live it active

Part #1 of Making a Big Change

Many of you will know that Evan and I will be moving to Calgary mid-June. If you didn’t, you do now (apologies for the lack of email/text/Facebook message regarding it).

It’s a big move. It’s a big change. I was offered the job of a lifetime and ‘no’ was not an option.

We are both excited. We are both nervous. It’s bittersweet.

Yet, we aren’t the only two on planet earth to make a big move. There are many other couples/families/individuals that decide to go somewhere new. We are two of many. Reminding ourselves of this is comforting.

However, even though we are two of many, it doesn’t necessarily make it easier. Change for most human beings, who are creatures of habit, is a difficult and drawn out process. While difficult, it is a necessary and unavoidable part of life. As my mindfulness guru says, “everything is uncertain” and thus, change is always just around the corner.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I am going to discuss and delve into the concept of change, uncertainty, angst, and the stress that typically accompanies such shifts. I will also discuss coping techniques and strategies to deal with the change. The goal in utilizing such techniques is to work towards positive change. This is difficult and there will likely be setbacks, but working towards positive change is crucial for long-term emotional stability and happiness.

I look forward to it. Let’s hope I practice what I preach…





Pain during exercise? Proceed with caution, please.

This weekend I was visiting my aunt and she was asking my opinion about a new workout regime she has started. It’s a high intensity, interval training type workout so of course, I loved it.

However, as I was reading through the exercises, my aunt mentioned that she has experienced significant knee pain her entire life. More specifically, that the squat always gives her grief. She asked me to watch her squat. I did and I didn’t like what I heard. Yes, that’s right, heard. I could hear her tibia rubbing against her femur (yikes). The rubbing of the two bones is likely due to either a breakdown of her synovial fluid and shock-absorbing cartilage over time and/or a genetic predisposition to this particular issue. Regardless of the sounds etiology, I didn’t like it.

I asked her to stop. I stated that doing full squats and lunges was not a good idea. I encouraged  her to engage in a partial squat (going to a 45 degree angle) and to never do another lunge again. The immediate pain and long-term consequences are not worth it.

My aunt is not the only person on planet earth who has avoided and pushed through joint pain. I’ve done it. You’ve likely done it and/or you will do it. All in all, it’s really not a good idea. The more wear and tear you put on a particular joint, the greater the risk for long-term injury.

It is important to listen to your body. As I always say in my Zumba class, “listen to your body. If you feel pain in your joints, stop. If it’s just muscle soreness, sorry, but you’ve got to keep going!”

Next time you experience a twinge in the knee or hip, take time to recover. Ice the area that is giving you grief (15 minutes on, 15 minutes off, 3-4 times per day). If the area continues to give you grief, see your doctor. They aren’t likely going to give you any astonishing advice, so I encourage you to seek the advice of a physiotherapist. Make sure you find a physio through a friend or coworker – it’s important to go to someone who is trusted. And even though your friend likes a particular person, they may not be right for you. So shop around.

Be nice to your joints. I think most of us would like to avoid having a knee or hip replacement in our lifetime.

Take care,


Multigrain Bread vs. Whole grain Bread

Do you know the difference? I didn’t.

All multigrain means is that the bread is made with flours of more than one grain. In fact, according to Ali Chernoff, a consulting dietitian in Vancouver, multigrain breads are occasionally made using white flour with brown sugar or molasses added to make them darker.

So don’t be fooled. Skip the multigrain and go whole grain.

This reminds me to remind you, always read the label. Know what you’re eating. Be a savvy shopper and eater.

Happy week-ending,


Finding the funny on your path to health

I just finished reading Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs. It was laugh-out-loud funny. I found myself enjoying body-convulsing laughs in coffee shops, at the airport, and on the plane. As you might have guessed, I highly recommend the book.

Using humour to discuss health is genius. While taking your health seriously is important (if you don’t there are usually some serious and unfortunate consequences), it’s also important to find levity in it.

Throughout the book Jacobs makes it quite clear that he doesn’t have a clue on how to eat healthfully. In Chapter 16, he once again revisits his quest to find the perfect diet. He asks his health-nut aunt Marti to show him a thing or two about Raw Food. She declares that he must purchase a juicer. He follows her advice and is surprised to discover how much he enjoys the ease and efficiency of juicing.

After two weeks of juicing and dehydrating his food, Jacobs broke down the experience into pros and cons.

“Positive: I feel lighter and cleaner. And I discovered that raw food, if prepared properly, can be tasty…Negative: I am hungry all the time and I started to look gaunt. ‘What’s with the manorexic look?’ my friend asked. By the end, I’d lost three pounds…In other news it made me feel light-headed and spacey. Also, since you asked, it was the most flatulent two weeks of my life. I was tempted to call Dr. Gottesman for some surgery.”

This paragraph was responsible for some serious body-convulsing laughter. Largely because of the reference to flatulence (yes, I am 6), but mainly because of the last sentence. And I am not going to spoil it for you. To understand the hilarity of the reference to Dr. Gottesman you must must must read the book.

I plan to blog more about the book. I loved the book. It was well-written, funny, and Jacobs was so easy to relate to. Finally, a “normal” person has written about health. The quotations aren’t to suggest that Jacobs is abnormal, but instead to point out that Jacobs is one of the first (to my knowledge) to write about trying to become more healthy without working/living/breathing the health field already.

It’s a refreshing perspective. His approach to health is one of balance (with a few extremes here and there. Example: running his errands. Yes, literally running his errands).  And I like balance. A lot. A health extremist I am not.

Stay tuned for more funny excerpts from the book. And if you can, read it. You’ll love it (well, at least I hope you will).



10 Ways to Boost Energy

Due to the focus of my blog posts over the last two weeks or so, it has become fairly apparent to me that I am lacking in energy, motivation, etc. I imagine that many other North Americans and people world-wide are experiencing the same feelings of fatigue, lethargy, and malaise. How can we remedy this?

Here are 10 relatively quick ways to boost energy:

1. Ensure that you are getting enough protein in your diet. For non-vegetarians and vegetarians, eating red meat will most definitely help with energy levels. Sorry, to the non-meat eaters, but it’s true.

2. Increase your veggie consumption. While protein is imperative, greens are also an integral component of any diet. Rich in (good) energy, antioxidants (yes, I know I’m using a trendy word), fibre – you get the picture.

3.  Meditate for 5-10 minutes per day. Quiet time allows your brain to process and clarify the days events. Having a moment of solitude each and every day will leave you feeling restored, focused, and ready for action (not that you always need to be in action).

4. Go to the doctor. No, this isn’t necessarily a quick way to increase your energy levels, but you could be iron deficient or low in B12, both of which will influence your energy levels and you can’t test those at home.

5. Buy a pedometer. “Say, what?” Yes, buy one of those fancy gadgets. It will give you an objective measure of how active you are per day. Once you have a baseline value, you can work to increase that number. Increasing the number of steps you take per day will definitely help in the energy boosting department.

6. Drink water. No brainer.

7. Limit the caffeine. Two cups a day, before noon should be enough. Too much caffeine can lead to restlessness, mood shifts and poor sleep.

8. No iPhone, computer, or TV before bed. While you think it is relaxing, it is actually stimulating various parts of your brain. Which is exactly the opposite of what you want before bedtime.

9. Watch the chocolate and chips. I know, I know, you’ve heard this 10,000 times more than you want to. But seriously, high levels of salt and sugar consumption will undoubtedly affect your mood, well-being, and energy levels.

10.  Engage in self-massage (PG rated). Rubbing your arms, shoulders, legs, or feet has been shown to reduce stress levels. Reducing stress will help to improve your energy.

There you have it, 10 relatively quick ways to boost your energy.

Happy long-weekending.


The Importance of Compromise

I was supposed to be in Toronto this morning running the 10 KM Sporting Life  run. Based on the usage of “was” I assume you have put two-and-two together – I didn’t run it.

This is the first time in my life, where I have not fulfilled a formal commitment. And as you would imagine, it has been quite off-putting.

The reason? Poor planning.

Firstly, getting from Guelph to Toronto is a challenge at any time of the day. It becomes even more difficult when there are 22,000 runners competing in the race. But, let’s be honest, a logistical excuse is a bad one.

The real issue arose last night after a conversation with my mother regarding Mother’s Day with the extended family. Due to a lack of communication on both our parts, I was unaware of the Mother’s Day schedule – a large family dinner. We realized that attending a family dinner (on Sunday night up near Barrie) was likely not going to be possible as I had to prepare for the upcoming work week. Thus, the only time I could see my mom before she departed for the fam jam session up North was at breakfast. So, with encouragement from my partner, I decided to forgo the run in Toronto and instead plan and prepare a surprise breakfast for my mom. While cancelling the run may not seem like a big deal, for me it was very difficult. I don’t break my commitments and I didn’t go down without a fight.

As a compromise, Evan and I decided to do a run in Guelph at 7 AM (make it 7:45…). We successfully completed 8 KM. We were both happy and feeling fairly decent upon arrival home. However, 5 minutes later our endorphin-induced elation was sadly interrupted.

Upon phoning my Dad to discuss the surprise breakfast for my mom, I was informed about the coyote attack. Our poor kitty, Felix, had been attacked by a coyote. He was at the Vet College in critical condition.

Shortly thereafter I joined my mom at the College. I was glad to be with her. I was glad to have had the opportunity to see Felix. I was glad to be able to go home and help my parents reorganize the kitchen, clean, and purge (home renovations had occurred the week prior). I was glad to be there when the vet called to say that our little guy may just pull through.  I was glad to have made the decision to scratch the run.

Cancelling the run had nothing to do with Felix – it is completely coincidence that both events occurred simultaneously, but I am so very glad that I decided to make the compromise. Making the compromise allowed me to be with my mom on Mother’s Day supporting her during a difficult time.

Breaking my commitment was difficult, but sometimes we just need to realize that we cannot do everything. Sometimes it is OK to not “make the cut”. Sometimes making a compromise in one aspect of your life, allows for something positive to occur in another.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed, unprepared and over-committed, take a step back. Breath. Evaluate. Ask whether or not breaking a commitment is going to matter today, tomorrow, 2 weeks from now, or 2 years from now. Likely not. That’s not to say, break every commitment. All I am suggesting is that every once and while, making a compromise is completely acceptable.


Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

Feeling more grumpy than usual? Have little or no motivation to connect with friends or set plans? Having difficulty concentrating at work? Is accomplishing a daily and fairly mundane task akin to hiking Everest? Are you sick or have been in the recent past?

If you answered yes to some or all of the above questions you may want to look into taking a break. No, not a 15-minuter. A serious break. You may be on your way to burning out or already experiencing it.  And burnout is a dangerous and precarious place to be as it can lead to more serious health consequences such as a full-blown breakdown.

Too often, we ignore the signs and symptoms that we are doing too much – that we are over-extending ourselves. Too often, we think we can push through and “go for the gold”. But then, the weekend rolls around and can’t get out of bed on Sunday, or it is very difficult to.

I encourage you to rest this weekend. I am going to.

I also encourage you to evaluate your commitments and perhaps make some hard decisions regarding your calendar. Perhaps sitting on another committee, or volunteering with the Humane Society, or signing your kid up for baseball and losing another weeknight to extracurriculars are not good ideas. Perhaps it is time to take a step back, sit down and unwind. I think so.

Burnout can lead to further sickness. It wreaks havoc on your internal workings and makes you a less productive, engaging, and happy person. While you may be able to sustain a busy busy busy calendar for a short period of time, you won’t be able to forever. I can promise you. 

I understand the challenge in under-committing. As a busy bee myself, taking a hard look at my calendar and making cuts is difficult, if not impossible sometimes. But last Sunday, I decided to go and read in the park and not surprisingly, it was the best part of my day, if not weekend. So to all the busy bees and everyone who is over-committed/extended/exhausted, take an hour or two and relax this weekend. I promise, you’ll love it.


“Drop Dead Healthy”

The man who brought us, The Year of Living Biblically, has done it again. A.J. Jacobs has spent the last two years trying to become the healthiest man alive and has written the book, you guessed it, Drop Dead Healthy.

The Globe and Mail wrote an article on the book / Jacobs and provides an overview of some of Jacobs tips and tricks for living a healthier life. I encourage you to read it, Jacobs sounds like a total hoot.

My favourite tip mentioned in the article is to “maintain a social network”. And no, he doesn’t mean keeping up with Facebook or Twitter. Jacobs states that it is very important NOT to adopt a “healthier than thou” attitude. His example – he, a recent convert to flossing, was appalled when his friend admitted that she never flossed. His immediate thought, “how can you not floss”. It was only two months prior to their conversation that he had started his flossing journey.

The “healthier than thou” attitude happens all the time and it is important to keep it under wraps. I see and hear it all the time. I’m with Jacobs – “Put your superiority in check as soon as possible and instead encourage friends and family to make choices in a positive manner. Otherwise, your friends will spit you out of their lives like force-fed boiled kale.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.


On Tanning Beds

Tanning beds and those that use them have been receiving quite a bit of media attention as of late.

Perhaps you recognize this familiar face? In case you’re wondering, I am referring to the older woman on the left (well, just in case you were wondering…). This is no longer the case of a woman who wants a little bit of colour, this is the case of a woman with serious mental health issues. The reason she has received so much media attention isn’t because the general public is concerned about her welfare, but her daughter’s as she was accused of taking her daughter to a tanning salon. Her daughter is 6. Of course, she is denying the charges, but further investigation is being carried out.

Last week I listened to a segment on CBC about tanning. If you missed the segment, there’s an article that basically covers what was discussed in the on-air segment. What surprised me most was that many parents introduce their teen to tanning beds. I cannot imagine my mother ever encouraging such behaviour.

According to research by the Canadian Cancer Society (either performed by or funded by), there is a 75% increase in risk for those under 35 years of age for melanoma from exposure to indoor tanning equipment. I assume you know this. If you don’t, you do now. Tanning beds are cancer boxes. Don’t use them. Ever.

I guess one could liken tanning to cigarettes. We, the general public, understand the risks but continue to engage in the behaviour anyways. I’ve heard from those who use tanning beds and read in a number of articles that tanning can be addictive. Anything can become addictive if it creates a pleasure response in your brain . I guess for some, tanning, at least at the outset, causes a cascade of neurotransmitters and chemicals to be released in the nucleus accumbens (i.e. the pleasure centre) and from that moment, some are hooked. Scary.

My advice is pretty simple. Don’t tan. Wear sun screen – always. If you need further proof please take another look at the “roasted nut” (first link in the post), read the article on CBC, and then read the 5 facts on tanning.


Why Downtime is So Important For Your Brain

I am currently reading the book, The End of Illness by Dr. David Agus (yes, I am still reading it…come on, I had a book club book to read). I have already discussed a topic from his book – inflammation. If you haven’t read my post, I encourage you to do so as it sheds light on the risks of exposing your body to regular and prolonged bouts of inflammation.

Today I wanted to touch on an important piece of research that Agus shares in his book on the topic of downtime and learning.

Researcher Loren Frank, at the University of California has done a lot of groundbreaking research (using rats) in the area of memory replay following exposure to a novel stimuli. In one particular study, Frank and Mattias Karlsson investigated the amount of memory replay during a rest period that followed exposure to a novel environment. To be clear, the rest period was carried out in a different location (i.e. another box) than the “novel environment” location (i.e. a more fancy box).

Memory replay was measured using electrodes connected to the hippocampal region (our memory bank) of the brain. Karlsson and Frank measured replay during both wake and quiescence (i.e. almost sleep state and/or sleep state) throughout the rest period. They predicted that memory replay would be greatest during quiescence due to prior findings in their lab and others. Surprisingly, their predictions were wrong.

“Replay of events was of higher fidelity in awake state” as opposed to replay during quiescence. Karlsson and Frank state that stronger replay during wakeful rest may be due to the fact that “novel experiences generate a long-lasting increase in neuronal excitability and neuronal coordination for the cells active during the [actual] experience”. Thus, the neurons activated during the novel experience are more active during the rest state, even in a different environment, which would explain the increase in memory replay that was found.

While the causal link between memory replay and actual consolidation remains to be established, this finding may shed light on the process. Our periods of rest/downtime/relaxation may be integral in the consolidation and long-term storage of new information. Quite simply, it seems that we need rest in order to learn. But we know this, don’t we? Most of us have experienced great breakthroughs on questions, projects, etc. during or following a break, no?

Thus, we must make a concerted effort to increase periods of rest throughout the day. Being on the computer, checking your Blackberry, playing video games (or games on your cell phone) are not doing you any favours either. While you may think you are resting/relaxing, your brain would disagree. The amount of sensory stimulation can be very tiresome for your old noggin, so please put the iPhone down.

So today, take time to enjoy a period of quiet. Especially following an intense meeting, class, or workshop. Take time for yourself. And if your boss or family members question your behaviour, you may simply respond with “Excuse me, I’m learning”.



Agus, David. 2011. The End of Illness. Free Press: New York.

Karlsson, Mattias, Frank, Loren. 2009. Awake replay of remote experiences in the hippocampus. Nature Neuroscience: 12(7);913-17.

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