live it active

“Say what? You want me to sit still and quiet my mind?”

Meditation is hard. Have you ever been to a yoga a class and actually successfully completed final relaxation? It is my favorite part of the class because I get the chance to snooze. Sleeping however, is not really the goal of final relaxation. The primary goal is to quiet the mind – working to allow and let go of incoming and distracting thoughts. I’ve always found the notion of “allowing” thoughts to enter and “let go” of them a rather abstract concept.

In my reading about meditation however, something clicked. One of the instructions said to “become an observer of your thoughts – see them, but don’t engage in them”. This instruction made sense to me. It’s still hard. Not engaging in thoughts that are stressful or upsetting is difficult. Oftentimes we create a war with our thoughts – going back and forth, repeating the same thought, sentence, list over and over. It’s not really helpful. In fact this type of inner conversation is often more detrimental than beneficial.

So how do you actually meditate? How can you become an observor of your own thoughts and quiet the mind? I’m not really sure. Yet, I want to take a stab at it. I want to stop snoozing and start actively working to make my mind less busy.

How do I propose to do this? By doing 10 minutes of meditation (or longer if I am in the zone) per day for 30 days. I will check in every once in a while (maybe adding on a sentence of two to another post) and at the end I will post about the challenges/ups/downs and my overarching feelings/thoughts about meditation.

If you want to join in on this challenge of sorts send me your updates/experiences/thoughts. I would love to hear about your journey.  




Wednesday Workout Tip: Don’t pull a hammie

Just in case you’re wondering hammie is the correct spelling and short form for hamstring. If you disagree, please refer to this very reliable website for more short forms commonly used in exercise settings.

Your hamstrings are a group of muscles located in the posterior thigh that are responsible for flexing the knee and extending the hip (see picture below). We often forget about our hammies, focusing predominantly on strengthening our quadriceps and glutes. 

It is important to focus equally on different muscles when strength training. Strengthening is important however so is stretching. Tight hamstrings are largely responsible for a lot of lower back pain. So if you’re feeling muscle aches and pain in the lower back, get stretching   

Click here for some exercises to work out those hamstrings. And after your intense workout check out these amazing stretches.  

Pulling a hammie is no fun at all. So be kind to your hamstrings and you shall be rewarded.


Being active won’t always protect you…

So you’re active. You meet the physical activity guidelines, you enjoy the outdoors but….you sit all day long at work.

Using a sample of 17,000 Canadians Peter Katzmarzyk and colleagues looked at the association between sitting time in both active and inactive individuals. Click here for the image (seriously, check out the link). The y-axis provides the number of deaths per 10,000 person years. The numbers on the top of each bar indicate the relative risk of death. Thus, an active individual who sits ‘almost all of the time’ has a 40% increased risk of death relative to their active counterpart who sits ‘almost none of the time’.

So what can you do? Show your boss, supervisor, friends, and loved-ones. Tell anyone who will listen how costly sitting can be. Being active won’t protect you from the deleterious consequences of sitting and I don’t think we as Canadians have a keen understanding of this rather frightening association. It will seriously shorten your life.


Katzmarzyk et al. 2004. Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Med Sci Sports Exerc; 41(5):998-1005.

Wednesday Workout Tip: Try Urban Poling

Now, now, get your mind out of the gutter…:)

Urban poling is synonomous with nordic walking. This activity entails the use of two ski-type poles when you walk/jog/hike (see video link below) that assist with balance and joint unloading (reducing stress on the ol’ joints).

Urban poling is a more recent addition to North American’s activity options. It is extremely popular in Scandinavia and Germany. With an increase in popularity, research in this area has also flourished looking at specific populations afflicted with particular mobility issues.

While some researchers argue that urban poling reduces stress/strain on the knee joints, others will argue it does no such thing. However, researchers looked at walking distance in patients with intermittent claudication (click here for study). This symptom is typically a result of plaque build up in the peripheral arteries. During period of prolonged exercise these individuals will feel muscle pain, ache, fatigue that is soon remedied by a period of rest. Exercise is an excellent treatment strategy for individuals with intermittent claudication and poling appears to increase walking distance and time.

Nordic walking has been posited to increase energy expenditure above walking alone due to the necessary use of your upper body and core.  Moreover, research is being conducted to determine whether urban poling is an effective strategy for alleviating chronic low back pain.

Regardless, urban poling is fun. It can be performed in a group or individually. If you have balance problems or just like more support when walking – urban poling is definitely for you. I recommend you give it a go. This video provides a more detailed explanation of urban poling and its benefits.


You won’t ever get this weekend back

This weekend is going to come and go. You won’t ever get it back. You’ll have another weekend in five days, but you won’t get this particular one back.

So why not use it up? Why not plan something? Why not do something this weekend that you will remember? Why not do something every weekend that you’ll remember?

Perhaps a hike or bike ride with the family. Perhaps a light stroll and sit in the park alone. Maybe meditate by a large body of water. Do cartwheels on your lawn. Plant a vegetable garden. Do something that means something. And try to do it every weekend.

I know that sometimes life is too busy to do something memorable every single weekend. But try. I’ve noticed that as I age, time speeds up. I wake up and all of a sudden I find myself getting ready for bed. Days meld together. I look at myself in the mirror to find a grown adult staring back when inside, I feel like a teen.

I’m working hard to do something memorable every weekend. Sometimes its tough, but I’ve managed to do it for the past month and I am going to keep trying.

You won’t get this weekend back. So use it up.


Campus Water Bottle Ban = Pop/Juice Binge?

In fall 2012 Queen’s University will implement its water bottle ban across campus. It is going to be a slow-moving process to phase out vending machines and phase in water fountains. They aren’t going to be adding that many new fountains across campus, just making them snazzier (i.e. ensuring that they actually work). Queen’s will join a number of other Canadian universities including Ottawa, Trent, Concordia and Winnipeg who have already adopted the campus ban.

I get it. Reducing waste while getting people to utilize municipal water sources is important. I get that, but I don’t get this initiative.

In searching for stats/information on this issue I came across this article, which summarizes my point perfectly. Taking away the ONLY healthy choice from vending machines is not the answer. Come 2012, the majority of Queen’s students in search of a thirst quencher (who forgot or have not purchased a personal water bottle) will head to the vending machine and see a wide selection of pop and juice. Thinking they are making the healthier choice they will choose either juice or diet pop. I have already talked about juice in my sugar rant. I haven’t talked about aspartame yet, but I will. Neither are good. 

So why not ban liquid sugar and supposed cancer-causing agents? Oh yeah, money. Terminating a contract with Coca-Cola or Pepsi would be bad news bears for universities. I guess sacrificing the health of students is acceptable in this instance.

Yes, you can argue for free-will – students have the choice to not buy the bad stuff. Yes, you can argue that getting up to go the fountain will incorporate activity breaks into your day. Those are valid arguments. But I don’t see more activity breaks on the horizon. I would hasten a bet that water consumption will actually go down. Who wants to get up every 1/2 hour for a small sip (in the case you have forgotten your own bottle). I mean you should be getting up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will. You should go and purchase a water bottle and use the water stations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will. You shouldn’t eat Mars Bars, donuts, or Jelly Bellies, but you do.

I haven’t been able to find any statistics from universities that have made the switch. Has the use of water fountains/taps increased since the ban? Has the purchase of pop/juice increased? How many students on campus have their own personal hydration device? Has that number increased since the ban? Do students even know about the ban? If anyone does have answers to any of my questions please pass them along.

I don’t like this plan. I think too many people have accepted the ban at face-value without more careful consideration of the cause and effect. Many (I mean many) will argue against my statement, but that’s OK. I like debate.

 Happy drinking.


Picture courtesy of Stevendepolo

Wednesday’s Workout Tip: Find Freedom in Activity

So I’ve decided I am becoming a hardcore cyclist. It’s just that awesome.

If any of you amazing readers read the post on my first experience with cycling you may have questioned a number of things (i.e. my maturity level) but mainly, whether I would actually continue this new pursuit.

The answer now is firmly, 100%, without a question, yes. OK so I have only done a couple of training sessions since my first experience, but they have both been exhilarating.

So what’s the point of this post? To talk about myself? Nope (well I guess a little bit). It’s to encourage you to find an activity that makes you smile, laugh and feel at one with the environment you’re in. Even with the Kingston bugs whacking me in the face, arms, and legs I still felt at peace. A feeling I don’t experience with running, swimming, or exercising at the gym.

With all my heart I encourage you to try out different activities until you find one you like, no, love. You have to love it. It’s the only way you’ll keep doing it. So go running, try out dancing, hit the yoga studio, suit up and jump into the local pool, slap on the skates and fly across the ice, get all whited out and fence – do anything that tickles your fancy and keep trying out things until you find the something that’s for you. It will take time, but trust me, it’s worth it.

Find the activity that gives you a feeling of freedom.


It’s never too late to…

…do something scary/exciting/fun/exhilarating.

Check out Clarence. He went skydiving at 85.

Go and challenge yourself. Do something you didn’t think possible (for you).


What exercise does for your body

Exercise does a lot for your body. One of the main things is that it improves your overall fitness. What does the word fitness mean to you? We all have an abstract notion of what “being fit” is. I cannot speak for everyone but my notion of being fit when I was younger was looking lean, being able to run fast and far, and lift a whole lot of weight. My notion is not that far off from the truth (apart from the lean part), but the truth is slightly more specific.

Being fit has to do with your heart, lungs, blood, vasculature, and muscle cells (amongst many others). It can be divided into two components – the central (heart, lungs, blood, and vasculature) and the peripheral (cells). When you exercise adaptations occur at both the central and peripheral locations that, in turn, help to improve your performance.

The heart is a muscle and like any muscle, will undergo hypertrophy the more you exercise. It is the left ventricle that undergoes the greatest change with exercise. It is the last area in the heart that blood accumulates before being pumped out systemically. It expands in size, allowing for a greater volume of blood to enter during relaxation (diastole) and a greater volume of blood to be forced out during contraction (systole). Blood volume increases due to an increased production of red blood cells which increases the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. Another adaptation that I find super cool is that you actually increase the number of capillaries in the body. All in all, these adaptations increase the rate of delivery of blood to those oxygen deprived muscles.

Your lungs also undergo adaptation. While you don’t develop new alveoli (the little dudes that make up your lungs), the oxygen diffusion capacity of the alveoli improves (the ability of oxygen to move from the inhaled air into the lungs). This allows for greater volumes of oxygen to diffuse into the pulmonary capillaries, which is a major yippee as more oxygen gets into the bloodstream. The muscles governing the movement of your lungs also strengthen with exercise. This allows for a greater expansion of the thoracic cavity which assists to bring more oxygen into the system.

The peripheral adaptations occur at the site of the cell. Inside your cell there are mitochondria. You may remember from grade 10 biology that mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell – they utilize the diffused oxygen to produce the necessary energy for the cell. When you exercise, they increase in size and number. Additionally, enzymes associated with the energy production process also increase allowing you to workout more intensely and longer before feeling the burn. Yes, you can actually delay and at some intensities prevent the painful muscle burn from happening. Another major yippee!

When you exercise, you encourage adaptation. The coolest thing is that you don’t necessarily need to perform high intensity exercise to cause such adaptations. All types of activities are associated with adaptations (maybe not to the same extent) but they still help. So next time you’re running, gardening, hiking, raking, dog walking, treading water, skating, lawn mowing, uni-cycling, or three-legged racing you can think about all the changes occurring within your body – the changes that will forever better your health.


Wednesday Rant: Don’t do the Special K Challenge

Today I decided to replace the workout tip with a rant. Don’t worry, next week I’ll go back to the tip (unless someone is really upset and I will post one this Friday – seriously, let me know).

Last night during the commercial period of The Voice (great show by the way) a commercial came on that captured my attention. It was for Special K (the cereal). It featured a woman walking down main street window shopping wearing a bulky overcoat. As the woman is looking longingly at a red dress in the window the voiceover states “When winter turns to spring and you want to show more and wear less, see if you can get slimmer with Special K’s free personal plan”. Click here to see it.

First of all, this woman does NOT need to lose weight. She is a completely healthy weight. Secondly, if weight loss is her goal, eating Special K is not the answer. The cereal boasts that only 5% of calories per serving come from fat. Yippee! Low in fat and…high in salt and sugar – not yippee anymore.

One serving is equivalent to 1 cup (120 kilocalories) of cereal and I don’t know about you, but if I’m eating cereal I eat way more than a cup. In that one serving you consume 9% of your daily sodium and 8% of your daily carbohydrates (which includes 4g of sugar). If you eat more than a serving (like me) you’re looking at 18% of your daily sodium intake. Yikes.

Yes, the cereal contains a whole bunch of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients but you should really be getting these from natural sources – not a cereal.

And how many of you eat cereal in the morning and feel hungry (starving even) 2 hours later? Well, I do. Why? Firstly, if you are the rarity and follow the portion size rules, a 120 kilocalorie meal is pittance. And secondly, you haven’t eaten an ounce of protein. Protein is an excellent filler-upper as it takes longer to digest relative to carbohydrates.

So what’s the Special K Challenge that I mention ever so briefly in the title? While the commercial doesn’t reference the Challenge, it references a personal plan which is basically the same thing (click here if you want to read more). The Challenge encourages women to eat Special K for both breakfast and lunch and eat a regular dinner. Excuse me? You expect us women to last until dinner on 240 kilocalories? Yeah right. I would be the most hangry (a combination of hungry and angry) person you’d ever meet. OK – they do encourage you to eat snacks and fruits/veggies however, the snacks are more Special K delights (full of sugar/salt and low on the filler-upper quality).

So don’t do it. Don’t do the Special K Challenge. It’s bad. Eat regular, healthful meals that are balanced and full of variety. Enjoy your food.


Picture courtesy of becca.peterson26

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