Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Running With a Friend Can Add Smiles to Your Miles

It’s 5:30 a.m., your alarm clock’s wailing, and you’re making a valiant effort to get yourself up and out on the roads. Rather than turning the alarm off and getting out of bed, you inexplicably hit the snooze button. Well, as they say: if you snooze, you lose.

Several hours earlier you'd vowed to run at least eight miles this morning (the goal had been six miles . . . but that was before you'd devoured that piece of chocolate mousse). And so, with thoughts of last night's dessert still melting in your mind, if not your mouth, you reach for the clock. At the last second, though, a strange force seems to take over. You hit snooze! The rest of the story is an old and sad one - you wind up postponing your run for another day (although, of course, the chocolate mousse may hang around a bit longer).

One way to avoid such an unhappy scenario - aside from buying an alarm clock that doesn't have a snooze button - is to start running with a friend. It's one thing to have an inanimate clock making noise at you, but it's quite another to have a friend pounding on your door and yelling, "C'mon, get up!" There's really no blowing off your friend. What's more, if he or she has the ability to get up at such an ungodly hour, what legitimate excuse could you possibly have not to? It may be true that friends don't make for the best business associates, but they're clearly unparalleled as motivators (they don't call it "peer pressure" for nothing).

There are two primary qualifications to look for in a running buddy: someone who runs at approximately the same pace as you and someone who can carry on a good conversation while they run. Although eating and running usually don't mix, talking and running most assuredly do (provided that you're a non-competitive, recreational runner and aren't concerned about your time). A good running partner will be so effective at keeping your mind occupied that your run will be done before you even know it. The concept of conversational distraction can't be overstated. Running, for the pure sake of running, can admittedly become a little boring - especially if you're running loops around the same course. But having someone to converse with while you exercise can almost make your effort seem "effortless."

If you're a woman, running with a partner offers a practical advantage, too - it makes your workout much safer. The vast majority of crimes perpetrated against runners involve solitary female runners. That's because most of these attacks are sexual assaults (runners, for the most part, make poor targets for robbers because they rarely carry valuables with them). As a result, the term "safety in numbers" absolutely rings true when it comes to running. The more people you run with, the safer your run will be. Just look at how safe the New York City Marathon is!

The reasons to start running with a friend are many. Safety, camaraderie, and motivation are all excellent examples of what running with others can offer. But the main reason to run with a friend is probably that . . . well, it's just more fun!

How to Stick to Your Diet When You’re Cooking for a Family

We all know how hard it is to stick to a diet under the best of circumstances. Willpower is a vulnerable thing … and without a strong motivation and good support network, it's easy to slip off the diet wagon.

Anyone who has ever tried to diet while cooking for a family knows how hard it is! Preparing good, satisfying meals that your family will eat at the same time you're watching you eat… this scenario can drive you over the edge!

Here are some tips and tricks on how to stay on your diet and eat healthily, while still preparing satisfying "family" meals!

  • Chew Gum While Cooking

This sounds crazy, but chewing gum while preparing your meals has two main purposes. First, it gives your taste buds something to focus on (versus those delicious aromas wafting up to your nose!). Secondly, it greatly decreases the sampling that most of us do … that can often add up to a tremendous amount of calories! Keep a pack of sugar-free gum next to the stove, and pop in a piece each time you start to cook.

  • Prepare healthier meals for the whole family.

Grilled chicken or fish, with steamed vegetables and rice can be satisfying for the whole family. There are a lot of great dieter's cookbooks as well that offer satisfying and healthy recipes -- your family may never even know you're serving them "diet food!" (And if you don't tell, I won't!)

  • Serve your meals at the stove, not on the table.

Serve up each person's plate at the stove (or on the counter) instead of putting the prepared foods on the table. This will limit your opportunity to graze; those who want more can go back and get it!

  • Serve up smaller portions for yourself.

You can eat what the family eats, especially if it's relatively healthy -- just in smaller portions. This is great training for changing your overall eating habits!

  • Cook a relatively rich starch to go with your healthy meat and vegetable, but serve it only to your family.

You can make a package of fettuccine alfredo, for example to go with your broiled chicken and steamed broccoli, but you skip the rich starch and eat only the meat and vegetables. This is a great tip for those on low-carb diets as well, but it takes the pain out of "your diet" for your family!

  • Skip the alcohol and have water (or sparkling water) instead.

Alcohol can decrease your inhibitions (making it harder to resist seconds) and also adds unnecessary calories. Sparkling water is a nice substitute; you can even have it in a wineglass if you want! If you get the sweetened water make sure it's sugar free!

  • Use a healthy cookbook like the Weight Watchers ones to make healthy desserts.

Your family will probably never know the difference! Fresh fruit over ice cream (you skip the ice cream and only have the fruit) is another way to serve a satisfying dessert that is still within your diet.

  • Enlist the support of your family.

Ask them not to snack around you, and to put away snack foods after they get into them.

The bottom line is that you can stick to your diet while cooking for your family. With some of these easy tricks, you can enjoy your diet and your family won't feel like they're suffering!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Getting Back in the Pool

"Don’t forget your legs while you are back in the pool for the first time. A light kick -- what we call a two beat is a great way to start. "
Whether you're tired of the normal exercise routines or you need to give your joints a rest, swimming is the perfect alternative for getting into shape.

For many of us we loved going to the pool or lake in the summer. We had a great time playing with friends and staying cool. It was even better when we got to go to a hotel in the wintertime. It seems that the older we got the more concerned we were with body image so we headed for the gym. Aerobics, running and other impact exercise took the place of the fun in the water.

All of a sudden our knees, hips, back or ankles have started to ache a bit and impact exercises are not so desirable anymore. We need to keep up our exercise and the doctor recommends we get back in the water. It's been a long time; the lure of the water is still there. But do you know how to get started again? The first time back can be a bit intimidating and confusing.

First, get the right equipment. New clothes always make it more fun and help to get you in the mood. Get a good swimsuit. This can make a difference. There are lots of options out there, but get one that makes you feel comfortable and doesn't slip, slide and pull. Find a suit that has a high neck. Plunging necklines may look good on the beach but you don't want to be worried about falling out or exposing yourself while you are working out. Get a suit that has a secure back -- the cross backs and racer backs are wonderful choices. Also pick a fabric with Lycra. Not only will it cling to you, it will reduce the drag in the water making your workout even better. Remember we are looking for performance not great looks. You can find good workout suits in any sporting good stores. If you are tall, look for suits that are made for tall women -- it makes the fit and comfort level so much greater.

For men, you don't have to wear a Speedo, even though you may want to once you feel more comfortable. Actually, you will notice that the men that are swimming competitively will have them on so you won't feel so self-conscious. Beach shorts are fine; just don't get the ones that will hang down to your knees. Again, the more drag in the water the more difficult the workout.

Other equipment needed is a good pair of goggles. Again, there are a lot of different shapes and sizes, see if you can try them on. Find the pair that fit your face the best. Just a hint: If your goggles fog up while you are swimming, a bit of spit in the goggle swished around and rinsed out will help! A swim cap is also needed, especially if you have long hair. There are Lycra and latex ones. Most people like the latex or plastic ones. Swim caps can keep the heat in, so if you get hot easily you may want to pull your hair back in a ponytail and swim that way. Most people like caps as they help to protect hair from chlorine damage. A big beach towel and flip-flops are also nice to have along.

So, you have your things together and you are ready to hit the pool. What do you do when you get there? Check out the pool. Many aquatic centers have lanes for fast medium and slow swimmers. You will enjoy your session in the pool if you get in the proper lane. If you are lucky you will get a lane to yourself. But don't be surprised if you have to share. That's fine. Swimming can be a bit solitary so having someone in your lane can be nice.

Some swimming etiquette: If there are two of you, you will most likely swim sides. That means you will just swim on the right or left side of the black line. It will truly be an up and down experience. If there are three or more you will circle swim. This is just like driving you will swim down the left side of the black line and come back with your left side next to the black line. In a sense you will be making a circle around the black line. Know that you are close to the wall when the black line ends.

OK, you are in the pool. It's a bit cold so you want to get going. The best bet for the first couple of times in the pool is just doing a couple of long swims. Get your stroke and the feel of the water back. You will really want to concentrate on your breathing.

Breathing is very important to your rhythm and it determines your endurance. To get that feel for the proper technique, practice this simple drill. Settle yourself in the shallow end of the pool; you want to be about waist deep. Put both hands on the side of the pool and put your face in. Take your right hand and pull it back like you are taking a stroke. Bring your arm around so your hand touches the wall again. Now do the same thing with the left arm making sure that you are exhaling into the water -- when I teach small children we blow bubbles. As soon as your left hand touches the wall, start moving to the right and turn your head to the side to take a breath. When turning your head, make sure you don't lift it up and keep your left ear in the water. As your arm leaves the water you should be turning you head back into the water. Your face should be back in the water as your hand is touching the wall. Keep practicing this until you feel comfortable with the rhythm of it and then go hit the lanes. If you breathe to the left it works the same way - just switch sides. I like to think that the hand touching the wall is the key. That is your cue to switch what you are doing with your head.

Just remember to keep your face in the water and not lift it up. If you do that your legs and hips will sink and you will start swimming like a barge -- not very fluid. The head should just rest easy in the water and turn to the side, but never lifting forward --- unless you are swimming in open water -- and that's a whole different story.

Don't forget your legs while you are back in the pool for the first time. A light kick -- what we call a two beat is a great way to start. What it means is that when you are pulling with the right arm you should be on the down stroke of the kick with the left leg. Just opposite arm with opposite leg. It should come pretty naturally.

So what to do when you get in the pool? Here are a couple of workouts for new swimmers and then an advanced one for the more experienced swimmer. Have fun and enjoy the many benefits of the water. It is truly a fountain of youth.

First Day Back Workout

Light swim -- as far as comfortable -- shoot for 200-300 yards
4 X 50s concentrating on breathing
4 X 50s focus on body alignment -- keeping waterline at hairline -- or cap line
200 yards focusing on keeping your stroke long

Back to the Pool

200-300 yards focusing on form
4 X 50s working on slowing gaining speed
200 yards kick
4 X 50s swim -- focus on keeping your stroke long and breathing
200 yards swim
1 minute rest
200 yards swim -- again thinking about form

Advanced Workout

300 yard warm up - every third length concentrating on form
6 X 100 with 15 seconds rest
8 X 50s odd numbers free, even different stroke
200 pull
200 kick
8 X 50 sprint with 15 seconds rest -- these should be best effort
200 yard cool down

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Fitness Over 50: Look and Feel 20 years Younger in 20 Minutes a Day!!

Oh well, I'll never see 50 again – in fact I'll be 60 on my next birthday – so take courage. If I can stay in shape, you can do it too, and without spending every waking hour working out. For a small investment of 20-40 minutes, four to six days a week you will receive a bevy of benefits. Let's start with the most obvious, and work our way down to those unseen to the human eye.

First and foremost your entire body shape will improve to a better shape than you had in your best day. Yes, you read right. I'm a case in point. Even in my twenties I had no shoulders, wide hips and big, shapeless legs that made my hips look even bigger. But the workout has given my body symmetry. I even look taller because of it. (I'm only five feet tall).

Next, and maybe I should have said this first, your body will become firm to the touch and defined, giving it that healthy athletic look. And most, if not all of the cellulite you have will disappear. Yes, cellulite is bunched up fat that shows through thin skin, the thinner your skin the more it shows. But when you work out with weights the right way, you put a sleek muscle under the skin and the cellulite vanishes. Of course if you're overweight you should also follow a low-fat eating plan.

Next, your posture and balance will improve along with your energy level. These will help you in any sport, and for sure, when lifting up your current or pending grandchildren. I know I would never be able to cart my two along at the same time if I were not in shape. (Sibling rivalry. The three year old demands I carry him when I carry the one-year old!)

Finally, you will build bone under every muscle you make because muscles are attached to bone, and as the blood circulates through the working muscle, it circulates through the underlying bone and boosts bone density. This is a medically proven fact. In general you will see a marked improvement in bone density within nine months of any of my weight training routines, and it only keeps getting better. Okay, so how do you get started?

The answer is simple: Calmly, slowly, deliberately, until gradually your body becomes tight, toned and defined. At that point you will look and feel up to twenty years younger. You must work out with weights the right way, not in a haphazard, hope to get lucky kind of way. You must do a specific number of exercises per body part in a certain way. You can start out by doing one exercise per body part, but you must pyramid your weights and do three sets of exercise. Let me explain further.

First, pick a body part, let's use the basic bicep curl as an example. Your first set will consist of 12 repetitions with your lightest weight. (A repetition is one full movement of the exercise, from start, to mid-point and back to start again.) The second set will consist of10 repetitions with your middle weight, and for your final set you will perfrom eight repetitions with your heaviest weight. What? Heavy weights? No. You can start as light as one, two and three pounds. Start out with hand-held weights, also called dumbbells. You will need two dumbbells each, one for each hand. As you get stronger, you will raise your weights, and you'll get stronger faster than you think. This workout can be found in my Workout 101 Video.

Your next step will be to move to a more intense workout, performing more exercises per body part, (3-5 are ideal) but still using the pyramid system. (This workout can be found in my Weight Training Made Easier video set.) But how do you stay motivated? It won't be difficult. After 10 days of working out you'll have so much more energy you won't want to stop. And, if you started out overweight, it will only take three weeks, to lose a dress size. In 9 weeks your metabolism will kick up to a higher level, so you can eat more (healthy foods, of course) without getting fat. Even while you sleep you'll burn more fat than you used to burn. In 16 weeks your entire body will show major reshaping, and you'll be thrilled.

Another way to stay motivated is to keep switching weight training routines. I'll talk more about that in a later article.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Promoting Exercise in Children

Every child needs to exercise. Exercise is a risk free and sound investment that parents can make for their child's future. It is a fact that many children do not get enough physical activity leading to problems such as childhood obesity. In fact, modern day gadgets such as the personal computer and television are partly responsible for the sedentary lifestyle of children and that is why exercise is a must in growing children.

Benefits of exercise

Lack of exercise can have negative health consequences both in the present as well as in the future. Other than building bones, muscles and joints, exercise has numerous long term benefits that children would appreciate once they are adults.

Exercise helps in controlling weight. It is a proven fact that increased physical activity is an effective weight loss strategy. Obesity should be avoided at any cost in a child, since it can lead to numerous problems such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia and diabetes later in life.

Exercise also helps to protect the heart and controls hypertension. Though heart disease manifests itself in adult age, risk factors appear early in life. It is best to avoid these by following a regular pattern of exercise. Studies have linked physical activity with low levels of bad cholesterol in children. Exercise also has a positive effect on high blood pressure.

Physical activity in childhood has a lasting effect on bone development. Studies have shown that the physical activity in childhood lowers osteoporosis (bone disease) risk in the future by increasing the bone mineral density.

Exercise improves the physical self-image of the child as well as their self-esteem and confidence.


Children should not play when in pain or take painkillers and play.

Children should not perform weight training with heavy resistances. Their bones are still in the developing phase and hence should not be subjected to heavy loads.

Make sure that the child is having plenty of water and other fluids. Due to their small size children are prone to dehydration. They should be given fluids both before and after the exercise

Discourage the child to continue on one kind of sport or exercise. Variety results in much better development of the child.

Supervise your child, in exercises that require the risk of falling such as bar exercises.

Western countries recommend that all children five and above should participate in a minimum of 30 minutes of interesting moderate level activities such as running, skipping, cycling or even dancing. As a parent, it is your responsibility to provide ample opportunities to your child to stay physically active. Remember, exercise is a valuable tool that you can give your child to manage their health now and in the future.

Spirulina: The Wonder Diet Supplement

It's the favourite of the health food industry. Often claimed as the wonder drug supplement, Spirulina is the latest entrant to storm this market.

What is spirulina?

Spirulina is one of the blue green algae (single celled plant) and is named after its spiral form. Algae are incredibly old life forms, responsible for producing and sustaining our oxygenated atmosphere. Spirulina thrives in the wilds - in the salty lakes of Mexico and Africa. The cells of spirulina are so arranged that it allows for rapid formation of proteins.

Therapeutic dosage

Studies dealing with the safety issues of spirulina have suggested that it is not prudent to eat more than 50 grams of spirulina every day. The reason being that the plants contain a high concentration of genetic makeup substances called nucleic acids, which create uric acid. High levels of uric acid are related to kidney problems.

Spirulina as a food

Spirulina is approximately 65 to 71 per cent protein, depending on the growing condition of the algae. These proteins are biologically complete, that is, they provide all the eight essential amino acids required by the body in the right proportions. Other plant foods are not complete proteins and are lacking in one or the other amino acids. Other than this, spirulina is a rich source of many vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates and enzymes.

Spirulina is extremely rich in vitamin B12, an extremely rare vitamin that is obtained from vegetarian sources. It contains 250 per cent more of this vitamin as compared to beef liver, which was earlier taken as the richest source of vitamin B12.

Spirulina is a very rich source of beta-carotene, which is the basis of vitamin A in the body. Beta-carotene gets converted to vitamin A only when required by the body, thus preventing the danger of toxicity.

Spirulina is a very dense source of vitamin E, which protects the heart and retards the ageing process.

It is among the richest sources of iron and is 58 times richer than raw spinach. Iron promotes the formation of haemoglobin thus preventing iron deficiency.

Spirulina is only seven per cent lipid and most of it is present in the form of essential amino acids that promote cholesterol normalization. These include linoleic, linolenic and arachidonic acid. These fats are extremely vital for the body.

Spirulina contains very little starch or sugar. It supplies only 10 to 15 per cent carbohydrates and that also in the form of glycogen and rhamnose. These forms are readily absorbed by the human body and do not require the use of insulin. Hence it is a source of rapid energy.

Spirulina is very low in sodium and hence poses no dangers for people on a sodium restricted diets.

Calorie wise, spirulina is very economical. There are only 3.9 calories per gram of protein in spirulina. The average 500 grams tablet contains only one to two calories.

Spirulina is the richest source of chlorophyll, a pigment required by the body for the numerous enzymatic reactions in the body.

No doubt then, Spirulina is nature's richest nutritional supplement and a powerhouse of protein.

Busting Food Myths

Food is the basis of our existence but all our food habits are prefixed. We follow what we have learnt since childhood, irrespective of whether it is right or wrong. These give rise to a number of food myths. Myths are what you believe are right but in reality they have no truth in them and are insignificant Hence it is better to understand these myths and separate the fact from the myth:

  • Junk food does not have any nutritive value. The fact is that no food is nutrient free. All foods have some nutrients in them. The foods categorized as junk foods have an imbalance of nutrients, which means that they may be a concentrated source of one nutrient and very low in other. So you can have some amount of junk food and still have a healthy balanced diet. Potato chips apart from fat contain vitamin C, vitamin B-6 and copper. Eat potato chips with low fat cheeseburger, salad and glass of juice or a whole fruit and you have a fairly balanced diet.
  • As an athlete you need thrice the amount of protein compared to a non-athlete. It is true that the protein requirement of an athlete is higher than that of non-athletes but no research suggests that the requirement is thrice compared to a non-athlete. The requirement for a normal adult is about 1 gram per kilogram body weight and for an athlete; it is raised to about 1.6 grams per kilogram body weight. For this amount, no excessive supplements are necessary. This amount can be easily obtained from the additional protein in the diet. For example, two glasses of skimmed milk provide about 70 grams of protein.
  • Excess sugar results in hyperactivity. Most people living in rural areas take in excessive amounts of sugar in their diet. Are they all hyperactive? Although research on this subject is yet to establish a direct cause and effect relation, but it has been reported that it is the occasion and not the diet that makes the people hyperactive.
  • A zero fat diet is healthier than low fat diet. Fat if taken in excess is bad for health but if curtailed from the diet, is worse. You need some amount of fat in your diet to maintain your health. The current recommendations suggest a fat intake of 30 per cent of total calorie intake, of which less than 10 per cent should be from saturated fat sources. Fat is needed to generate essential fatty acids for the body. So a zero fat diet can pose health risks for you.
  • It is best to eat fruits at the end of the meal. After a meal, the food is still in the process of being broken down and when you take in fruit, the fruit has to wait for its turn to get digested. In the meantime, the fruit gets fermented and you are prone to acidity and feel bloated. So it is best to have fruits alone, away from the mealtime.
  • Only eating meat can meet your protein requirements. There are plenty of sources of protein, other than meats that can help you to meet your protein requirement. Cereals, pulses, milk and milk products are all good sources of proteins. Supplement cereals with pulses and you get a good quality protein source. In fact, excess meat results in excess intake of saturated fat and can hence cause health problems.
Has this made you more aware about your food? Check if you are following any of these, modify your eating habits and you will soon be on the road to good health.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

How to Plan a Fit Vacation

Do you often come back from a vacation and find yourself a few pounds heavier? Alas, if you hadn't tucked in all those goodies. Well, there's no point fretting and fuming afterwards, is there? The trick is to plan your vacation in such a way that it makes you fit not fat.

To start at the beginning, it all depends on the kind of holiday you go for. There are really 2 types of vacation you would go for: one could be classified as a five-star holiday where you are pampered and everything for you is done for; or the other which is out in the wild, be it the river, the sea, the valley, the plains or the mountains. Depending on your destination, there are two different states-of-mind you can prepare for: in the former, happy-go-lucky, letting go and in the case of the latter, preparing for low levels of comfort and the willingness to rough it out.

Fitness in the wild

This kind of a holiday will keep you pretty much on your toes and depending on where you go, you would need to be prepared, fitness-wise. If a trek is what you planned, make sure that you do not wear new shoes or those that have not been broken into. It 's a good idea to cut your toenails and keep your fingernails clipped. Before leaving on the trek, workout your heart and lung capacity at least a month before. The trek can be pretty trying especially the higher you go, so acclimatise yourself by gradually increasing height. The effect of altitude higher than 10,000 feet can lead to all sorts of problems like hypothermia, hyperventilation so you must be prepared by all accounts.

Fitness in the posh

It isn't the easiest thing but you can try coming back from a holiday as light as you left if you keep these tips in mind!

If the call of the beach or, a walk round the lake does not beckon you enough, try the hotel pool or even a walk around the lobby for keeping those calories from creeping up on you. Or if that is boring, then go out for a discovery walk and savor the local flavor (keep that to only smelling!) and knock off the calories as you go.
For those hell-bent on not missing their resistance training for fear of losing their muscle tone, there are ways out, if the hotel does not have a gym. Squats work as a very good compound exercise for the lower body that take care of the hamstrings, quadriceps and gluteus.

A set of push ups can do the same for the upper body, the shoulders, chest and upper back. Add to that a set of ab crunches and back extensions and you are well taken care of for your holiday away from home!

Eating right or light?

Eating out can be a bane but not so if you are wise. Give the gravies and anything saucy a pass and go for grilled, stir-fried (Stir!!!), roasted or baked fare. Stock up on breakfast of cereals, fruit and milk if you are going to be out the whole day. Carry nibbles with you in case you do not find anything worthwhile. Sorbets and fruit yogurts are good food-enders and will not topple the apple cart much too much!

Party and holiday you must. But just keep in mind that you have a three- week benefit of the last exercise you did, before the effects start wearing out. That should keep you on your toes and off your butt (for too long that is!)