Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Does Fitness Have to be Complicated?

Simplify, simplify, simplifyWhen I started thinking about fitness, I read everything I could get my hands on. I studied YouTube videos. I quizzed trainers and other people in the gym. I was like a sponge, and it seemed like every new idea or piece of equipment made its way into my routine. Soon, I was spending hours planning my training programs. I was using machines and barbells, a little bit of running, some bands, a few dumbells, swimming laps, swinging the kettlebell, riding the bike, and taking classes for Pilates. Yoga, TRX, and Spinning. I was like a new convert at church. If the gym doors were open, I wanted to be there. Sometimes I would be there for two or three hours a day. And yes, I felt great.

But the truth is, most of us have other things to do besides workout all day. The whole idea behind fitness isn't moving iron and spinning treadmills, it's about having the strength, endurance, and flexibility to do the things that make your life fulfilling and meaningful. Sometimes, simpler is better. As summer starts to wind down and schedules get busier, here are some ideas for workouts that produce results with a little less equipment, planning, and time.

You don't workout because you don't own any gear? Got a room with a wall in it? Here's a full body No-Equipment Workout from Self that you can do in about 20 minutes.

Ten minutes? Seriously? For this No Weights to Lose Weight Workout from Shape, all you need is a floor, and maybe a yoga mat. It would be a great way to start your day, to squeeze exercise into your lunch break, (or even your coffee break), or instead of that sugary desert after dinner.

Feel like something a little more hardcore? In this video, Kelly Lee from Grokker leads a turbo-charged 15 Minute High Intensity Interval Training Workout. This one is tough, and Kelly is a real drill-sergeant type, but if you want to build strength while you burn a ton of calories, she can help you get it done in a hurry.

Concerned about posture, back pain, that pooch around your belly or just maintaining stability and balance? Maybe you want to focus on your core. Core work isn't all about washboards and six-packs, you know. The system of muscles from your shoulders to your hips is your powerhouse. Healthways Fit offers 15-minute Workouts to Rock Your Core that will help keep your center strong, and tone up those muscles that make you look so good in a tight shirt.

Here's a 30-Minute, No-Gym Bodyweight Workout you can do in the park, on a playground, in the back yard, anywhere, really. All you need is your own body and 30 minutes. I like these little graphics from Greatist. I can imagine hanging this one up like a poster in the room where you exercise and just following along. And yes, you will be tired when you're finished!

Health Magazine calls this Your Perfect No-Gym Workout, but this is quite a little pile of bands, balls, dumbbells and rollers to keep around the house. Every decent gym should have plenty of these for you to use, and a lot more room than I have in my apartment to store them. This should take you 20 or 25 minutes, but be prepared to linger on that roller when you are finished. It can feel heavenly after a good workout.

Finding a place for a fitness ball in your house can be a challenge, but a big rubber band will fit in your jacket pocket. Resistance bands are inexpensive, easy to find, and available in many different forms and levels of tension so it's easy to increase intensity when your muscles outgrow those beginner level bands. Those folks at Greatist offer yet another nifty poster of 7 movements that will build a great 30-minute workout. If you get bored and want to mix in some other exercises, they've also included descriptions of 33 Resistance Band Exercises You Can Do Anywhere.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Get On UP

I saw Get On Up last night, and I can't say enough about how fantastic I thought it was. It is an unfailingly engaging biography of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, and I don't think you will be disappointed if you get your funky self to the theatre and check it out.

And speaking of getting on up, there has been some important news published this week about the dangers of our sedentary lifestyle. Believe it or not, your chair is a murderer. I have not read Get Up! Why Your Chair is Killing You And What You Can Do About It yet, but believe me, it's on my list. Dr. James A. Levine says sitting has become our favorite drug, and it is toxic.

Chair addiction -- like the alcoholic thirsting for another Scotch -- is the constant need we have developed to sit. We slouch from bed to car seat, to work seat, to sofa. The cost is too great; for every hour we sit, two hours of our lives walk away -- lost forever. 
In an interview with Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune, Levine, a doctor and director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative explains that we were never meant to sit. 
Rather, we are structurally and physiologically intended to be upright, running from saber-toothed tigers and gathering wood and tending crops and such.
In the modern world, we are rarely called to choose fight or flight. And while our farm dwelling great grandparents usually only sat down to eat or read at the end of the day, we spend most of our time in the unnatural and, according to a growing body of research, suicidal posture of sitting.

Consider the chilling findings of a study recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Sitting can be fatal. It’s been linked to cancerdiabetes, and cardiovascular disease... Researchers examined close to 70,000 cancer cases and found that sitting is associated with a 24% increased risk of colon cancer, a 32% increased risk of endometrial cancer, and a 21% increased risk of lung cancer. 
The really bad news: You can’t exercise away the habit’s harmful effects. “Adjustment for physical activity did not affect the positive association between sedentary behavior and cancer,” the authors write. Even participants who achieved the daily recommended levels of physical activity were at the same risk as those who spent their day sitting. 
Think about that for a second. You already know you can't out-exercise an unhealthy diet, but this study suggests that a sedentary lifestyle is so destructive to our physical health that it cancels out the benefits of exercise.

So what can we do? How can we save our lives from the soft seated murderer waiting for us in the office, on the bus, and in front of the television? Osteopath and best selling author, Dr. Joseph Mercola puts it simply, "Defy gravity with intermittent movement." Here are a few exercises you can do right in your cubicle to keep your body in motion, not reclining slowly toward an early grave.

  • Standing Neck-Stretch: Hold for 20 seconds on each side.
  • Shoulder Blade Squeeze: Round your shoulders, then pull them back and pull down. Repeat for 20-30 seconds.
  • Standing Hip Stretch: Holding on to your desk, cross your left leg over your right thigh and "sit down" by bending your right leg. Repeat on the other side.
  • The Windmill: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, then pivot your feet to the right. Push your hip out to the left. Raising your left arm skyward, and your right arm toward the floor, lower your body toward the floor while looking up, and then raise your torso back to standing position. Repeat on the other side.
  • Side Lunge: Starting with your feet together, take a medium step sideways, and bend down as if you're about to sit. Use your arms for balance by reaching out in front of you. Return to starting position, and repeat 10-20 times. Repeat on the other side.
  • Desk Push-Up: Place hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart on your desk. Come up on your toes to make it easier to tip forward. Do 10 repetitions.
  • Squat to Chair: With your feet shoulder-width apart, sit down, reaching forward with your hands, and stand back up in quick succession. Do 15-20 repetitions.
  • Single Leg Dead Lift: Place your right hand on your desk, and place your weight on your right leg. Fold your torso forward, while simultaneously lifting your left leg backward. Do 10 repetitions on each side.
  • Mountain Climber: Get into a push-up position on the floor. Pull your right knee forward to touch your right wrist or arm, then return to push-up position. Repeat on the other side. Try to pick up the pace, and do 20 quick repetitions.

Dr Levine suggests that you can help yourself by moving as little as ten minutes per hour. A study by the American Diabetes Association found measurable benefits from breaks that were as short as four-and-a-half minutes. If you don't want to use one of the recommended exercises, take a walk around the building. Climb the stairs. Have "strolling meetings" instead of sitting down at at coffee shop.

And if you won't take advice from the doctors, listen to Soul Brother Number One.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Zucchinipalooza! 2014
Every gardener knows the story. It's a beautiful August morning. You've just poured the first cup of coffee. Standing over the sink, taking in the beautiful morning light through the kitchen window, you glance at your little plot and gasp. Good Lord! Where did all that come from?

Every gardener's neighbor knows the story, too. You open the front door, and there's one on the porch railing. You reach into the mailbox, and find a green giant stuffed in there with the Rent-A-Center circular. You climb into your car, and find four of the things on the passenger seat. By the time clock at work, there is a carton piled high with a sign begging, "Take all you want. Please!"

It's Zucchini season. You cant escape them, so you might as well learn to love this meaty, tasty, giant squash while they are plentiful and vine fresh. Here are a few ways you can celebrate...


(I hope you'll share your own favorite recipes in the comments section!)

Zucchini Fritters,
Zucchini Cobbler,
Pici with Summer Squashes and Tarragon,

Chilled Curry Zucchini Soup,

Zucchini and Spinach Lasagna,