Just Do It!

Sometimes when it comes to exercise you just have to do it. Kind of like the Nike slogan. Why? Exercise is going to be very hard at first. Even new activities for those already in pretty good shape can be tough. Once again, you have to just do the activity and not overthink it. Granted, you should think about issues of safety and etiquette and use the proper equipment (e.g. don’t think you want to play tackle football at age 60 and run out in the middle of a high school game and line up at fullback).

However, you have to work through the mental issues that tell you that you can’t do it. Issues like: you’ll look like a newbie, you may be sore, you are not good at it. The answer to all three of these, for example, is: duh, but who cares? Even Michael Phelps was new at swimming at some point, even if it probably was when he was diapers. But, unless you train with professionals, no one at your pool will be anywhere near Michael Phelps in terms of ability. If you think an activity or sport looks great and will provide good exercise, then jump in and just do it, even if you may look a little foolish for awhile.

Swimming Rocks My Butt (and Other Body Parts)

About 6 years ago, my brother, friend, and I, all in pretty good shape, decided that we’d add swimming to our workout routine. Before we went to the YMCA to swim, we discussed the details. My friend suggested that we’d swim 100 laps and my brother and I agreed. We eventually got in the water, swam a couple of laps and were totally exhausted. Swimming kicked our butt. Lately, I’ve gone back for more.

Our muscles can get into routines and this limits our ability to take our fitness to the next level. Just as we get complaisant, so do our muscles. I’ve been trying to mix up my workout considerably, adding running, biking, and other sports. After reading about the benefits of swimming in Men’s Health (not the exact article, but this one is good) I decided to give it another try. This time I went in with eyes open (with goggles of course), harboring no illusions about my lack of ability.

My YMCA only has 3 lanes for swimming and a limited amount of open swim time. So, I was working out in the gym section and would occasionally peer into the pool to see if there were openings. Finally, I found a free lane and rushed into the pool. I decided to do 12 minutes to start, using the crawl technique. It was hard, but not too bad. I was even able to do 15 minutes at a fairly vigorous pace, only stopping for a few seconds here and there for a break. When I was done, however, I was exhausted and finishing up my regular workout was difficult. I was also tired for the rest of the day. In short, it was a great workout and I’m going to keep it up.

I have some advice for people starting to swim. First, you need a place to swim. YMCAs generally have pools, but they can be of limited quality. Make sure to find out when open swim is because lessons, teams, programs, etc. take precedence over free swimming. Second, get the right equipment. Goggles are a must and get decent ones. You don’t want leakage or fogging up. Trust me, bad goggles are a huge distraction. Nose and earplugs may be helpful too. Finally, have fun and realize that swimming is tough; so start slowly.

What is Fitness?

Ask anyone, even those at a gym who look fit, what fitness is and you may get several answers. Most likely they’ll say being athletic, skinny, able to last at exercise, strong, or any number of answers. In fact, many people who think they are fit may actually not embrace the complete definition of fitness.

I’ve been taking a health and wellness course and my textbook defines fitness as the body’s ability to meet physical demands. And, it includes four components: flexibility, strength, muscle endurance, and cardiovascular endurance.

This definition challenged me in many ways, especially since I would consider myself “fit” yet do not achieve a four out of four. Let’s start from the back. I can run 9 miles, so cardiovascular endurance, check. I am able to do 20 pullups, 50 pushups, and over 100 crunches. Muscle endurance, check. I start at around 235 during my bench workouts and over 300 on leg press. Strength, check. That’s it, right??

Oh, wait, there’s also flexibility. That’s where I and a lot of others, especially guys, start to choke on the whole fitness thing. This is especially true for weight lifters, since we can often be very unflexible, or is that inflexible? Most guys couldn’t tell you, but it describes a good number of us. The RealAge doctors recommend stretching 5 minutes a day. It’s pathetically little, but we don’t often get it. I stretch about 10 minutes a week and that includes when I go to martial arts. I’ve resolved to get more active with stretching and will share what I’ve learned.

Here is a good link to get you started:

Basic Stretching Techniques

Now, I’ll share a good practice that I picked up from martial arts. You put your legs up against a wall while you’re upside down. Your torso is bent on the ground while your legs are on the wall in a splits position. Gravity brings your legs down like you’re doing the splits upside down. Over time it’s a great stretch and will help your flexibility in your legs. Try to do about 10 minutes. It’s easy to do while watching TV. Start slow and be careful, though.

Earn Your Treats

We all know we should avoid bad foods, the stuff high in trans-fat, sugar, and empty calories. Basically, all of the stuff that tastes fantastic! I want to deal with this topic for a moment because my thoughts are a bit unconventional.

First, I don’t think we should avoid bad foods completely. Why? Because life is too short. And, desperately avoiding the bad stuff may just make you want it more. It’s the diet equivalent of a glacier: you cut out one cookie and eat three a few days later. It’s better just to enjoy the occasional treat, so long as it is occasional and a treat.

Second, I firmly believe we need to “earn” bad foods. It’s kind of like we did when (most of us) we were kids. If we wanted something a little pricey, we’d have to work for it, like helping out mom or dad at a special chore. I organized dad’s comic books to earn money for an Indiana Jones hat. Look at food the same way. If you’re going out and having dessert, then make sure to go to the gym and add a few minutes to your workout. If you’re dying for cheese curls, then do more curls at the gym.

This has its problems if you want to eat poorly everyday, but for once a week or so small splurges, it allows you to enjoy the food without the guilt and the gain.

The Games of Our Childhood

For people born before video games were hugely popular and energy sapping (I just beat that era), we have fond memories of playing sports as children. It could’ve been kickball, basketball, red rover, tag, or even just playing around that required calorie burning. Well, one way to get fit as adults could be to actually re-visit some of those childhood activities. Ok, adults playing red rover or tag may be a bit silly, but dodge ball and kickball games for adults are happening in some cities and I think it’s a great trend. We played them as kids for one simple reason (and it wasn’t exercise): they were fun! As adults we can capture some of that fun and a lost piece of our childhood. Oh, and get some exercise.

Workout Tip #6: Start Slowly

I’ve known people for whom a diet can be a life changing extravaganza. They buy the right clothes, pack the ipod with upbeat tunes, get totally motivated, and start to envision their new hot selves. Next, they go to the gym and kill themselves. And, scared off by the soreness and stiffness, they don’t go back for a long, long time.

My basic advice is that you have to start slowly, especially if you are out of shape, overweight, or older. But, even young people who are starting a new fitness activity could use this advice. Now that I’m doing summer camp, I’ve discovered that being able to run, play racketball, lift weights, ride bikes, and cross country ski at a high fitness level didn’t translate to floor hockey. It probably helped, but I was still extremely sore.

You have to start slowly or you risk burning out. Nothing puts the breaks on a new fitness routine like not being able to move! But, you also risk hurting yourself. Waiting several weeks for an injury to heal also does little for your physique.

So, start slowly and work your way up to the harder stuff. It may seem wimpy to walk around the block at first, but you have to start somewhere. Walking around the block now could lead to a mega-marathon way down the line; but if you try to overdo it too soon, you may just feel like you’ve run one.

Your Hotel Room Can Be A Gym

I know it’s not as common anymore for many of us because of the economy. I’m speaking of traveling, of course! But, for those of us who do travel and stay in hotels, CNN has posted some advice for how to turn your hotel room into a gym. You can view it here. These are generally good ideas, especially for people short on time, but…also quite boring! I’ve brainstormed a few ideas about how to get a good workout and actually leave your room too.

-Visit the workout room or the pool- Still kind of boring, but better. And, your hotel has to have one.
– Use an “away” membership for your gym- a lot of gyms that have locations in multiple areas will often give you access to all of them. The YMCA often does this. There may be limitations in terms of times you can use it, but some have no restriction. It’s always kind of cool to see how different gyms operate.
-Get outdoors- Find a bike path or area popular with runners or walkers. You also will get to see new scenery and maybe even meet new people. Of course, be careful and make sure the area is actually safe.

My Experience with “Brain” Supplements

I am into health and fitness and have been since I was a teenager. In fact, I have taken vitamins on and off from the time I was fourteen. As an overweight teenager, I basically took matters into my own hands and read about health and fitness issues, including nutritional supplements. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about supplements that help bring mental clarity. I already take Acetyl L-Carnitine, an amino acid, and have added DMAE and phosphatidylserine (aka PS). I have had great experiences with these supplements, but want to share my thoughts including both positive and negative aspects.

I started by taking 250 mg. of Acetyl L-Carnitine the evening that it came. I immediately noticed greater mental clarity, sharper vision, and a generally elevated mood. I was able to sit down and focus enough to finish grading some papers I had been putting off for awhile. I’m not ADD by any means, but I still can be distracted. In spite of the greater focus, my sleep was lighter that night and I was somewhat restless. I figured taking it in the morning would help eliminate this, so the next morning I took 250 mg. on an empty stomach. I noticed the same benefits previously, with a little bit of restlessness thrown in. I was cruising along throughout the morning, but had a pretty big “low” in the afternoon. It came right as one of my classes was starting! Bad timing, I guess. I also experienced light sleep that night too, but this could’ve been connected to congestion, which I suffered from that day.

The next day, I modified my routine again by taking 125 mg. in the morning and 125 mg. in the late afternoon (all on an empty stomach). I still had an afternoon low and slept lightly to boot. More bad timing, I think. But, curiously, my workout that day was incredible. I got on the “virtual bike” and instead of my usual average of 220-230 watts over a 30 minute period, I was able to do 260 watts over the same period. This resulted in an additional 80 or so calories burned!

The next day, I cut my dosage to 65 mg. before breakfast and another 65 mg. or so before lunch. This removed the low and kept me going through school and my after school workout. So far, so good. During the weekend, I cut my dosage to 65 mg. one time before lunch. Once again, I noticed a nice workout boost, going from an average of 168 or so strides/minute on the elliptical machine to 175 or so strides/minute. I’ve worked my way back to 250mg a day, usually before workouts. Occasionally I mix it up by taking DMAE or PS before workouts.

As it stands, I have had a great experience with Acetyl L-Carnitine, DMAE, and PS. I can’t say I saw any physical benefits, but the mental boost when working out is amazing. I work a long day as a teacher and couldn’t imagine not taking these supplements (not at the same time, btw) before working out.  Here is the summary of my experiences:

Positive: Sharper vision, better mental clarity and more focus, huge workout boost (even at lower doses)

Negative: Restlessness, lighter/less sleep (at higher doses), some nausea (even at lower doses, but went away with time)

Bottom Line for Me: After I started slowly on the dosage, I noticed incredible benefits without the annoying side effects.

These are my experiences only. If you are interested in taking this or any supplement consult a doctor.

Lose the Stress, Lose the Flab

Looking for the source of your belly bulge? Ice cream? Doughnuts? Coke? Look again. It may be the screaming kids, the grumpy boss, or the constant breakdown of your car. Well, not those incidents specifically, but anything that causes stress.

The body responds to high stress by releasing the hormone cortisol which protects the body from harm by creating a fight or flight response (or anything in between). This was an adaptation from the days when we could be surprised and eaten by a tiger or today when we could be attacked by an intruder. Chronically high cortisol levels have been shown to contribute to the long term accumulation of abdominal fat.

The problem today is that while our body is not constantly responding to intruders or wooly mammoth stampedes, we are constantly dealing with low-mid level stress that can be endless, e.g. financial worries, job stress, etc. This keeps our cortisol levels high enough to keep that abdominal fat from leaving no matter how many crunches we do or hours we may spend on the cardio machine.

So, while giving up the ice cream, doughnuts, and coke are important, if you truly want to be thin and fit, especially in the belly, you also need to give up…the stress.

Article partially used for this entry: Cortisol Stress and Weight Loss

7.5 Minutes a Day to Save Billions?

A new study shows that a person need only exercise 7.5 minutes per week to prevent type-2 diabetes. The study is small, but it supports other studies that have shown that exercise can prevent diabetes, only in this recent study the amount needed was not a daunting 30 minutes a day, but a few minutes a week. Wow. 7.5 minutes a week to prevent a disease that costs lives – and billions of dollars.

So what are you waiting for? Get off your seat, go outside, and run for 7.5 minutes. Repeat next week, for every week, until you die, (which, hopefully, will not  be from complications of Type-2 diabetes.)