this walker needs a sweet transformation

In 2012, Ellen DeGeneres decided to start a sugar cleanse. Here is the entertaining and motivational four and a half minute clip from that show…No more sugar for Ellen.

Thanks to Ellen, I am motivated to start a series of blog posts focused on that very topic. My sugar consumption is at an all time high. Let’s face it…I’m looking at recipes and pictures of over the top, sweet desserts in my free time! (If I know me, the next step is… I actually make one of these gooey, tempting recipes, and then be forced to eat it myself, because my guests refuse to take it home!)

Considering the holidays that lie ahead – Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, I realize… I’m in trouble. If I am out of control now, before these sweet dominant days, I am setting myself up for a host of New Year’s resolutions related to weight gain, depression, and low energy. Reality is setting in…I cannot manage this with walking and exercise alone, there are too many empty calories competing with my otherwise healthy behaviors.

I need to clean up my diet, for my health, before and during the Holiday months.

(Hmmm. Sounds like an affirmation.)

I intend to use these blog posts to help me with my sugar intervention. You are invited to come along for the ride or skip ahead or behind, to other stuff. In other words…take what you need and leave the rest.

I am not going to do this as a “Day 1 without sugar” type of series. In fact I’m not really sure “how” this is going to work, all I know is it will evolve on a post by post basis. I am looking forward to  the energy and health benefits I will gain by cleaning out the excess sugar in my diet.

At best, I hope to include information and resources for anyone out there thinking of working on this with me. Henceforth, this will be my new mantra…

It's not about perfect, it's about effort!

Here’s to some sweet transformation!

music

One of my favorite memories as a PE teacher happened in the winter of my last year of teaching.

The memory revolves around music and exercise.

It was a fitness day, and my class was up on the track in our new gym completing a running assignment. One of the nice features of this new space was the ability to play music from the radio and have it broadcast (loudly) throughout the gym and around the track. On that day, as I was checking the student’s laps, a group of freshman girls rounded the nearest curve, they were jogging and singing in unison.  At the top of their lungs, (or so it seemed to me) they were belting out the lyrics to the Katy Perry song Roar; and their anthem was perfectly synced with the radio…

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire

‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar

Louder, louder than a lion

‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar

Oh oh oh oh oh oh

Oh oh oh oh oh oh

Oh oh oh oh oh oh

You’re gonna hear me roar

Now I’m floating like a butterfly

Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes

I went from zero, to my own hero…

It was the most adorable thing. High school girls –  with dramas and attitudes, angst, piercings and tattoos all singing like children.

As they passed me, their faces looked happy, carefree and impassioned, not the usual stressed out, gloomy “how am I going to get through this run,” expression. Music was taking their mind off of the usual unpleasant feedback they might experience when jogging. They were all highly focused on singing the next line; they were making memories and having fun…while jogging! Which brings me to the subject of this post: the important and significant health benefits from listening to music while working out.

Studies show there are significant health benefits of music.  Besides taking the mind off of any negative feelings that might occur during a workout, music can change a mood, improve concentration and focus, increase social bonding and help with pacing during exercise. (all of which was evident with my group of freshman singers)

Other perks, which these girls may not realize until they are a bit older, include –  reducing levels of stress in the body and improving the function of the immune system.

Katy Perry’s song Roar is now one of my favorite work out songs. It’s a little hard for me to admit this mainly because it is so overplayed on Chicago radio and TV, and… it’s kind of a teen pop song, not my usual choice in music. But what the heck, I like it. It warmly brings to mind the image of the girls in my class, their youth, happiness and carefree attitude. The song evokes a very pleasant memory for me.

I recently read that when asked to talk about the meaning behind the song, Katy said “Your biggest bully becomes your self. Sometimes you gotta find that inner strength and stand up for yourself.”

How relevant – as a mood boosting warm up before my walks, and as an inspirational message for young people today.

What’s a favorite work out song for you? How does it inspire?

stvdy:  Sumatran Tiger (Michael Deneau)

happywalks

I wish everyone a year of happy walks on this first day of 2014.

“What do you mean “happy walks?”

Well, sometimes when I walk I feel so… happy. I know you’re thinking “um… that’s just the brain chemicals that are released during exercise.” I know, but it’s more than that. There is the feeling of pure joy for me when I am able to move, to breathe, to feel my body take me where my brain tells it to go. I am ecstatic to be on this beautiful planet, with changing seasons, and a sky, and birds and squirrels and trees and lakes. I delight in walking with others, to be given the opportunity to talk and learn and grow. My mind gets to a place where nothing matters but feeling this good feeling. Those are some powerful chemicals. Guess what? Now I’ve got a habit! I’ve been walking for over six weeks and it’s become something I really look forward to.

Anyone who wants to walk, but doesn’t – I encourage you to begin to just think about walking.

Think about walking so much and so often that finally one day you get up and do it.

Walk one block, one mile, or five minutes – just take a walk outdoors one time and see how good it feels. Look up at the sky, breathe in the fresh air, clear your mind and feel your body moving. Know that you are fighting cancer, diabetes, alzheimer’s, and heart disease. You are letting go of stress, you are improving your balance, you are producing new synapses in your brain. Let yourself feel good.

Then do it again, yes, walk another time – twice in one week.

This time go a little further, breathe a little deeper, let go a little more.

Feel it feel good until you are thinking about… when you will walk tomorrow.

Buddha.

core

On some of my longer walks, I need a focus to keep me engaged.

Sometimes the focus is as simple as connecting to my core.

I know walking is not a substitute for actual core strengthening work, but every little bit helps, right?

Without a doubt, core strengthening is a very big topic in fitness, and with good reason. There are over 40 core muscles which function together to improve posture, balance, back health and prevent injuries during movement. Core muscles align the spine, ribs, back, hip and the pelvis to provide balance, and resist specific forces when moving or standing. I think this illustration is a nice alternative to all of the 6 pack photos that are out there. It shows the  intersection of all three planes of movement and the core. I try and think of my core or center of balance, as somewhere around my midsection, around the navel.

Human anatomy planes.svg

Interestingly, the core of the body is very much involved in walking. Core muscles are responsible for stabilizing the pelvis, holding the spine erect and balanced, and they help move the legs -all of this so we don’t fall down. So, how does one become aware of their core during a walk?

At the start of my walk, I begin by trying to engage my core from a standing position, I set my feet hip-width apart and parallel. Next, I relax my feet and soften my knees. Then, I try and think about making my spine as spacious and long as I can. Using a tip I learned in a pilates class – I think of elongating my spine as though a string were attached to the crown of my head and the string is being pulled gently up to the sky. This is what I call “walking tall”. Sometimes, I have a tendency to bend forward from my waist, and curve my shoulders forward when I am trying to improve my pace or time by walking fast. Walking tall helps me correct this.

Next, I engage my core by focusing on leveling my pelvis, this is another tip from pilates. I place my hand on my belly, with my thumb at my naval and my fingers just above my pubic bone, I can gently activate the pelvic muscles under my fingers so that my pelvis tilts. If I imagine that my pelvis is a bowl of water, I can try and lift it enough to keep the water from spilling out either the front or the back.  If I laugh or cough, I can feel these muscles at work.

Throughout my walk, I intermittently imagine pulling my belly button toward my spine and breathing deeply as I move. This is how I focus on the core muscles during a walk.

There are also many other modifications to walking that will engage the core differently. I’ll save those for another post.

Walking tall, leveling the pelvis, and pulling in the belly button – who knew walking could get to the core of things?

                                          You get so many physical and mental benefits if you go for a walk everyday!! Walk at a face pace and you get a great workout.

sun

Yesterday I woke up to a  dramatic and breathtaking sunrise – a cloud quilt of bumpy purple pillows stitched in molten orange atop a bed of bursting golden fireball.

Can you tell I have been craving the sun?

The light, the warmth, and the cheerfulness the yellow ball brings, only three more days until the shortest day of the year, and then we begin getting more light.

One of the greatest perks I have these days is being able to get outdoors to walk when the sun is beaming. It makes me so happy. This particular sunrise was like a commercial for the day about to begin. Immediately I started looking forward to a walk.

I love sunlight and I love the outdoors – can there be a better planet to walk around on?

I am quick to notice how my daily afternoon walks are releasing those “feel good chemicals” into my brain. With the winter days shorter and darker, I have a tendency to sometimes feel tired and sluggish (winter blues?) in the afternoon. After a walk in the bright sunshine and crisp cold air, I am motivated again to charge into whatever after-lunch chores I tend to put off.

It has been about a month since I started walking regularly, and I’m finding that walking makes me happy. I no longer think of it as a chore I have to fit into my day;  instead, I look forward to it. Research says this is supposed to happen. When a good habit gives us positive feelings we want to repeat it. Dopamine and seratonin are chemicals in the brain -neurotransmitters which affect mood, energy and overall well-being.

I now have around 70 miles toward my holiday 100.

Look-out “winter blues” – “brain bliss” is taking over!

sunrise

rest

…if you must, but don’t you quit.

Every once in awhile I wake up tired and my motivation for exercise is low. I feel stiffness and muscle/joint soreness, as if my body is nagging at me to take a break. If I ignore my body’s complaints, the next level of protest might be insomnia or headaches and I get cranky.  Any of these symptoms, or an increase in injuries, can be signs of overtraining.

There is good news out there for those of us who persevere diligently at our exercise routines, forgetting that taking a break can also be healthy.

Gary Hunter, a University of Alabama at Birmingham professor who published results from a February 2013 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise agrees. A core finding in his study about exercise and energy expenditure in older women and the number of days they exercised, is that less may be more.  Dr. Hunter found the women exercising four times a week had the greatest overall increase in energy expenditure,  but those working out only twice a week weren’t far behind.  The women who had been assigned to exercise six times per week, (by the end of the study) were expending the equivalent of almost 200 less calories each day then when they started, even though they were exercising constantly. 

Moral of the story? (or study) …Take a break.

cbrownsnoo

steps

Sometimes walking outdoors cannot happen.

Today in Chicago we woke up to -3 degrees with a windchill of -12. As the day went on, the predicted high was some single digit number with a windchill. Since I was not about to brave the extreme cold and a possible case of frostbite, I needed an alternative – ahhh, this might be a good day to dig out my pedometer.

I find the pedometer to be an easy, low cost device to count the number of steps I take in one day. My pedometer is a sportline model and I have had it for over 10 years. It measures distance, calorie counts, and steps per minute.

When I was working, I considered myself a very active Physical Education teacher. I taught 5 classes and rarely sat down, each class met at a different teaching station -sometimes upstairs, sometimes outdoors, sometimes in another wing of the building. Then on my off periods, I used to walk around a lot, going to the mailroom, the copy room, the teacher’s lounge etc. I thought I easily accumulated 10,000 steps in my day, until one day I decided to start a project with my students to find out how many steps we were actually getting outside of gym class. This was the first time I used a pedometer to track my steps. I was a bit surprised to find I was in the 6000-8000 range.

The recommended dose of steps per day to achieve  health benefits is 10,000 or about 5 miles. That means 2000 steps equal a mile, or about 20 minutes of walking. For those interested in weight loss, the number of steps jumps to 12,000 – 15,000 steps per day.

What I like about using a pedometer is the instant feedback as well as the motivation and accountability it provides. I clip it on my waistband on my side just above my hip, knowing I can check it throughout the day by simply flipping it open.

When it seems like my number of steps is low I become aware of moving around more. I may throw in some extra walking –  parking further away from my destination, or better yet, leave the car at home on short trips. I might take some extra dog walks or up the pace when walking them. I also could use the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator when out shopping. At work, I used to walk to someone’s office instead of calling or texting. At home, I can always look for more chores to do – shovel snow, rake leaves, mow the lawn, clean the house, go up and down the stairs to do laundry.

During my project at school, I used it the first week to get benchmark data on my steps. I made a chart and recorded my # of steps per day for one week. For the second week, I reviewed the data then set a goal to try to add more daily steps. As time went on I would keep setting goals for additional weeks until I reached 10,000 steps. By this time I had a good feel for the amount of movement I needed in my days and I tried to maintain it. I was pleasantly surprised to find some days I was getting twelve and fifteen thousand steps without even trying.

Yes, on this extremely cold day, a pedometer is just the thing I need.

pedom