No gym today…


New sneakers! Unsullied by salt and slush…

Instead, I took advantage of unseasonably warm temps to do my first outdoors walk since just before Christmas.

I did plan to go to the gym, but when I stepped outside, I thought, “Ooo, it’s good weather for a walk!” And outdoors trumps treadmill anytime.

Plus, it was a good way to break in my new sneakers.

Enjoy the weather if you’re in the Northeast!


Today’s walk

IMG_2312It’s not especially picturesque, but that’s OK because today’s walk took me to and from the gym, which is just over a mile from my house.

Lately my schedule has afforded me the time to walk to the gym instead of drive. The bonuses:

  • A built-in warm-up, rather than putting in 10 or so minutes on the treadmill upon arriving
  • Fresh air
  • Less time sitting in front of my computer on the slow road to death (more on this in an upcoming post)
  • Two extra miles a day added to my overall mileage tally
  • More exercise time overall — my walk there and back is longer than any warm-up or cool-down I’d do, and I generally still do the same workout I’d planned once at the gym

I realize this approach doesn’t work for everyone. It sure is a lot faster to drive to the gym than walk there, no matter the distance. But while I can, it’s a bonus I hope to keep taking advantage of.

Happy walking!

What’s your excuse?

shield-417826Even though I’m a walking coach and fitness instructor, I have trouble finding motivation to exercise sometimes. February was one of those times.

Oh, wait — it’s now March and I still feel the same way…

Usually, I exercise most mornings before work, and one or both days of the weekend. Every winter, though, I reach a certain point where I seem to throw in the towel. I just don’t want to go outdoors in the cold a single extra time. (You see, I hate winter and being cold.)

To go to the gym requires 5 extra times outdoors (#1 to start my car so it warms up, #2 to depart for the gym, #3 to go from car to gym, #4 to reverse that, and #5 from car to house). It all may sound ridiculous (and very repetitive to some of my Facebook friends), but it is what it is. It’s like I develop a physiological block.

If for some reason the block lifts, other weird rationalizations crop up. Last night, I debated going to the gym this morning. But then I thought about the weather forecast for the rest of the week: cold rain on Wednesday, snow on Thursday, cold and dry on Friday. A little voice inside said, Why bother going tomorrow if you won’t go again until Friday? Another voice responded, Yeah, that seems pointless. (I’m not crazy, I promise. Don’t you have voices that talk to you sometimes?)

My saving grace (except for the three weeks when bad weather canceled it) is the circuit class I teach one night a week, and the yoga class I’m taking thanks to a Groupon deal. At least that’s meant 2 days a week of working out, if nothing more. I have also gone to the gym on the past few Saturdays to put in 60-plus minutes on a cardio machine.

I love the energy and the high I get from working out. But when winter drags on, the promise of those feelings doesn’t usually win out over succumbing to my wish to avoid the cold.

Several of my friends keep inviting me to workweek step challenges on Fitbit. I have high praise for them, as they proudly get in their mileage in 13-degree weather, in the cold, even indoors around their house. But even the challenge is not enough to stir me to activity.

At least this winter I made it through January before this phase hit me. Last year, it came much earlier, and I spent January and February mainly in sloth mode.

We all have reasons and rationalizations that may keep us from making the healthiest choice, or the choice that we know will make us feel great when all is said and done. I guess part of the battle is recognizing them and acknowledging them. The other part of the battle is overcoming them, and I confess I’ve not been so successful on that front.

But tomorrow is another day. (Well, tomorrow is rainy and the next day is snowy … so I have my fingers crossed for Friday.)

Move to the music

For a very long time, I exercised without the aid of an MP3 player. My reasons were many: I thought it would be distracting … thought it would be unsafe (when walking outdoors) … thought it would be too much hassle to remember to pack one more thing in my gym bag … thought it wouldn’t make any difference to my workouts.

Boy, was I wrong.

Five years ago, some of my best marathon buddies surprised me with the gift of an iPod, plus CDs of their favorite walking music.

So I loaded the CDs onto the iPod and hit the pavement.

Wow! I didn’t pay any attention to how much time I was out walking and instead eagerly awaited the next song and its tempo, enjoying the boost in energy the music gave me.

Then I used my iPod while on the treadmill. Suddenly I noticed how certain songs aligned with certain treadmill speeds. I realized I could make a whole playlist of songs whose tempo matched my usual speed — or my desired speed — and customize my workouts.

For several of my next treadmill sessions, I scribbled down songs and their corresponding speeds. Then I found websites that listed songs’ beats per minute, or BPM. That enabled me to match songs to treadmill/walking speeds and find songs that best worked for me. The next step: putting together a few different playlists of different lengths, including slower warm-up and cool-down time.

(As a fitness instructor, I now have a secret source of prearranged playlists: Several companies put together CDs geared to certain BPMs for certain types of exercise. To conform to copyright law, the CDs do not feature the original artists, but sometimes it’s hard to even tell.)

Much research has been done on whether music has a positive effect on one’s workout. Among the findings are these benefits:

  • Reduced feelings of fatigue
  • Increased feelings of mental motivation
  • Increased endurance
  • Improved motor coordination

The research results are varied in terms of measuring the exact effects — but it’s clear that choosing music that moves you can, well, help you move.

And beyond that, there are no rules! Choose music that you find motivating with no apologies. Guilty pleasures? Why not! Whatever you hear through your earbuds is your little secret. If it gives you a boost, that’s the point. Match the music to your mood — or your desired mood. I have a CD of heavy metal songs (like Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow”) for when I really need a kick in the pants to get going. I like to listen to Billy Idol’s “Greatest Hits” on the stationary bike. Sometimes dance music works best — favorites include C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat” and Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back.”

Here is one of my most-used playlists, which I created for walking. It’s about an hour long, starts and ends at about 3.5 or 3.6 mph, and peaks at about 4.1 or 4.2 mph.

playlist screen grab

It’s a mix of a few songs from those original CDs from my race pals, some songs from instructor CDs, and a few tunes that caught my ear as having a good beat or feeling inspiring.

If you haven’t tried working out to music (separate from a group class, of course), give it a try and see if it works for you. Just press play! (And feel free to share your favorite workout tunes in the comments!)

Thanks to loyal WWJ reader Lauren Z. for this post idea!

There’s an app for that

In the Fitness Gift Guide posted last week (and a much earlier post), I promised to share info about fitness apps that I’d recommend. You might wonder how you give someone an app as a gift. The easiest way is with a gift card to iTunes or their service’s app store.

iphone-410311Without further ado…

There are a multitude of apps that help you track your fitness activity, whether it’s walking, running, biking or something else. Most use GPS to track your distance and, combined with the duration of your activity, calculate your speed. You can often save your route, for reference or repeating. Many apps let you connect with friends, to compare workouts and cheer each other on. And many apps can be linked to your Facebook or Twitter account, too, or your FitBit or similar wearable tracker.

A saved RunKeeper activity shows distance, time and even calories burned (provided the user inputs his/her weight).

A saved RunKeeper activity shows distance, time and even calories burned (provided the user inputs his/her weight).

The app I use most often is RunKeeper. Don’t be fooled by its name — it tracks more than runs. I used it on many bike rides last summer but have also used it for many walks short and long. With RunKeeper, you can set goals, see your best times/results and view your activity history. Settings allow you to hear audio cues on many aspects of your activity while you’re doing it, such as distance, time, average pace, split speed and more. When you complete an activity, you can save it so you can refer back to the details (pace, time spent active, etc.).

Very similar to RunKeeper is an app called MapMyWalk. (There’s also MapMyRun, MapMyRide, MapMyFitness, MapMyHike…) It has many of the same features as RunKeeper. One difference is its Gear Tracker: You can list a pair of shoes and it will track the mileage on them and let you know when you are due for a new pair. It also has a food logging feature.

The options are pretty much limitless with Interval Timer.

The options are pretty much limitless with Interval Timer.

One app I use in my personal workouts and in my class is called Interval Timer. This app lets you set up an interval series with audio cues. Suppose you want to do a 40-minute workout focused on circuit training. You can set your warm-up time, interval length (say, 1-minute “high” sets followed by 20-second “low” sets — a quick rest or opportunity to switch to the next circuit), how many intervals, and a cool-down period. Each change can be signified by a sound of your choosing. (I like the boxing bell!)

The above apps are great if you’re motivated to work out. But what if you need a nudge?

If you’d like to feel that your walk or run serves a bigger purpose than your own fitness, consider CharityMiles. You walk or run, and the app’s sponsors pledge money for each mile to the charity you choose in the app. Charities include The Michael J. Fox Foundation, Alzheimer’s Association, Feeding America, Stand Up to Cancer, Wounded Warrior Project and many many more.

And if you really need a kick in the pants to get to the gym or to work out, consider GymPact. When you sign up for GymPact, you pledge how many days a week you’ll work out and how much you’ll pay if you don’t. Input your credit card info and be sure to engage the app when you work out (it must be a minimum of 30 minutes per session, and you can check in at your gym via the app, use its motion sensor or link it to an app like RunKeeper), and avoid getting hit with a fee. Bonus: Fulfill your weekly pact and the app pays you! Granted, it’s a negligible amount, but I racked up $135 over a year or so, which more than paid for a new pair of sneakers. (The app has a fruits and vegetables version too — pledge how many servings of produce you’ll eat a week, upload pictures of said servings for the app’s community to confirm, and pay or earn accordingly.) I can assuredly say that using this app made me drag my butt out of bed to hit the gym many times when I wouldn’t have otherwise!

And that’s the best thing about fitness apps. They inspire, they motivate and they make working out more engaging and keep you more involved. So, please share: What’s your go-to app?

Keep moving

Spending so much time bicycling this summer had me wondering how on earth I’d keep up that level of activity when summer was over.

Thanks to an uptick in the temperature today, I spent about 4 hours outdoors being active.

I started my morning with an hour-long brisk walk. After that great warm-up, I spent another hour or so raking leaves. (Thanks to the hubby for bagging them up!) Then I dug up some dead annuals in my flowerbeds and garden and spent another hour or so pruning my going-crazy forsythia bushes and bundling up the results.

Feeling stiff!

Feeling stiff!

Midway through all this activity, I marveled at how good I felt. I have a full-time desk job and as much as I try and remind myself to get up and move around throughout the day, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. Couple that with a 2-hour total commute each day, and I sometimes feel like I’m permanently in a seated position. I envision someone coming to my aid with an oilcan, much like the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz.”

So to be standing or squatting, and moving in different bodily planes — twisting while raking, reaching while pruning, moving my arms side to side instead of out in front — felt so welcome and rejuvenating.

It’s common to read stories in magazines and online suggesting that exercise doesn’t have to come in certain forms (i.e. biking, running, weight lifting). I was active today for 4 hours and the only thing that resembled traditional exercise was my walk.

The key is that I was moving and using my body for activity. And no matter how you go about it, it feels good afterward. Think outside the box when it comes to exercise. Movement is the point, no matter what form it comes in.

One million bucks

That’s about how much was raised by participants in the Alliance for Lupus Research‘s 5K walk for lupus in New York City on Saturday.

I participated in the walk and I’m proud to say that friends and coworkers of mine donated $503 (yep, $503, not $500) toward the cause on my behalf, which I augmented with a donation of my own. One hundred percent of donations will be used toward research efforts. (And it’s not too late to donate, even though the walk has occurred: Click here.)

30-year friends, walking for a cause

30-year friends, ready to walk for a cause

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I signed up to participate in this event to support one of my oldest friends, who has been battling lupus for 13 years. I’ve seen the ups and downs she has experienced with this tough illness — which include severe joint pain, extreme fatigue and other symptoms that have an awful impact on quality of life — and was pleased to join her in this event.

It seems counterintuitive, but exercise is vital for helping people with chronic conditions (in most cases) have better health and mobility. People suffering from joint pain, for instance, might feel that to go out for a walk would make the pain worse. But the opposite is generally true. (Refer to my recent post, “Walking and arthritis,” for more info.)

The event day was sunny and beautiful, and the 5K crowd, in the thousands, was varied. Many people had formed teams, and team captains spoke before the walk’s start about how they were there to support loved ones who are fighting lupus or even have lupus themselves. The walk’s course started at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on NYC’s west side, went south to the Chelsea Piers complex, and back.

It was so inspiring to be a part of this cause, to help contribute toward research efforts and, most of all, to support my dear friend. I’m already thinking ahead to next year and how many people we can get to join us on event day! A two-person team is just a start.