Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Unfortunately, we can’t work out all the time.  Our bodies require rest as well as work.  Short rests during a workout allow the body’s energy systems to reset.  Longer rests between workouts promote body growth as the muscles recover stronger than before.

Rest is a challenging concept.  We feel guilty about it.  Surely we should be Doing Something.  Rest is that thing.

However, there are some sneaky ways to make rest feel less like wasting time.  We can rest one muscle group while working another, perhaps following squats with bench presses or pushups with lunges.  We can stretch, something that should in fact make us feel extra virtuous since we all need to do it and yet somehow most of us don’t.  We can rest from intense cardio with weights and vice versa.

Best of all, we can sleep.  I know there is a mystique about the I’ll-sleep-when-I’m-dead people.  Some very few people in the world can thrive with not very much sleep.  The rest of us just get cranky, achy, sick, and stupid.

Happy dreams…

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Wouldn’t it be nice if we could exercise once and be done with it?  Who wouldn’t want to escape (your least favorite exercise here) forever by doing a single set?  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

As the Under Armour commercial I saw last night says, we are the sum of what we do every day.  (It features Tom Brady, who is not exactly my personal poster-boy for doing things the Right Way, but that’s just picking on their example rather than their point.)  This is good news in several ways.  No one workout is going to make or break us.  We have tired days, days when our bodies rebel at the very idea of working out.  And those days when we can run twenty laps around the globe without breaking a sweat?  They feel great, but we don’t get to be awesome for life on the strength of them. 

Show up.  Every time.  That’s winning.

Monday, September 14, 2015

I can see this bike from the spin bike, too

My name is Janet and I am a football addict.  I started watching casually when I was a kid because my dad watched.  And then I was in high school in the 80s and there were the great Niner teams.  Later on, I found that watching large men hit each other on Monday nights after work had a soothing (or maybe cathartic?) effect.  Later still, my boys started to watch with me.

There are many reasons why being a football addict might not be a good thing (glorification of violence, excessive valuation of athletic ability over character, wanton sacrifice of young men’s health for entertainment, rampant consumerism, brain cell loss from too many beer/truck commercials), but the one I want to focus on today is that games are long.  If we sit on our behinds on the couch for a three-hour broadcast, we are not doing ourselves any favors.  Getting up to get more snacks is not enough to keep us from being slugs.

I happen to have a spin bike in my living room near the TV.  I realize that not everyone thinks that all d├ęcor must include bikes of one kind or another.  I use the spin bike to keep myself from slugging out.  Yesterday, that meant that I did in fact watch the entire terrible spectacle of the Raider game, pedaling seated during the game and doing standing intervals during commercials.

Even without a spin bike, we can multitask our TV time.  Commercials make great intervals for pushups, squats, crunches, jacks, mountain climbers, and other body weight exercises, no equipment required.  Keep a couple of dumbbells around (they make great doorstops) and we can add lateral raises, curls, overhead presses, and the like.  Stepping also works if we can locate something sturdy enough to step up on (which is to say, not the glass coffee table, which is probably higher than we want to start with anyway).

When we use our imaginations, we can find all kinds of ways to sneak exercise into our lives and even make our guilty pleasures somewhat less guilty.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

But it's hot...

Things that are good for fitness about hot weather:

Swimming.  Cool water, no sweaty feeling, intense cardio, and, if you stay in long enough, green hair.

Hydration.  It’s easier to remember to keep drinking water all day when it is hot.

Lighter eating.  Hello, nice cold fruit, crunchy salad, sushi!  Breakfast smoothie with ice, anyone?

Shade.  The gym is inside in the shade and sometimes even air conditioned.

We’re already sweaty.  So we might as well have something to show for it.

Go do it!  Just don’t make the post-workout ice cream too big.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Win fabulous prizes!

If we want to exercise regularly, we need to make it fun.  Otherwise, excuses are too easy to come by.  We all have limited time and energy and money.  We can all cite lots of things we probably should be doing right this very minute.  And we probably will choose the most fun one to do first (unless we are practicing rigorous time-management techniques that sometimes include getting the worst things done and out of the way before the fun stuff).

Making it fun takes many forms.  I love biking; no trouble to get me to go do that!  In fact, I love it that biking is good for me because otherwise I might view it as an indulgence for rare occasions.  If I need to do burpees, I had better find some other tactics to get some fun in there.  Like maybe burpees for margaritas.  Just kidding.  Sort of.  A better choice might be racing myself to get them done faster, or turning up the volume, or finding someone to do them with me so we can complain and suffer together.  Rewards also work, if we can manage to pick ones that don’t defeat the purpose (like those margaritas…).

Go play!

Monday, September 7, 2015

And thank you for the weekend, labor movement folks!

One of the key ideas in the early labor movement was time to rest.  We need both work and rest to be healthy.  Nowadays, many of us have sedentary jobs and we need to rest from them by getting out there and moving around.  Our brains need the rest of exercise and our bodies need to work and stretch muscles that have been still too long.

Happy Labor Day, however you spend it!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Make the minutes count... so you can concentrate on form!!!

How many articles, commercials, and blurbs do we see about what we can do “in just minutes a day?”  Here’s the thing:  many of us do not have minutes to spend.  I think most of us have already focused in on our major time wasters (hello, cop shows; I am looking at you…) and found ways to avoid them or multitask during them (watch pretend science while we pedal our spin bikes!).  We have to set priorities.

In fitness, this means that we recognize that we have only so much time to devote to it.  We need to make sure that what we are doing works.  In my opinion this means:

Interval training.  It builds cardio-respiratory fitness faster than steady pace work, it bumps up the metabolism for the whole day, and it doesn’t take as long to get the benefits (i.e., half an hour of intervals reaps about the same benefit as a whole hour of non-interval training).

That leaves time for weight work, which builds muscle, which builds up the metabolism and shapes the body.

And there is still time to stretch and roll and relax.  We need to take a moment or two or three to restore the body and the mind.  We all have more tension than we need.  Stiffness is not fun.  Working out the kinks through myofascial release, flexibility work, and some deep breathing pays off in reducing pain and increasing mental clarity.

And we should also probably take two minutes to floss our teeth.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Sweet somethings... or not.

I had a great Hawaiian vacation on Maui.  One of the highlights was ziplining with Flyin’ Hawaiian Ziplines.  Much of the land over which we slid (flew?) consisted of sugarcane fields.  One of the guides told us that sugarcane takes about two years to mature.  The process of harvesting sugar contributed to the cultural diversity of Hawaii, as immigrants came from Portugal, China, Japan, and other places to work in the fields.  Nowadays, the cane is harvested by burning, which reduces the sugar loss between field and processing plant; unfortunately, the growers burn the fields, drip systems and all.  Burning plastics might not be the healthiest thing in the world.  In fact, the sugar growers willingly pay a fine for the environmental impact of burning fields.  All that irrigation is necessary because it takes about a ton of water to produce a pound of sugar.  For more on the environmental impact of sugar growing, check out World Wildlife’s data here.

Why is this a fitness issue?  Several reasons.  First, no one can be healthy without clean water and clean air.  Second, sugar consumption underlies a lot of the obesity problem we face personally and societally.  Sugar tastes good; we are programmed from birth to like sweet things.  We can all use a little more motivation to reduce our intake.  If the personal risks of sugar (excess weight, potential diabetes, energy crashes, etc.) aren’t enough to convince us to skip the sweets, maybe saving the world a little bit might help.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Smoothie, Diet Coke, Spin Class, Hard Boiled Egg, Vitamin Water Zero...

I hate logging my food and exercise.  It’s time consuming.  It’s boring.  It’s repetitive.  And that is just the paper kind of logging.  The available software seems to be worse unless I eat the exact same thing all the time (Apparently, most people eat about 100 foods.  I haven’t yet tried to figure out my 100.).


I know when I do stop and write down what I am eating and what kind of exercise I am getting it helps.  Some of the help comes in the form of a well-known effect:  I won’t eat the 27 cookies if I know I have to write it down.  I will do the workout when I don’t want to because I don’t want a blank space on my chart (I don’t really believe in the Great Gradebook in the Sky, and yet I act like I do…).

Wriggling away from the truth does not count as exercise.  Let’s write it all down.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Do Be Do Be Do

“Civilization” comes from surplus.  I believe that is a reasonable summary of one of the premises of grade school social science as I learned it in the dark ages.  At that point, I think there were tinges of cultural superiority with overtones of colonialism, but I was about nine and my consciousness had hardly emerged, much less been raised.  It remains true that when we have to struggle for pure survival, we are perhaps less likely to develop elaborate architecture, write sonnets, or create action movies.

We have all read or heard or seen articles about how the end of the world is coming because of (choose any of the following or invent your own) greed, environmental destruction, new math, population growth, reality television, violent video games, cell phones, and the proliferation of kale.  We live somewhere in the tension between the fact that the world will, eventually, have to end and the fact that it hasn’t ended yet.  Some version of this hamster-wheel of thought invades all of us from time to time as we dash from work to grocery store to dry cleaners to soccer practice.  We are surrounded by things to do, varieties of stimuli, thoughts, feelings, events.

We get stuck in our heads.

One of the most precious gifts of exercise, from my point of view, is focus.  All the whirl of too much to do, too many thoughts, too many challenges can spin away with the bike tires.  I, and maybe all of us, can benefit from the emphasis on breath that aerobic exercise brings and the concentration on muscle coordination that enables heavy lifting.

Fight existential angst:  go out and play.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Action movies don't count as exercise, either...

The last few days, getting enough sweat has really not been an issue since the weather has been so, well, summery.  Unfortunately, breaking a sweat lifting the glass of iced tea doesn’t count as exercise, even though it may feel like more effort than it should be.

What to do?

Hydrate.  That means water, water, water, and more water.  Maybe something with added electrolytes if the workout is long, but mostly water.  This means before, during, and after the workout.

It doesn’t count as hydrating, but swimming is a great option for hot weather.  Also paddleboarding, surfing, splashing around, and water balloon fights.  Extra bonus points when we need to run away from a successful balloon bombing. 

Another option involves advance planning:  getting up early enough to work out before the scorch.  In theory, after the scorch also works, but I find that it takes an awfully long time for things to cool down in the evening.

If all else fails, find someplace with air conditioning, like a gym (ideal) or mall (power walking, anyone?).

Then again, we can always just think of what we are doing as Hot Workouts.  That’s because we all look so hot in our gym clothes, right?

Friday, July 24, 2015

"I got transported through a worm hole..."

“I broke my leg,” is a good reason to skip a workout.  “I’d rather watch all nine seasons of Star Trek Next Generation,” is, well, less good (although T.R. seems to be surviving a summer of doing just that).  “I’d rather floss my teeth,” at least involves a healthy behavior, but it’s not very plausible, it probably won’t happen, and it doesn’t take long enough to justify missing an entire workout.  And that is assuming it isn’t being said in the sense of “I’d rather poke my eyes out with flaming spoons.”

We all have days when we don’t feel like working out.  We can make up excellent and creative excuses for ourselves.  Our Inner Sloth will happily loll around on the lounge chair with a fruity drink.  Or our Inner Puritan will insist that we have important work to do instead.  Or our Inner Brat will just have a tantrum and demand a toy.  (It’s getting crowded In There!)

But we can ask ourselves a key question or two to sort out the good reasons from the bad.  Maybe “Do I feel up to going out with friends?”  (This is a little bit like when Mom would tell us if we were too sick to go to school, we were too sick to ride our bikes.)  Or “Which will make me feel better, getting this spreadsheet done now or working out?”  Or “Would I brag about what I did instead?”  Find the questions that work.  We might skip fewer workouts.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Shiny, Captain!

It is renovation season in the neighborhood.  Houses sport new colors, yards display new drought-resistant flowers, roofs fly off and return stronger than before.  Even I pulled weeds and trimmed up the back yard.

On an even more local level, we can do some renovations.  Maybe it’s time to clean our body houses.  I am not a believer in “detox” programs; we have livers for that.  However, we all can do the equivalent of cleaning out the fridge, waxing the floors (does anybody do that anymore?), washing the curtains, and decluttering the closets.

Maybe it is time to turn that idea that we can’t do some particular thing into mulch.  Or time to recycle our outdated body image.  Or even stop reading about new fitness techniques long enough to try some.

What will make us feel new and shiny?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Heavier than all my weights put together

One of the reasons I exercise is that I have depression.  While I don’t keep my depression a secret, I don’t talk about it a lot either because it isn’t all that relevant in most circumstances.  Also, it’s challenging to explain.  I don’t walk around looking at my shoes and crying all the time.  It’s more like I have the worst teacher/parent/coach you can imagine living in my head telling me I suck all the time.  On a good day, I can ignore it.  On a bad day, I may not make it out of bed.

On the day after a bad day, I exercise.  As soon as I can gather enough gumption to get up, I figure out when and how I can get sweaty and breathless.  It works like a high-powered vacuum on my head.

I am one of the lucky depressives.  Medication mostly works for me.  I have a list of things to try whenever I start to fall under the sway of the monster, up to and including massive doses of Julie Andrews.  But always, one of the very best choices I can make is to move my body.

If you have a similar problem, I am ready to be here for you, whenever.  Call/text/email/smoke signal/telegraph me in an emergency, or just because.  And please, consider going outside and moving.  It helps.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Musical chairs, or get up and dance

Last week I had to sit for hours, in a car, in a classroom, and in a car again.  It was more exhausting than the longest bike ride ever, with hills.  The next day I was wiped out. 

I am lucky in that I no longer have a sedentary job.  I would not be able to stand it.  In retrospect, even when I had one, I would find reasons to get up and move around—conferring with my coworkers, running work errands, standing to make copies.

We need to make sure we move.  There are many articles out there on ways to do it at work, including standing desks, walking meetings, even hydrating so that bathroom breaks are necessary.  Let’s figure out what we can do to keep out of our chairs as much as possible.  We will feel better!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

No, there are not too many patterns; why do you ask?

In general, I prefer to keep things simple.  I do not buy the Best Ever Fitness Gadget of the Month, even if they make a red one.

That said, sometimes I need to get fitness things to make the experience better.  There are two kinds of purchases:  good for the body and good for the psyche.

In the former category, I have bought, at different times, weight lifting gloves, better pedals for my spin bike, and actual workout clothes that don’t end up weighing a thousand pounds and lying there all wet on my back.

That last item also fits into the latter category.  Having workout clothes that fit, feel comfortable, function well, and look cute enough to distract from the sweat factor can make the difference between feeling up to a workout and not so much.  New headphones, new music, a sassy helmet (always wear a helmet when being sassy, just in case!), all good for the soul.

What small thing can make the difference today?  Get it and go play!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Or you could just blow a raspberry...

Why do we want to exercise?  Each of us has a different answer, or complex of answers; knowing why can help us stay focused.

The hard part, sometimes, is being honest about the reasons.  It is totally socially acceptable to say we exercise to be healthy.  Secretly, it may be all about showing that particular person just how awesome we look and neemeeneemeeneemee.  Perhaps we love doing hard things, but don’t love admitting it lest people think we are too weird.  Perhaps we are afraid of having to wear muumuus later in life, even while playing Santa.

Digging into the why helps us choose the kind of reminders we need to get out of bed or off the couch or out of the office to move.  Personally, I need to remind myself how much better I feel after exercising.  I need to remember that I like to defeat those weights.  I need to remember that I like to flex my muscles in the bathroom mirror (embarrassing, yes, but true.).

Knowledge is power (well, actually, power is energy consumed over unit of time, but the point stands.).  Be powerful!

Monday, July 13, 2015

From idea to action

I get all excited reading fitness magazines and books.  I mark exercises to try, workout strategies, yoga routines, recipes, and even pictures I particularly like.  There I am, all inspired! 

Oh, right, you have to DO something to get the benefit.  I knew there was a snag.

Here’s my plan:  sneak a little bit of new into the old.  Maybe I’m not going to do a whole yoga progression, but I can decide that my waiting-around stance is going to be tree this week.  I have to do some kind of weight work, so I can try one new workout.

Steal this plan.  It’ll be fun.  Trust me.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

My treat...

Treats are a wonderful thing, no doubt.  Even my disobedient dogs will sit if there is bacon involved—until they get the bacon, and then all bets are off.  Still, they got so happy that it was fun for me to give them treats.  Until we visited the vet, who suggested that the girls were no longer at their ideal weights.

We are human, which means that we have thumbs that can work can openers and other methods of controlling when and what we eat.  We also like treats.  Lest we have the same kind of conversation I had with the vet with our doctors, we need to pay attention to those treats.

Treats are not everyday food.  We don’t get a treat just because we are tired and whiny.  We don’t have to have a treat just because that guy two cubicles down has a birthday, or a new pie recipe, or an always-full candy jar.

The good news is that treats don’t have to be food-based.  We can get our toes painted a different color, spend half an hour swinging on the swings at the park (assuming no small people got there first), read comic books, go swimming, dance in the backyard.  Even napping can be a treat.

Whatever we choose for our treats, let’s make sure we really enjoy them.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"...itty bitty living space"

A lot of people wish they had time to exercise.  Today, I have genie powers:  we all have time to exercise!  Exercise does not have to take a long time and it doesn’t all have to happen at once.

Interval training is our best friend when it comes to saving time.  A half hour of intervals, in which we alternate segments of going as fast and hard as we can and segments of relative rest and recovery, not only burns more calories than an hour of steady state exercise, but it also pumps up our metabolisms for the next 24 hours.  Mix in some weights and we are good to go!

Sometimes finding an entire half hour is too much.  Let’s find three 10-minute slots.  The workout will be just as effective. 

Then there are the sneaky ways to exercise.  We can do calf raises while we brush our teeth, improving both oral hygiene and balance.  Stuck in line?  Let’s do some squats; worst case, we entertain the rest of the line.  Stuck in traffic?  Remember the trusty myofascial release duck and arrive with a much more relaxed set of traps.  Commercials during our favorite (non-pre-recorded shows?  Time for sit ups and push ups!  (And no, the sprint to the tortilla chips doesn’t count.)

We can do it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I cannot tell a lie...

Let’s tell the truth.  Not that any of us are liars, exactly.  We just give ourselves, often, a little fudge factor.  Like when we underestimate the calories in that piece of fudge, for example.  Or maybe when the account of our swimming workout starts to include escaping from a giant fish at high speed instead of the actual 25 laps we struggled to complete.

The truth can be uncomfortable, but so can tight jeans.  When we consistently underestimate the quantity of food we consume and overestimate the amount and quality of our exercise, we may be surprised that the jeans remain tight.  A little more accuracy in our reporting might reveal that the problem does not lie with the dryer, after all.

What have we got to lose?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Also, never underestimate the power of a well-timed grape

My friend O is 11 and newly in possession of a spiffy road bike.  Pedaling is old hat—she has been riding tandem with her dad for a long time over long distances.  It is, however, different, when one is in charge of one’s own bike.  It takes some time to learn about steering and pacing and braking and the always-crucial timing of calling out to pedestrians and bikes before passing.  She practiced all of those things when we rode (almost 15 miles, with some small hills) yesterday and did a fabulous job.

This morning, off I went to spin class.  I have my own batch of things I am learning and I figured one of them out today.  More accurately, my body found the way to execute what my mind couldn’t properly explain to it.  I grinned like a kid at recess.

Sometimes learning takes a while, but it is always worth it.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Watermelon, on the other hand...

So, hypothetically, maybe, someone happened to find a pint of ice cream in the freezer.  Maybe that person happened to be having a rough day and kind of ate the entire thing at one go.  What, hypothetically, should that person do about it over the next days?

First, there are a few things that person should NOT do.  Like get depressed about it and do it over again.  That person should not decide that she or he is hopeless and doomed and will never be fit or healthy so why even bother at all.  This may be challenging because, odds are, the ice cream did not exactly agree with that person and he or she may be feeling cranky, tired, bloated, or otherwise out of sorts.

Noticing that icky feeling in the body is one of the things the unfortunate person should do.  She or he ate the ice cream in an attempt to feel good, and it didn’t work.  Paying attention to this may be useful in avoiding a repeat occurrence.

The sufferer should definitely get some exercise, but what he or she would normally do, not the most intense workout ever to eradicate all thousand calories at once.  This will not make her or him feel better.  It will not magically return the body to its pre-Fall state.

In short, the plan remains the same in spite of the deviation.  Just get back to work, eating and working out in ways that produce health and wellbeing.  All of this applies to anyone who is considering a full slab of ribs or extra apple pie or a vat of someone’s famous potato salad over the holiday weekend.  Just in case someone, hypothetically, might have this occur…

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Said the Spider...

Lao Tse, currently spelled Laozi, according to Wikipedia, said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

What he didn’t say is that that single step can set off profound changes.  Imagine kicking a pebble with that first step and starting a rock slide.  Not that all change is bad.  (Except on my computer; software update has crashed it twice today.)  Sometimes that first step seems to be into an elevator heading for the sky.

Fitness can be a profound change.  We may not recognize ourselves.  We may find that the strength we have gained in our bodies has changed our power in the world.  Other people may treat us differently, in both good and less good ways.

We can react to that with fear, ice cream, and blankets, or we can gird up for adventure.  I vote for adventure.