Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Not-So-Fit-Girl Podcast Episode 1: Exercise, Diet, and the Brain

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We all know that our bodies need exercise and healthy food. But did you know your brain needs it, too?

Recently I had the chance to chat with neuroscience researcher, Mark Underwood. Mark is President and co-founder of Quincy Bioscience out of Wisconsin, where they study the brain and ways to improve memory and cognitive function. 

We know our bodies need fuel. Did you know that your brain actually needs fuel, too? Mark says the brain uses about 20-30% of our daily calories, which is fascinating since the brain makes up only about a 2-3% of our body weight. 

“Exercise is very important for the human brain to be functional, and if you truly satisfy the brain’s cravings you’ll actually find yourself in an opportunity to lose weight,” Mark tells me.

We know that our body uses sugar for energy. Well, our brain does, too. When the brain gets tired, it craves that energy source— sugar. Our instincts tells us to eat something that will give our brain what it needs, and that often has us grabbing sugary or fatty foods that will quickly feed that craving.

“What you need to do is provide your brain with a healthy source of sugar before it runs out, you’ll actually keep the brain from having the cravings,” Mark says. “So, by satisfying the brain’s actual ned sand strategizing on that, you’ll find your brain well-nourished, your diet much more balanced, and certainly better calories going into the body which ultimately is going to lead to a healthier body. If you can keep the right things in your body, the brain will send out a little more subtle messages that tell your body it needs to eat right.”

Mark tells me that by doing this, you can actually train your brain to crave healthier foods. When you have those sugar cravings, go for something sweet— like an apple or strawberries. These foods are not only a great source of sugar and nutritional content, but they also have fiber, which helps to regulate the delivery of that sugar into the blood stream. 

“This is the exact opposite of sugar that’s found in soda, which is just like main-lining sugar,” says Mark. “It’s too much too fast and your brain and body can’t deal with it.”

Your body needs other nutrients beside sugar, but the more that you can do to keep your brain properly fueled, the better you’ll do to provide proper nutrition for your whole body. When you couple proper nutrition with regular exercise, your brain can actually— get this— GROW. That’s right. No more of that, “Can’t teach an old dog new tricks” nonsense.

When you exercise, you’re actually tearing down muscle, and the muscle fibers strengthen and grow as they heal, building more muscle mass. When your body is sending messages to your muscles to rebuild, it’s sending those same messages to your hippocampus in your brain. The hippocampus is where you access short-term memory. Marks says that if your hippocampus isn’t working properly, you might introduce yourself to friends as if you were just meeting them for the first time. 

“Research shows that through exercise, you can actually measure in people that they’re hippocampus will start to grow. You didn’t technically exercise the brain while you were jogging. But the benefit of rebuilding yourself sends all those biological messages through the brain and encourages its repair as well. You brain is always sort of striking and always repairing itself. So, you want to stay ahead of the game, building it up more than you’re tearing it down,” Mark says. “Because your brain is going to get smaller with age, but exercise is rebuilding it, and will slow down that shrinkage.”

Research has shown a link between exercise and cognitive function, particularly in the prevention of age-onset Alzheimer’s. Focusing on your diet, and getting regular exercise, can go a long way toward repairing and even improving memory recall functions.

To find out more about Mark's research, you can visit his website.

(Disclaimer: Posts may contain affiliate links.)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Fitness & Fun for the Whole Family: Flip2BFit

When we received the Flip2BFit game in the mail, I'll admit that I was a little skeptical. OK — a lot skeptical.
I love playing with my kids and trying to integrate fitness into play, but this seemed too easy. Would my boys go along with it?
It was actually my 10-year-old son who first opened the box and asked if we could play the game. So, one cool Saturday morning, we pulled it out and set it up.
To read  my full review of the Flip2BFit Board Game, click HERE.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Fall Adventures: GeoCache with the Kids

The weather is starting cool, the leaves are changing color, and I'm beginning to think about ways to stay active indoors during the cooler months.
Meanwhile, I want to spend as much time as possible outside. One easy way to do that is with a treasure hunt. The proper term is geocache, but with boys, something that sounds like an adventure is going to be a lot more appealing than something that sounds like it could, in some way, be related to math class.
Read my full article in Upstate Parent Magazine.

Monday, September 8, 2014

For Janay, the Nightmare is Only Beginning

I have never run a marathon.

I have run many 5k races. I've even run an 8k. Twice, I ran a 198-mile relay race as part of a 12-person team. But I have never run a marathon.

Nor have I trained for a marathon. I've read training plans for marathons, marveled at the work involved in conditioning a body for such abuse. I mean, accomplishment. But that can't give me the real life experience of actually doing the training, picking a race, carefully and methodically preparing for it through training, diet, hydration, cross training, and conditioning. While I have some ideas of what it *might* be like, I can't say for certain how my body would react, how I would feel crossing the finish line.

Likewise, you may never have experienced abuse at the hands of someone you loved. Maybe you got in a fight once, and some regretful things were said. Maybe you'be been mistreated, taken for granted. That's not necessarily abuse.

Abuse isn't always just a physical act. More often there are mind games that go along with the physical trauma. And like an athlete, an abuser knows how to condition its victim, to manipulate using the victim's value system against them, blaming the victim for the abuse, threatening the victim's way of life if they don't comply with demands.

The hand that caresses her face, can be the
same one that she feels around her neck.
So, when I hear people question why Janay Rice would marry a man who knocked her out cold, I say, "Unless you've been there, you just can't understand." And the truth is-- even she doesn't understand. She only knows that she feels a sense of responsibility, and feels she can't leave. She's embarrassed and ashamed. She wants to make people understand that she loves him. She thinks she's doing the right thing, believes that the last time was the last time.

To demand to know why she hasn't left, is to ignore the fact that Ray Rice's actions were wrong. He is the one who should be justifying and clarifying and answering for his actions. Not her.

While I'm grateful that the NFL has laid a heavy hand on Ray Rice in response to the video that was released, it was far too late. The fact that she had to receive medical treatment should have been enough to merit more than a 2 game suspension from the beginning. I have been praying for two years that the NFL would support and promote Domestic Violence Awareness month in September with as much gusto with which they celebrate healthy boobs during breast cancer awareness month.

And those of us who understand the cycle of abuse know that Janay is in more danger tonight than she was standing in that elevator with her future husband. Because tonight, he is blaming her for the loss of his job. She is cowering in fear in her home, walking on eggshells, jumping at his every demand in order to appease him for her perceived wrongs. There are no cameras with potentially viral video in her home, the place that should be her refuge, to capture his angry and violent outbursts.

For Janay, this is not over. The nightmare is only beginning.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What They See: How My Actions Form Their Perceptions

Root canal. Stand in line at the DMV. Clean the P-trap on the bathroom sink. These are just a few of the things I’d rather do than wear a swimming suit. I was going to add “in public.” But even in the privacy of my own home, I loathe wearing a swimming suit.

The dilemma here is that my kids love to swim. There we were, on a Sunday afternoon, looking for something fun to do, and they all want to head to the Y to go swimming. They’re excited. They’re resolved. I’m torn.

You see, the Y’s rules require that anyone under a certain age have an adult in the pool area with them. What I want to do is exercise while they swim, but that's not an option. I could sit at the edge of the pool working on some writing projects. Except that moisture isn’t good for the old laptop. I can bring a book and read. Except that I’ll just be thinking about the writing projects I need to be working on, twiddling my fingers. I’m not good at just sitting still.

“Why don’t you just swim with us?” Cuddle Bug asks. I give him a blank stare, perplexed that he would even think this is a possibility. Oh, sweet, naive little boy. So much to learn.  “Uh, no. I hate wearing a swimming suit.”

“Why?” he asks. I sigh. I don’t really want to explain to him that I hate the way my body looks. I’ve given birth to three babies, and there are stretch marks and varicose veins and this poochy belly. And we won't even bother with the thighs. I don't want to teach him that chunky girls want to be skinny girls, that our culture holds disdain for the Not-So-Fit among us. Ugh.

I tell the boys to go get their swimming trunks on and I head to my room to find a book as they squeal in delight and run up the stairs to their room.

At first, I stand at my book shelf, mulling over my options. But then head over to my dresser and pull out the black tankini swimming suit that I bought at Costco last summer. It still has the tags on it. Grimacing and rolling my eyes, I put the stupid thing on. Meh. It's not horrendous. I'm not comfortable. But the boys don't care what I look like in a bathing suit-- they just want to play with their mom. 

As I go into the bathroom to grab a towel, Cuddle Bug sees me. "Mom! You look great! I don't know why you don't like to wear a swim suit. You look really good." This child was born with rose-colored retinas, God bless him.

What am I teaching him when I keep pointing out my flaws? I cringe at commercials featuring gaunt skeletons covered with skin, and decry a culture that seems more concerned with a girl's thigh-gap than her GPA. These boys may one day have the power to shape or shatter a woman's image of herself. Am I teaching them that a curvy body is not acceptable, shameful even? I'm essentially telling them, "This, boys, is not good enough. Take note."

Would I make these comments if I had girls? I hope not! I hope I wouldn't try to reinforce the idea that girls have to be skinny in order to be appealing.  I would want my daughter to focus on expanding her mind, not shrinking her waistline. So why am I making these comments to the future men who will one day love a woman who isn't a size zero? I know how it feels to be judged by a spouse who demands bodily perfection, who compares you to the Victoria's Secret models, and tells you repeatedly that you're no "trophy wife." I want better for my future daughters-in-law.

And so, I shall wear a bathing suit. And I shall be proud of the stretch marks that proclaim my baby-making superpowers. My pale white skin shall glow in the sunlight as evidence of the many hours I spend working in the dark of a windowless newsroom in order to provide for my kids. Because it's the character of a woman that counts-- not her waist size.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Do This, Don't Do That: A Running Newbie's List of Road Rules

The first 5K I ever ran was a St. Patty's Day race through downtown Portland, Oregon. A group of co-workers had talked me into running a 196 mile relay race with them, and because I had never voluntarily run before in my life, I was in uncharted territory. There are many little things I've learned as I've since become a 5K aficionado, that would have helped me on those first few runs. Here are the top ten:

1) Pack lightly- Most races that are under a half-marathon will not have a bag check, so you're going to have to carry everything with you on your run. Stick with the basics: safety pins for your bib (though these are usually provided at the registration tables), your car key (key, not keys), and maybe a pre-race energy booster. Most running pants and singlets will have a small pocket for your key. Other tricks include hiding it on top of a tire on your car (not recommended for urban areas), or using a key magnet. I also bring my iPhone and ear buds so I can listen to music. Some races don't allow you to wear ear buds. Check the race rules in advance.

2) Don't run in anything you haven't run in before- I once bought a cute running skirt with attached capris running pants, planning to wear it for an upcoming race. Fortunately, I couldn't resist wearing them for a quick run through my neighborhood, and discovered they were uncomfortable and had to constantly be adjusted. You would think I'd have learned my lesson. But it wasn't long after that, I bought a thing to cover my nose and mouth for running a 5K in sub-freezing temperatures. It kept falling down, and didn't wick the moisture from my breath, so it was doubly cold on my nose when it slipped down. I posted a horrible time from messing with that thing the whole race. One short run ought to be enough for you to learn whether a clothing or accessory item is going to work.

3) Three's a crowd- Especially when the course runs along a sidewalk or other narrow path. Running a race with friends and going out for coffee afterward is a fun way to spend a Saturday morning. But please run no more than 2 across, for the sake of those trying to get around you.

4) Move over- The first 8K I ran was this past winter in Greenville, South Carolina. There was a sweet, 14-year old girl running begrudgingly, with her family cheering her on. She would run and get ahead of me, then STOP. All of sudden. RIGHT in front of me. And start to walk. I about fell on top of the poor thing. After the third time, I finally chided her (and got a rude reply). Younger runners tend to be the worst offenders at suddenly stopping to walk or tie a shoe. The person running behind you will quickly become the person running you over, so it's in your best interest to check behind you, then move over to the right before stopping to walk, or bending over to tie your shoe.

5) Hydrate- the day before. If you wait until the morning of the race, it'll be too late. By the time you go to bed the night before a race, your urine should be almost clear. Make sure you're replenishing electrolytes, and don't drink more than 32 ounces of water an hour, less if you're one of those skinny people, to prevent water intoxication. (No, I didn't make that up. It can really happen, and it can be fatal.)

6) If you must spit, go to the right- I don't know if this is an official unofficial rule for running road races, but it should be. I don't enjoy dodging spit bombs in the middle of the road. At least be mindful of people around you so they don't run into your mid-air loogie.

7) Water Station Rules- Even a 5K will have at least one water station. They're usually going to be on your right, but not always. If you're going to get water, move over to the side and get some water. If you plan to stop and chat with the volunteers at the station and catch your breath, get out of the way of those runners who want to grab and go. Typically, a volunteer will had you a small cup that you grab while you keep running. Take a sip, and toss the cup on the ground. No, really. It's okay-- but only during a race. A couple of things to keep in mind: A) There are other runners behind you. They don't want to wear the water or sports drink that you're tossing; B) Be careful merging back into the course so you don' trip up the runners who aren't stopping.

8) Post-race food- Nearly every race provides a post-race snack for the runners. You'll never know what these are going to be until the day of the race, and there's no guarantee that there will be anything left by the time you get there if you're a slower runner. It's a good idea to have a recovery bar in your car just in case. Keep in mind that what your body needs most to recover from exercise is protein, and most post-race food would actually be better pre-race foods-- lots of carb-loaded bagels and bananas. Remember-- the food is only for the runners. You're cheering squad needs to bring their own snacks.

9) Pre-run the course- Especially if you're a new runner, it's a good idea to drive the course, and then run it so you know what to expect. I've only actually done this once, and only because I was going to be running a relay and the team captain insisted that I run it with her. I was glad that I did, because there was a hill that would have caused me some panic had I not been prepared. If you're just running for fun, it's really not a big deal. But if you're looking for a PR (personal record), you definitely want to do a practice run.

10) Be grateful- No race would happen if it wasn't for the people who volunteer to do set-up and clean-up, hand out water, and direct you along the course. There are usually police officers blocking traffic to keep the roads clear and safe for the runners. Give them a little shout-out as you pass by so they know that they're efforts are appreciated.

What are some things you've learned that a new runner might want to know before they head out to their first road race?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It's *that* time of year again. Once the wrapping paper is in the recycle bin, the Christmas carols are becoming redundant, and the holiday cookies are resting nicely on your hips... it's time to start thinking about those annoying New Year's Resolutions. You know, those pie-in-the-sky, practically fantasies that we verbalize but never materialize. This year could be different. Instead of pulling "resolutions" out of the thin air and watching them disintegrate as rapidly, why not take some time to etch out some goals, and then create a plan for achieving them. Today I'm over at with some ways to help you resolve to achieve some realistic fitness goals in 2014.

What are your goals for the next 12 months?