Archives for July 2008

In Praise of Facebook

I reluctantly joined Facebook last year. I say “reluctantly” because I didn’t really see its point. However, I have to admit that I have really warmed up to the concept lately. Why? Think of what Facebook actually does. It allows us to keep in contact with friends, past and present, all across the world for free. Facebook allows for this sort of contact in a unique way, with photos, games, groups, etc. You can really get a sense of what your friends are into, and what direction their lives have taken/are taking. I am not saying that I am really all that interested in meeting up with all of my friends or aquaintences from high school or college, but it is nice to know what they are up to, where they are, and I like that I can occasionally send them greetings if need be. Plus, it is cool to be able to share things about my life with my friends, like photos of the new house, or photos of me with my (temporary) beard. Oh yeah, it is also cool to meet new friends online and connect with them through facebook.

Change #15: Use Your Legs

Being able to walk is truly a gift and yet so many of us take it for granted. If you can walk, do it (even if it’s on a treadmill at the YMCA; my previous post when I “complained” about walkers on machines was meant tongue in cheek). Instead of driving around wasting gas looking for a parking space, park out and walk. Walk to the store if it’s close and safe. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. When you walk to lunch at work, take the long way. Basically, if you can walk safely and it’s a reasonable distance, then do it! It is free and beneficial. While at grad school at Emory University, David and I would walk the 15 minutes one way to class everyday. We burned hundreds of extra calories and saved the 750 dollar parking fee as well as hundreds of dollars in gas a year. Get a pedometer to calculate how many steps and miles you’re adding to your workout. Walking with friends/family is also a good way to bond with others and get support in your weight loss goals. While I don’t advocate walking being your only workout all the time (although it is a good way for sedentary people to get started exercising), it certainly adds to the calories burned and general activity level.

Sale at Money Saving Mom

Attention (mostly) ladies and (perhaps some) gentlemen, Money Saving Mom is having a big sale on her e-books, downloadables, and audio workshops, offering $100 worth of stuff for only 5.97 (today only). Check them out! Her blog has more details about the sale.

Change #14: Make Your Workouts Count

I’ve often seen people use the fitness room at the YMCA to walk on the treadmill, which I always kind of thought was a little pointless since they could just walk outside without paying for the gym. Granted, I think about this the most when people (including me) are waiting to use them! Although it’s important to start off slowly and work at your level, it’s also necessary to work out hard, not too hard to injure or hurt yourself, but enough to work up a good sweat and get out of breath. Otherwise, what really is the point of going to the gym? A recent Time magazine article seems to confirm this. It’s called the Myth of Moderate Exercise and is worth reading.

Change #13: Drink More Water

I certainly got my fair share of water, if you could count coffee, but since it actually can dehydrate you, it probably didn’t count. One of my major changes in the journey from fat to fit was drinking more water and by that I mean nice, cold, usually filtered water, not coffee or anything else. I drank coffee, tea, sugar free juice drinks, etc. too, but not instead of good old H20. I found that in many ways I had to force myself to actually drink water at times. For example, I pledged to drink water each time I passed a drinking fountain at work since I usually didn’t have water until lunch. I took a water bottle with me to the gym and generously consumed it. I drank a lot of it in the evening to recover from my workout. However, I had to cut back slightly because I was waking up several times at night to go to the bathroom. I read that drinking 16 oz. of cold water first thing in the morning can raise metabolism and have done that regularly too. I don’t know if it’s helped my metabolic rate, but I do know that I feel refreshed and more energetic. Basically, we dehydrate our bodies for 8 hours at night and that morning infusion seems to help in numerous ways.

Image of water flowing from natural spring, taken by David

Making Money with Credit Cards??

Here is an idea that you won’t hear very often: you can make money from credit cards. In fact, standard wisdom is that you should only have one credit card for emergencies, and you should shred all old cards. This wisdom is probably good advice for many Americans, but nonetheless I make money from credit cards, and you can learn how to make money with credit cards. However, if you are responsible, you can actually make money from credit cards. Since I first got a credit card back in 2002, I have made over $1000 in rewards, and paid $0 in interest. So how is it that when thousands of Americans are paying way too much money to the credit card companies, I am making money from them?

Basically, it is a combination of rewards cards and responsibility. I have cards that get me 1% cash back on all purchases. Another gets me 5% cash back at grocery stories, gas stations, and  pharmacies. Yet another gets me 5% worth of reward points back on restaurants and movies. Still another gets me 2% cash back on utility bills, and 5%+ back at certain special merchants. I also have one that gets me 3% worth of rewards points at Amazon.com. Oh, and there are the business cards too: 3% back at restaurants, home improvement, and office stores, and 5% back on internet services purchases. Yes, I have a lot of credit cards, but contrary to popular belief, having a lot of credit cards doesn’t hurt your credit score. Now, if you carry high balances on your credit cards, that hurts your score.

Here is the way I look at it: if I spend $100 in groceries, paying with cash gives me $0 back, whereas if I pay with my Cash Plus Card (unfortunately, it is no longer offered for new customers), I get $5 back. It may not seem like a lot, but if you spend $100 on groceries a week, then using a credit card with rewards like this is able to earn you $260 a year.

Below is how to use credit cards to make money. Note that to get some of these cards you have to have established credit. Also, it is wise to not apply for all the cards you want at once, since applying for many lines of credit at once temporarily lowers your credit score (for about 6 months).

– Look for reward cards, and apply for the ones that you think you will use

– Only apply for cards that don’t have an annual fee

– Use the right credit card for the proper purchases (i.e. use the gas rewards card when you buy gas)

– Pay off your balance on-time, every month, so that you pay no interest or late fees

– Pay your credit card bills online. If you have 5 cards, paying for envelopes and stamps adds up.

Be responsible. This only works if you do not treat your credit cards as free money. If you don’t spend within your means, this is pointless.

– Look for offers of 0% introductory interest rates. This way you can pay off your balance slowly, keeping the money in a savings account until the end of the introductory period, earning even more money. Make sure you actually save the money and have it to pay off the balance after the introductory period is over.

– If you must carry a balance (emergencies, etc), apply for one low interest credit card (with no annual fee), and only carry balances on that card, but not on reward cards, which often have high interest rates.

Let me reiterate: this method is only for those who are extremely responsible with credit cards. If you pay interest, get levied late fees, or spend more than you otherwise would, you will actually be spending more money than you are going to make on rewards. Since the average American credit card debt is around $10,000 it is clear that this method is not for everyone. In fact, the best way you can save money if you currently have a lot of credit card debt is to pay off the debt you have; don’t even begin to use this method until you have paid off your other cards. Nonetheless, this method is effective if you can make it work.

Change #12: Get to A Gym

I once overheard an older gentleman at the YMCA telling his friend who was slacking on going to the gym that he had never left the gym feeling worse than when he entered and in fact most times felt better. I thought about it and totally agree. With the exception of the odd days where I may have slightly injured myself or was sick, I always left the YMCA feeling better. I always had more energy (in spite of sometimes hour long workouts), better mental clarity, and greater self esteem. If only I had the energy and mental clarity to get motivated to go to the gym! But, knowing that I always look and feel better goes a long way towards helping me get my butt in the car and drive the 5 minutes to go to the YMCA.

On My MP3 Player This Month

Chad (By the way, congrats on running 6 miles in a workout!) got me thinking about music and working out. I got a free Coby MP3 player by taking Harris Poll surveys online over the years, and I have been faithfully using it when I workout. Ever since I began “working out”  at age 15 in 1993, I have used music to help the workout process. I started out using a cassette walkman, progressed to using CDs, and now I use an MP3 player. In high school, I made my own exercise mix tapes. I am not really into what is traditionally thought of as “workout music,” meaning dance beat stuff. I prefer listening to music that is fairly upbeat and that inspires me in one way or another (and if there is a dance beat version of that song, even better). The first tape I listened to while working out was a collection of songs by Barry McGuire, a 60s folk-rock singer who gave us the hit “Eve of Destruction.” I also remember working out to Rod Stewart’s “Reason to Believe,” Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane,” and Harry Chapin’s “A Better Place to Be,” and other songs that might not be thought of as workout music, but that inspired me. Studies show that music extends workouts, and one study showed an average lengthening of 8 minutes. Here is what is on my MP3 Player right now:

Viva La Vida (Regular and Dance Mixes) – Coldplay

Lost (Regular and Acoustic) – Coldplay

Lovers in Japan – Coldplay

Violet Hill (Dance Mix) – Coldplay

Halloweenhead – Ryan Adams

The End – Ryan Adams and the Cardinals

Live Out in the Dark – Slobberbone

Lumberlung – Slobberbone

September’s High – The Drams

Wondrous Life – The Drams

You’re It – The Cash Brothers

Shadow of Doubt – Cash Brothers

Fireflies – Rhett Miller

Rollerskate Skinny – The Old 97s

Up the Devil’s Pay – The Old 97s

Girls in Their Summer Clothes – Bruce Springsteen

Radio Nowhere – Bruce Springsteen

Too Bad That You’re Gone – The Two Dollar Pistols

I admit my tastes in music probably aren’t what could be described as “popular,” although Coldplay is pretty popular right now I guess. I have linked to Imeem to some of the songs above. By the way, Imeem is a great, legal, way to listen to full-length tunes!

So what are you listening to??

Change #11: Do It Yourself

There are many types of activities that we frequently automate or pay someone else to do that burn a lot of calories. This could include doing yardwork or housework. My personal example came last winter when we bought a new house and had to deal with the issue of snow (we live in the Ohio snowbelt) on our driveway. Paying someone to plow our driveway would cost around 500 dollars; I could do it for free. I discovered that shoveling the driveway was not only cost effective, but also darn good exercise! In fact, snow shoveling burns around 7 calories a minute and judging by my soreness the next day, also works the muscles pretty nicely! It’s time to return to the old days and do more things by hand or personally rather than having a machine or someone else do it.

PS- Sorry for missing a day. I have cellulitis on my leg and have been pretty consumed by that. Please keep me in your prayers.

My Pre-Workout Vitamin Cocktail

Before each workout, I usually take a cocktail of supplements, along with lots of water, each chemical serving a purpose. I have listed them below. I want to make known that these are, of course, legal supplements, because I would never use drugs, illegal or legal, to get a better workout (kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?). I freely admit that some of these nutrients and their benefits remain unproven, in that the research behind them is based on smaller human studies, and studies on animals. I also admit I might seem a little nuts for taking all of these, but here goes. Note that I have researched these carefully, and I am not taking any prescription drugs that may interact with these supplements. Always consult with a doctor before starting any supplement regimen.

Green Tea – Right now, I take a Green-Tea, Alpha-Lipoic Acid supplement that I got at a dollar store on clearance. I will switch to Puritan’s Pride Green Tea Extract capsules after that runs out (and possibly take Puritan’s Pride Alpha-Lipoic Acid, 100 mg, with it). Green Tea has been shown in studies to increase the effectiveness (calories burned) of a workout. I don’t care for its taste, but drinking a few glasses prior to working out would likely be effective too. Green Tea contains caffeine, so if you experience any side effects of caffeine consumption, like rapid heartbeat, etc, stop exercising. Cut your green tea dose next time.

Vitamin C – Vitamin C has been shown to reduce inflammatory stress on the body during exercise. I am not sure if this is due to its antioxidant status or not, but regardless I am covered. I take 250 mg prior to a workout. I read somewhere that one study showed that taking 1000 mg or more may actually reverse the vitamin’s effect on workouts, so it is prudent to stick with around 250-500 mg. I currently take Healthy America‘s Vitamin C 500 mg tablets, split into two.

Movenzyme [Wobenzym] – This is a generic version of Wobenzym, a popular enzyme supplement overseas. It is available in the U.S. too. Unfortunately, Movenzyme is no longer made. UPDATE: A similar product (for a decent price) called Proteolytic Enzymes is available now, which I take.  Wobenzym contains protein-digesting enzymes, which when taken on an empty stomach, do not digest food, but act as potent anti-inflammation agents. Studies have shown that enzymes taken this way have benefited arthritis sufferers, helped those with athletic injuries recover more quickly, and exhibited a very powerful anti-metastatic effect  in rats with cancer (the last when taken rectally…eww…but it works). All of these formulas contains the enzymes Pancreatin, Bromelain, Trypsin, Chymotrypsin, and Papain. Enzymes may have a mild blood-thinning effect, so as with all supplements, consult with your doctor before using.

Bromelain – Bromelain is a mix of protein digesting enzymes contained in pineapple, particularly the root. I take it prior to a workout for the same reasons listed above, for the lessening of inflammation and related athletic injuries (studies show that the enzyme effect is the strongest when taken prior to an injury). I take Now Foods, 500 mg of 2000 GDU Bromelain. I buy it from Vitaglo for a good price. “GDU,” gelatin digesting units, is a unit of Bromelain’s strength. Most experts recommend a higher GDU, which basically means that 1 mg of 2000 GDU Bromelain will digest twice as much protein as 1000 GDU Bromelain.

Pancreatin – Pancreatin is basically hog or beef pancreas extract. It sounds kind of gross, but believe it or not, the pancreas of an animal is not only edible, but considered a delicacy by some (it is often called “sweetbread”). I take Puritan’s Pride Pancreatin 1400 mg. You may wonder why I take all these enzymes. Well, studies show that to have the desired effect, you have to take quite a few, since the absorption rate of enzymes into the bloodstream is relatively low (the anti-cancer effect in the rat study linked above was 45 mg of protein digesting enzymes for every kg of body weight).

Rutin – Rutin is a sugar, and is found in the rinds of citrus fruits. It exhibits an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect, and is a source of Quercetin, one of the two nutrients (along with Resveratrol) that Drs. Oz and Roizen mention as having strong anti-aging possibilities because of their relationship with sirtuin. Rutin contains Quercetin, in that Rutin is a complex sugar consisting of Quercetin and Rutinose. I currently take 50 mg of Rutin before working out, from Puritan’s Pride, although it looks like they only sell the 500 mg tablets now (Rutin is dirt cheap, and I can split the tablets into fourths).

Acetyl L-Carnitine or DMAE– ALC is a form of the amino acid Carnitine, and is thought to help improve memory and enhance brain function. DMAE, found naturally in Salmon, is supposed to have similar effects, so I tend to take a half dose of one or the other before working out. A lot of people (including myself) notice an enhancement of vision, perception, and mental stamina after taking one of these supplements, usually about 30-40 minutes after taking it. I currently take 150 mg of ALC or 50 mg of DMAE (from Puritan’s Pride) before a workout, although to avoid any possible side-effects, I don’t take them together. I am not implying these nutrients are unsafe, but I play it safe with unproven substances. To take the half-doses that I do, I have to break open a capsule and empty half of the powder in a large spoon, and then reseal the capsule. I drip in a little water, let the chemicals dissolve slightly, and then its bottom’s up! ALC tastes sweet, and DMAE tastes awful. Acetyl L-Carnitine and DMAE can make a person jumpy, and if you get a rapid heart bear, etc, you should stop exercising, and cut back next time. Same for DMAE. Because of the mild mental effects, I wouldn’t take it near bedtime. Personally, I wouldn’t take more than the doses I listed at once.

Whew…Okay, that’s about it. I should note that for the enzymes to be effective you have to have an empty stomach when you take them. This means you must wait 2-3 hours after your last meal. I have tried to list the places I have found with the best prices, since supplements are often overpriced if you don’t buy them from the right places.