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Simply Fit, by Cindy Haskin-Popp, will help you make physical activity a part of everyday life. The health benefits of regular exercise and overall daily physical activity will be discussed. Fun, practical and easy-to-follow tips on an exercise program will be shared, as will the most current research. Fitness tips for families and seniors, on fitness centers and on buying proper and affordable equipment will be regularly given. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

April 6th is "World Day for Physical Activity"

     Join the rest of the world and become a "physically active citizen" Monday, April 6 in honor of "World Day for Physical Activity".  This campaign to promote physical activity is facilitated by the Agita Mundo Network, a division under the Brazil-based organization, Centro de Estudos do Laboratorio de Aptidao Fisica de Sao Caetano do Sul (CELAFISCS).  According to the Agita Mundo Network's website,, more than 6,000 events celebrating "World Day for Physical Activity" occurred around the world last year.  
     In February of this year, the American College of Sports Medicine ( announced its partnership with CELAFISCS to advance international health and fitness.  This press release stated that in past events there were more than one million participants honoring the campaign.
     The theme this year focuses on "active neighborhoods building health".  According to both organizations, a "physically active citizen" is an individual who commits to adopting physical activity into their lifestyle that is both economically and ecologically responsible.  The organizations suggest using walking as the primary mode of transportation as often as possible.
     How can you celebrate "World Day for Physical Activity"on Monday, April 6th?  Designate the day as a "car free" day and walk or ride your bike to your destinations.  Or, organize a lunchtime walk with co-workers, neighbors, friends and/or family members.  Be creative.  Your celebration can even be on a small scale as long as it incorporates additional physical activity into your daily life.

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Finding Stability in Good Health

     Life is like a roller coaster ride.  It is filled with moments of challenge requiring you to put forth constant effort as you make your way up the hill.  When you get to the top, you are sometimes allowed to just sit there and enjoy the breathtaking view that lies before you.  Other times, your visit to the top is fleeting and you immediately plummet into a free fall.  In a flash this downward plunge can end in a series of twists and turns.  Sometimes you may get a breather at the end of the fall as things remain status quo while you coast along the track.  Life's roller coaster ride continuously takes you forward only to pull you back again.  At moments, it even turns you upside down leaving you to helplessly hang there looking at what could be.  All of this can threaten your sense of stability.
     Uncertainties regarding job security, affording a home, and putting food on the table can be stressful.  Unfortunately, you can't always have control over these issues.  However, there is one thing that you do have control over, and that is your health.  In the midst of the unknown it is especially beneficial for you to place good health and well-being at the forefront.
     Emotional eating, excess alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are often used as coping tactics.  However, these are only temporary escapes that often lead to negative lifelong consequences.  Spring, with its promise of rebirth after the deadness of winter, is a good time to evaluate the direction of your health.
     A lesson can be learned from this example of the natural world.  A fresh start is possible.  New convicitons can be made.  Now is the time to replace old coping mechanisms with healthy new ones.  Commit to a regular program of exercise.  Start enjoying a healthier diet full of fruits and vegetables.  Enroll in a program that will help you gain control of your addiction whether it be to food, alcohol, or cigarettes.  Give yourself the gift of a healthier you and you will give yourself an inner peace that even the most chaotic roller coaster ride can't shake.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Geocaching for Fitness

  Geocaching is a great way for individuals of all ages and fitness levels to get exercise.  What is geocaching?  It is a scavenger hunt for the techno-savy and outdoorsman alike.  All you need is a little sense of adventure, access to the internet, and a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver to guide you on your treasure hike.
     The objective of geocaching, in its basic form, is to find containers of trinkets or souvenirs (the "geocaches" or "caches") that someone else has hidden in precise locations outdoors.  In addition to trinkets, a typical cache contains a log book for geocachers to sign and record the date and time of their find.  Geocachers may take one of the trinkets and leave one of their own for future seekers.  The locations of the caches, recorded in coordinates of longitude and latitude, are posted on and obtained from the internet.  You enter the coordinates of the cache of interest into your GPS receiver.  The official geocaching website to access this, and other information about geocaching and purchasing a GPS, is  

How to Get Started:
1.  Go to the above website link to register for a free account.
2.  Enter your postal (zip) code or that of a destination you 
      wish to visit to locate a cache.
3.   Choose a geocache from the list.  Note that locations are 
      ranked on a scale from 1 to 5 based on the level of difficulty 
      required to access the cache.  A cache locale given the 
      rating of "1" is easy and may be reachable just off a
      well-marked footpath.  A cache with a difficulty rating of 
      "5" may require great endurance, strength, and skill such as 
      with rock climbing to find its whereabouts.
4.  Enter the coordinates of the cache into your GPS receiver 
      and make notes of the location's description or clues to the 
      whereabouts of the cache to take with you on your search.

What You Need for the Hike:
1.  Supportive shoes and appropriate clothes for the weather
2.  Food and water
3.  Maps of area and compass
4.  GPS device and extra batteries
5.  Cell phone
6.  First-aid kit
7.  Bug spray
8.  Suntan lotion
9.  Pencil to record in log book
10. Trinket to leave for future seekers (usually a "dollar 
       store" type item)
11.  Small trash bags to carry out trash found 
       on hike ("Cache In, Trash Out")

Safety Tips and Environmental Considerations:
1.  Choose a cache location that is appropriate for your 
      current physical condition and skill.
2.  Let a friend/family member know where you will 
      be going in case of an emergency.
3.  Check weather forecast to avoid getting caught
      in a storm.
4.  Follow the "Cache In, Trash Out" philosophy by
      picking up trash on your hike to maintain the 
     Since its beginning in the year 2000, geocaching has led people around the world into an adventure that combines physical activity with technology.  Spring is a wonderful time to set out on your geocaching expedition.  Not only is it a fun way to get your exercise, but it is a wonderful way to connect with family, friends, and the natural world. 

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

The Geocaching Handbook by Layne Cameron published in 2004.

Geocaching - The Official Global GPS Cache Hunt Site 

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Does Illness Mean an End to Exercise?

     It is inevitable that at some point during your journey to better fitness you will acquire a cold or flu virus.  You will then be faced with the common question "Should I exercise while I am sick?".  According to the American College of Sport's Medicine's publication ACSM Current Comment: Exercise and the Common Cold, a resource available to the general public through their website,  it is typically accepted that when symptoms are located at the neck and above it is safe to engage in mild to moderate physical activity.  Symptoms in this category tend to be associated with the "common cold" and include mild scratchy/sore throat, stuffy nose and/or head, but no fever or chest congestion.  It is also noted in the ACSM Current Comment: Exercise and the Common Cold publication that exercise during a mild cold may be beneficial.  On the other hand, if you are experiencing a fever, chills, achy joints, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, chest congestion (such as with the "flu"), or severe symptoms that occur at the neck and above, then exercise should be discontinued until symptoms subside.  It should be noted that this recommendation may not hold true in all circumstances.  Contact your physician when in doubt and use common sense.
     There are a few guidelines that you should follow if it has been determined it is safe for you to exercise.  First, it is a good idea to exercise at a lower intensity level or for a shorter duration during the acute stages of the illness.  According to the ACSM Current Comment: Exercise and the Common Cold, resumption to a more intensive training regimen can occur a few days after symptoms have subsided.  Second, adequate amounts of fluids should be consumed in order to avoid dehydration from exercise which can be compounded by the illness.
     If your illness was severe enough to keep you from engaging in physical activity, there are a few tips to keep in mind when reestablishing your fitness routine.  First, recognize that you may need to re-examine your fitness goals and modify your approach accordingly (refer to my postings "Getting into Action: Parts One and Two").  Second, resumption of activity should be gradual, especially if you had to discontinue exercise for more than a week.  You can anticipate that it will take about 2-4 weeks to achieve your pre-illness training level.  However, if you only had to miss a few days, then you should be able to resume your pre-illness training level in a shorter period of time.  Do not get discouraged if it takes longer than expected to reach your pre-illness training level.  Remember, the achievement of physical fitness is a lifelong journey that will have setbacks, but with patience and perseverance, it is something that is attainable.

ACSM Current Comment: Exercise and the Common Cold 

ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. May/June 2006 p. 5. "Fitness Focus Copy-and-Share Injuries/Illness and Fitness"; D.L. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Martian Crossing Ahead: Runners Get Ready

     I am a runner.  I have been since I was about 8 years old.  When it is the topic of discussion, I frequently hear comments such as "you know how runners are" or "runners are of a different breed".  I assume these comments arise because dedicated runners frequently pound the pavement regardless of the conditions - temperature extremes, torturous terrain, snow, wind, rain...  Nothing seems to stop us.  We tend to push the limit.  Anything for a challenge.
     On April 4th & 5th this challenge will be taken out of this world and made intragalactic.  That's right, the "Martian Invasion of Races" occurs at Ford Field in Dearborn, Michigan.  These events are sure to be a family (and alien) friendly way to get your exercise.
     The races, presented by Running Fit, include a 5k, 10k, Half & Full Martian Marathons, and a Mini-Martian Marathon for kids.   A donation of $5,000 from the races will be given to support The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training (TNT).  TNT is the world's largest sports training program dedicated to helping individuals train for activities such as marathons and triathlons while raising money to fund blood cancer research.  A portion of the proceeds from the Martian Marathon races has been given to TNT every year since the race began in the year 2000.
     The Martian Marathon started as a training run for the Boston Marathon.  This race, along with the Half Martian Marathon, will be held on Sunday, April 5th.  Race start time is 7:00 am for both events.  
     The 5k, 10k, and Mini-Martian Marathon races will take place a day earlier on Saturday, April 4th.  Race start times are 9:00 am for the 5 & 10k races and 11:00 am for the Mini-Martian Marathon.
     The Mini-Martian Marathon race is one of many events throughout the year that Running Fit has created to get kids active and moving.  According to Will Smith, Administration Manager at Running Fit, this event requires kids to accumulate 25 miles either at home or in the school setting over the weeks leading up to race day.  They then complete the marathon experience by participating in the 1.2 mile race on Saturday, April 4th.  There are currently over 500 children registered for the race.  Smith states that students from the Dearborn and Ann Arbor school districts are participating.  However, many students from outside these school districts are registered as well.
     Pre-registration for these races is available online at until 12:00 pm Friday, April 3.  Packet pick-up and late-registration take place at the Annual Martian Expo at 835 Mason Rd, Dearborn, Michigan on Friday, April 3rd from 3-7 pm for all races; and, on Saturday, April 4th beginning at 7:00 am for the 5k, 10k, and Mini-Martian Marathon races.  Saturday's Expo hours are 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.  Packet pick-up and late-registration for the Half & Full Marathon races are available during that time.
     A pre-race "carbo-loading" dinner for the Half & Full Marathon runners will be offered by Pizza Papalis, located on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn for $15.00 per person.  The dinner takes place on Saturday April 4th between 6:30 and 8:00 pm.  For more information about this and other events related to the races please visit the official race website at
     If you are looking for an "out-of-this-world" exercise experience, these races are sure to please.  So come on out and have some "extraterrestrial" fun.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sow a Garden; Reap Fitness

     In today's edition of The Oakland Press, writer Gillian Flaccus wrote an article about the increase in the number of Americans who are turning to home gardening this year in order to cut costs at the grocery store (page A-18, "Dollars from dirt: Economy spurs home garden boom").  Did you realize that planting and harvesting your own garden not only provides financial benefits, but is a great way to get in physical activity to help you meet the federal government's recommendations for exercise?  Check out the calories that you can burn performing these lawn and gardening activities:

Calories burned during 30 minutes of activity* (values calculated for a 150 pound person)
Raking yard - 143 kcal
Clearing yard/hauling tree branches - 179 kcal
Shoveling 10-15 lbs. of dirt per minute - 251 kcal
Tilling garden with power tools - 215 kcal
Digging garden - 179 kcal
Spading garden - 179 kcal
Filling garden - 179 kcal
Weeding garden - 161 kcal
Watering garden - 54 kcal

*Energy expenditure estimates are based on metabolic equivalent (MET) values outlined in the ACSM's Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription 3rd. edition; pp. 659-661.  A MET is a unit of measure of energy expended for a particular activity.  

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Fitness in a "Crunch"

     Lack of time came out as the winner in my opinion poll regarding your biggest barrier to exercise.  Fifty-two percent of you voted that it was a factor affecting exercise adherence.  Follow these tips to fit in exercise when you are experiencing a time "crunch":

At the Office:
1.  Turn your office chair into a multi-station "gym"*
a.  Keep a set of free weights in your office to perform biceps 
      curls, triceps press, shoulder press, etc. while sitting 
      at your desk
b.  Perform seated leg lifts while talking on the phone
c.  Do chair squats while typing on the computer
d.  Perform toe raises by holding on to the back of the chair 
      for stability while dictating (NOTE: do not use a chair 
      with wheels for support)
e.  Do chair push-ups on the back of a chair that is pushed 
      against the wall (again, do not use a chair with wheels 
      for support) while waiting for your meeting to begin
2.  Brown bag lunch and leave it in the car.  This will allow you 
      to squeeze in some walking while you go outside to get your 
      lunch.  Before going back in to eat, take a few laps around 
      the building.
3.  Engage in active forms of commute
a.  Walk with co-workers to a nearby restaurant instead of 
b.  Ride your bike to work
4.  Engage in "active" meetings with co-workers and/or clients.  
a.  Discuss business while on the stationary bike in a gym or on the 
      golf course instead of meeting at a coffee shop.
b.  Walk the halls of the office building with co-workers while 
      discussing projects
5.  Hand deliver messages rather than sending an email

At Home:
1.  Turn your home computer chair into a multi-station "gym" 
      while answering emails and surfing the net (see list of 
      suggested exercises under number 1 above)
2.  Make the most of household chores
a.  Hand wash dishes instead of using dishwasher
b.  Take several small loads of laundry up and down the 
      stairs or to and from the laundry room instead of one
      trip with a big load
c.  Rake yard waste instead of using lawn mower to 
      pick up debris
3.  Walk around the house or complete housework while on 
      the phone with friends/family

     By following the tips outlined above you will be able to increase the amount of physical activity that you engage in throughout the day.  Ideally, these tactics should be used as a supplement to a structured exercise routine.  However, when time is an issue, engaging in some activity is better than none.

*For information regarding these exercises refer to ACSM's Fitness Book, 3rd. edition

NOTE:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Breaking the Fatigue Cycle

     After a long day at work or school it is difficult to get motivated to exercise, with feelings of fatigue playing a large role.  Twenty-four percent of you responded that this was the case when asked about perceived barriers to exercise in my opinion poll.  Ironically, physical inactivity can zap you of energy.  This is because your de-conditioned heart, lungs and muscles are less efficient and have to work harder to meet the daily demands placed on them in comparison to a physically fit body.  In other words, to perform the same task such as gardening, the unfit body has to perform at a greater percentage of its overall ability to do work than that of a fit body.  Because the unfit body is working harder, it fatigues sooner.
     Regular exercise improves your aerobic capacity and boosts energy levels.  Aerobic capacity is a marker of physical fitness and is a term used to describe your body's ability to transport and utilize oxygen to produce energy for your body.  If you have a high aerobic capacity, you will not fatigue as easily because your heart and lungs are able to deliver more oxygen to your muscles; and, your muscles are better able to extract oxygen from the blood.  As a result, your body is able to produce more energy for daily occupational and recreational tasks, leaving you with more energy at the end of the day.
     Unfortunately, physical inactivity and the resultant fatigue can lead to a viscous cycle.  To break this cycle try the following:

1.  Wake up 45 minutes earlier to exercise before going to work
2.  Engage in active forms of commute (e.g. ride your bike to work)
3.  Walk or workout during breaks or lunch hour (remember 10 minute 
      bouts throughout the day can have the same benefit as sessions 
      of 30 minutes or longer)
4.  Get 7-8 hours of quality sleep at night (exercise will help to improve 
5.  Avoid foods and beverages high in sugar and caffeine which can 
      lead to low energy levels after the temporary high
6.  Eat a healthy snack of fruit, yogurt or nuts in the late afternoon to 
      provide you with energy if you plan on exercising after work

Once you improve your fitness level, daily tasks will not be as fatiguing.  Consequently, you will have more energy at the end of the day.

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Exercise "Buffet" Style

     I love to eat.  I especially love to eat at restaurants that offer meals buffet style.  I enjoy the freedom to sample all of the different possibilities available and the opportunity to go back for more of what I like.
     A few weeks ago I asked you to vote for your biggest barrier to exercise.  Twenty percent of you said that you were not motivated to exercise and that you felt it was boring.  Another 4% of you stated that lack of athletic ability prevented you from exercising.  My solution, try exercise "buffet" style.  In other words, find a physical activity that you enjoy by "sampling" a variety of activities.  
     You are more likely to be motivated and make exercise a habit if you choose a mode that is both enjoyable and manageable.  Attempt a variety of activities.  Don't limit yourself to traditional forms of exercise.  Furthermore, don't assume you need athletic skills to be physically active.  A great mode for the novice exerciser is walking.  Become a "tourist" in your own city.  Walk into an adjoining neighborhood to yours or down streets you haven't ventured before to break the monotony. 
     Make and keep a list of activities that you like.  Alternating modes of exercise will help keep motivation up and the boredom factor down.  Refer to the list when boredom ensues.  Below is a list of some suggestions to start your "sampling".
1.  Stability ball exercises to develop balance, stability and strength
2.  Functional fitness exercises that prepare your body for activities of 
      daily life (such as lifting boxes in a stock room)
3.  Core training to strengthen abdomen and back muscles to 
      stabilize the spine
4.  Hiking
5.  Backpacking
6.  Ballroom or square dancing
     In addition to choosing a mode of exercise that is enjoyable, how you exercise can impact motivation and boredom.  Try breaking the monotony by listening to music or watching the television while you exercise.  Or, make it a social event by meeting a friend and/or enrolling in a group exercise class.  Change your exercise environment such as going outdoors if you typically engage in activity indoors.  The possibilities are endless.  Be creative and you will be able to find a form of exercise that motivates you to get and stay active. 

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.


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Sunday, March 15, 2009

5 Signs That Your Treadmill is in Need of a Good Workout

1.  The last time you used it the TV drama, Grey's Anatomy, was in its 
      first season.
2.  It has become a "storage unit" for last season's clothes.
3.  The collection of dust bunnies on it outnumber the ones found under 
      your bed by 5:1.
4.  Your kids have put more miles on it than you have by converting it 
      into a "checkout counter" to transport plastic fruit during a game of 
5.  It is still in the box.

Sound familiar?  Don't you think it is time for a little exercise?  Go ahead.  Your treadmill will thank you.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Results Are In!

The opinion poll has ended.  A few weeks ago, I asked readers "What is your biggest barrier to exercise?"  Here is how you responded:

1.  52% of you said lack of time
2.  24% of you said you were too tired after work/school
3.  20% of you said you were not motivated/exercise is boring
4.  4% of you said lack of athletic ability kept you from exercise
5.  0% voted for cost of gym membership/home exercise equipment 

Visit "Simply Fit" over the next few days for tips on how to overcome your biggest barrier. 


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Get Your Exercise While Raising Money For The "Save A Heart" Foundation This Sunday, March 15th

     Are you interested in an early celebration of the "Luck of the Irish" and a fun way to get in some family-friendly exercise?  Then head on out to Ann Arbor, Michigan this Sunday, March 15th and participate in the Shamrocks & Shenanigans Run/Walk Race fundraiser benefiting the "Save A Heart" foundation at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.  
     The "Save A Heart" foundation provides funds for patients with congenital heart disease and their families who seek treatment from the Michigan Congenital Heart Center at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.  The Shamrocks & Shenanigans Race, presented by Conor O'Neill's Traditional Irish Pub and Running Fit, includes a 5K Run/Walk, Kid's Dash, and Kid's 1K Run.  The run/walk has raised approximately $61,000 for "Save A Heart" since the first race was held in the year 2000 according to Sara Hickey, Administrative Manager, at C.S. Mott Hospital.  Hickey says that families seeking treatment "come from all over".  According to Hickey, the proceeds from the race assist families with food, transportation, Ronald McDonald House or hotel stays, plane tickets, and gas money for transportation to and from appointments.  Monies are also used to fund a Child Life Specialist to provide recreational and medical play therapy for children who will be undergoing a procedure at the hospital.  A relatively small portion of the proceeds goes towards research, states Hickey.
     The Shamrocks & Shenanigans Race begins and ends in front of Conor O'Neill's at 318 S. Main St. Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The start times are 11:00 a.m. for both the Kid's Dash and 1K run and 11:30 a.m. for the 5K run/walk.  Will Smith, Administrative Manager for Running Fit, says that online registration for the race (at is open until 12:00 p.m. Friday, March 13th.  The cost of the 5K, Kid's 1K, and Kid's Dash is $25.00, $12.00, and $7.00, respectively.  For late-registration on the day of the race, the cost goes up to $30.00, $16.00, and $10.00, respectively.  Individuals interested in registering for the event, but who miss the online deadline, can still sign up at the early registration prices on Saturday March 14th only during "packet pick-up" and late registration to be held at the Celtic Room at Conor O'Neill's (see address above) between the hours of  3-5 p.m..  Packet pick-up and late registration on the day of the race (prices go up this day) occurs between 9:00-11:00 a.m. and is located in the parking lot behind Conor O'Neill's. 
     Currently, there are over 1,000 participants registered for the race with another 200-300 anticipated to sign-up the day of the race.  For this reason, it is strongly encouraged that those who wish to register or who have already registered attend the "packet pick-up" and late registration offering on Saturday to avoid delays the day of the race.
     The overall top male and female finishers will be awarded shoes from  Running Fit.  The top 3 finishers in each age group will receive awards.  All children who run in the Dash and 1K runs will receive medals.  
     In addition to the three races, there will be the Shamrocks and Shenanigans Irish Festival which will be located in a big tent behind Conor O'Neill's.  It will include live Irish music, Irish dancers, bagpipers and activities for the kids such as face painting.  So come on out for fun exercise and a great time that helps families affected by congenital heart disease find their "pot of gold at the end of the rainbow".

For more information on Shamrocks & Shenanigans visit or


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3 Steps You Can Take Now to Combat the Lure of the "Obesogenic" Environment

     Super-sized meals, king-sized snacks, dollar menus, robot vacuums, television, computers, video games - all of these are components of the "obesogenic" environment that we have created for ourselves.  An "obesogenic" environment is an environment that promotes weight gain through its readily available food and labor-saving devices.  It lures us to eat more and exert less.  Taking in more calories than are burned through physical activity upsets the energy balance needed to maintain a healthy body weight.  You do not need to fall prey to these temptations.  Here are 3 steps you can take to re-shape your environment toward one that promotes better health.

1.  Change your external cues by leaving yourself fitness "reminders".  Post a sign on your front door stating "Don't forget to exercise today!".  Pack and leave your gym bag in your car to remind you to stop at the fitness center on your way home.  Hang up pictures of physically fit individuals or place fitness adds on your vanity mirror or refrigerator for inspiration.

2.  Eliminate triggers/cues to overeat and to be less active.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Close the doors of your entertainment center or put a blanket over the television.  Better yet, unplug the TV and hide the remote!  Remove junk food from the refrigerator and pantry and replace with single servings of fruit, vegetables, low-fat yogurt or cheese, and nuts for a quick on-the-go snack.  

3.  Alter your leisure-time pursuits.  Instead of meeting a friend for drinks, reserve a court at the gym and play racquetball.  Take a walk around the neighborhood or mall instead of watching television after dinner.  Put on some blood-pumping music and dance with your family when everyone gets home from school/work instead of surfing the net.

How have you combatted the lure of the "obesogenic" environment?  Post your comments below.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

The Power of Thought

     One of the most commonly cited barriers to regular exercise is a lack of time.  Work, school, spiritual, and household obligations are often offered as the culprits that hinder exercise adherence.  Here is the irony of this mindset: time is ongoing; it is our thoughts that are ending.  Negative thoughts self-defeat.  Positive thoughts can foster perseverance.
     How is it that some individuals are able to consistently adhere to an exercise program while others cannot despite equally busy schedules?  The answer may lie in a behavioral trait known as self-efficacy.  Self-efficacy is the belief and/or confidence in one's own ability to accomplish a task.
     Studies investigating the behavioral characteristics of habitual exercisers have shown that these individuals possess high levels of self-efficacy.  An individual with a high level of self-efficacy views a challenge as something to master, not a threat to avoid.  Whereas the individual with a low level of self-efficacy tends to shy away from perceived difficult situations because of self-doubt.  For instance, if you are confident that you can run a mile without having to take a rest, you are more likely to attempt it than the individual who fears that they will have to stop several times.
     How can you improve your level of self-efficacy?  According to a recent article, "Evaluating and Enhancing Self-efficacy for Physical Activity" by Pekmezi et al., published in the March/April 2009 issue of ACSM's Health and Fitness Journal, your past experiences have a great impact on self-efficacy.  Setting small, achievable goals can help create more positive experiences upon which to draw.  For example, if you do not believe you can run a mile without a break, set a goal of running only a quarter-mile at first.  Once you have accomplished that, add another quarter-mile until you reach your long term goal of one mile.  Each time you accomplish a small goal, give yourself "a pat on the back".
     Self-monitoring of progress is another way to boost self-efficacy levels.  Pedometers (see my posting "Take the Step Challenge") and activity logs are good for tracking progress.  An example of self-monitoring comes from Eric Eder of Royal Oak, Michigan who has been an avid exerciser for 14 years and whose exercise routine involves 2 hours of physical activity per day for 5 days of the week.  He states, "I use goals that are easy to track.  I track monthly so I am mindful...I track my progress against a series of goals."
     Identifying barriers to exercise, coming up with solutions to overcome those barriers, and then implementing the solutions will also aid in boosting self-efficacy levels.  If one solution doesn't work, come up with another.  Don't quit your attempt to increase daily physical activity.   One way to overcome time limitations is to follow the example of an individual with whom I have had correspondence and who has been routinely exercising for over 50 years, "I work out very early in the morning, all barriers are still in bed."
     Positive "self-talk" is another way to attain a high level of self-efficacy.  Instead of saying "I don't have time to exercise for 30 minutes today", say "I can squeeze in a 10 minute brisk walk in between meetings."  There are creative ways that you can fit physical activity into your schedule, such as walking around your office while you are on the phone.  Remember, positive thoughts help you to persevere.  As Jaye Quadrozzi of Beverly Hills, Michigan stated so eloquently "I never finish a run thinking 'I wish I hadn't done that'."

ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. 2009 March/April 13(2): 16-21 Evaluating and enhancing self-efficacy for physical activity.  Pekmezi, D., Jennings, E., Marcus, B.

ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. 2005 July/August 9(4): 19-25 Making physical activity stick: what can we learn from regular exercisers?  Klein, DA, Burr, L., Stone, W.J.

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Physical Activity Pyramid

     The Physical Activity Pyramid is a great tool to help you meet the exercise recommendations outlined in the federal government's 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (see my posting "Exercise Recommendations: An Overview").  The Physical Activity Pyramid is analogous to the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid (now known as MyPyramid).  Its emphasis, however, is not on a acquiring a balance of nutrition, but on adopting a lifestyle balanced with physical activity.
     The premise of the pyramid is that physical activity recommendations fall on a continuum based on current activity and fitness levels as well as health status.  Various organizations and hospitals have devised their own pyramids but most follow a similar progression through the pyramid.  One such pyramid can be viewed on the American Academy of Family Physicians' website at  Another, designed for children, can be found on Iowa State University's website at
     JoAnne Bieniasz, an Exercise Physiologist at Royal Oak's William Beaumont Hospital's Ministrelli Women's Heart Center, co-designed an activity pyramid that she uses with patients who visit the center.  According to Bieniasz, the activity pyramid helps "bring attention to the importance of physical activity.  It addresses exercise where people are starting from.  The biggest misconception that people have is [what defines] physical activity vs. aerobic exercise."  Physical activity is defined by the American College of Sports Medicine as "bodily movement that is produced by the contraction of skeletal muscle and that substantially increases energy expenditure".  Gardening is an example of physical activity.  Exercise is defined by the American College of Sport's Medicine as a "type of physical activity [that involves] planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement done to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness".  Jogging is an example of exercise.
     By providing a visual, the activity pyramid not only shows you where you are starting, but it lets you see where you want to go in terms of increasing physical activity and exercise levels throughout the day and week.  The pyramid typically has 4 levels.  The base of the pyramid represents physical activities that everyone should do on a daily basis.  Examples of activities at this level include yard work, household chores, and walking the dog.  If you are inactive, the base is where you want to start.  Begin by increasing your participation in activities at this level.  Once you have comfortably added these activities routinely you will then want to progress to the subsequent levels in the pyramid.
     The middle two levels of the pyramid are the starting point for the sporadic exerciser.  The next level up from the base includes aerobic exercise activities.  These should comprise at least 150 minutes, preferably 300 minutes, per week of activity.  Examples of activities at this level include hiking, swimming, rollerblading, and tennis.  The level subsequent to this involves flexibility and muscle-strengthening exercises that should be performed at least 2-3 days per week.  Resistance bands/tubes, free weights, and/or weight machines can be used to strengthen muscles.  The goal of the sporadic exerciser is to consistently engage in activities at these two levels.  
     If you routinely exercise, then your goal is to choose activities from all levels of the pyramid.  Choosing a variety of activities will help to eliminate boredom.
     The pinnacle of the pyramid includes activities that all individuals should keep to a minimum.  Examples of activities at this level include watching TV, playing video games, and working at the computer for extended periods of time.
     Use the Physical Activity Pyramid to guide you in your physical activity choices.  Be creative and explore new activities.  By so doing, you will experience a balance of physical activity on your journey toward improved fitness and health.

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.


Friday, March 6, 2009

5 Myths About Exercise

Myth # 1:  Spot reduction is possible
Spot reduction is the concept that you can lose fat from a specific area of your body by exercising that particular body part.  This is not true.  The pattern by which you lose fat/weight is based on genetics.  However, through resistance training you can tone specific areas of your body.  The best way to improve body composition is to routinely participate in a combination of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises.

Myth #2:  You can build bigger muscles by consuming more protein
If you consume more than your daily requirement for protein, your body converts and stores the excess protein as fat.  Most Americans consume an adequate amount of protein to meet their needs.  For more information about daily protein requirements visit

Myth #3:  Exercise is of no benefit if you don't lose weight from it
Exercise provides many health benefits independent of weight loss, such as reduced risk of all-cause mortality and improved glucose tolerance.  Weight loss can be affected by many variables including genetics, amount of sleep, and stress levels.  Individuals who are overweight but regularly exercise are healthier than thin, inactive individuals.

Myth #4:  Older adults can't benefit from exercise
Health benefits from regular exercise can be obtained at any age.  Studies have shown that older adults adapt to and improve upon components of physical fitness from routine exercise similarly to their younger counterparts.  Regular exercise is important for healthy aging.  It can improve functional capacity, promote independence (ability to do activities of daily living without assistance), enhance quality of life, and reduce risk for and/or aid in the management of chronic health conditions.

Myth #5:  Lifting weights will cause a woman to "bulk up"
Resistance training doesn't have to equal bodybuilding.  Due to greater levels of estrogen and lower levels of testosterone compared to men, women typically won't develop "bulky" muscles.  Strength training is important for bone health to prevent osteoporosis.  The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that all healthy adults engage in two days or more of 1 set of 8 to 12 repetitions of moderate- to high-intensity strength-training exercises of the major muscle groups of the body.

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.


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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Why Exercise?

     Exercise has many benefits, some less well-known than others.  Keep this list handy for those times that you need a little motivation to keep moving.

1.  Decreased risk of premature death
2.  Decreased risk of heart attack and stroke
3.  Decreased risk of colon and breast cancer
4.  Decreased risk of metabolic syndrome
5.  Decreased risk and/or management of type II diabetes (adult-onset 
6.  Decreased risk and/or management of hypertension (high blood 
7.  Decreased risk of osteoporosis
8.  Decreased risk of depression
9.  Improved cholesterol levels, especially high-density lipoproteins 
      ("good" cholesterol)
10.  Improved sleep quality
11.  Improved self-esteem/sense of well-being
12.  Improved energy level
13.  Prevention of falls (through improved balance)
14.  Weight management
15.  Stress management
16.  May suppress hunger

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Take the Step Challenge

     Today marks the beginning of Oakland County's "Count Your Steps" program for third and fourth graders.  Its goal is to encourage children to become more physically active.  Students are given pedometers and logbooks to count and record their steps throughout the day from now until March 27th.
     A few years ago, my oldest son's school participated in this program.  I have to say it worked.  Each successive day my son tried to get in more steps than the day before.  He would take extra trips up the stairs.  He even asked to go on family walks to boost his numbers.  The pedometer served its purpose.  Its immediate tracking of progress enticed my son and lured him into more exercise. 
     Here is my challenge to you.  While the third and fourth graders of Oakland County are increasing their steps this month, I encourage you to do the same.  A pedometer is a great way to track your progress and is a wonderful tool for self-motivation.  
     Here is what you need to know about them before you get started.  A pedometer is a device that records the number of steps that you take.  It is similar in size to a pager and is often worn on the hip by clipping to a belt or waistband.  Pedometers differ in price with a range of about $10-$50 based on features offered.  Although the more sophisticated models can estimate distance covered and calories burned, these features are not typically as accurate as is the feature for counting steps.
     It is generally accepted that healthy adults can set and achieve a goal of 10,000 steps per day.  There are approximately 2,000 steps in one mile.  To challenge yourself, try every two weeks to increase the number of steps you take per day by 1,000 steps.  You can get in those extra steps by parking at the far end of the parking lot, opting for the stairs rather than the elevator, and walking to your neighborhood mailbox to mail a letter rather than leaving it in your own mailbox.

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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