live it active

Wednesday’s Workout Tip: Get a partner

Finding a workout partner is the best way to kick-start and stick with your exercise routine. In my motivation posts I discussed the importance of social relatedness in regards to exercise and sport. We are a social species, we seek out situations that will enable us to interact – exercise is no different.

You all know you are more likely to do something if you know someone is there waiting for you. You may prefer to workout while chatting with your partner, or perhaps just running beside someone with your headphones on. Whatever fits your exercise needs is right for you, just make sure your partner feels the same way (nothing worse than someone trying to talk to someone wearing headphones).

Having a partner isn’t just for running/walking/cycling (the aerobic stuff) but it can also be fun to do some weight training exercises. If you can find a medicine ball (perhaps available at a local gym or if you feel like splurging the local exercise-equipment store), you are in for a good buddy workout. Click here to read about some sweet medicine ball moves.

Other good buddy exercises:

  • Swimming
  • Squash, tennis, badminton, table tennis
  • Horse-back riding
  • Cross-country skiing, skating, snowshoeing
  • Martial arts

While some of those activities may not seem like buddy exercise options, they are. Having a friend sign-up with you will likely increase your enjoyment of the activity and, in turn, you’ll be much more likely to stick with it.

Happy Wednesday.


Some blogs for thought…

Good morning all. I thought today I would share some health-related blogs that I really enjoy reading.

Dr. Arya Sharma – Sharma provides a clinical perspective on a number of current obesity-related issues.

Weighty Matters – Dr. Yoni Freedhoff provides a direct and clear opinion a number of health- and obesity-related issues. You may not always agree with Freedhoff, but he sure does provide a unique and clear perspective!

Obesity Panacea – A blog that provides information about anything and everything related to health. It is written by one PhD candidate and one recent PhD graduate who are well-versed and educated about health and its associated issues. In the past they discussed the utility of various health-related products. Both writers incorporate humour and wit whenever possible. I thoroughly enjoy reading this blog.

Snack_Girl – This blog provides interesting and healthy recipes to a number of delicious snacks (that aren’t typically all that healthy).  

I encourage you to visit and take a read through these blogs!


The immediate benefits of exercise

It’s Saturday. The joys of the weekend await you. I thought I would talk today about the immediate benefits associated with exercise – and when I say immediate, I mean right after.

  1. Improvement in insulin sensitivity. Why is this good? Improved insulin sensitivity at the myocyte (your muscle cell) means that more glucose will get in the cell instead of staying in the blood stream. This makes your cells and best of all, your pancreas happy.
  2. Improvement in mood. I’ve already talked about the benefits of exercise on stress and anxiety, but exercise can improve your mood right away. How? There is an increase in a number of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin which are associated with reward/pleasure and mood stabilization, respectively.
  3. An increase in HDL-cholesterol. Cholesterol? Isn’t that bad? Well yes, but HDL is the good stuff. The kind that gets rid of free radicals in the blood which are associated with atherosclerosis (the white stuff that clogs your arteries).
  4.  Reduction in blood pressure. If you are hypertensive or even pre-hypertensive one bout of physical activity will have an effect on your blood pressure.
  5. Improved motility. Yes, bowel motility. As I have mentioned before, exercise is a stress and thus, will cause the release of catecholamines and endorphins. These chemicals can influence changes in gastric motility (i.e. they make you have to go). Timing is everything, but regular bowel movements and gastric motility reduces the risk of polyps and potentially various bowel cancers.

If you stick with your physical activity program you will gain even more benefit. You’ll improve your fitness (the ability of your heart, lungs, and musculoskeletal systems to deliver oxygen to needy cells during exercise), reduce plaque build-up in the arteries, decrease belly fat (specifically the stuff called visceral adipose tissue which is associated with a number of chronic conditions), improve circulation, and hormonal regulation.

So get up, and get active! Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Thompson, P et al. 2001. The acute versus chronic response to exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: 33(6);438-445.

Musi, N et al. 2006. Insulin resistance and improvements in signal transduction. Endocrine: 29(1);73-80.

Peters, H et al. 2001. Potential benefits and hazards of physical activity and exercise on the gastrointestinal tract. Gut: 48(3);435-439.

Wednesday’s Workout Tip: Get Intense

Work out today at 75-85% of your age-predicted heart-rate max (HRMax; 220-age).

For example:

I am 24 so my age-predicted HRMax = 220-24 = 196.

Working at 85% of my HRMax = .85 x 196 = 167.

Yes, that is a fairly high HR to work at, but it’s not impossible. I know when I am swimming my HR gets up pretty high and fairly quickly (I am more like a drowning rat than a swimming human). So while your 85% HRMax may seem a daunting number to reach, I would encourage you to push for it. If however, 85% is just too high bring it down to 70% or 75%.

It is important to point out that this equation is not a perfect science. Your actual HRMax is likely a little different – either higher or lower. For example, my HRMax is actually 204 (I performed a test to get the actual value). So the equation provides more of an estimate than the actual value.

So how do you calculate your HR when you’re working out if you don’t have a monitor? Find your pulse on your neck (click here for instruction on how to find that). The instructions suggest counting your pulse for a full minute however, I count for 10 seconds and multiply that value by 6 to get the number of beats per minute. This allows me to keep exercising while measuring my pulse. While doing this may feel and look a little awkward it is a good way to know the intensity you are working out at.   

While I am a firm believer in high-intensity exercise (as I discussed in my fat burning zone post), it is not for everyone. I would encourage you to be cautious about engaging in heart-pounding activity if you are above 65, have a current health condition that makes physical activity risky and/or have been encouraged by your doctor not to engage in such activity. Pay attention to your body and if you are concerned, consult your physician before.

Good luck!


How to reduce anxiety through exercise

What is anxiety? You often hear people say that they are anxious about an upcoming speech, test, meeting. As Dr. Ratey (author of Spark) writes, these are normal responses to upcoming events. However this becomes cause for concern when you start to feel a general sense of dread and worry on a continual basis and it begins to interfere with your daily routine.

In Canada, 12% of the population suffer from some form of an anxiety disorder. This disorder comes in a variety of shapes and sizes including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and panic disorder. Ratey talks about anxiety as a cognitive misinterpretation – we feel a fear or worry that is out of proportion to the actual threat or danger. Exercise helps to change this misinterpretation.

So what is going on chemically? Well, quite a lot.

When we exercise we need fuel. Our bodies begin to break down fat molecules and in doing so, release free fatty acids (FFAs). FFAs compete with the well-known tryptophan for slots on transport proteins, which increases the level of tryptophan in the blood. This essential amino acid, pushes its way through the blood brain barrier (a very tough thing to get through) and once inside the brain acts as a building block for serotonin. Serotonin is an important mood and behaviour regulator.

When you exercise you trigger the release of gammaaminobutyric acid (GABA) – your brain’s major inhibitory neurotransmitter (NT). Ratey mentions that this is the NT is the primary target for most of our anti-anxiety medications. The increase in this NT is very helpful as it interrupts the obsessive feedback loop within the brain that characterizes most forms of anxiety, explains Ratey.

Atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) – which I mentioned in the stress post – also comes into play. When the heart is beating hard, it releases ANP which makes its way up to brain to regulate the stress response. The system responsible for your stress response is the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis. When stressed or anxious it is this axis that is responsible for the release of various neurotransmitters and hormones, causing a cascade effect that is difficult to stop.

It is important to note that exercise isn’t the solution for everyone and in many cases works in addition to a drug or therapy. I am not a doctor, nor a psychologist and therefore am not encouraging one treatment over another as everyone’s biology works differently. It is important to discuss any change in activity with your doctor prior to engaging in it – especially if you are on medication. 

While you may not have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, you have likely experienced feelings of anxiety. Not matter where it stems from, exercise can most definitely help. So the next time you have an upcoming meeting, interview, or presentation and are feeling worried or anxious about it, get up and get active. Exercise will relieve muscle tension, boost your energy, and sharpen your focus.


Conquering your fear(s)

It’s Friday again. It’s crazy how quickly time goes.

I promised at the start of this blog I wouldn’t talk about myself. However, I thought I could break that rule just for today to discuss my recent experience with fear.

Last Friday I signed up for an Olympic length Duathalon. It consists of a 2 km run, 42 km bike, and 10 km run. I thought this would be a smart and more safe alternative to a Triathalon, as I am afraid of being swam over and drowning (this is not the fear I will discuss today however). After signing up, I realized I needed a road bike – a mountain bike just wasn’t going to cut it.

Fortunately, one of my friends had a road bike and was generous enough to offer it up for a couple of months (thank you Lisa:)). When I picked up the road bike I was immediately freaked out at how light and narrow it was. I thought to myself “this thing is going to hold me up?”. Her husband said I could try it out right then and there to see if it was OK. I politely declined as the thought of getting on this thing in front of him and riding around sent me into an internal panic.

So last week I asked Evan (bf) to accompany me to the back country roads so that I could attempt to ride this thing in private. The first challenge was getting my feet in the pedals. The pedals aren’t clips (that would be way too intense)  but have straps for your feet. In order to get your foot in you need to sort of flip the pedal up and then slide your foot in and tighten the strap. This may sound simple, but it’s not – at least not when you first start out. My idea was to lean on the car while getting my feet properly in the straps.

With my heart pounding I let go of the car and due to the lack of momentum completely keeled over.

I immediately started crying. Not so much from pain, but from being so nervous. On the drive out there that I had completely wound myself up. Evan got out of the car and asked if I was OK. I got up, walked into the centre of the road and started balling like a baby.

He then (annoyingly) got on the bike and showed me that I have to put one foot in the pedal strap, push-off with the other and put that foot into strap while moving. He did this perfectly and to boot, was wearing loafers…the scene was hilarious. A 24-year old woman crying in the middle of the road, and her loafer-wearing boyfriend showing her how to ride a bike.

So I got back on. I got my feet in the straps and pedaled up and down the road. I took control of my emotions, my fear, and told myself I could. 

Today I went out for my first long ride. I did 22 km. It was awesome. I kicked ass. I was yelling and smiling the whole ride. I looked and sounded totally insane. But I felt great. Not only was I exercising, but I had conquered my fear of the bike.

Sometimes things are scary. And sometimes, if not all the time we make them more scary by ruminating on the idea of fear. I challenge you to try a physical activity that intimidates you. Not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but sometime soon.

Show yourself what you’re capable of.


P.S. Stay tuned for more posts on exercise and mental health next week!

How exercise combats the effects of stress

I am currently reading the book Spark by John Ratey, MD. It’s a fascinating read that provides insight into the biological relationship between exercise and improvements in stress management, mood, and other conditions such as Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder.

Ratey references a number of scientific studies in his book and makes it relatable and engaging by incorporating case studies. I love case studies. My favorite profs were those that went “off piste” during class and talked about patients or crazy family members/friends. I thought using a case study for today’s blog post may be kind of interesting…

Take Jonas. He’s a rising star at the marketing firm he has been working at for 5 years. He works hard to manage his time at the office in order to sustain a personal life, but is finding that he is spending a lot more time indoors in front of his computer lately. Recently his sleep patterns have become strange – not able to fall asleep, but still getting up early. He has also noticed that his memory is foggy – when asked by friends if he remembers their road trip 6 years ago, he has trouble recalling. His pants have also felt a bit snug lately. He doesn’t quite know what is going on, but realizes he has put physical activity on the back burner. He decides to start rowing again.  

Let’s briefly talk about stress. When you’re stressed, your body responds accordingly. You experience the fight-or-flight response.  You have a surge of endorphins and release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol promotes fat storage (hence the expanding waist line) and also influences your hippocampus. What’s that? Your brain memory bank. Cortisol excess causes a cascade of events that eventually lead to the breakdown of neurons, and prevents the development of new neurons right in the memory bank. In the brain, we have neurons by the billions. So losing a few isn’t bad (which is happening all the time), but losing a lot to stress is not good – it actually leads to decreased brain volume in your hippocampus and other areas.

OK back to our case study. So after two weeks of rowing Jonas feels better. His sleep patterns have become more normal and as he expected, his pants are starting to fit a whole lot better. What he is most surprised about is his the improvement in his memory and his work efficiency. So what’s happening?

During exercise, your body releases a whole lot of endorphins. Sound familiar? It should. Exercise is a stress so your body is going to respond the same way it always does. However exercise has some very different and positive effects on the brain that differ from the fight-or-flight response.

Exercise stimulates this little guy called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). In the brain this handy little protein increases neuroplasticity, and neurogenesis in the hippocampus…more simply, it’s working to increase the volume of your memory centre.

Another really cool mechanism by which exercise works is through the heart. When you exercise your heart releases atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) which makes its way up to the brain and slows down your neural stress pathway. I guess you could say your heart is talking to your brain and saying “cool your jets my friend”.

On the more behavioural side of things, planning and performing exercise helps you gain a sense of mastery and confidence. You start to believe in your ability manage your stress without a substance, food, or emotional turmoil but by using your body. This is an empowering feeling, one that I believe our friend Jonas discovered as he hasn’t stopped rowing in 5 years.

If you are stressed and haven’t exercised in a while, try it out. Just go for a walk. Do something simple. Come home and write down how you feel. Keep writing down how you feel including the days when you don’t exercise. I would be interested to know what happens…


Us vs. Our Ancestors: The fall of physical activity and rise of disease

Our paleolithic ancestors were hunter-gatherers. They hunted their meat and collected their greens. It has been suggested that their energy expenditure derived from physical activity was well over 1,000 kcal/day. Skeletal remains tell us that bone structure was very different due to their introduction to physical activity at a very young age (with increasing time active, the greater one’s bone density). They were a species on the move.

So how do we stack up? Well, unfortunately not well. We spend close to 69% of our waking hours sedentary and only about 15% of Canadian adults meet the physical activity guidelines (150 min. moderate/vigorous exercise/week in at least 10 minute bouts). So we sit a lot and don’t exercise all that much, especially compared to our caveman uncles and aunts.

With such a change in our daily activity patterns, has our genome had time to catch up? Nope. We are still biologically driven to behave like our ancestors. Thus, in a sense, we are going against our biology by not being active, by not utilizing the body as it was built to be utilized.

This week I will explore how this drastic change in our physical activity is associated with a number of modern-day conditions. My main focus will be on the association between physical activity and mental health. I will cover such topics as stress, anxiety, depression, and age (this will touch upon hormonal changes).

The inextricable link between the body and mind is a fascinating one and I can’t wait to start blogging about it! If you have any questions please send them my way.

Happy Monday.


Mini-Goals vs. Mega-Goals

I realized right after posting Part 4 I had left out one key component of staying motivated – setting goals.

Goal setting is integral to success. I set mini-goals and mega-goals all the time.

An example of a mini-goal may be “I am going to keep running until I reach that stop sign”. But, mini goals aren’t always that mini. For example a mini-goal could be “I am going to work-out three times this week” or “go for a walk this weekend”.

An example of a mega-goal may be “I am going to train for a 1/2 marathon”. I like mega-goals. Mega goals allow you to set and achieve mini-goals. I am saying mega and mini way too much…

You need to set audacious and challenging goals. When I was training for a 1/2 marathon many people would say “I couldn’t do that”. Well, I think you could have and still can. The body is an amazing powerhouse – one that we don’t often use to its full capacity. I dare you to push the limits.

So set a mega-goal. And then set many mini-goals that will allow you to successfully accomplish your mega-goal. Mini goals help you to feel good along the way. Writing these things down is also important because we forget. And you’ll be more likely to achieve your goal if you do it with a buddy.

Happy weekending.


Part 4: Ideas to motivate

It’s Friday. Happiness. I am looking forward to my beer tonight.

This series on motivation has been super interesting to write and receive feedback on. On the recent poll I posted the top choice for “motivation(s) to be physically active” was that it “makes you feel good (reduces stress/tension/etc.)”. That’s awesome. Based on my previous blog, the more you enjoy doing something, the more likely you are to do it. Rock on liveitactive readers!

When it comes to being physically active, I’m motivated by a number of things and they change fairly regularly. Here’s what gets me going:

  1. I love the feeling after a good workout.
  2. It relaxes me.
  3. Refocuses me (makes me a better student).
  4. It reduces tension in my lower back and shoulders.
  5. If I am going to have a big meal, or going to eat a greasy (yet delicious) McDonald’s.
  6. Working out with a friend.
  7. Being a super competitive person.
  8. Laughing (on the inside) at the intenso-grunter-sleeveless shirt dudesters at the gym.     
  9. Music (HUGE motivator for me).                                                                                                                  
  10. It’s fun.
  11. Sharks.

I have a number of motivations and many of them are NOT deep. Sometimes I find the gym super boring and stop going for a while. And then I start to feel crabby, tense, anxious…you get the picture. Sometimes I run and then my hips start to ache like crazers. Sometimes if I can’t exercise I just make a point to take the stairs a couple of times and try to sit less and stretch at night. I’m not always motivated. But I always go back to exercise/physical activity. Always. 

So, some ideas to motivate you when you start to get bored/tired/busy:

  1. Grab a friend – even if you gossip or stay silent, it’s always better with someone (definitely the gossip part…talking to yourself while running is iffy however, I live in Kingston. A lone, gossiping runner wouldn’t really phase me).
  2. Download some new tunes.
  3. Get a new work out top (OK I know, super superficial. But come on, you can’t deny you love showing off your new threads).
  4. Change up the time of day you exercise.
  5. Start a walking group at work.
  6. Look for some new weight/cardio routines on the web (obviously, use the web with caution).
  7. Find a new physical activity/sport in your community. Ask to try out a free session…or just pay for one trial session.
  8. Try belly dancing. Or archery. Or snow-shoe running.
  9. Listen to an audio book – can’t beat learning while exercising.
  10. Track your progress. Seeing how far you’ve come is exhilarating.
  11. Dance for 1 minute, every hour, for one day. That’s funny AND active.
  12. Alter your route to work/school. Instead of taking the car, walk or ride. If that is not feasible try to get a walk in at lunch.
  13. Get the family involved. This may be one of the most important aspects (my opinion) to long-term success. Be a team.

A fairly extensive list if I may say so myself. If you have any other ideas please comment away OR send an email to    

Enjoy the weekend.

Photo credit:

%d bloggers like this: