Archive for the ‘Fitness’ Category


Guest Post: Yoga for Life

May 29, 2009

Hi Living Healthy readers!  My name is Maggie and I’m so glad Sagan let me do a guest post.  I blog about lots of random things (yoga, health, fitness, food, recipes) over at Say Yes to Salad but today I’m going to talk more about yoga.

Yoga has been a big part of my life for about a year now.  I took my first yoga class about 8 years ago, but I didn’t become addicted to it until last year when I found Vinyasa yoga. Vinyasa is sometimes called flow yoga or power yoga.  Vinyasa is great because you can get a nice sweaty workout (if you want) or you can use it to relax.  Vinyasa literally means, “moving with the breath”, so there’s a big emphasis on breathing and staying in the present moment.

03 bow pose

Yoga can be a great complement to a healthy lifestyle.  I try to do yoga every day, even if it’s only for 10 minutes.  Sometimes this means that I’ll do yoga to stretch after a long walk (my absolute favourite exercise in the world – Sagan would probably agree! Sagan’s note: oh you know me so well!), or a jog, or some fun workout video (my favourite is probably Jillian Michaels’ 30-Day Shred).  I like to use yoga for stretching because it’s a wonderful way to balance out the repetitive forward motion of walking/running.

Sometimes I do longer yoga classes – 60 or 90 minutes.  Most of the classes I take at a studio are 90 minutes, but I don’t get to do that often – they are expensive!  I’ve found many online free yoga podcasts (see my Yoga page for some links) that are just as good as a live class but can be done in your own living room.

Recently I haven’t been able to have the focus to get through the longer classes, so I’ve been doing short sessions.  But that’s okay! Part of being a yogi is listening to your body.  If my body doesn’t want to do 90 minutes of yoga, I shouldn’t make it.  I made a short (5 minutes) yoga video a few months ago that’s great for the morning or for settling down at night.  Check it out HERE.

There are so many benefits to doing yoga – here are just a few…
–Improved blood flow (inversions are wonderful – and I heard they can prevent wrinkles)
–Better connection to your body’s needs and wants
–Patience (long holds are annoying, but they help you learn to be patient in other parts of your life as well)
–Flexibility (this decreases the chance of injury from other forms of exercise)
–Strength (you use your own body weight as resistance – think plank position!)
–More friendships!  (I’ve formed so many relationships because of my love of yoga – it’s a wonderful way to connect with people)

I hope you get a chance to try yoga.  I look forward to my yoga practice every day, even if it’s just 10 minutes.  It keeps me happy and healthy 🙂  Thanks again for letting me post, Sagan!

Thanks to all guest posters (Maggie, Liz, and my dad) for your contributions here at Living Healthy in the Real World! Regular posting will resume next week when I’m home from traveling.


Fit Travels

May 25, 2009

Health isn’t something that we should ever neglect, even when life starts to get really chaotic. If it’s really important to us, then there are no real excuses why we shouldn’t be able to maintain a good health even when life turns into an obstacle course on us. So for the past five weeks while I’ve been living in a country very unlike my own, with quite a fair amount of traveling around, I’ve been trying to keep up a decent enough fitness regime. There are all kinds of ways that we can beat the difficulties and continue to stay in shape! My travels will sadly be over in just a few days but here’s a few of the ways I’ve been keeping fit while away from my Canadian home:

My pedometer is indispensable. I still wear it every day, and even though I haven’t been logging as many steps as I would like, I’m still staying above 10,000 steps each day (except a couple days when I was bedridden will illness), so that’s satisfactory for me. Steps are usually easy to get in while we’re traveling because you can explore new places on foot. In cities that aren’t so pedestrian-friendly (such as Phnom Penh!), there’s the usual sneaky ways to get in extra steps by taking the stairs, finding some walking areas (like long stretches of boulevard), or even just pacing around your bedroom while you’re reading.


The NURU cards that I reviewed have also proved to be invaluable. They were great for at the airport when I had hours to kill between catching planes. All I had to do was find a quiet area with not a lot of people and some solid chairs around for tricep dips and such, and I was good to go.

Doing the Burpee Challenge has been a great way to keep the arms and whole body toned. I’m on Day 43 at this point- even on days when I didn’t get much other exercise in, it was nice to know that at least I’ve completed a fair number of burpees. Fitness challenges are always enjoyable.

I’ve been lucky to have plenty of access to the gym while I’ve been here. The apartment building I’m living in has a gym just two floors below, and it’s always empty. I only ever saw someone else in there once the whole time I’ve been here! So it’s been nice to have my pick of machines. There’s not a huge amount of choice, but the machines are in excellent condition:


When we took a trip down to Sihanoukville and stayed at a beach resort, there was a beautiful fancy fitness centre with an outdoor interval training area.


I spent time at the gym every day while we were there (NURU cards to the rescue while my gym buddy wasn’t around to sort out the strength training routine)…


 …between the obligatory long walks on the beach…


…and the occasional swim (or paddle) in the pool:


And, of course, when you’re visiting the sites and seeing the temples, it’s absolutely essential to drop and do a few push ups!


How do you like to keep fit when you’re on the road (or just living in a new place)?


A (Recurring) Brief and Torrid Love Affair with Running

May 22, 2009

We all have them. An exercise we just love to hate (or hate to love). The one that makes us feel like we’re going to die, to use Jillian Michaels’ expression. But we do it anyway because it’s good for us, or because every so often we really do kind of like it. Mine, as I have both griped about and glorified many times before, is running.

It’s been nearly a year since I was training to run the half marathon. I stopped training when I realized that I didn’t enjoy running, had only been using it as a way to deal with depression, and I had ultimately lost interest. Once every couple months I’ll feel the urge to run (no longer linked to depression, no worries there!), so I’ll get out there and let out my energy, and that’s that for another couple months. It holds me over until I decide again that I do enjoy running, which lasts a few days before the dreading of it begins once more. And the cycle continues.

For some people it’s walking. Or lifting weights. Or burpees, or core work. Our bodies never respond in the same way, as evidenced upon my arrival in Cambodia. My father dear, for example, can’t stand the heat of this place, and I bask in it. We would have done much better this past winter had our positions been reversed- he in the freezing cold of Winnipeg, and I in the steaming heat of Phnom Penh. I don’t think we’ll ever quite understand how the other can survive in our respective preferred climates.

And so it is that while some people can run every day and continue to feel motivated and exhilarated by it, my body isn’t quite so keen on it (for the majority of the time). And yet: last week, somehow I was on the treadmill running my little heart out three times. The thought even crossed my mind to start training again for a race, thinking to myself that if I can run on an incline for 30 minutes in a hot gym (I’m skeptical about this so-called air conditioning… once the treadmills going if anything it feels like the heats turned on!), after not having been out running in a couple months, then surely I can build myself up to be able to run an hour and a half no problem. Or 2 hours! Wouldn’t that be my ultimate challenge, because I have such an on-off relationship with the sport?

…the next day, I walked on that inclined treadmill instead of running. The dream dissipated. My triumphant runners high, my brief love affair, abruptly ended, as usual.

But I see now that it’s no good to continue avoiding running. If I don’t find a race to run, this is one form of exercise that is going to continue to pester me. I’ll learn to love it, I’ll accept that I dislike it, or I’ll come out the other side with a total indifference to it, but the only way I’m going to sot out my feelings about running is to step up to the challenge.

Last year I was perhaps a little too ambitious. Running a half marathon comes across as tedious and daunting to this walker-lover. I think that a simple, short 5 or 10 k race would be the perfect wee hurdle to leap over and add to my merry list of challenges. Upon deciding this, yesterday I went for another run. I managed 4.5 km in half an hour on an incline, so I know that if I can do that much in this oppressive heat I can run a 5k race back in Winnipeg no problem.

So I’m on the look-out for a 5 or 10 k race near my home in Winnipeg. I don’t know what will happen after that, but a 5-10 k race will be found and conquered, at least to begin with.

What’s the one exercise that makes you scream blue murder each time you do it? Is there a sport that you both love and hate? Or one which you have some history with that you need to deal with to stop the ghosts from haunting you? Any pointers from the runners out there would be much appreciated (and if you hear of a good short race taking place in Winnipeg any time soon, you’ll let me know, won’t you?).


Guest Post: Health and Fitness (or lack thereof!) in Cambodia

May 18, 2009

This is ‘Sagan’s Dad’ with another Guest Post.

As many of you know, I am living in Cambodia and working with the United Nations for one year. When I left Canada I brought along a few misconceptions with me. In this post I will share them with you and the reality I have experienced here over the past six months that shattered those misconceptions.

#1. The Doctor in Canada who gave me my various shots and inoculations for Hepatitis etc. noted that the U.N. recommended that I get a needle for Japanese Encephalitis, an extremely serious disease. He told me that that the side effects from that type of shot can be as bad as the disease and said that unless I was going to spend a lot of time around pig sty’s; where the disease is usually contracted there was no serious concern. I declined to get the shot.

After I arrived in Cambodia I found out that I would be spending a large percentage of the time in rural villages speaking to the locals and discovered that routinely, the families have pigs that they keep in sty’s behind their stilt houses. So, I am in close proximity to pigs quite often! So far, no Japanese Encephalitis….

#2. Reading about Cambodia while in Canada I came to the general conclusion that eating vegetables here would be quite healthy as they were probably organic, all fresh from the farm etc.

After arriving in Cambodia I found the vegetables fresh and delicious. I also learned that farmers use all sorts of insecticides on their gardens as well. As there are few if any enforced regulations that I know of here about insecticides I often wonder how poisoned the produce is that I am eating. My colleagues and I have had stomach pain from time to time that we attribute to eating raw vegetables that are not properly washed. Consequently I eat little raw vegetables and that is something I really miss about home.

#3. Thinking about what life would be like in Cambodia, I figured that being on my own for a year with a lot of free time on my hands I would be able to get into outstanding physical condition. Before departing Canada I was doing a lot of running and looking forward to continuing that fitness regimen.

After arriving in Cambodia I found I was not at all prepared for the stifling heat and even after six months, I have not properly acclimatized myself to it. My work day starts when I wake up about 05:30a.m. and leave for work at 07:00a.m. I usually get home about 06:00 p.m. There are no fitness facilities at work. The sun goes down at about 06:00 p.m. so running outside is not practical in the evenings. Working out is impossible when I am traveling in the rural areas, and I am usually out there at least half the time. I know some people get up and go for a run at 4:30 a.m., when the sun is coming up and the air is relatively cool, but I have not yet had the self discipline to get up at that hour yet!

There is not much I can do about some of my shattered misconceptions, but there are some solutions to the Fitness problem. With a little self-discipline I should be able to do some early morning runs. I have also started the 100 push-up and 100 burpee challenge that Sagan has written about on this blog. That is a start!

Shattered misconceptions are an aspect of travel that cannot be avoided. It is impossible to make judgment calls beforehand to know what to expect when we are not familiar at all with the area we are visiting. It seems to me that one has to consciously make a commitment to be more adaptable and flexible in all points of view and activity. After all, you are no longer ‘at home’; you are at someone else’s home. There are always ways to fit health into our lifestyle; it just means that our lifestyle sometimes needs a little bit of creative tweaking.


Cultural Differences in Health

May 7, 2009

Hailing from a city nicknamed “Winterpeg” for its frigidly cold weather, it is with great pleasure that I have been soaking up the heat here in Cambodia. My body hasn’t really had time to acclimatize (which I think is partly why I became so ill), but I adore the temperature regardless!

Living in Phnom Penh has allowed me to observe what I believe to be a few crucial elements of lifestyle healthcare that I sorely lack back in Canada. I’m used to a fairly dry climate, and thus I typically need to reapply moisturizer several times a day to prevent my skin from resembling the cracked features of a statue at Angkor Wat. Since arriving in this gorgeous country I think I’ve moisturized maybe twice, and that was out of habit rather than necessity. The humidity is nature’s beauty product.

The Canadian cold also has the result that I take very hot showers. The steamy, skin-turns-red-from-heat type of showers (oh- that could be why I need to have a bottle of moisturizer glued to my hand at all times). I know that those kinds of super hot showers are not healthy and that they are terrible for the skin, but I take them anyway to combat the cold in winter (it snowed just a few weeks ago in Winnipeg, if that helps put it into perspective). With the days so hot in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, I’ve been taking cold showers just to cool off. It’s refreshing, it’s good for the skin, it’s good for the hair, and it saves on hot water. Win-win all around!

As we drove the 4.5 hour commute from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap so that we could tour the temples for a couple days, we got a fantastic view of the countryside along the way. The farmers are tough people! They’re out ploughing rice paddies and strapping life, full-grown pigs on the backs of their motos to take to the market as part of their everyday life. That’s lifestyle activity and productive work. No gyms required.

I was also really fascinated by how skinny the cows are with ribs visibly showing. They don’t look that healthy, but when I think about a lot of the cows I’ve seen in Canada, just how healthy are they? We always have these gigantic barrels of a cow, surviving on a diet of goodness knows what. The beef here might be a little tough and chewy, but it is super lean and I find it really tasty. Moreover, the meat is all locally grown and fresh to the day.

Staying trim and fit is also possible (and essential, with all of the physical labor that needs to be done) in a climate that makes it too hot to eat. Loving food as much as I do, I was eating exorbitant amounts in Winnipeg. I’d actively try to limit how much I ate because my portion sizes were getting completely out of hand, but I was having a lot of difficulty controlling it. I don’t have to tell myself to stop, now, because it really is far too hot to overeat. The comparison would lead me to think that I was eating so much to try to stay warm. Definitely not applicable these days! The only downside to this heat is that because I personally am not making my living through physical labour, it’s also almost too hot to move very much! I’m still logging my minimum 10,000 steps on the pedometer each day but now it’s quite a task to accomplish (still going strong on the Burpee Challenge though ;)).

As far as food goes, even though there’s still some fried food here, it’s a hell of a lot healthier than our version of fried in Western countries because most of the stuff here is natural and real food. Some of the dishes here are a little questionable to Western eyes, but I’ll take unusual dishes any day over the processed stuff and fast food. Speaking of which, I met a young guy about my age last week from one of the villages near Phnom Penh, and he had no idea what McDonald’s is. They’ve only got a couple of fast food restaurants in Cambodia and no McDonald’s at all.

I’m in paradise.


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!


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.


Taking care of our bodies

April 3, 2009

My life is riddled with term papers, group projects, and exams right now. But just about everything is due on Monday so it will all be over soon! And I will be a happily stress-free camper once again.

In between the studying and researching and writing, I have been taking breaks by learning more about health. These are a couple interesting articles that I found which apply to us all. Let me know your thoughts on them!

Oral Health

I’m always surprised by how much people neglect dental care. I religiously brush and floss every day; there is a ton of stuff that brushing alone just does not get. Up until the Sugar Challenge, I also used mouthwash daily. But after taking a look at the ingredients on the bottle, I couldn’t justify using it. There is some nasty stuff in mouthwash. I’ll stick to an extra brushing instead! Remember to always take care of your teeth, tongue, and gums.

Shoulder Strength

We rely on our shoulders for lifestyle activity, so we have to take care of them, too. Throughout the day I like to roll my shoulders a few times to prevent them from getting too tense or stressed. I did this before I knew much about health just because it feels good- and if a stretch like that feels good, it probably is good for you. Your body needs all the support it can get for the shoulders. Although not mentioned in this article, keeping the hips and back in good condition is also crucial. When practicing aikido we learn that all the movement in the technique should be coming from the hips rather than putting too much strain on physical force of the arms. So often we forget about the shoulders and hips, as well as the back, when those areas really carry a lot of weight and are designed to perform tasks all the time.

Binging Vegetarians?

I know that there’s lots of vegetarians out there, so I’d love to hear what you think of this somewhat controversial piece! Do you think there’s any truth to the idea that vegetarians might binge more than omnivores? I can see this being the case for supposed “vegetarians” who just eat processed crap and no meat, but for all of you vegetarians who actually eat well (and I’m guessing you’re the ones that would be reading a blog like this), did this ever apply to you? Or is it yet another twisted study?

Have a wonderful weekend. Let me know in the comments if you’ve found any newsworthy tidbits of information circulating in the health community- I wouldn’t mind having some back-up material to read on my breaks between paper-writing!

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Product Review: NURU Exercise Anywhere Cards

April 1, 2009

First, major thanks to Small Steps to Health for recommending me to NURU for a product review- much appreciate it!

NURU Exercise Anywhere cards are a small deck inconspicuous enough to fit in the back pocket of your jeans (I’m talking girls skinny jeans, too- the kind where you have to lie down on the bed to wiggle you’re way in/out of them. This deck is tiny!). There’s just 30 cards total but they pack a wealth of information.

These cards are designed so that no matter your fitness level and no matter where you are- at the gym, at home, at work, on the bus- you can pull out the deck and quickly choose an exercise (maybe not the bus. Trying to do a triceps dip on a moving vehicle could have disaastrous results). The exercises are divided into two sections; strengthening the major muscle groups and cardio lab. The cards even suggest a sample workout routine for a week to give us a good idea of how these cards can be utilized on a daily basis, alongside a helpful example for how to maximize the effects by pushing to your limit with the number of reps and sets that you perform.

The exercises for the major muscle groups are divided into chest, upper and lower back, shoulders, biceps and triceps, and abs, and the lower body (glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves). The only equipment you need to perform these exercises is your own body weight, and perhaps a mat or piece of rug (because a hard floor isn’t so comfortable). Some of the exercises also make use of benches/chairs, towels (or resistance bands, if you’ve got them), or a tree branch/bar. Cans/filled water bottles, which you could replace with dumbbells, are also incorporated for some of the exercises. The cardio lab section is much shorter, with suggestions for interval training, jumping rope, walking, and squat thrust routines.

I love how these cards really present us with the no-excuses mentality of working out. When you’ve got this deck of cards in your pocket or purse, you can’t ignore the fact that it only takes a few minutes to do some reps of any exercise. Complete with step-by-step instructions and simple yet detailed illustrations accompanying each description, this deck also gives a brief overview of why we need to exercise all of these muscles. For science types, there’s a quickie explanation including the correct terminology for muscles with a diagram of the muscles in the body for each major muscle group.

Even though many of the exercises used in this deck of cards are straightforward (push ups, front shoulder raises, lunges and so on), they have a lot of good ideas for variations on each of these exercises. This deck will be perfect for traveling and I will also be using it if I need a fast strength training routine while at home. When I go away in May to visit my father dear in Cambodia (excitement!), these cards are going to be as close to me as my passport. While everyone else is typing on their laptops during stopovers in the airports between Winnipeg and Phnom Penh, I’ll be whipping out my new favorite deck of cards for a lying tricep extension or a decline push up 😉

Want to win a pack of cards for yourself? Head over to Healthy Living Today to enter Mark’s NURU Exercise Anywhere giveaway!


Sugar Challenge Follow-Up and Fitness Q & A

March 20, 2009

When I saw this message from my twitter friend @lizwicksteed, I knew I had to share it with all of you:

Hi Sagan

I’m now on day 6 of the challenge and have been amazed how quickly it’s going. We’ve eaten some delicious food (especially your recipes hehe) and I haven’t missed the sugar at all. One evening I did eat 8 dates in a fairly mindless way but other than that I haven’t felt any particular cravings and have even had to remind myself to eat my lunch a couple of times, which is so not me! It kind of levels out your mood too, doesn’t it? Like Julie I’m wondering about my balsamic vinegar – it’s extraordinary what foods contain sugar – even water biscuits, would you believe! I’m definitely going to keep added sugars to a minimum from now on. Thanks for having the idea and thanks for doing the hard work of giving a starter list of the kinds of meals you can eat. Off now for a breakfast of pitta stuffed with mashed banana, apple sauce and cinnamon….. By the way everyone the best chocolate bars in the world are sugar-free! My one big worry about the week was what I was going to do for breakfast on working days, when I often took a cereal bar and ate it at my desk – I hate eating soon after I get up. In the health food shop I found Nak*d fruit bars and bought some of those. There’s a cocoa one which is mostly dates, raisins, apple juice, walnut, almond, etc, and a little cocoa powder – it is pure heaven and far more satisfying than an ordinary chocolate bar… and guaranteed no added sugar!

– Liz

Thanks for the feedback, Liz! I love hearing about other people trying these experiments and challenges and to learn about how it affects each of us.

An interview revisited

Remember when I interviewed Kelly from Every Gym’s Nightmare for an article about personal trainers and fitness*? I really felt that she gave so much wonderful information that couldn’t be included in the article (word limits can’t be ignored, after all), so here is the rest of the interview for all of you to enjoy!

1. How do you motivate yourself and encourage others to motivate themselves to exercise each day?

I think one of the biggest motivators is focusing on the immediate positive. Too many people use long term goals, like losing a certain amount of weight, as motivation to get into the gym everyday. The problem with that is, weight loss takes a while to develop, which means you can get discouraged and start to skip your workouts.  People are result focused, so focusing on the benefits you receive immediately from exercise, like increased mood and energy, stress relief and better sleep will better motivate you to get your workout in each day.

2. How much cardio/stretching/weight training do you recommend to do each day/week?

According to the ACSM, the recommended guidelines for healthy adults is 20-60 min of continuous or intermittent (minimum of 10-min bouts accumulated throughout the day) aerobic (cardiovascular) activity most days of the week (5-6), one set of 8-10 exercises that conditions the major muscle groups 2-3 days a week for strength training, and stretch the major muscle groups a minimum of 2-3 days per week for flexibility.  These guidelines are to get health benefits from exercise. For weight loss or specific goals, like increasing muscle strength or size, in most cases you will need workout more frequently, but each person is different. In order to get a full picture of how to achieve your goals, you will have to sit down with a personal trainer or coach and develop a unique plan for you.

3. How do I know how heavy of a weight I should be lifting?

Weights and reps are a delicate balance. You should be lifting enough weight that the last rep you do of each exercise is the last rep you can do with proper form.  Once your form starts to slip, you are recruiting other muscle units which is ineffective and, in some cases, dangerous.  If you can perform over about 25 reps and still have good form, it’s probably time to up the weight to get more of a challenge.  You often hear about people doing 100 pushups or 100 crunches in a sitting- if you can do that many, it isn’t effective for you anymore and you need to increase the intensity by either adding weight, or performing a more difficult modification of the exercise.

4. Are body weight exercises as effective as weight lifting? 

It depends by what you mean by “effective.” Everyone works out for different reasons.  If you primary concern is muscle tone, or fat loss, yes, body weight resistance will do the trick- as long as the exercises you are performing get you to exhaustion (the last rep is the last one you can complete with proper form.)  If your primary goal is to increase the size of your muscles or to gain strength, weights is probably your most effective way to go, as the more weight you use, the more overload is applied to the muscle.

5. What exercises would you suggest for a warm up and cool down?

Your warm up and cool down should be a less intense version of whatever your workout was or is going to be.  Whatever muscles you are going to use during your workout should be the primary focus of your warm up.  Walking or jogging is usually sufficient.  Warm ups get your muscles and circulatory system ready for what’s about to come, and should last anywhere from 5-10 minutes.  Cool downs are to help the blood redistribute to the rest of your body, so a nice slow walk will do the trick. Always remember to stretch, too, but do it after your warm up or cool down when your muscles are warm to avoid pulling anything.

6. Is there any reason for women to worry about “getting bulky”? 

No. I hate that term, “bulky.”  First of all- muscle isn’t a gross thing; it’s something to be proud of, because you earned it through hard work.  But, no matter how much I say that, women’s main concern is probably always going to be to get thin.  The fact of the matter is, women do not produce enough testosterone to achieve significant hypertrophy, or gain in muscle size.  Quite the contrary: women who replace body fat with lean muscle not only drop inches, but they have a higher metabolism, which means they burn more calories throughout the day, which can aid in weight loss. Strength training is important to not only reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass, but it also strengthens your bones- a huge priority for women.  It’s a shame so many shy away from weights.

7. What is the best all-over exercise for cardio? For strength training? For stretching?

There’s no one size fits all exercise- everyone is at a different fitness level, has different limitations and different goals.  For cardio, anything that gets your heart rate up is going to improve your heart and lung function and burn calories.  For strength training, anything that overloads your muscle to the point of failure is going to get results, but to save time, I recommend combining upper and lower body exercise, like lunges with bicep curls, to get the most bang for your buck.  As far as stretching goes, you should always stretch your major muscle groups to maintain or increase your flexibility, making sure to hit hamstrings, glutes, quads, back, chest, and arms.

8. How often should you change up your workout?

I’m a firm believer that motivation is the biggest indicator of when you should switch up your routine. I mainly work with deconditioned, reluctant exercisers, so I have to switch up the routine quite often to keep them motivated and interested.  From a results standpoint, there is differing opinions, but I find that about every 4 weeks, assuming the individual is strength training 3 times a week, is a good time frame.  Switching up your workout, to create muscle confusion, doesn’t have to mean all new exercises though. Sometimes just switching the order you perform them is enough to kick start your results again.

9. Is there any food in particular that you feel is especially beneficial to providing the nutrients and energy necessary for a really good workout?

I wouldn’t say there is a specific food, but there are certain nutrients you need to get the most from your work out. Protein, for muscle repair from your strength training, and carbohydrates for energy, are vital to keep your energy levels up and to keep your body running as efficiently as possible.  When you eat these is a little bit more of a grey area: many people say you need to eat a snack of protein and carbs right after working out, but as long as you get your recommended daily amount sometime throughout the day, you will be fine.  A lot of people tend to over eat after a workout because they over estimate how many calories they actually burned.  Some don’t like to workout on a full stomach and eat afterwards- some prefer to eat before for the energy. It depends on what feels right to you.

10. What’s your take on protein powders and protein shakes?

Ah, protein.  I think we are a protein obsessed society.  I’ve written numerous articles and pieces on this and every time I do it seems to get people up in arms.  You need a certain amount of protein per day, 0.8-1 gram per kilogram of body weight, and any extra is stored in your body as fat.  “The more, the better” is the wrong attitude with protein.  Most people eat more protein than they need in a day from natural sources, so in most cases protein shakes and bars are unnecessary, unless they are to supplement missing protein from your diet.

11. What are the best ways to mix things up when you workout at home?

Use what you have around.  Common, everyday household items make great workout equipment.  Use your stairs for calf raises, or to run up and down, do pushups against a sturdy counter top or table.  Water and milk jugs make great weights, use walls for wall sits, chairs for tricep dips, paper plates for mountain climbers- there is no reason to spend a ton of money on equipment. You can definitely get just as good a workout in the comfort of your home.

12. Do you have any advice for university students trying to stay active?

College kids are some of the busiest people around.  Make incidental exercise a big part of your day. Try and walk whenever you can, sneak in crunches and push up breaks during your study time, and calf raises while you are waiting for your roomie to get out of the bathroom. You’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up without having to block out a huge chunk of time for a workout.

Thanks again, Kelly!

Breakfast Cookie

It seems as though you can’t be a food blogger unless you’ve made the infamous Breakfast Cookie and featured it on your blog. As far as I can tell, it’s basically a bowl of oatmeal in cookie form. But although I’ve tried making one for myself before and it has somewhat worked and been quite tasty, I’m not exactly sure of the best “procedure” for making a Breakfast Cookie. Do you heat it up in the microwave? Or do you refrigerate it so it will harden and then eat it cold? Inquisitive minds want to know. Hit me up in the comments with your Breakfast Cookie recipes!

*If you’re interested in more fitness type information, check out my Push ups aren’t just for body builders piece.