Mixed motivation

I have a love-hate relationship with my FitBit.

On one hand, an activity tracker can be quite motivating. It helps you set, work toward and achieve health and fitness goals.

On the other hand, it can make you feel dejected or disappointed or frustrated when you don’t meet your goal.

One of the main components of an activity tracker is the step counter. And lots of research says that we should aim for at least 10,000 steps a day, for better health and fitness.

I have a few personal conflicts with that number.

Activity trackers might help you meet your goals

Activity trackers might help you meet your goals

First, it can be difficult to get in that many steps in a day, depending on your job and your schedule. I have a very sedentary desk job and a two-hour round-trip commute. Even when I try and remind myself to get up and move around every hour during the workday, and even when I make it a point to walk to the restroom way on the other side of my office building or even on another floor, the cumulative step addition is not as significant as I’d hope.

Second, it’s important to do a variety of types of exercise, not just walking. (Which feels slightly blasphemous to say, given the root topic/name of this website, but…)

I try to alternate a day of cardio with a day of strength training. And that day of cardio might not be walking — it might be bicycling, either stationary (at the gym) or outdoors (season permitting). Or it might be rowing, a great full-body exercise.

Given my schedule, time for exercise has to be carefully allotted. On weekdays, I have about 45 minutes for a workout. That doesn’t leave enough time to always get in 10,000 steps (at least via an “official” workout). Even if I devote my 45 minutes to treadmill time, I won’t hit that number.

All that said, what about the motivation factor of an activity tracker? I know for sure that they can definitely encourage wearers to reach their step goal. I have friends who have walked around in circles while waiting for a traffic light to change or have gone out for a 1.5-mile walk late in the evening to reach their step goal. To them, I offer praise.

And if you take advantage of the “challenge” factor that some trackers have — FitBit allows you to invite friends to step challenges over the course of a day, weekend or week — the competition factor might be super motivating if you hate to lose!

It took me three-plus hours of snow shoveling this weekend (#blizzard2016) to reach 10,000 steps. I was excited to feel that “you reached your goal” vibration on my wrist, but a little fed up that it took me three hours of constant movement to earn it.

Probably the greatest thing about activity trackers is that they allow you to tailor your activity and goals for you.

Set your step goal for what feels attainable without frustration over scheduling or workday obstacles. Track your mileage. Keep tabs on your heart rate during activity. Set and stick to a workout routine, above all else, and in the long run, that’s the activity worth tracking and the goal worth keeping.

Happy exercising!

Top advice for keeping a resolution

To start, don’t call it a resolution. (More on that in a minute.)

It’s January 4. How’s it going with your resolutions? Have you broken any yet? I don’t ask to be mean — it’s just kind of how resolutions go. According to research in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, about 45 percent of us make New Year’s resolutions — but only 8 percent are successful in accomplishing them. Those aren’t promising odds!

calendar-478033_1920But I’m here to help with some suggestions for setting goals that you’ll have more success keeping.

First, I’d like to share an idea by fitness expert Chris Freytag (an ACE colleague with whom I worked on Team Prevention), who advises: “Don’t make resolutions… Set intentions.”

I like the spin this puts on goal-setting. It adds a mindfulness approach that can be quite inspiring.

Another great idea comes from my friend Melanie A. In 2013, she set monthly resolutions instead of yearly ones. As she noted, “If I can change one necessary thing about my life each month, 12 positive changes will equal big victory!” And who doesn’t like achieving 12 goals instead of just one?

Melanie’s idea ties into the best advice I can give about resolutions. To help ensure that you achieve your goals, they should be SMART. That is:

Specific: The more specific, the better. Break it down. “Get in shape in 2015” is a good goal, sure. But “Go to the gym three days a week” is even better, and more likely to help you achieve the original intent.

Measurable: How will you measure achievement? Keeping a food or exercise journal, for instance? Tracking your spending and saving, if your goal is financial?

Attainable: This is similar to the specificity factor. Again, break it down. Can you visualize yourself achieving your goal? This step is closely related to the next…

Realistic: Shooting for the moon is inspiring but not always easily achieved. Deciding to do a triathlon might sound great, but have you done as much as a 5K? Is your goal something you can achieve with current resources and/or knowledge? If not, can you easily obtain the resources needed?

Timely: The goal should include a time frame in which the goal will/can be achieved.

With all these factors, you also will want to ask the W questions: Who, what, where, when, which, why? Asking yourself those questions about your goal can help you make your goal a SMART one.

Here’s an example. A common resolution is: Get in shape this year.

But how and when will you do so? A SMART version of this goal might be: Join a gym and work out three days a week.

Or perhaps your goal is: I will lose weight this year. The SMART version: I will cut out processed foods and lose 5 pounds by spring. That gives it specificity, makes it measurable, and adds a time frame.

Breaking goals into smaller, specific pieces doesn’t dilute the original goal. It helps make your goal more achievable. Here’s wishing you luck and success in 2015!

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?

269 miles, give or take

IMG_1620 My last post was about cross-training, and this one is too — but a whole different kind.

Early this summer, on one of the first really nice weekends, my husband and I decided to take our bikes to the Jersey Shore and go for a ride. It wouldn’t be the first time we’d wind our way through its oceanfront towns on a two-wheeler. On this particular day, we rode round-trip from Sea Bright to Asbury Park, about 21 miles all told.

It felt so great to be active and outdoors, soaking in the sunshine! And what a range of towns and types of neighborhoods we went through. From palatial homes on acres of land to taffy-colored cottages to the gritty yet hip feel of Asbury Park, the Shore varies greatly.

Midway through our first ride, on June 1

Midway through our first ride, on June 1

The following weekend, we said, “Let’s do that again!” This time, though, we went round-trip from Asbury Park to Point Pleasant (about 22 miles). Midway, we stopped for lunch at an outdoor eatery, watching boats come and go through the inlet, and just reveled in being outside after what was such a horrible winter.

On the way home, we had a thought: We should try and bike the entire Jersey Shore over the course of the summer. After all, we’d already done two sections. And fitness goals are best broken down into more manageable pieces.

So that became our summer activity goal. We couldn’t wait to spend so much time being active outdoors — and even better, at the Shore.

The following week we did what turned out to be our longest ride: from Point Pleasant Beach to the south end of Island Beach State Park — 45 miles round-trip! On that outing, we saw close-up some of the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Countless times over countless years, I’ve driven along Route 35 and dreamed about living in some of the enormous beachfront homes. In Sandy’s wake, we saw large stretches of nothingness … empty plots of sand where those homes once stood. It was hard to fathom, even with our own eyes. And not much had changed from our last ride along that route, in fall 2013.

When it comes to Island Beach State Park (and if you’ve never gone there, you must — it’s beautiful), we’d driven to the south end but hadn’t bicycled it. It’s 8 miles from the entry gate … and I will confess, it’s a somewhat monotonous slog on a bike! But we did catch a glimpse of a large fox, the biggest I ever saw, before it darted back into the dunes.

The Cape May lighthouse

The Cape May lighthouse

We celebrated the end of that day’s ride with a giant dish of ice cream — no guilt!

Our next ride, over the July 4th weekend, took us to the southern tip of the state. We rode from Wildwood Crest to Cape May Point, stopping by the Cape May lighthouse for good measure. We’d done that route before; it’s one of our favorites. Cape May is a lovely place to bike. Tally for the day: about 24 miles.

A couple of weeks later, back in the northern reaches of the Shore, we rode about 25 miles round-trip from Long Branch to Sandy Hook. We commemorated that ride with a lighthouse photo as well.

For leg number six, we went south again and rode round-trip from Wildwood Crest to the northern end of Avalon, about 27 miles.

IMG_1567As we racked up the miles and pedaled through so many of the Jersey Shore’s towns, we were able to soak it all in much better than from the window of a car. Sure, we’ve driven pretty much every mile we rode, but the view from a bicycle is much preferred.

The summer was winding down and we had just three sections left to ride. We tried not to think about the calendar turning to fall, nor how we will possibly sustain so much activity over the winter months. I certainly don’t wish to spend 3 or 4 hours on the stationary bike at the gym!


The Barnegat Lighthouse

We devoted one day to Long Beach Island. The weather was gloomy … a bit of foreshadowing to fall. But thankfully, not a drop of rain on our 38-mile journey. At the south end of the island, we watched surfers riding the somewhat stormy waves. And at the north end: another lighthouse!

That left two legs, which we decided to do in one weekend. The best part is that we had the most perfect weather imaginable. Day one, the itinerary took us round-trip from the northern end of Avalon through Sea Isle City and Strathmere (quite possibly the narrowest stretch of the whole Shore) to the northern end of Ocean City. There loomed the largest and highest bridge of the whole top-to-bottom Shore route. Originally, I’d intended that we’d do it as part of our last ride. That day, though, we realized that the MS bike ride was in progress, with riders coming over that bridge (between Longport and O.C.). We thought it might make sense to take advantage of the safer conditions — plus we had the energy — so we added the bridge to that day’s ride. That brought our total for the day to about 36 miles.

The bridge between O.C. and Longport, and the view from the top, looking toward Ocean City

The bridge between O.C. and Longport

I’m proud to say we both biked up the bridge, coming and going, without stopping or walking our bikes. I definitely chalk that up to the stamina I’ve developed from miles and miles of walking.

We stopped on the Ocean City boardwalk for slices at Manco and Manco Pizza — boy, did that hit the spot!

That left just one final ride, from the north end of Ocean City, through Longport, Margate, Ventnor and Atlantic City, to the tip of Brigantine and back. What a mix of sights and experiences that was. We decided to park by the iconic Lucy the Elephant in Margate and headed north. We were able to do several miles on the boardwalk before it got too crowded. Thankfully, it was late on a Sunday morning, so street traffic wasn’t too bad. We traveled along what we later learned is one of the worst (i.e. drug dealing dangerous) streets in town in our approach to the bridge to Brigantine. (Went a different route on the way back!)

Looking north from Brigantine

Looking north from Brigantine

And we were pleased to discover Brigantine. Because it’s an island north of A.C., it’s not a place you pass through on the way to somewhere else. If you’re there, you intend to be (or you’re lost!). At the north end, we found a two-story viewing deck with a sweeping view of grasslands, inlet waters and ocean. I’m sure it’s a somewhat unknown spot!

As the day grew later, we made our way back to Lucy. Top of my mind was the thought: If you’re going to “Do AC,” don’t do it on a bike! Atlantic City is not bicycle friendly — no shoulders in many parts of town, lots of traffic and buses and shuttles to contend with. But it was really the lone negative in a summer of so many positives. Late in the afternoon, we circled back to Lucy, totaling about 31 miles for the day. And after having the ocean in our sights for the entire weekend, we made a beeline to the water’s edge, for a ceremonial and celebratory dip.

Our nine days of biking the Jersey Shore were so rewarding, so motivating, so enjoyable. Not only did we reap the endorphins of exercise but also the joy of being active in beautiful weather in the midst of lovely scenery.

Bicycling is a terrific form of cross training — it’s great cardiovascular exercise, plus it helps strengthen your legs. And you don’t have to do 20 or 30 miles in a ride. Even 30 minutes, or 8 to 10 miles at a nice steady speed, can fulfill the recommended daily amount of aerobic exercise.

Oh, and the title to this post? That’s the rough sum of all the miles we rode this summer. I’ll be the one with the icepack on my butt.