Monday, December 1, 2014

Five Fitness Tools for Your Home Gym

Pressed for time? No budget for a gym membership? Just plain loathe the idea of doing jumping jacks in front of skinny people? I can totally relate. All those machines and people with muscle tone can be intimidating. Sometimes it's easier to set up a little home gym with a few simple pieces of equipment to help you improve your fitness. You can get everything you need for under $100.

Yoga Ball ($15)
There are a lot of great uses for a yoga ball. You can use it to add core resistance to upper body exercises, for example. But one of the simplest uses for a yoga ball is for aerobic activity, especially if you have physical issues with your lower extremities and can't do typical cardio activities like aerobics like jogging or walking. Just sit on the ball and bounce! It's a quiet activity, you can do it while watching TV or reading, and you'll burn calories, while also building core and leg strength.

Sticky Mat ($20)
Whether you have carpeted, wood, or tile floors, a sticky mat or other padded workout mat is a must, in my opinion. Even if you don't do yoga, you will be doing stretches, and the mat makes it much more comfortable to do floor exercises like sit-ups, push-ups, or even some resistance moves. When I do head to the gym for fitness classes, I prefer to bring my own mat. I started out with a cheap mat, but the cheaper they are, the thinner they are. Splurge on a mat that is at least 5mm or 1/4in thick.

Resistance ($20)
You need resistance in order to break down muscle, because it's the rebuilding of muscle that increases strength and leads to those toned arms and legs we all dream of. You can buy some barbells, but they can be expensive, and you have to buy two of each weight, and it's just not cost-effective. I learned that lesson the hard way.

A better option is to use resistance bands. I prefer the tubes to the thin latex strips because they're more versatile. Anything you would think of doing with a traditional barbell, you can do with resistance bands-- and more. Biceps, triceps, deltoids, and all parts of the legs can be worked with the bands, and you won't bruise your toe if you accidentally bump into one in the middle of the night.

Weighted Jump Rope ($11)
Cardio work is a quick and easy way to burn calories, and we want to always try to multitask if we can. You can jump rope indoors, outdoors, or even in your garage-- it doesn't take up a lot of room, and it's something quiet you can do while the kids are napping. Five minute of jumping rope as a warm up or as a main cardio event will not only get your blood pumping and metabolism revving, it will also work to tone your arms and legs. Using a rope with, like the Valeo JRW1 1 lb. Weighted Jump Rope weighted handles add just a little resistance for the arms.

Exercise DVD (Price Varies)
I prefer DVDs that have short, 20-minutes or less workouts that really break down each exercise to make sure you're doing it right. Three of my favorites are Jillian Michaels' 30-day Shred, Shazzy Fitness A Time to Dance, and Yoga for Christians.

In 30-day Shred, the video includes three 20-minute workouts that you're supposed to do for 10 days each. You can really feel yourself getting stronger with each passing day as you do the workouts. Each session also includes a variety of intensity levels.

Shazzy Fitness videos are fun, and suitable for the whole family. It's hip-hop dance with Christian
music. The choreographer breaks down each move, then puts them all together in a short dance. My kids will even do this one with me. It's long enough that you will break a sweat and work toward toning your muscles, but not so long that you'll avoid doing it on a regular basis.

Another go-to workout DVD of mine is Yoga for Christians. Susan Bordenkircher wrote a book to accompany the DVD, acknowledging yoga's Eastern religious origins, while also emphasizing the overwhelming health benefits of including yoga in our fitness regime. I kid you not-- any time I have an ache or pain anywhere in my body, I pop in this dvd, and usually with just one session, a pain that I've lived with for weeks disappears almost immediately. This one will make you sweat.

I actually do enjoy going to the gym, but I'm in one of those seasons of life where it's just not gonna happen. Maybe you're there as well. There's a lot that you can do with just a few pieces of strategic equipment that will go a long way toward helping you achieve your fitness goals. And unlike a gym membership, once you buy it-- it's there, ready for you to use at any time of the day or night.

Is there a piece of home gym equipment that you can't live without?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Excuses are Like Tennis Shoes...

I heard the heater kick on as I lay in bed this morning trying to get up the gumption to get up for a run. Checking my phone confirmed my fears: 32 degrees.

Now, for you Northern folks who endure sub-freezing HIGH temperatures during the winter, please don't judge me. I choose to live in the South because I am a cold weather wuss. Not a fan of cold. Or snow. Or frost. Or seeing my breath while I trot through my neighborhood on a late November morning.

The past year has been one of a lot of transition. Heck, the past four years have been nothing but transition. But the past year has seen me getting my groove back professionally, getting life on track personally, and falling way behind my goals physically. Working 10-14 hours a day and raising three tweedles does not leave a lot of room for personal care or physical activity, and I've fallen far short of my goals. I haven't made the time to exercise, haven't made fitness a priority because there are so many priorities, and this one is only for me and it feels selfish to focus on etching out a little time here and there for just me.

This morning I felt like I could justify a little me time because I'm on day three of being home with the boys for the holidays and we've gone to the movies and had Thanksgiving dinner with grandma and grandpa and set up the tree and had Krispy Kreme donuts for no good reason and I felt like I had invested some fun time with them and now I could take out a little withdrawal of 30 minutes for myself.

Excuses are like tennis shoes-- everybody has them. Mine are worn out and need to be retired. Literally and figuratively.

There's always an excuse at the ready:
-I'm too tired.
-It's too late.
-It's too cold.
-The kids won't let me.
-I don't have the right gear.
-It's too hot.

Huddled beneath my warm, flannel sheets, I had to make a decision. Because ultimately that's what it is, it's a decision. Am I going to choose to lay in bed and not work toward my personal goals, or am I going to be stronger than those measly 32 degrees, put on my cold weather gear, and go for a run? Every time I use my laundry lists of why-I-can'ts, I'm essentially saying that there are other things more important than my goals.

Too tired? Sleep is more important than my goal of becoming more fit. It's too late? I'm not willing to work toward my goals past a certain time of day. Too cold? I'm not willing to step outside of my comfort zone to achieve my goals. The kids won't let me? I'm choosing to use them as a scapegoat for my lack of fitness, while also teaching them that I am not a priority.

And I know that once I get running, it won't feel that cold anyway. So I did it. I got up and tugged on my tech gear, running gloves and hat, and I did more than two miles through my neighborhood. Because I can.

Everyone has excuses. Some of them are really good excuses. Like having only one leg, or waking up to 7 inches of snow, or really really not liking the cold. They're all great excuses, capable of justifying inaction. But that doesn't mean you have to use them.

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.