live it active


Wednesday Workout Tip: Get the family involved

Good morning!

So you want to start an exercise program and/or lose a little bit of weight this summer. However, your summer seems to be filling up with parties, weekends away at the cottage, and evening BBQs usually accompanied by a delicious glass of wine. Introducing a fitness program or achieving and sustaining weight loss is going to be difficult, however, not impossible.

For any program to work it needs to be maintainable for the long haul. Programs such as P90X, weight watchers, and personal training regimens are great to get you started, but they don’t necessarily lead to long-term weight loss. Why? Because they are really hard to keep up with and not always economically feasible (more so for the personal training). Yet, if these programs work for you then keep doing it. It’s about what works for you, not me.

In my opinion the only way to maintain a fitness or weight loss program is to get the family involved. You need support. I appreciate that others in the family may not want to be involved, especially teenagers. In the very least, it would be great to have your partner on board. Even if they aren’t doing the runs, going to the gym, or eating exactly what you eat, you need their verbal and heart-felt support. Otherwise, it’s going to be very hard to keep going.

So how do you get your partner on board? Or your family? Perhaps have a family meeting over a nice dinner. Discuss your goals. Be honest about what you need. Ask them what they would be willing to participate in. Perhaps setting up a friendly family competition would make it slightly more enticing to teens. Yet, competition is not really sustainable but could be a great way to get people started.  

Personally, I made a change in my diet last winter for my partner. He asked me nicely if we could change what we eat and remove a lot of the junk food from our pantry (yes, I love chocolate and frozen yogurt). At first, I was slightly resistant but once we made the change I felt more energized in the morning and throughout the day. It was a win win situation – I not only improved my own health, I supported my partner.

Family support is imperative to reach success. Making a clear statement about your goals and needs is important. Sometimes family members don’t know that you are struggling and require assistance. All it takes (in most, but not all) is communication. 

As the old adage goes “Ask and you shall receive”.

M  

 


The meditation challenge comes to an end…

A more accurate title would read “The meditation challenge comes to an end…well, sort of” however, I thought that title was a little too long.

So I should explain why I added the “sort of” to the end of this post title. I actually missed a total of 6 days of meditation this month. Why? To be completely honest, I just forgot. It is hard to integrate a new element into your daily routine, however, setting a reminder on my phone did help. So, in truth I am not yet done the challenge and have almost one more week to complete. Yet, I wanted to share a few insights and experiences about the meditation challenge thus far.

1. Meditation is hard. I was never able to have a complete 10 minutes of empty mind-space, but I had flashes of it. When these flashes happened I felt incredible. I know this will sound funny, but during these moments I felt as if I was levitating. I look forward to more of these moments.

2. I learned how to bring my mind back to centre/focus. This takes practice. While I still have trouble with this, the practice during my meditation sessions actually carried through to my everyday life. I found I was better able to calm and quiet my mind during periods of stress or anxiety. This is something I have never been able to do before.

3. Sometimes humming helped to bring my mind back to focus.

4. I had my best meditations after a day filled with good food (greens, lean meats, fruits), a lot of water, and not too much caffeine. I know we hear about eating well and cutting down on caffeine all the time and it can get preachy. However, making these changes in my diet really did influence and improve my meditation session so I can only imagine what it did for body.

5. I did my meditation at night right before bed. I am not sure if this is the right time as I forgot 6 sessions due to fatigue. I would encourage others to seek out different time points and experiment. I will definitely be doing this in the coming week.

6. Meditation is rewarding. When I first started I was opening my eyes to look at the time after 4 minutes and thinking “how the heck am I going to this for another 6?” Yet, after about 2 weeks I was able to get through a full 10 minutes without looking at a watch and in the last 2 weeks I have been able to go for longer than 10 minutes. It takes time, but the improvements you will make and feel are extremely rewarding.

7. On bad days (busy or anxiety-inducing days) getting into the zone was difficult. Don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty about not achieving a zen state. It’s not always going to be possible, especially when you are just learning.

8. I sat in a comfortable position – cross-legged with my hands resting on my knees with my eyes closed. I would often focus on keeping my back straight and muscles relaxed. This helped to keep my mind relaxed, yet focused.

9.  Smile while you meditate – it feels nice.

10. Sometimes I honestly didn’t want to do it. I wanted to read, or sleep, or watch TV. When I had these moments I reminded myself that I was doing something extremely positive for both my mind and body. It is important to remind yourself how important you are and that you need to take the time to care for yourself.

Happy meditating.

M


Why having a positive outlook is so important

Dr. David Snowdon is one of the many researchers trying to determine what factors/variables early on in life influence longevity and the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s. What is unique to Dr. David Snowdon are his study participants – 678 Catholic sisters living in convents across the United States.

One of his studies that I found particularly fascinating was one that investigated the association between emotional expressiveness and longevity. They were able to assess emotional expressiveness early in life using hand-written autobiographies which each sister was asked to write upon entry into the convent. In his analysis of these documents Snowdon divided the sisters into “listers” and “high-fidelity” who were sisters that wrote with sensuous detail and vivid feeling and appeared to be very positive in their disposition.   

They found that sisters who were emotionally expressive or high-fidelity writers lived on average, 6.9 years longer than listers or less emotionally expressive sisters. Emotional expressiveness may be a result of a more engaging childhood, large social network, or genetic disposition, however, regardless of its etiology it appears to be very important in regards to the length of your life.

Take home message: Being positive early on pays off. It likely makes you more flexible, able to deal with and move through challenges, and find the silver lining. Thus, it will help mitigate stress and anxiety which have clear and strong associations with a variety of diseases. Being positive all the time is difficult however, I am going to make it a life-long priority to try.

M

 


Wednesday Workout Tip: Start with the exercises you hate

Such exercises may include, but are not limited to burpees, reverse burpees, mountain climbers, and jump squats. In my book, these activities come close to the worst exercises that ALWAYS seem to be a part of boot camp classes and circuit training.

However, while they may bring you close to tears or your previous meal these exercises are good for you. They elevate your heart rate and bring about a good muscle burn which are definite requirements of a good workout.

My advice? Get the exercise that you like the least, but is a regular part of your workout routine, over and done with at the outset. If that exercise is burpees I am in awe and slightly frightened by your masochistic tendencies. I however, only perform those exercises when forced (i.e. by a gym class instructor) but definitely have some regular exercises that I don’t enjoy and tend to place at the beginning of my workout (e.g. pushups).

By getting your least favorite exercises over and done with you can end your workout doing something you like. If you don’t like anything about your workout I would encourage you to switch it up and find something you do enjoy. Enjoying your workout (well, maybe not the first 10 minutes when doing burpees) is the only way to maintain it.  

Happy exercising.

M

 


“If it was easy, everyone would do it”

This quote resonates with me. It was said by my wise-beyond-his-years boyfriend when we were discussing school and thesis writing. It has become somewhat of a motto for me and was top of my mind yesterday during my duathalon.

The first 2 KM run was awesome. A nice warm-up. I go into the transition area, got on my bike and was off. In the first 5 KM I knew something was wrong, but as I am not cyclist I didn’t know what. My legs were burning and every second or so I would hear “left” indicating that I should move over slightly as I was about to be passed by yet another cycling god/goddess. Getting passed by these dudes/dudettes was not surprising to me. I am no Lance, I am not even close. However it was the constant burn, sweat and finally getting passed by a mountain bike that confirmed my suspicion that something was terribly wrong with my bike. However, I still had absolutely no clue what.

As I was cycling up the 400th hill (or so it seemed) I thought to myself “if this was easy, everyone would do it” and it saved me. It pushed me onwards. I didn’t care that I was getting passed left, right and centre. I had to finish this race for myself. This was my race and mine alone.

After finishing the cycle, I got back into the transition area and headed out for the 10 KM run. At this point my legs were jelly so I decided to enjoy the run and walk whenever necessary.

Upon my return, rest and re-hydration we decided to head home. I couldn’t bring myself to wheel the bike so my Dad kindly obliged. As he was pushing the bike he felt a remarkable pull on the front wheel. He looked down at my front wheel, looked at me and as he did so, two cyclists (gods) walked by and flipped my right brake up that had been down the entire time. They then turned back and said “We’ve all done it once before”.

So perhaps there are two lessons to take away from this experience. The first being that things aren’t always going to be easy.  The second – don’t ride through life with the brakes on. I wish I could take credit for this one, but it was my Dad who said this after the discovery of the brake malfunction or perhaps Morgan malfunction (as I was the one who put the brake down instead of up…).

M

P.S. Meditation challenge is still underway. Definitely a challenge on some days. If you’re doing it too – keep going! We’re almost done.

 

 


Wednesday Workout Tip: Track your steps

Good morning, good morning.

How many steps do you take in a day? This will largely depend on your job, but for most of us it won’t be that many.

I encourage you to go to your local running/fitness store (or even Costco) and purchase a relatively inexpensive pedometer. This will give you a good idea of how active you are throughout the day. They are not 100% accurate and will not be able to measure activities such as cycling or swimming, but they are better than nothing.

You should aim to get 10,000 steps per day. It sounds like a lot, but you can do it!

Remember to wear it grocery shopping and around the house – you probably walk more than you think.

Happy walking.
M


What stress and high-fat foods do to your blood vessels…It’s not good

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of Canadians representing 32% of all deaths in 2004. There are a multitude of risk factors for this disease including stress and fat consumption. While the independent effects have become more clear in recent years, the combined effect of both stress and fat consumption on blood vessel and thus, heart health is relatively unknown. This is important because experiences of stress and fat consumption often occur together in everyday life (e.g. donuts at a work meeting, or classic “comfort foods” like macaroni and cheese or ice cream).  Luckily, a fellow colleague and friend of mine, Veronica Poitras has dedicated a portion of her doctoral research to elucidating this very question.

The architecture of our blood vessels is quite fascinating. The endothelium is the innermost lining of the blood vessels and plays an integral role in vessel health. How? It exerts an anti-atherogenic influence. Many of you may be familiar with the disease coined atherosclerosis which is characterized by the build-up of fatty plaques in the arteries. It is a progressive condition, starting as early as childhood and is a major cause of heart attacks and strokes. An anti-atherogenic influence helps to prevent the build-up of these nasty plaques.

What is it about the endothelium that prevents plaque accumulation? It releases a molecule called nitric oxide (NO) which prevents components of the blood from sticking to vessel walls and building up to form plaques. In addition, NO acts on the smooth muscle in the blood vessel walls, causing it to relax and dilate (a very good thing for blood pressure). Blood vessel dilation is how researchers measure the NO responsiveness and thus, the health of the endothelium.

When we eat high-fat meals or experience stress our endothelium takes a beating. Impaired endothelial function can happen as soon as 1 hour after fat consumption with the greatest impairment at 4-6 hours after. In terms of the timeframe for an acute experience of mental stress, an impairment has been observed as soon as 10 minutes after and can last as long as 4 hours after (for only a 10 minute bout of stress)!

Independently, both these stimuli have been found to impair NO function (i.e. less production/release of NO in addition to an increased degradation/uptake). Simply stated, there is less NO actually kicking around to be able to exert its positive influence. However, how these two stimuli interact with one another is largely unknown. There is reason to believe that the combined effects of stress and fat consumption may be greater than the experience of either alone.  

In Veronica’s current study she will have participants consume a high-fat meal and expose them to various forms of acute mental stress. She will assess endothelial health (release of NO) by measuring blood vessel dilation using echo ultrasound to get an image of the artery. This will give her a fairly good indication of what is happening to our endothelium after acute exposure to these deleterious stimuli.

High-fat food consumption is a growing concern in North America. I’m not referring to the healthy fats found in dairy products, avocados, etc. I am referring to that found in processed foods. Oddly enough, when we’re stressed we often turn to such foods. From an evolutionary viewpoint, ingesting fat (i.e. a lot of energy) increased your chance of survival. This may partially explain our love and desire of fat (and sugar) when stressed.

Veronica’s research will help to increase our understanding about two primary risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This is powerful information. In the long run, this research may help to reduce the incidence of the number one killer of Canadians.

M  

I would like thank Veronica for her contribution and assitance in the writing of this post.

Image courtesy of Petit Plat Food Art – Stephanie Kilgast


Wednesday Workout Tip: Get a good night’s sleep

Hola! I hope everyone is enjoying this spicy hot day today. My mom texted me and told me “not to wear my woolies” – not sure what those are, but I assume long johns or extremely thick granny socks. Thanks for the advice momma, you are always looking out for me.

Anyways…

Sleep is restorative. I plan to post about sleep in the near future and will get into the nitty gritty details about the hormones and neurotransmitters involved then. Feeling fatigued is the number one sign of sleep deprivation however, there are a number of other conditions that could contribute to these feelings. They include: low iron, low B12, dehydration, nutrient deficiency (not eating your veggies), hypothyroidism, and hormones. If you are feeling fatigued and believe you are getting an adequate amount of sleep you may want to check in with your doctor about these other potentials.

OK so you’re getting enough sleep. All your blood work came back just dandy. So what is it? Well, it could be to do with sleep interruption as opposed to sleep duration. What do I mean? Well, I am talking about sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is when the individual stops breathing for either 2-3 seconds or in some cases, 1 minute or longer. Yes, it’s scary. When you stop breathing your sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive in order to wake you up to get you breathing again.

You do wake up. And you do start breathing again. In some cases sleep interruption can occur 1-2 times to over 100 times per night (or more). That’s a lot of sleep interruption. Not only will the individual experience increased day-time fatigue and reduced quality of life, but there are a number of deleterious health consequences…I will touch on those next week.

So get a good nights sleep. If you’re getting the hours, but still feeling whipped the next day (and this is a regular occurrence) go to the doctor. Better safe than sorry.

Photo courtesy of elycefeliz


The meditation saga continues…

I have completed one week of the meditation challenge. If you have taken on this one month challenge firstly, that’s awesome and secondly, congratulations on finishing one week.

Briefly, this is what I have learned over the course of the week:

1. It gets better – it’s really hard to sit still and focus on nothing, but believe me the more you do it, the better and easier it becomes.

2. Don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes thoughts crop up and you wonder “why the heck am I thinking about that now?” Who cares why you’re thinking about it, just observe the thought and let it move on. Once you remove yourself from the thought and become an outsider it is a lot easier to let it go.

3. Change up your time of meditation to see if one time works better than another. I was doing mine before bed, but switched it up yesterday to before dinner. Not sure what one is better at this point in time. With more practice however you should be able to do it anytime, anywhere.

Good luck this week with your meditation!

M

 


How divorce affects meal time – It’s complicated

As most of you will agree, food is important. Important due to our necessity for nourishment, but also important because of the emotional connections we humans have with it. To many, food means family – meal time is a time to connect and discuss the day’s events which creates stronger social bonds with one another.

So how does this relationship with food change when a family separates due to divorce? What happens to meal time? How does meal time change within the context of a new setting and people? These are the hard questions that a fellow colleague, Melanie Kurrein has sought to answer in her current Master’s thesis.

The project came to fruition after a thought-provoking class discussion about the human relationship with food. One student commented that her relationship changed after her parents’ divorce. Her interactions with food adjusted depending on whose house she was at – her mom’s or her dad’s.  After discussing and honing her research question, Mel sought out to give teenagers, who had experienced family divorce, a voice.

She interviewed 9 teens between the ages of 11 to 17 years old. All had gone through the divorce and were now dealing with new family dynamics – a single parent, new step-parent, step-sibling, or half-sibling. Mel asked them to photo-document their experiences with food – whether positive, negative, along with the people and places commonly associated with meal time/eating. These pictures helped to spark conversation.

Most of the teens described positive aspects at both their homes, but a few commented that they often felt like guests in their new homes. Sometimes the food rules changed between homes, especially with a step-parent in the mix. Oftentimes teens mentioned that they would use food as power, understanding that not eating or not talking during meal time was a clear way to express frustration or anger. In some cases, they would use food to pit parents against one another, asking for food that they get at one parent’s home or comparing the meals from one home to another.

Melanie found that the teens did a lot of work to try to fit in and be a part of this new family relationship. This isn’t surprising. We all want to fit in no matter what the social context. Being an outsider from an evolutionary standpoint brings one’s survival into question. While survival in general isn’t necessarily the concern here, social and emotional survival could be.

Divorce is complicated. Being a parent is complicated (so I’ve been told). Providing the right food in the right way is complicated. There are no simple answers to such a complex issue as divorce, but understanding how this change can alter something as basic as eating is important. It is important because our relationship with food as a child largely dictates our relationship with it as an adult.

M


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