Archive for April, 2009


Exploring Phnom Penh

April 29, 2009

I am “home” in Cambodia! The flight was ridiculously long. I arrived in Phnom Penh at about 10pm on Monday night.


On Tuesday my dad took me out on a tuk tuk and showed me the Independence Monument, the Silver Pagoda, and the Russian Market.

p4280474Tuk tuk


The Independence Monument

We drank some fantastic fresh and all-natural lemon strawberry juice and spent a lot of time catching up and people-watching. My dad’s apartment building has a gym so I made good use of it in the afternoon, when it was far too hot to be outside. At the Russian Market I picked up this shirt and scarf (everyone wears these scarves, they are the best invention ever for dealing with the heat):


In the evening, we went to the Khmer Kitchen restaurant to immerse ourselves in some real Cambodian fare. We shared some fresh spring rolls (veggies and shrimp wrapped in rice flour paper) as well as lok lac, which is a beef/onion dish. It is served with steamed rice and a delicious mixture of salt, pepper, and lime juice to dip the beef in. Unfortunately I only remembered when we were almost finished eating to take a photograph:



Today, Wednesday, I have been exploring the city on foot. Phnom Penh is not very pedestrian-friendly but it’s still doable! This morning I went to the Silver Pagoda. It was very beautiful.


Tomorrow I will be taking a cooking class and this weekend my dad and I are going up to Siem Reap for a few days. I doubt I’ll be able to get much of a chance to read all of your wonderful blogs- so if you don’t find many comments from me over the next few weeks, just know that I will be back reading regularly after I am finished adventuring 🙂


Back home in Canada, I’m used to being overlooked by most people. My friends and I will be out together and suddenly someone will say “wait, where’s Sagan?”, only to realize that I’m standing right next to them. That’s what happens when you’re not very tall! But here in Cambodia, people are openly staring at me. We picked up some fresh produce at the grocery market yesterday and a group of girls stared at me the entire time I walked past them, looking me directly in the eye with total fascination. My blonde hair is rather conspicuous! It’s so unusual to be watched like this. Feels like I’m wearing a banner on my head. Not that it’s a bad thing or that it makes me feel uncomfortable; it’s just different from what I’m used to! It’s really funny.


Something else I find really interesting is that my dad told me that many of the girls here use a skin-lightening cream, basically the equivalent of all of those self-tanning lotions in North America. The grass is always greener. Take some time today to appreciate who you are! We’re all special in our own way.


Don’t forget to answer this month’s poll!


Poll: Adventures with Exotic Food

April 27, 2009

Last month’s poll

The question that 58 of us answered was: what is your biggest issue when it comes to eating? This was a toughie because you could only pick one answer; we were identifying our major vice. However, I think that many of us would say that we fall under a few of these categories. The results: 41% are sugar addicts and another 41% can’t control portions in general; 10% are salt junkies; 7% either hate cooking or don’t like it so they resort to pre-packaged meals; and 0% have an obsession with fancy Starbucks coffees.

No surprises with the sugar and portion control issues! But I was interested that no one put the fancy coffees as their biggest problem. I’m not a coffee drinker so I can’t relate, but the way that some people talk about their whipped cream/syrupy/chocolate-shaving beverages, it’s sounds as though it’s some kind of cult following. No cult members in this crowd, I guess.

This month’s poll

Considering that I’m traveling to Cambodia as you read this (the beauty of scheduling posts to publish at specified times!), my thought process of late has been about staying healthy on the road. When I think about traveling, I think about immersing myself in another culture, and that means tasting the local cuisine. Apparently insects are a common item found at street stands, and I’m determined to try a little bit of everything to get the whole experience! (Note that I say this while I’m still in my comfy peanut buttered home. Perhaps when faced with a plate of fried snacks with eyes and antennae I’ll feel differently).

I actively work to stay healthy while traveling by walking as much as possible and eating nutritiously when I can. At the same time, I think it’s important not to deprive ourselves from the local cuisine by strictly eating only healthy items. Anything fried isn’t good for you, but experiencing it all once is, for me, one of the most important parts about traveling! When I went to Italy I made a list beforehand of all the different foods that I wanted to eat while I was there. I had gelati and calzones and creamy pastas with bacon: it was delicious, I was happy, and I got the full experience. I didn’t eat like that every single day, but I indulged and made sure I didn’t miss out.

So I’m interested to know what kind of food you eat when you’re traveling in a place where they eat a different cuisine than you’re used to. If you’re not a traveler, then it’s time for speculation! How far would you go? Do you take a stockpile of nutrition bars wherever you go? Do you veer towards fast food joints for a little memory of home? Do you let health go by the wayside in an attempt to try absolutely everything, or do you work toward a balance of experience and health? Answer the poll and elaborate in the comments!


Giveaway Winners, My Travels, and a Numbers Conundrum

April 24, 2009

Giveaway Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the Sinupret for Kids medication and The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood book:






Healthy Ashley


Kim V




Fitness Surfer

Sharon Fairclough



E-mail me your mailing address at and I will ensure that your packages get sent in the mail!

Thanks to everyone for participating in Living Healthy in the Real World’s first ever giveaway- I’m sure that there will be many more in the future.

Traveling to Cambodia

On Sunday I leave at 8am for a 20-hour flight to Phnom Penh! My father dear is living there investigating war crimes with the United Nations, so I will be living with him and traveling around Cambodia for roughly a month. At least, I think it will be a month. It’s a one-way ticket so perhaps I’ll be “stuck there” (hurray!) for months on end 😀

If all goes according to plan I will still be posting about three times weekly. The timing might be a little bit off considering I’ll be 12 hours ahead of my current time zone. However, this is an open call for guest posts. If you’ve got something that’s pertinent to Living Healthy in the Real World, send it in!

Measurements and Numbers

I’ve said it before and I don’t mind being upfront about it: I suck at math. Actually, I really loathe math. I think I’ve mentioned previously that one of my favorite teachers in high school told me at the end of the year that he’d give me a good mark as long as I promised to never take another math class ever again, ha.

Considering that math just isn’t my thing, it’s funny that I adore numbers and statistics and measurements when it comes to anything related to health. I count calories: although I don’t use a database anymore, I’ve got most foods memorized for roughly how many calories they’ve got in them. I’ve recently re-started tracking what and how much I eat every day in a notebook (the main reason for this is to satisfy my curiosity so that I can know if I’m getting a balanced diet from all the food groups and nutrients). I wear a pedometer every day and write down in that same notebook how many steps and miles I log at the end of each day. I have access to a scale at the vet clinic that I work at, so I weigh myself a few times a week. And this past Monday, I went to the Kinesiology department at my university to get a skinfold analysis.

A skinfold analysis is when you get your skin pinched by calipers so that the amount of fat on certain areas of your body (tricep, bicep, subscapular, iliac crest, and the calf) is measured. From these tests you can figure out where you carry most of the fat on your body and if you’re at risk for disease.

The woman who did my measurements is in the process of her examination to be a certified personal trainer. She also weighed me on one of those old-school scales and checked my height. Because I have one leg that is longer than the other by nearly an inch, we decided to measure both of my calves rather than just the right calf, and it turns out there is a considerable difference between them! My right calf (the shorter leg) came up with a measurement of 8.1 on the skinfold analysis; the left calf is 12.

At the end of our little session, she went through the results with me. It turns out that my skinfold analysis is 47 with the right calf and 50.9 with the left calf. I believe that she said that anything under 80 is considered in the “excellent” range, so that was very good.

There was a moment of confusion when she calculated my body mass index and reached a number of 17 (that’s classified as underweight; a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 25). I was especially confused because the three difference scales that I have used in the last couple months all came up with the same number for my weight, which would give me a BMI of 19.5 or 20, but this particular scale that she weighed me on actually measured me as being 12 pounds heavier than the other three scales! It took us a second to realize that there had been an error in punching the numbers into the calculator (and yes, we made sure to re-check my other measurements, too, which we all correct). So that was rather funny, albeit alarming, at first.

When I left the room it occurred to me how entirely unnecessary the whole process had been. I already knew that I’m at a healthy weight and that my body is comfortable with it. Yet I still wanted to get the analysis done.

When it comes to measuring our weight, it’s best to track it by how we feel and by how our clothes fit to see if there are any changes. I know this, yet I still can’t resist stepping on the scale- just to see what it says. It doesn’t have the power to change my mood, but the act is still unnecessary. With my small frame, I’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if my weight changes even by 5 lbs without the assistance of a scale to tell me.

It’s okay to get caught up in the lure of numbers as long as we don’t become a slave to them. Some days we’re going to eat a lot more than others (for example, my 3,800 calorie splurge not too long ago. That’s two days of food crammed into one day! I’m surprised it even all fit into my body!). But ultimately, what’s it going to do when we diligently track ourselves daily? I know that it isn’t precisely necessary to wear my pedometer every single day; my legs will tell me if I’ve been walking a lot and I’ve figured out roughly how many steps/miles it takes to get to the usual places that I walk to (ie. university and the workplace).

It would be nice to be able to end this post with a triumphant, And I walked away from the numbers and never looked back again because I listen to my body and it tells me what I need to know! But this is about living healthy in the real world, and the real world doesn’t always have those kinds of endings. I like tracking these numbers, and I’ve found that they don’t have a negative impact on me, so unless they start affecting me negatively I will continue to track. There’s a sort of fun to it. And besides, my pedometer is my baby. I love it far too much to ditch it.

I’m taking my pedometer with me to Phnom Penh. I’ll probably try to keep logging my food, although it’ll be tricky to know the exact counts with so much foreign food, so I doubt I’ll try that hard. I won’t have access to a scale, but I don’t mind. I can live without the numbers easily… it’s just that when I have access to these numbers, my curiosity is insatiable.

What do you think? Is a healthy curiosity a good thing? Or should we try to avoid relying on numbers to provide us with answers when we have access to them?


What’s Happening on the Web (some healthy links)

April 22, 2009

Lately I have received quite a few emails from people letting me know about websites/articles that they think I would be interested in. With the craziness of studying for my final exam and getting ready for Cambodia (I leave on Sunday!), I figure that this is the perfect time to provide you all with an amalgamation of plenty of interesting links to click and enjoy.

The American Horsepower Challenge

This is a game designed for kids to get healthier– now that’s a cause I can believe in! 2,100 students are participating in a “race” in which they log steps on a pedometer to power a cartoon horse avatar. Congress members are also getting involved as honorary participants. This program is a great way to raise awareness about the issue of inactivity in our society and to get people moving in friendly competition.

Think Pink: Download for a Cause

Ariel Aparicio, a rocker from New York, is generously donating all proceeds ($0.54) from each iTunes sale of his cover of The Psychedelic Fur’s “Pretty in Pink” to the breast cancer charity organization, the Greater New York Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. I’ve been listening to some of his music and it’s full of energy!

Eating Healthy on the Road

Written by an RD from, this is an article which considers the over consumption of meat, particularly while we’re traveling. Bottom line, we tend to eat too much meat, and most of the proteins we consume in this day and age are the unhealthy kinds. A couple of small tweaks to our diet and portion sizing can remedy the issue no problem!


You all know that I do my best to steer clear of processed foods, including the ones that are supposedly healthier choices. At the same time, I’m not delusional either: sometimes we can’t be bothered to make our own food, and sometimes we really just want to eat something that’s pre-made. is a detailed database of food products which are rated according to various health aspects (for example, different logos indicate if the product is HFCS-free, if it’s low sodium, gluten-free etc). Taste and price are also evaluated. The nutrition information is provided, however, the ingredients lists are not. I love the design of this site and the amount of information provided for each product, especially the frank comments regarding the pros and cons of the food.

Hidden factors determining bone density?

Our own Dr. J was kind enough to let me know about this article, which I found super interesting: Vegan Buddhist Nuns Have Same Bone Density As Non-Vegetarians. This study really fascinates me that bone density might not always depend on a heavy intake of protein and calcium. That being said, it sounds like these nuns eat a very nutritious, natural diet, so I wouldn’t be so quick to toss the calcium in our current society! Hopefully more research will be conducted on the matter in the future- I would love to know what other factors contribute to bone density.

That’s all I’ve got for you for today! What sort of health news has been brought to your attention recently?

Don’t forget to enter my giveaway– deadline is tomorrow; winners will be announced on Friday!


The Slow Food Movement

April 20, 2009

Defined as the opposite of fast food (because everything is binaries and opposition!), slow food is a lifestyle of eating real, wholesome, natural foods, with an emphasis on getting involved in the preparation and production of the food so that when we eat, it is a shared communal experience and something to really enjoy. As you likely are fully aware, this coincides perfectly with my personal philosophy on healthy living*.

I would really love to take part in the Slow Food Movement and be an active participant in promoting this cause. And I think that to some extent I achieve that with my blog. Even so, I would like to become more involved. That is how I began searching “slow food” on the Internet, looking for information.

I discovered Slow Food International and was pumped to join and lend my voice to the cause. But I was stopped in my tracks when I noticed that there is a membership fee. That’s right: to be a part of the Slow Food Movement, you’ve got to pay up. Essentially, Slow Food International is saying that it costs dollars to eat well. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, because all organizations seem to cost something to be able to be a part of it, but one of the main values of Slow Food is that it’s this community of sharing with an emphasis on a familial, unified group!

I love the idea of Slow Food. It is the way that I live my life. But I do not approve of how blatantly middle and upper class the Slow Food Movement continues to be geared towards. That is not right. Slow Food is something that we should all be doing, no matter where we live in the world or what kind of background we have. We all have a right to the access of healthy, pure food. It is wrong that only those of us who can afford luxury are consuming healthy meals and able to learn about the Slow Food way of life.

As a student with bills and classes to pay, I really object. In the Slow Food Companion, it is stated that “Slow Food is a grassroots association open to all, and the diversity of it’s members is one of it’s greatest strengths” (11). If your definition of “diversity” is “white middle-class middle-aged career-driven married men and women with families”, then yes, I believe that this statement is accurate. But unfortunately, that sure isn’t my definition of diversity. It seems to me that in trying to be inclusive, Slow Food has resulted in really ostracizing a large group of people. In their exclusion they have lost one of the principle values which should be fundamental to the notion of slow food: involve everyone so that we can all reap the benefits and lead happier, healthier lives. Is that not the point of so much of what we do?

I was really troubled with the breakdown of the membership fee, too: 30-40% goes toward membership materials, postage etc; 20-30% goes toward local event planning; 15-20% goes toward newsletters and meetings; 10-15% goes toward publications; and 10% goes toward development of projects worldwide.

My opinion is that the development of projects worldwide should be getting about 80% of the membership fee. Ten percent is ridiculously low and quite frankly that’s shameful. With a movement as important as this, I expect to be seeing some real progress. Basically, it looks as though there’s just a membership fee so that it can be an elite program for the privileged.

If you want to learn more about the key concepts of Slow Food, Adrian Peace has written a really fantastic article entitled Barossa Slow The Representation and Rhetoric of Slow Food’s Regional Cooking, which discusses this very issue of the problems inherent to the Slow Food Movement.

I believe very strongly in the Slow Food Movement. However I think that some changes are needed within the organization to accommodate for a wider group of people. We should actively be working towards increased awareness about the problems of fast food and the importance of engaging in a slow food lifestyle. Through the inclusion of everyone and really doing something about cutting back on fast food- particularly the availability of fast food- as well as focusing on how we can restructure our busy lifestyles to incorporate Slow Food, I think that we can move forward to improving the health of people everywhere. We need to address the issues of the expense of healthy foods; we need to address the issues of the amount of time and effort needed to eat healthy in relation to our work schedules. A reorganization of our priorities is required.

What do you think? Is this as serious an issue as I think it is? I will acknowledge that I do not know very much about Slow Food International, nor am I an expert in the Slow Food Movement. Perhaps I have read into it completely wrong- I would love it if someone could help me out by pointing me in the right direction. Does anyone know if a lot more progress has been made with the Slow Food Movement than I think? Am I just making assumptions here? Share any info you’ve got!

*I have been playing around a bit with this site and have recently updated my Challenges page and the My Health Philosophy page. I have also added a new page on the sidebar: Healthy Recommendations! Check it out to see some of my favorite health-related books and products.

Don’t forget to enter my giveaway– you’ve got until Thursday night! Winners to be announced this Friday.


Review and Giveaway: “The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood” and Sinupret for Kids

April 17, 2009

When I was initially approached with the idea of checking out a child’s medication and a book about how to get the whole family to eat right, I was reluctant to do the review. After all, I’m neither a child nor a parent, and as I’ve made clear many times, I try to stay away from supplements, drugs, and medications of any kind.

But at the same time, why shouldn’t I review a product and book that I normally wouldn’t be looking at? Might as well balance out the perspective of family nutrition by offering a single university girl’s standpoint! And it’s about time we started having giveaways here at Living Healthy in the Real World.

Book Review

The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood, written by William, Martha, James, and Robert Sears (all MD’s), is a classic example of the health books that are cropping up all over the market these days. It contains the general information that there are healthy fats and carbs that we need for our bodies, and that we should stay away from processed foods. But what I really enjoyed about this book was that it has some great advice for getting picky eaters to eat nutritiously.

I have always wondered how all of you healthy parents out there manage to incorporate a somewhat healthy diet into your child’s lifestyle. When I was a nanny for three months to two little girls (age 6 and 8), I found that it could be a real struggle to encourage them to eat healthy. Dealing with a stubborn child is one of the most difficult tasks I can imagine!

I myself was the pickiest kid ever growing up; I ate my white spaghetti with Parmesan cheese and nothing else, refused any kind of bread except white, and complained if any meal contained tomatoes or onions. That being said, I still ate lots of fruits and vegetables. It was just very specific ones. And I definitely ate my fair share of junk food, too. My parents were patient with me and so when I liked a healthy food they’d let me eat lots of it (such as apples. I don’t think I will ever get enough apples). And, over time, I have really developed my taste buds and done a complete turnaround.

This book offers ideas for using kid-friendly terms when it comes to food so as not to intimidate them. Rather than calling some foods “healthy” and others “unhealthy”, the authors suggest that we refer to them as “green light/red light foods” or “grow foods”. I like that idea. Even when trying to get adults to eat healthier, I have learned that stating that a meal is “healthy” causes them to look a little fearful. Injecting some pizzazz or fun into the label gains interest and a willingness to try something new.

Another great thing about this book is the structure and layout. Busy parents don’t have a lot of time to sit down and read a good book. This book is set up with tons of great information such as why we should be eating fish, an explanation behind HFCS and it’s evilness (my word, not theirs) and why we should avoid all kinds of artificial sweeteners including Splenda, and all about how to lower cholesterol and choose the right fats and carbs. All of this information is set up so that it’s in chunky blocks with bold headlines. It makes for easy access if you want to quickly scan through the book and look up something specific.

Each section is short and to the point with anecdotes of their personal experiences with their children. There are also charts and diagrams throughout the book, as well as sidebars with key information highlighted. There’s a lot of repetition in here, but I think that that’s perfect for the audience that this is targeted toward: parents have a lot on their minds and we learn best by repetition. If you missed the information the first time around, it’s presented at the end of the chapter in a slightly different fashion so that it’ll stick in your mind!

Sinupret for Kids

Ingredients: Gentian (root), European Vervain (aerial), Sorrel (aerial), European Elder (flower), Cowslip (flower with calyx). Also contains water, malitol, ethyl alcohol, and cherry flavor.

This medication is a natural herbal remedy for sinus and respiratory problems and immune support. It comes in the form of syrup and has been clinically tested as being safe. Because it is an herbal product it has not been approved by the FDA.

As some of you may know, my mother is a veterinarian. She specializes in holistic medicine, acupuncture, and chiropractic for animals. I asked her to take a look at the ingredients list and to give her opinion on it. The verdict is that this medication is legit and very safe. As someone trained in both Western medicine and Chinese medicine with a good understanding of the healing properties of herbs, I trust her judgment!

There was no one to test Sinupret on, so I took it upon myself to have a little taste of it. It smells like almond extract and is slightly sweet with a metallic aftertaste. It’s not particularly pleasant, but neither is it something that you’d have to wrestle with your kids to get them to choke down.

Although malitol as a sugar alcohol isn’t exactly healthy for you, I’m willing to let that slide because I’m aware that medication does have to be sweetened with something- and as far as I know, malitol isn’t dangerous (especially not in the miniscule amount that it would be in this medication). Flavors like cherry aren’t healthy either, but again, this is a medication, so realistically it makes sense to have some kind of sweetener.

Overall I’m impressed with the ingredients on this medication. The list is much better than on most other meds and these herbs are effective and safe for healing purposes. According to the research included in the box, Sinupret has been proven to work. I can’t say the same from personal experience because I don’t have a test subject and am not ill myself to test it out, but the good thing about Sinupret is that it can’t hurt to try it.


Interested in Sinupret for Kids or Dr. Bob Sears’ book? You can enter to win a package by leaving a comment at the end of this post with tips on how you keep your kids and family healthy, or sharing a story about how your parents kept you healthy. Alternatively, let us know what you’ve tried (or your parents tried) that completely backfired in making you healthy. You know the drill- I want to hear your thoughts, stories, and opinions!

The package includes a sample of Sinupret, a copy of The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood, a mini plush bear, a pair of yellow children’s binoculars, and a Sinupret for Kids activity book and stickers. Fifteen winners will be chosen at random; if you’ve got a USA or Canadian mailing address, you’re eligible to enter. Winners will be announced on Friday, April 24th.

Want an extra chance to win the package? A Life Less Sweet is doing a giveaway as well!


Life Lessons: On Being (Too) Nice

April 15, 2009

It’s one of the most well-known stereotypes of Canadians: we’re polite. We apologize. We’re doormats. What can I say? There is, to some extent, a ring of truth to the stereotype.

At aikido last night, sensei was telling me about the issues that the older students had when they first began practicing. He referred to one student affectionately as being rather like a black hole when she first began; another one needs to learn to be less aggressive and more relaxed; someone else has had to deal with their length and extension. I thought I could guess pretty well what my biggest weakness is, but I really wanted to hear it from a teacher’s perspective and to get his insight, so I asked him. My biggest issue? I’m too timid, too tentative. “I think you’re afraid you’ll hurt someone,” one of the other students offered when sensei asked the other students for their input.

How true it is. While the concept seems ridiculous (how could anyone as little as me possibly inflict damage on someone else?) I think that my biggest barrier is simply learning to let go and realize that people can take it. Considering that it doesn’t matter your age, size, or gender when it comes to aikido, it is surprising just how much damage I could potentially do to a person. Just by pressing the right spot on a person’s hand, I can bring someone to the floor (theoretically. Sometimes I have to keep on pressing a couple dozen times until I hit exactly the right spot. Eventually it works!). With just the right momentum and rhythm, I can use another person’s force to pull them off balance. If you know your technique, you suddenly become a very powerful and dangerous person.

I’m not so afraid to be aggressive with the men that I practice with, maybe because they’re all about twice as big as me. But the women are nearer to my size and although I know that they have been practicing much longer than I have and clearly they know exactly what to do even if I did manage to hurt them, I’m still afraid to be too aggressive.

I don’t think that this is a healthy attitude to take in any situation in life, especially because it drives me crazy when other people treat me this way. I get impatient because I know that I’m stronger than that. I want to learn and make mistakes and the only way that I can do that is if they come at me full force.

Canadians are known for being passive, but does this sometimes hinder progress? How many people stay in relationships long after the love has died out just because they’re unwilling to hurt the other person by admitting the truth? How often do we tell white lies to protect people so that they won’t get upset- about anything?

Growing up, I remember that it was always the kids who had been “tied to their mother’s apron strings”, so to speak, that had the worst allergies. They got sick a lot because their immune systems weren’t strong; they hadn’t been built up because there was too much bubbled padding around them. They hadn’t been exposed to viruses or bacteria. Their parent’s fear for their safety hindered the children later in life so that they wound up getting sick more often than they would have if they’d been exposed to a little mud.

If we can get over our fear of hurting other people, we will both come out stronger for it. Both parties can learn from the mistakes once they’ve been addressed. We can only correct the issues once we’re made aware of them, and sometimes the only way that we can be made aware of them is to make the mistakes. It’s healthy to strike out with confidence and to know that people are strong and resilient. We can handle the blows. It helps us to grow.

Do you have difficulties with this? Are you sometimes a little bit too nice, too gentle? Can you dish out constructive criticism? And can you handle that criticism? I firmly believe that we really need constructive criticism from others to make progress, because sometimes we can’t see the issues ourselves. We can all benefit from a little introspection.


Book Review: Healing through Exercise by Jorg Blech

April 13, 2009

We don’t move enough. And moving, even just a small amount each day, can drastically improve and enhance our lives. This is the basic premise of science writer Jorg Blech’s book, Healing through Exercise: Scientifically-proven ways to prevent and overcome illness and lengthen your life”, which I recently received from Da Capo Press.

Blech has written about the profound effects that exercise has been proven to have on a number of illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, and chronic stress, as well as the effect that it has on our quality and length of life. Bottom line, we’ll be a whole lot healthier, happy, and far less likely to become ill if we stay active. Although we are told this time and again, the reason why this book is different is because it not only cites a number of studies that have been conducted to prove the benefits of exercise, but it also goes on at length to describe how our muscles function and the way in which they build up and repair, and how our brains are stimulated by exercising. While reading this book I learned about what happens to our bodies while we’re moving as opposed to what happens to them when we are at rest and how our metabolism can, to some extent, be controlled through exercise. Lifestyle habits are the biggest influence on our likelihood of contracting diseases: the way we age is 30 percent genetics and the environment determines the other 70 percent.

We are all fairly aware of how little exercise people in general get, but I was still shocked to see the statistics: “the World Health Organization has classified 60 percent of the world’s population as sedentary; 41 percent do not even have two hours of moderate exercise per week; 17 percent are completely inactive. It is estimated that 2 million people die from illnesses caused by lack of exercise… in the United States, treatment for sedentary citizens costs 75 billion dollars every year” (Blech 33). Furthermore, the United States spends $400 billion a year just to treat heart disease; one-third of all heart attacks likely wouldn’t even occur just from the person briskly walking for 2.5 hours a week.

In describing how we have evolved over time, Blech notes that hunter-gatherers burned roughly 1000 calories each day and they ate about 3000 calories worth of food (a ration of 3 to 1). These days, sedentary North Americans might eat a bit less food- roughly 2400 calories- but we only burn about 300 calories each day, leaving us with a ratio of 8 to 1. A huge difference, and certainly not for the better.

As well as comparing us to our ancestors, this book also looks at how we differ from animals. We are predisposed to be able to exercise and run for long periods of time; most animals are only capable of running for 15 minutes tops, but humans are built for endurance. We are supposed to exercise. Interestingly enough, when looking at how hard bed rest can be on our bodies, bears lose 23 percent of the muscle strength in their legs after hibernation: during the same period of rest, a human leg would lose an astounding 90 percent of strength. When doctors prescribe bed rest as treatment, it often does us far more harm than good because we are not energizing our muscles. Our body deteriorates when we do not use it.

Surgery and medication are both overused to an alarming extent as a way to treat illness and disease. One study showed that overweight Americans with type 2 diabetes reduced the prevalence of the disease by 58 percent just from walking for 30 minutes, five days a week and eating a low-fat diet, compared to another group who took the standard medication and reduced the prevalence of the disease by 31 percent. Even for those people who have chronic knee pain or hip injuries, surgery can often be completely avoided with some moderate exercise. When we think about how simple, cheap, and effective exercise is, it’s really devastating to learn that “every ten seconds, a person somewhere in the industrialized world gets a limb amputated because of type 2 diabetes” (40). I firmly believe that medication and surgery have an important place in our world, but I believe just as strongly that we overuse these forms of treatment far too much. Medication and surgery should not be relied upon as the answer to all of our problems; they should be the last resort when we have no other option. Living a healthy lifestyle with eating well and exercising regularly is going to have a greater impact on our immunity system and our quality of life.

Exercise also plays a big role in neurodegenerative diseases. Illnesses such as Alzheimer’s can be prevented from moderate amounts of exercise and it can actually even reverse the loss of brain structures. More than that, parts of the brain for aerobic exercisers have increased in size in areas related to mental deterioration.

The answer is obvious. Exercise is our best medicine and without it, our mind and bodies could break down very quickly. You can begin exercising at any stage in your life- the important thing is to just go out and do it. As Jorg Blech astutely states, “Being out of shape is as dangerous as smoking cigarettes” (64). I couldn’t agree more.


A Balanced Variety

April 10, 2009

Like Erin at Fit Bottomed Girls, I have a frustrating problem with ear buds: without fail, they always fall out of my ears. Maybe I have abnormally shaped ears, but for some reason, those little guys just never want to stay put.

It’s for this reason that I generally don’t listen to music while I’m working out. Instead, I choose silence. The silence is preferable to the frustration of constantly needing to readjust my iPod or stopping partway through the workout because my ear buds are suddenly going off on their own little adventure, flinging from my ears to careen wildly through the air.

Even when I go walking they fall out a fair amount. Between that and the fact that I don’t like how cold they become in the winter (and the fact that my roommate had been hiding my headphones from me for the past six months or so), I have not listened to music while exercising in a very long time. But when the roommate finally returned them to me, I decided that it’s warm enough for me to pull them out. So I have started listening to music again on my way to and from work.

Walking is a time I like to set aside for my own thoughts, but sometimes I start to over think things or get anxious. Listening to music causes me to pay more attention to the music and to listen to the lyrics and the different instruments; when I’m focusing so much on them, I don’t really have time to work myself up into an anxious state.

I still love the silence of walking without music, but I’m really glad that I’ve rediscovered how great it can be to have some good quality music along with me on a walk. Some variety is very important.

So I decided to take my music with me to the gym, too. It was a last-minute decision to hit the gym so I didn’t have enough time to get a hold of my gym buddy, but it was kind of nice to spend some time there by myself. I listened to music (Two Hours Traffic and Arctic Monkeys- they’re both so invigorating!) and I worked out alone, and it felt really wonderful. I’m not much of a gym-goer when no one else is there to exercise with me, but it was the right thing to do to go by myself. Having that little bit of variety stimulates our energy and mental state just enough to give us that boost we need.

Do you listen to music while exercising? What music do you like to listen to? And do you prefer exercising solo or with a buddy? There are pros and cons to both sides!


Interpretations of Marketing Strategies: The Evolution of Advertising

April 8, 2009

Sego Diet Drink

From what I gather, Sego was a diet drink that was popular in the 1960’s. I’ve recently come across some of their ads, and being incredibly intrigued by the visual rhetoric of it all, I knew I just had to share some of these ads with all of you:

Seriously? Seriously?! As with most advertisements like this, I don’t know whether to laugh or be morally outraged. In the text next to the image, it says, “Wouldn’t you like to look 10 lbs younger? Try SEGO… for success!” The assumption here is that when you’re thinner, you look younger (an apparently incorrect assumption, as we all learned at The Great Fitness Experiment– Charlotte discovered studies that suggest the thinner we are, the older we look!). And then we’ve also got the notion that women aren’t successful unless they are “beautiful” (again, a shout-out to one of Charlotte’s posts in which we discussed this same issue)- taking into account whatever your definition of “beauty” is.

And this is very clearly directed towards women (specifically the heterosexual middle class). After all, we’ve got to please T/the Man in our life, both corporate figures and the spouses! And clearly they will not be pleased unless we’re as thin as we were on the honeymoon. Assuming we had these teensy little waists at that point.

And don’t forget that swimsuit season is almost upon us, ladies. Is there any better way to scream “YOU’RE INADEQUATE!” than on a nice big advertisement while chucking diet drinks at us?

…and now we get to the point where we’re blaming those spouses that we’re trying so hard for. But I think he might actually be saying “eat some real food already! You can even scrape off this excessive amount of whipped cream if you don’t want to eat that as well. Can’t have you passing out from not getting enough sustenance!”, rather than “mmm, rich chocolaty cake heaped with cream, eat it because I’m evil and trying to sabotage your efforts to get healthy”, like the advertisement suggests.

None of these advertisements are current. I don’t know what the reaction was to them at the time that they were circulating, but I imagine that the first one at least would raise a few eyebrows if it came out today. At the same time, are they really so different from the ads that we see today? Are they any more blatant than the blazing headlines (“Eat this, lose weight!”; “So long cellulite!”) on any popular magazine? We’re not talking about just women’s magazines, either- “Scrawny to Brawny in Just 8 Weeks!” was on the cover of one Men’s Health mag. I can’t comment on what men’s magazines were like in the 1960’s because I don’t know, but maybe that is all that has changed: there’s not just pressure on women to conform to a specific “look” anymore, because now men are being pressured as well to fit a certain image in today’s society.

What are your thoughts on all of this? Have you heard of Sego or seen similar ads? Do you think much has changed over the years with the relationship between advertising and the way our bodies and body image are portrayed?

100 Burpees

It is fitness challenge time again for this chica! Specifically, the 100 Burpees Challenge, which I found out about through Cranky Fitness. The idea of this challenge is to do one burpee on Day One, two burpees on Day Two, and so on until you’ve been doing it for 100 days. Luckily, you can do the burpees throughout the day and they do not have to be completed all in a row. 100 consecutive push ups were difficult enough; I don’t think I could do that for burpees!

So what exactly is a burpee? We used to do them all the time in boot camp. They are killer: from a standing position, jump into the air, squat down on the ground and hop your feet back into a push up position, do a push up, hop back into the squatting position on the ground, and then jump up again. That’s one burpee. Exhausting? Brutal? Yes and yes. They also happen to be one of the best exercises for a total body workout.

I started this challenge on Monday. Here’s to Day Three of the Burpee Challenge! Anyone else feel like joining in? Remember, we ease our way into it with just one extra each time. It’s doable. It’s a challenge. You know you want in 😉