, attending parties, visiting family or friends, hosting family or friends, celebrating the season with various rituals, spending too much money, keeping a tight budget and not spending any money…it’s a fun, festive season! Ironically, it is usually the most stressful, too.

Every year, a couple of times a year, I commit to thoroughly immerse myself in my yoga and meditation practice, mainly because I know that every holiday season I will come down with a nasty cold/sinus infection. I try to get in the habit well before November so that by the time the holidays hit I will have a steady routine that will have strengthened my immune system, modified my response to stress and provide an outlet for pent-up emotions and energy. Lo and behold though, as I write this I am on the tail end of said cold. It came early this year, as my Thanksgiving proved to be more stressful than usual. As soon as I felt that trickle in my throat on Black Friday, my first thought was, “I haven’t been strengthening my mind and body like I should have been! If only…” If only I had taken the time each morning, or even every night before bed, to yoga or at least meditate. If only I had been taking longer walks with the dog. If only I utilized my gym membership more. If only I went to bed earlier.

This is a busy time of year, but then again, when if life NOT busy? So here, some reasons why you don’t have the time to not schedule time to be the everyday athlete you are:

*~*Working Americans need about an average of 7 days of sick leave a year

*~*Leisure physical activity—anything you do to get your body moving that you enjoy to do!—acts as a buffer of the physical and anxiety-produced effects of stress; aerobic fitness had no effect. So this means that even if you are not in perfect shape exercising still has positive benefits for your body and mind.

*~*A 3-month study of 1,000 18-85 year-olds who reported both their daily exercise and their cold/flu symptoms found that more exercise resulted in less sickness. People who exercised 5 days a week for a minimum of 20 minutes had 40% fewer symptoms of illness than did those who only exercised 1 day a week.

*~*People who sleep less than 7 hours a night are 2.9 times more likely to get sick than those who sleep at least 8 hours. (see above link)

*~*Meditation not only affects the parts of the brain that responds to stress and effects anxiety, but it also bolsters the immune system. After 8 weeks of practicing mindfulness meditation (where one practices observance and non-reaction to emotions, thoughts, sensations and ideas) participants were given a flu shot, as were a control group (non-meditators). Blood tests taken 1 and 2 months after the flu shot showed that the meditators had more antibodies in their system than did the non-meditators, hence they had more immune protection against the flu virus.

So, take 20 minutes a day to exercise your mind and body and enjoy the bustle of the year to come, or take 7 days off of work while you lose pay/productivity and feel miserable in the process?

The 11 Commandments of Exercise

The 11 Commandments of Exercise.

Trends, Fads and What Works

At work yesterday we were zoning (pulling product forward on the shelf to make it look full and straightening them out so they are in a nice label-out row) in the baby-food section, and the topic turned to the Baby Food Diet. Have you heard of it? It’s something along the lines of you eat a couple of jars of baby food instead of a real meal and you’ll lose weight.

Replacement-shake diets are still in fashion, although the newest trend is to mix up smoothies at home instead of buying them off the shelf in a can.

High-protein, low-carb diets are en vogue, whether they are being called after a person or an era.

There are diets for your heart, to make you younger, cleansing diets, clean diets, nation-specific diets, diets based off of just one food, and on and on. They all promise the same thing. And you know what? They probably do all work insomuch as they will in fact allow you to lose weight if you follow them verbatim.

Essentially, every diet’s secret is low-calorie and a strict schedule. Think about it: When you are NOT on a diet, do you eat whenever you want/get a chance/regardless of whether you are hungry or not/whatever you want or is easiest to grab? Whereas when you ARE following a diet plan, you control yourself and only eat the allowed foods/at the prescribed times?

Now the specific formulas for each diet my make claim about how special they are, such as when you are eating only protein your body has to use up its own energy stores (adipose tissue…fat) so you lose weight fast; however, your body and brain’s main fuel is carbohydrates and depriving your body of carbs for too long alters your body in huge ways (such as the development of ketone bodies, an alteration in mood, a decrease in overall energy). Eating only baby food? Look at how much sugar is in most canned baby food, the lack of fiber and just the blandness of the flavors, plus of course the low low calorie content; the sugar gives you the energy to function on such a calorie-strict plan but the lack of fiber and even chewing can leave you unsatisfied.

How many times have you heard that balance is key? There are certain populations that need to be super-strict in their diets and have to worry about macro- and mirco-nutrient intake. But for you, the everyday athlete, whose mission is to be the healthiest you can be for your family and well-being, you don’t need to focus on ratios and numbers.

Really! YOU DON’T NEED TO FOCUS ON NUMBERS.

Calorie-counting can be a great way for you to get on track if you are completely unaware of your intake levels. But a more effective way–albeit maybe a tricky way—is to balance and be mindful.

We are very, very far removed from our bodies’ natural signals. When was the last time you sat down with a massive bowl of spaghetti at a restaurant—that could serve 4—and devoured the whole thing? When was the last time you wanted cake and only had a satisfying piece without beating yourself up about it and having more than made you satisfied?

Re-training your mind to recognize when your body is satisfied and LISTENING to that signal will take time. It will take you slowing down and acknowledging what it is that your physical body needs; not your mental body, not your emotional body. Your physical body. How much food do you really need to eat to feel energized, satisfied, no longer hungry?

What do you need to eat? Maybe a portion of spaghetti is what you need right now because you are low on energy. Maybe you need some cheese for the calcium and fat (yes, your body needs fat). Maybe you need some chicken for the protein.

Yes, DIEt is a nasty word. They are temporary, they mess with your body (yo-yoing is NOT good for your body), the word itself has a bad vibe.

What works? Listen to your body. How do you feel after eating _____________? How much energy do you have? Do you feel light and ready to tackle your day/evening? Or do you feel sluggish, tired and weighed down?

Getting Psyched Up: Does It Help?

For one reason or another, we tend to associate getting psyched up for a sports performance with loud music, maybe a passionately yelling coach, jumping up and down and getting all worked up for the event we are about to tackle.

Oh no, I do not just mean a competition. Think of how you may psych yourself up for a run, or a heavy lifting session. It may lack the yelling coach, but it might include some deafness-inducing tracks blaring in your ears and some boxing-type moves to get warmed up.

While there is a certain level of arousal that needs to be maintained before an athletic endeavor (graph to come), those same undertakings require a certain level of focus and calm.

Consider:
Ever heard of the phenomenon where golfers claim the hole is huge, making it easier for them to drop the ball in? Or how some baseball players say that the ball was moving slowly, or increased in size, before they had a hit? While this phenomenon is still being researched, the current theory is that it has to do with perception, and focus.

Ah yes, focus. Way back in one of my earlier posts you may recall we discussed the four different types of focus: broad-external, narrow-external, broad-internal, and narrow-internal. Each athletic situation calls for a specific type of focus, and it can change at any time in the game. While running, you may need to regulate your breathing (narrow-internal) then switch back to the environment around you to make sure there are no cars about to pull out in front of you (broad-external).

Going back to the large-target phenomenon. Mickey Mantle, addressing a 565 foot home run, said, “I never really could explain it. I just saw the ball as big as a grapefruit.” A study from Purdue found that golfers actually see the cup as being bigger; after a round, 46 golfers were shown a poster with 9 holes (sizes 9-13 cm) and were asked to pick which one was the size of a real cup (10.8 cm); the golfers with the best scores picked the larger cups, while golfers with poorer scores thought the cup to be smaller (Golf Study).

Ah, perception. It is a whole field in and of itself. Is our perception of something reality? Can’t the same thing be viewed differently by each viewer, and if so, what then is the reality of the thing being viewed? This is not a philosophical blog, so ponder those questions in your free time. However, what the above study and the large-target phenomenon suggests is that our perception and our performance influence each other.

The next question then, is which comes first: Do better players see the target as larger, or does seeing the target as larger make a player better?

Like nature and nurture, this is a case of, “A combination.” Many good/great athletes may unknowingly be seeing the target as larger since they have the mechanics of the game down and can focus solely on the target. If they are confident in their skills, that focus will translate to a larger target and more success at their game. However, it is also quite possible for an athlete to improve their game by working on their focus and perception of the target. Fully immersing oneself in the belief that the target is easier to strike helps you develop the confidence to be more successful.

So if seeing the target as larger takes concentration and focus, does getting psyched up for an event improve performance as well? There’s a range of arousal that needs to be reached to achieve adequate states of performance. For example, if the athlete is cold in body, sitting, not excited, not moving, watching the crowd, listening to the announcers, or otherwise distracted they may be under-aroused and therefore under-perform. On the other hand, it is quite possible for that athlete to be bouncing all over the place, antsy, pumped up way over the top and therefore unable to control themself for a satisfactory performance. See here:

Bell curves! Who's having flashbacks to 101 classes?

Optimally, the athlete needs to be just aroused enough to have their body and mind ready for the event, but not over-stimulated to the point of freezing or uncontrollable actions.

The take-away point here is that is it in your ability to alter your view of the challenges that are before you. That hill is not as steep as you think it is. Reaching that stop sign is not as far as it seems. That hoop is five times the size of your basketball. Turn on your favorite jams to get your blood flowing, then turn your eye and mind to what you need to conquer. You will.