The Exercise Dilemma

Much of my time as a student at the Teachers College has been focused on why people should exercise more. We learn about the mechanisms involved in how exercise effects all the major systems of the body to prevent and … Continue reading

Rehearsal with (Alex)andra Taylor Dance

I’ve been in the studio with (Alex)andra Taylor Dance as we prepare for an upcoming performance in November. We have been playing around with the idea of “absorbing” each other in our improvisations. I find this sped up version of our improv warm-up playful and inspiring. We have a great connection to each other even when we are simply doing our own thing, and eventually we all find our way back to the group.

Check out Alex’s Website and facebook page!

Enjoy!

The Importance of Hydration

Recently, I was lucky enough to sit in on a lecture from Lawrence Armstrong, Ph.D. FACSM an expert in the area of hydration. It seems like a lot of health specialists give out the advice to drink more water, and … Continue reading

Get Up, Be Active

Since my last entry I have started studying at Teachers College of Columbia University to get a Masters in Applied Physiology of Exercise. The course work thus far has been incredible, and I’m learning so much about the state of our country (and the world) when it comes to being physically active. It has taken a long time for the science to catch up with the changes in our daily habits and current culture of work and leisure. The most haunting facts that have been discussed recently regard our sedentary behavior.

We sit, and we sit a lot. We know that we should exercise, and many of us do! But what the current studies are finding is that even if you get in your recommended 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous intensity exercise per week, but spend the rest of your time sedentary, you will still be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.

So much of today’s work consists of sitting in front of computer screens, sitting for meetings, sitting for phone conversations. When we get home, we sit in front of our personal computer, or TV. Today I am going to list a few tips that has helpful for me to try to increase my daily physical activity and minimize inactivity.

1) Wear an Accelerometer or Pedometer. Something that measures your daily activity or steps will give you a way to track your activity from day-to-day. Seeing how active you were one day over another might be enough motivation to get you moving, or set goals for yourself to increase your activity.

2) Get up periodically during the day. Some people like to set alarms on their computers, or make themselves get up frequently to refill a glass of water. Whatever you do at your desk, every half hour, or hour make sure you stand up for a minute, take a brief walk. It just might help you to concentrate and be more focused when you get back to work.

3) Change your work habits. If you are so inclined to change your work space, there are multiple options. Some people prefer standing desks, or desks that can alter their height from sitting to standing. At the Teachers College lab, they even have a treadmill desk! Getting a balance ball chair is also a great alternative, you might still be sitting, but your core and balance muscles will still be at work. Also think about walking meetings. Who says the only way to solve a problem is to sit and talk about it? Go for a walk and see what ideas come up.

4) Take the stairs. Walking is excellent for your health, and if you are healthy enough to take the stairs do it. Why wait for the elevator if you’re just going up a few flights?

5) Schedule your workouts. Whether you go in the morning, in the middle of the day, or at night, make sure it’s on your calendar and that you actually go. It’s too easy to press snooze in the morning, go for a long lunch or fall into the couch after work. Do what ever you need to do to make sure you still get in some exercise.

Can Exercise Boost Your Immunity?

It’s cold season. I hear people sneezing on the train, people sniffling at the office and coughing as they are walking down the street. You can’t avoid it. According to John Hopkins Medicine, the average adult gets 2-4 upper respiratory infections per year. We are constantly being exposed to millions of germs on a daily basis. Our immune system, is just that a system, that works to combat the germs and fight against infections.

In the past decade there have a number of studies looking at the effects of physical activity on immune function. While exercise is known to be beneficial for helping control and prevent a number of age related ailments and disease, this is a relatively new subject to be researched. One’s overall immune function is mostly genetic but the average adult’s immune defense does varies from day to day based on lifestyle choices. Vitamins, supplements and basic dietary choices can help promote a healthy immune response. Sleep plays an important role and not surprisingly, the amount of stress in your daily life can also negatively effect your ability to fight off a cold.

So what about exercise? It is one of the lifestyle choice that appears to be helping immune function. This shouldn’t be too shocking as moderate exercise is also helpful with dealing with stress and anxiety. Just another reason to be getting in those daily physical activity minutes! But studies show that too much can start having an opposite effect. Intense exercise, labeled at more than hour and half of sustained physical activity (i.e. marathon runners, professional athletes) can weaken your ability to combat viruses. Many athletes are more susceptible to getting sick after a big competition where they were training for extended periods of time. So unless you are a professional, like for so many things in life, moderation is key.

Check out these links below that talk about how to boost your immunity this cold season!

NBCNews: 7 easy ways to boost your immunity

Harvard Health Publications: How to boost your immune system

Webmd: fitness and exercise: Boost your Immune System

Active.com: Answering your question about immunity

About.com: Exercise and Immunity

Keeping Fit on Vacation

Vacations and traveling can be refreshing and energizing but they can also leave us feeling a bit heavier upon return home. My dad used to tell me, “there are no calories on Holidays” and like so many others I take advantage of times with friends and family or on vacation as times to splurge and not think about eating “right” and just enjoying a good meal and a dessert. And there is nothing wrong with that! The last thing I would recommend is to go on a trip and not experience the food! But vacationing is not an excuse to be less active either….

On most of my vacations I do a lot of walking without thinking about it. Walking is great, and can mean the difference of 1.3 more years of healthy life in terms of cardiovascular disease if you are walking just 30 minutes a day. (according to a 2005 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine)

Living in New York City, I can easily walk 30 minutes a day when I include my commute to work and running errands in my neighborhood. If you live in a more suburban community getting those minutes in might have to be a bit more proactive when you drive everywhere you need to go. But exploring new cities, it should be easy to get in that burst of activity each day- but that might not be enough if you are also eating slightly more- or more richly than normal.

Unless you are at an all amenities included hotel, chances are you are without a gym. Here is when knowing how to get a good work out without relying on machines is most beneficial. Pilates and Yoga are both great to utilize in these types of situations. And getting creative with squats, lounges, and planks can give you a full body workout with limited space and equipment.

I found this article on a ten minute plank work out by Tina Haupert on Health Magazine’s Website. I tried it over the weekend and my abs and arms were definitely sore the next day. It’s incredibly intense and not suitable for beginners to plank workouts but it is telling just how little you need to work up a sweat. A modified version of this workout would be to add in moments in downward dog and child’s pose to rest.

Extra time stretching can also be a great addition to vacation time workouts. Stretching can be very relaxing and much needed after long periods of time sitting (travelling). Long trips on a plane or a car can be terrible for circulation. Try to stand up for a minute every hour or so, and making sure you rotate your ankles, stretch the calves and legs and doing a few straight leg press ups onto your toes can increase blood flow and prevent cramps.

Book Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

“You end up exhausted and spent, but later, in retrospect, you realize what it all was for. The parts fall into place, and you can see the whole picture and finally understand the role each individual part plays. The dawn comes, the sky grows light, and the colors and shapes of the roofs of houses, which you could only glimpse vaguely before, come into focus.”

I just finished another great book by Haruki Murakami, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”. Hours after I finished the last chapter I’d already handed the book to a coworker to read. I highly recommend it. I might be biases towards Murakami because I am also a fan of his fiction writing, but this memoir/ running journal was a lovely read.

Not all of us train everyday to be an olympic athlete, and most of us wouldn’t want to, or wouldn’t have the motivation to do so. What I appreciated out of this book was how he related his running and training toward his work as a writer and a person in today’s society. To be a long-distance runner and participate in over 25 marathons and numerous triathletes, you can already guess that Murakami is very dedicated to running, and has some serious will power to continue even after all these years.  He found running because he felt himself gaining weight and losing energy when he started writing full time. Even though he kept a busy schedule with work, he would still find time to run for an hour almost every day. The memoir talks about some of the places where he has run, and races he’s participated in, but mostly its about the struggle to keep going. But overcoming the struggle to get moving brings immense satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.

“People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any length to live longer. But don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life — and for me, for writing as whole. I believe many runners would agree.”

It doesn’t get any easier, even after running for 25 years apparently. But his notes, looking back on that roller coaster, the thoughts and inspirations that have come to him over time are emotional and heart warming. Running can be a little bit like meditation, once you find that groove, your body takes over and your mind quiets down.

“All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.”

Murakami admits that he sometimes prefers to be by himself, he talks about not having the most likable disposition, so training long hours alone suited him. I think everyone needs to be alone once in a while though (to take a moment of reflection, to clear the brain) and working out no matter what you are doing, can be a great time to give yourself that opportunity. Otherwise why are you doing it? One of Murakami’s mantras while running is “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

One of the chapters that resonated the most to me was him talking about getting older and how he never really imagined himself getting older. He remembered Mick Jagger once saying “I’d rather be dead than singing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m forty five”.  But who can laugh at Mick Jagger, who was still singing Satisfaction into his sixties? We all think we are going to be young forever, when we are young. This is all our first times growing older, he says, and so these feelings are new, and we don’t always know how to deal with them. I think everyone no matter how old they are can relate to that.

I think most people are competitive in nature, but not everyone chooses to be competitive all the time. In one section Murakami talks about the nature of running and how if the only reason to participate in a race was to beat a particular person, we wouldn’t have any motivation when that person didn’t show up to the race. Running has to be motivated from somewhere in yourself. I think that can be true to most competitive sports, but running in particular.

“For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”

So whether or not you are interested in running, or writing, I would recommend reading this book. It gives inspiration to those of us who struggle to get up early in the morning to work out- or train for a particular goal, but it also gives the reader insight into some observations on life and people in general.

“Has the dark shadow really disappeared?
Or is it inside me, concealed, waiting for its chance to reappear?
Like a clever thief hidden inside a house, breathing quietly, waiting until everyone’s asleep. I have looked deep inside myself, trying to detect something that might be there. But just as our consciousness is a maze, so too is our body. Everywhere you turn there’s darkness, and a blind spot. Everywhere you find silent hints, everywhere a surprise is waiting for you.”

Book Review: The First 20 Minutes

I’ve been following Gretchen Reynolds’ Phys. Ed. Column in the New York Times for years now. And I’ve just finished her book The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer. I will be talking about this book for months. A lot of the content of the book comes from studies she been writing about in her column over the past couple years, but seeing it all together really shines light on how much startling information has come to the surface. And the bottom line is this- Stand up and start moving, it will save your life, literally.

In one study by the National Cancer Institute, 250,000 americans, ages 50-71, were followed for eight years. They found, unsurprisingly that the most sedentary adults had the highest risk of cardiovascular and cancer mortality. But more surprising was the fact that the group of adults that averaged 7 hours of exercise per week, but also spent at least 5 hours per day watching TV or otherwise being inactive, were also more likely to die prematurely compared to those who exercised but watched less than an hour of TV daily. Unfortunately, it looks as if isolated bouts of exercise aren’t enough. What they’ve found is that long periods of sitting still changes the cell’s physiology. Overtime, inactivity decreases levels of Lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that that is known to aid in the breakdown of fat in the bloodstream, blood sugar levels spike after meals, and early symptoms of insulin problems and eventual diabetes could become apparent. It’s down right scary. Of course that was from a study that had adult male volunteer to be completely immobile for a day, not putting any weight onto their legs whatsoever. Extreme, yes, but those results were just after twenty four hours!

The book is chock full of great fitness advice, but if there is just one thing that I will take away from the book is that sitting for eight hours during my work day is not OK. I get up more often, if just to fill my water bottle and say hello to my co-workers. I stand at my desk. I take frequent breaks to briefly walk around. If nothing else, it has helped with my energy levels, it has done away with the 3pm slump, and helps assauge my fears of becoming the ever average couch-potato like American.

If you are having trouble motivating yourself to change your lifestyle, or just curious about exercise physiology and the recent research that people all over the world have been working on to prove that exercise is anti-aging and life extending, this is a must read. And I know that sounds cheesy, but seriously the results of these studies are staggering. Gretchen has a strong entertaining voice that isn’t judgmental but instead invested and very encouraging. Although the book is based entirely around different studies, the information and the implications of their results keep you wanting to turn the pages. I highly recommend the read!

 

 

Why is the gym so intimidating?

I haven’t been to a gym in years. I have relied on time spent in the studio dancing, running and doing Pilates for my exercise routines. But since I’ve always had a bit of an issue with my knees from years of athletic modern dance, lately running on concrete around the neighborhood hasn’t  been feeling too great. So I decided to check out the options for nearby gyms. Running on a treadmill doesn’t bother my knees, so even though it’s not as entertaining as the outdoor adventures, it’s much better than laying on the couch with ice on my legs after each run. (And apparently, I’ve learned recently that icing doesn’t do much to help sore muscles feel better or heal faster!)

I walked into the cheapest option that was down a couple blocks from my apartment and almost immediately turned around. I wasn’t looking for a fancy spa like atmosphere but if I can’t stand the smell of the place, I’m never going to want to come back to work-out. And you get what you pay for though, at ten dollars a month, I was warned never to use the lockers unless I want my things stolen.

I declined that membership and walked on to the gym that’s just around the corner from my apartment. Smelled fresh, the place was spotless, the front desk staff was friendly enough. I asked to speak to someone about membership options. Although the membership staff could have been more welcoming, the gym had all the amenities I would ever need and then some. It even had a hair and nail salon on site. Ridiculous, yes, but maybe convenient? It was big, CLEAN, and no funky smells. Everything checked out except the price. Of course the year membership cost was way more than I had intended to spend.

I checked out a few other places but they were smaller, and I was afraid that the treadmills would fill up fast at peak hours, and they were all off the beaten path, so to speak. I ended up deciding that since going to the gym was going to be a new challenge for  me anyway, I might as well choose the one place I wouldn’t dread going to in the first place. I took the easy, if slightly expensive, route.

My knees have been thanking me since the switch away from concrete, but I’m taking it slow to start out. I haven’t worked with weight machines since college so I’ve been a bit hesitant to venture to the weight room. It doesn’t help that everyone there seems so serious, I’m almost intimidated to go wait by a machine for it to free up. Why is everyone so somber? The treadmill that I’ve been using faces the weight machines so I’ve been doing a lot of people watching to pass the time. Its surprising how much people are lacking in form. I’m not a personal trainer, but when you are using momentum more than strength to flex your bicep, my guess is that your not doing a whole lot to benefit your muscles.

I see all kinds of strange forms and exercises that seem like they are more painful than anything else. And everyone has a straight face and attitude as if they know exactly what they are doing. Does it have to be like that? There is something about being surrounded by people working out that makes me insecure about my own fitness. I’m sure other people must feel that too.  Even if I think I know what I am doing, and know exactly what I want to do, I feel myself second guessing it all and then deciding to do my core work at home in my living room instead.

Maybe it’s the gym I chose, or my own self doubts of being back in a gym environment, but it’s something I’m going to have to figure out for myself.