Tag Archives: Health

Fitness routines when there is no routine

Finding an fitness routine that I can stick with is seriously my biggest challenge to working regular exercise into my life.  It is something that is important to me, and I know everyone says “if you REALLY valued exercise you’d find a way to prioritize it.”  Well I agree with that statement.  But just when I feel like I’ve found a good groove, something in my life changes and I’ve got to start all over from scratch.

When I was training for my first and only triathlon, I had a, um, flexible schedule and could easily make time for a trip to the pool or an afternoon run.  Then I started a new job (a week before the race!), moved to a new town and since then have had a much harder time figuring out a routine.

I’ve written about how I’ve tried lunch hour gym time — great when you can work it in, but I found that my days were just too unpredictable to consistently get to the gym during the day.

I’ve also written about run commuting, which I thought would be a good option, but for whatever reason I couldn’t stick with it.  First it was too hot.  Then it was too dark.  I don’t think I live in a dangerous area, but I will say that part of my problem is i don’t feel 100% comfortable running alone after dark around here, and that really limits the number of hours I can carve out for a run!

Then I tried running in the mornings before work.  And it was GREAT.  I thought I’d finally found a routine I could keep up for the long-term.  I’d leave for work a little early, run around the mall, and shower at my work gym.  Throughout August and September, the mornings were the PERFECT temperature for a run.  The scenery was inspiring.  I could never stop myself from pausing to snap photos of the monuments at sunrise.  Such an invigorating start to the workday!




I was making such good progress, getting faster and adding distance.  I was so proud of myself!  I started making tentative goals to sign up for a 10k sometime this year.  But then — the story of my exercise life — circumstances changed on me.  Beautiful August and September turned to October.  It got dark.  And cold.  And I got pregnant.

I bought myself a nice pair of running tights, bundled up, and bravely tried my best to become one of those women who kept on running all 9 months.  But at about 8 weeks, morning sickness and fatigue set in, and apparently my body just really needed to sleep 12-14 hours a day during that time.  One morning, during a brief interlude of feeling normal again, I tried going to the gym, only to discover that gyms and pregnancy do NOT mix.  TOO MANY SMELLS!  Oh my god, all the women with their scented lotions and the man with the horrible BO on the treadmill next to me, I was practically homicidal.  Never.  Again.  Then a few days later my morning sickness came back with a vengeance and I wondered if I had pushed myself too hard.

So I let my gym membership lapse and took it easy until I was sure I was out of the woods, about 14-15 weeks in for me.  I tried to pick up running again, with a really easy 2 mile jog/walk routine, but the next day I was unusually sore and decided not to chance it again.  So I’ve given up running for now, and since I no longer go to the gym I’ve had to get creative about staying active.  Here is my routine now:

Walking.  Lots of walking. 

Between a morning dog walk and the walking I do just getting to and from work/metro, I figure I get in about 40 minutes of walking daily.  I take a route that takes me up some big hills to get my heart rate up, and if for some reason my morning is too frenzied I try to get out for a 20 minute walk during my lunch break.  I know it’s not good for me to be sitting all day anyway.  The biggest challenge has been staying motivated when the weather is ugly, as we seem to have had a number of nasty 35° and rainy days this winter.

Prenatal yoga

I have done yoga extremely sporadically since I took it consistently in college, but I have finally found a prenatal yoga class that I LOVE, that is affordable, and is convenient.  It is seriously my saving grace each week for relieving all the random aches and pains that crop up during pregnancy, and taking the time out to relax and meditate helps with any fears and anxieties that come with the territory.
Prenatal yoga is definitely different than a regular yoga class — much more a focus on stretching, relaxation and opening poses rather than athleticism.  We do a few challenging asanas each week — squatting for two minutes is REALLY HARD, okay! — so there is some emphasis on building strength and stamina, but mostly I leave feeling light, relaxed and limber.
Having an arsenal of yoga asanas has been really helpful as my pregnancy has progressed  and I am starting to get more uncomfortable after long periods of sitting or sleeping.  Stretching and a few poses every night before bed has become a must in order to assure a somewhat sound night of sleep!

Fitness DVDs and TV

I’ve always been one that has needed to get out of my house to really motivate myself, but as mentioned above, the lack of gym membership and daylight to run outside has limited my options!  On top of that, I know that once the baby is here I’ll have precious little time to exercise, and seeing as there are no gyms nearby with childcare, better that I start figuring out a contingency plan now.
Working out at home in short bursts has turned out to be a good solution.  I just needed to find the right programs.
First I tried some of the workouts I could find on Hulu since I was already paying for a subscription.  But it was a pain sitting through the commercials so that never really stuck.

I bought this prenatal yoga DVD in my first trimester before I started classes.  It is okay.  It wastes a little too much time with intros and segues and I get kind of bored by it.  But if I can’t make it to a yoga class, this DVD is a decent substitute.

Then I somehow stumbled across this bar method pregnancy workout DVD.  This one has been my favorite.  It cuts right to the chase.  It is broken into about 15-20 minute segments for each body part (arms, thighs, butt, and abs) that are easily selected if you don’t have the full 45 minutes to devote to a workout that day.  It moves at a quick pace and is broken up with recovery and stretching in between each set, so the 45 minutes go by surprisingly quickly!    I will have to check out a studio or their other “regular” DVDs in the future.

So those are the things that have worked for me thus far.  But with all the constant changes I’m going through lately, perhaps I’ll have to adjust my routine again.  What I’m learning is that flexibility is key, so doing away with the gym is probably a good plan for the long term.  I may not make that 10K goal any time soon, but I know that just being active for about 30 minutes a day is the most important thing, so I’ll live with my modified workouts for now.

How do you keep up a consistent fitness routine?  What types of workouts have been most effective for you?  Have you found any DVDs or at-home routines that you love?



The truth about sunscreen

Happy summer solstice!  Mother nature seems to be celebrating with 100° heat and high humidity.  But the arrival of summer begs another discussion:  staying safe in the sun.


I grew up spending my summer days on the water and in the pool.  Days  of swim team, fishing, crabbing, boating, or just jumping off the pier were always capped by a week at the beach in August.  In other words:  sunburns were a rite of passage.  I looked forward to the golden tan that developed by the first day of school.  Sunscreen was always an afterthought.

Which makes this fact even scarier:    just one severe sunburn in childhood doubles your chances for melanoma.  These days, I no longer willingly and knowingly allow myself to be exposed to known carcinogens.  A sunburn is just not something to be taken lightly.  Not gonna lie, my vanity also comes into play:  we all can picture what middle age looks like on someone who had a little to much fun in the sun in his or her youth.  Hence, I have become super anal retentive about being protected whenever I’m in the sun.

Not all sunscreens are created equal, however.  There is startlingly little control and regulation over what sunscreens are permitted to advertise and promote in terms of their effectiveness.  There is little quality control over ingredients that may actually exacerbate skin damage.  While conventional sunscreens may prevent you from burning, thus giving peace of mind, they are not all equally effective against cancer.  This is an instance where our regulatory and industry controls have failed, and it is up to the consumer to do the research and protect themselves.

Luckily, the Environmental Working Group publishes a sunscreen guide every year, testing hundreds of sunscreens and reiterating these basic facts:

-UVB rays cause sunburn and cancer.  UVA rays cause cancer but not sunburn.  Many sunscreens are advertised as “Broad Spectrum” or otherwise protective against UVA rays … but very few actually are.  The rules are astonishingly lax.  Cross-reference the guide to ensure that yours is.

-Many sunscreens contain harmful ingredients
.  Vitamin A, or retinyl palmitate, is an ingredient in about 25% of sunscreen.  Vitamin A actually increases the skin’s absorption of UV rays.  How does this make any sense????  Oxybenzone, an ingredient found in about 50% of available water resistant sunscreens, penetrates the skin, causing allergic reactions and is a potential hormone disruptor.  Mineral sunblock frequently contains nanoparticles.  Most FDA-approved UV blockers react with sunlight to cause free radical damage to the skin, even as it is protective against UV rays.  Other ingredients are known toxins and known to penetrate the skin.  It seems that choosing the best sunscreen is choosing between the lesser of two evils.  According to EWG, there are effective and safer UV blockers used in Europe that have yet to win FDA approval.

-Bigger is not better.  SPF of 30 should be sufficient protection, and SPF over 50 is false advertising — there is no evidence that these provide significantly better protection.  Don’t believe the hype.  Growing up, I was always told that SPF 15 was adequate, but it depends on how easily you burn, and for many people it is not enough for extended periods of time.

Confused?  Yeah, me too.  There is no “perfect” sunscreen available in the U.S. today.  Luckily the EWG has some helpful advice:

Mineral blockers, for all their faults, are the best.  Nanoparticles, free radical damage, and pasty white skin aside, mineral sunscreens are the best thing available on the market today.  This is what I use, and while the thick white creme that doesn’t blend so easily took some getting used to, I am happy with them now.

-Sunscreen is not the best defense.  Stay in the shade.  Wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.  Minimize your time in direct sunlight in the middle of the day.  Don’t assume that you’re good to go just because you’ve coated your skin in sunscreen.

-Educate yourself.  Check out EWG’s guide and see how your sunscreen is ranked.   You might be surprised!

Summer is such a magical time of year — don’t let a bad sunburn ruin it.  Stay safe out there!

Stay cool!


A new year of healthy eating

I am not really one for diets — I mean, just take a look through the archives and you will probably find just as many dessert recipes as healthful ones!  My general attitude is one that looks at food as our sustenance, what powers us — we truly are what we eat.

Therefore, it is less important that we count calories/carbs/fat/etc, and more important that we concentrate on getting the nutrients that we need while avoiding ingredients that benefit the industrial process more than our bodies.

To me, this attitude manifests as eating LOTS of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and sourcing from local and organic producers whenever possible.  I minimize processed foods, but aside from meat, I don’t *strictly* avoid anything —  we all have our days where we just want to eat an entire box of cheez-its, right?  ;).

But, I do believe that healthiness begets healthiness, and the more we eat healthfully, the more we will WANT to eat healthfully.  So if your goal in the new year is to revamp your diet, start small, and build from there.

I’ve always found the sharing of ideas and strategies to adopting a healthier diet to be helpful myself — there are always some things that stick with me and other things that don’t, and the more I hear about, the more likely I am to find a strategy that works.  Below are a few things that I’ve found have worked for me, but I’d love to hear your input and ideas too, so leave a comment!

Learn to love vegetables
As humans we are meant to be powered by vegetables.  They are the healthiest things we can possibly eat, packed with more vital nutrients than anything else on earth.  A diet rich in veggies is by extension rich in nutrition, and is known to prevent certain cancers, heart and metabolic disorders, and other lifestyle diseases.
But don’t think that eating more vegetables means eating boring salads all the time.  I don’t even like salads!  There are tons of creative and delicious ways to incorporate vegetables seamlessly into your diet.  Here is one article I just read with some good ideas; some additional things that work for me:

–Experiment with new preparation and serving methods. I thought I hated brussels sprouts until I realized they taste awesome roasted.  Plain raw carrot sticks or other veggies make a pretty boring snack, but chopped up and wrapped in a spring roll, they are fabulous.  I never was a huge fan of broccoli growing up, until I started eating it alongside my favorite foods, such as spaghetti and macaroni and cheese.  Actually, I love all noodles, and realized that just about anything tastes good when tossed with pasta to me.

The truth is, even I, a most devoted vegetable lover, will admit that eating a serving of straight up plain vegetables is BORING.  So don’t do that.  Learn ways to cook veggies into your favorite dishes.

–Keep frozen vegetables on hand.  Frozen veggies are actually more nutritious than fresh, because the nutrients that would have been lost in transport are locked in right from the start.  I always keep a bag of frozen spinach, broccoli, and peppers available to toss into stir fries, with pasta, add to spaghetti sauce, soups, stews, or even scrambled eggs.   You’ll be surprised how creative you get when you always have a stock of certain things on hand.

Focus on aesthetics. This sounds strange, and maybe it is only me, but I am always enticed by meals that are colorful and fresh and interesting-looking.  I am like a kid in a candy shop at the farmer’s market and the produce section.  Look at all the pretty colors!!! Rainbow chard, persimmons, funky-looking squashes, multi-colored carrots?  Um, yes please!  I really have to restrain myself when surrounded by bunches of beautiful vegetables.

Truth is though, color is a good indication of nutrient content, and constructing meals around color is a good technique.  When it comes to veggies, it’s okay to be guided by your inner three year-old — choose things by how neat they look to you, and find a recipe later.

Eat more fruit
Generally speaking, fruits have more sugars and calories and fewer vitamins than vegetables.  But they’re still a part of a wholesome diet and a great way to get more fiber.  I find that breakfast is a more natural time of day to incorporate fruit, and I make a point to eat one every morning — I now no longer can start my day without an apple, banana or a couple clementines!

Cook more from scratch
I post a lot about cooking, and it is now one of my hobbies, but it wasn’t always.  It is something that I have grown to love over many years.  I have realized that by cooking your own meal, you not only control the ingredients yourself but the end product is so much more satisfying.  And not just because of the hard work you put into it.

Think about it this way:  you have your own interests at heart.  Restaurants and prepared food companies do not.  Start taking a closer look at ingredients.  Where you would use extra-virgin olive oil, a healthy and delicious fat, they are using canola oil.    Where you might use a teaspoon of salt, they will have a tablespoon.  Where you might grate on a bit of wonderfully aged, imported parmesan — well you can bet they are not using that.

When you start cooking your meals yourself, your favorite restaurants suddenly begin to lose their appeal.  The hot food bar at Whole Foods becomes completely unappetizing.  Nothing is ever as good as you can make in your own kitchen.  Not because of any particular skill — but because you are not cutting any corners.

Really, it’s your body — don’t sell yourself short.  On both health AND taste.

I used to think these classic Indian dishes could only be found in restaurants

Choose organic ingredients
I read a news article recently speculating that chemical pesticides may be “obesogens” and contribute to our national obesity crisis.  This article was certainly not published in a peer-reviewed journal, so take that for what you will.  But the bottom line is that pesticide residue CAN be found in the fruits and veggies we eat, with completely unknown consequences.  And contrary to what the dairy lobby would have you believe, bovine growth hormone DOES affect humans, also with unknown but potentially scary consequences.
But you needn’t empty your bank account and purge your cabinets of conventional ingredients.  The link on the right to the EWG guide to pesticides gives a succinct, prioritized list of what to buy organic and what to forego.  But the gist is: items where you eat the actual plant — particularly greens — should be organic, because these receive a direct spray on the parts you ingest.  Items where you eat the fruit are not clear-cut — sometimes the plants are sprayed before it starts to fruit.  If you are shopping at the farmer’s market, just ask.  Items with thick rinds or peels that you remove are fine to eat conventional.

Keep in mind that these guidelines are only in terms of your health — not the environment, worker safety, etc.  I could (and will!) write a whole post on this.

Remember:  it’s a journey, not a destination
Being healthy is a lifestyle, and accordingly, it is achieved over a lifetime!  As I said above, we all have our moments where we just want to eat cheez-its and french fries all day.  When that happens, don’t fret.  Just start up again when you’re ready.  Don’t focus too heavily on forcing a 100% vegan/paleo/clean/other fad diet from the beginning.  Start small and build from there.  The better you feel, the more you will crave that feeling and want to eat healthfully.

Anyway.  That’s enough of my rambling.  What advice do you have?