Paleo, Keto, Whole30, oh my!

There are so many diets out there, that it is hard to keep them all straight. Today I am going to talk about three very popular ones and the pros and cons of each:

The Paleo Diet

While I personally see absolutely no reason to live like a caveman (they don’t sleep on nice comfy mattresses, for one reason), many people aim to eat like one and follow the paleo diet. While some people debate if the paleo diet is actually how cavemen ate, it does not really matter. The question is…are there benefits to following the paleo diet?

The foundation of the paleo diet is no grains, legumes, dairy or sugar and lots of meat, vegetables and fruit. Vegetables and fruit are chock full of vitamins, minerals and fiber, so I can really get behind that part. Paleo also recommends avoiding processed foods, sugar, soft drinks, artificial sweeteners, margarine and trans fats. That part sounds very good too because the typical American diet has way too much of all of those.

If you are going to try paleo, choose high-quality animal proteins. People who recommend this diet recommend eating reasonable portions of grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and eggs and sustainably raised seafood. However (here comes the “but…”), the paleo diet also recommends avoiding grains based on the theory that grains can cause inflammation. Research, however, does not support that theory for the average person.  On the contrary, many heart health studies suggest that whole grains are beneficial to heart health. Whole grains contain many nutrients like B vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, and a diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer.

The paleo diet also prohibits dairy, beans, and soy. As someone who suffers from lactose intolerance, I agree that dairy can cause inflammation and a wide variety of digestive issues. However, that is because my gut is particularly sensitive to dairy. Yours may not be. And without dairy, beans and soy, you may find it difficult to get enough calcium, which is incredibly important for strong bones.

Many nutritionists reject the paleo diet because of its restrictions on entire food groups.  A diet with a wide variety of foods is important to ensure your body has access to and absorbs all the nutrients it needs. While nutritional supplements can help provide nutrients that may be missing in a person’s diet, studies show that supplements are not absorbed by the body as effectively as nutrients obtained from real food.

The Keto Diet

The keto diet has become trendy for people looking to lose weight and recommends 70% of daily calories from fat, 20% from protein and just 10% for carbohydrates.
The keto diet recommends a 4:1 ratio of fat to carbs. Therefore, about 5–10% of your total daily calories can come from carbohydrates.  In order to achieve that goal, you will have to drastically reduce your intake of carbohydrates to less than 40–50 grams per day. By comparison, I personally consume about 100-200 grams of carbohydrates a day despite my relatively small frame. As I discussed in last week’s post, carbohydrates are an important source of energy for both your body and your brain. Fifty percent of my daily calories come from carbohydrates. I may be able to cut that down to 30-40% if I were not running, but I cannot even begin to imagine how foggy my brain would get if I tried to cut it down more than that.

Also, the keto diet is high in saturated fat, which research suggests may increase your risk of heart disease. We all need some fat in our diets to ensure we feel satisfied, but too much may not only clog your arteries, it may offset any potential weight-loss benefits as well.

Nutritionists say that vitamin and mineral supplements are essential on this type of diet since pure fats like coconut oil, olive oil and butter and many other fats that make up the base of a keto diet are not really very good sources of vitamins. Also, you are also missing out on the beneficial antioxidants in fruit and root vegetables, which have been associated with a decreased risk of cancer, heart disease and other conditions.

The Whole30 Diet

Unlike the paleo and keto diets, which recommend following the plan for an indefinite period of time, the Whole30 diet recommends following specific guidelines for 30 days. It is meant as more of a detox than a lifestyle. The basic guidelines are to completely cut out “hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups,” including sugar, dairy, alcohol, grains, and legumes (including hummus and peanut butter). The Whole 30 diet also recommends reading the nutrition labels on all foods and avoiding carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites. My first problem with this plan is that my food comes with “nutritional labels”. In other words, it comes in a package and is (therefore) somewhat processed. That may not be 100% true since, for example, peanut butter comes in a package and there are plenty of healthy, unprocessed brands of peanut butter (it’s not like I crush my own peanuts!). But overall, it does not sound as “whole food”-oriented as I thought it would be. And for some reason they prohibit peanut butter, one of my favorite healthy energizing snacks.

Whole30 also excludes paleo-approved sugars like honey and baked goods made with almond or coconut flour. On the plus side, you can eat all the fruit, veggies, and meat that you want.  The list of foods to avoid includes the following:

  • Natural or artificial sugars and sweeteners, including maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, date syrup, monk fruit extract, stevia, Splenda, xylitol, and others.
  • Alcohol in any form, even if you’re using it in your cooking.
  • Grains, including wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, sprouted grains, quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat as well as any additives derived from these foods, like brans, germs, and starches.
  • Legumes, including all beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, and all forms of soy.
  • Dairy, including all cow, goat, and sheep’s milk products.
  • Additives like carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites
  • Sweet treats, and other not-so-healthy goodies made with compliant ingredients, like cauliflower pizza.

Wow! That’s a lot of things not to eat!  On the positive side, one benefit of Whole30 is by cutting out so many categories of food, you may be able to identify potential allergies or intolerances (for example to grains or dairy) when you introduce them back into you diet when the 30-day plan is over. However, I believe that nutrition is a lifestyle. We need to eat every day! 😊 So, while changing your diet drastically for one month may help you lose weight, it may not necessarily help you keep it off as you transition back to a less restrictive form of eating.

So, what will help you ensure that you get all the nutrients you need to function optimally while maintaining a healthy weight?

Regardless of your macro mix, it is important to focus on high-quality calories. A good rule of thumb is to prioritize whole foods over processed ones whenever possible. Carbohydrates are not evil (as many diets would have you believe), however you should choose nutrient-dense whole grains and starchy vegetables over highly processed refined carbohydrates and sugar. For fats, choose heart-healthy options like nuts, avocados, fatty fish and olive oil. And most importantly, feel free to experiment to find your personal optimal mix of macronutrients.  We are all different. That means each of our bodies may have different needs and preferences to function optimally.  Celebrity diets may work well for the celebrities who created them and they may work well for lots of other people too. But the key to optimal health is finding the right mix for YOU!

Fueling Your Workout

Have you ever tried to drive your car with the gas tank on empty? You can go a few miles, but eventually the car will just stop. You body works the same way. Without proper fuel, it will just stop. Like your car, your body requires regular maintenance. Let’s consider that a healthy diet. Yeah, you can eat a donut every now and then, but if you only eat donuts, you will not get very far. You will also probably have very high maintenance costs to pay in the future (like dealing with diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments).  You keep your car well-fueled most of the time and you should keep your body well-fueled as well.

But sometimes, you need extra fuel. This weekend I plan to drive 250 miles to Lake Tahoe, so my usual half a tank of gas is not going to cut it. Making sure the car’s tank is completely full before I leave is definitely on my “to do” list. And before I head out on a long run (or any activity of an hour or more), I also make sure to “top off the tank”.  Just like there are different types of gasoline, there are different types of body fuel.

Fuel for your body is made of three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Your body needs some combination of all three to keep running smoothly. There are many types of “lifestyle” diets out there and they all recommend different combinations of carbs, protein, and fat since it is practically impossible to eliminate any category from your diet completely.  In my next several posts I will talk about the keto diet, the paleo diet, whole 30, and the pros and cons of each. However, these diets relate primarily to your body’s daily, ongoing fuel levels; so I will leave that discussion for future posts. Today’s topic is how to top off your tank before a big effort.

Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy: They help fuel your brain, kidneys, heart muscles, and central nervous system.  The pre-race “carbo load” used to be quite popular. But subsequent research has shown that eating a big bowl of pasta the night before your race or long workout is not really going to help you as much as we previously thought.  Like fat, carbohydrates come in good varieties and “junk” varieties. You will want to focus on carbohydrates that provide energy without providing processed sugars and all the other things that have a negative effect on your body. I will provide some examples of “good carbs” below.

Also, eating protein together with carbohydrates can help slow the rate at which the carbohydrates are released into your blood stream. Therefore, carbohydrates eaten with protein provide a longer-term source of energy than carbohydrates alone.  Additionally, some research shows that including protein in your pre-workout meal may reduce muscle soreness post-workout by providing your body with immediate access to protein for recovery.

And finally, incorporating healthy fats into your pre-workout meal can help you feel more satisfied and therefore ensure that you crave less “junk”. The combination of healthy fats (which help you feel sated) and protein (which provides sustained energy and gives the muscles the tools they need to recover) together with carbohydrates (which provide an immediate source of energy) will help sustain you through a workout of longer than an hour.

Now that we have talked about how this works and why this works, what should you eat? Here are some of my go-to pre-long run favorites:

  1. Oatmeal with fresh fruit
  2. 2 slices of whole wheat or sourdough bread with 2 tbsps of nut butter and a banana
  3. Eggs with brown rice, couscous, or quinoa

And if you are going for a workout of two hours or more, you will want to carry some carbohydrates with you to keep your tank from emptying out along the way. While there are lots of packaged products you can buy for quick energy such as gels and blocks, you can also make your own to reduce your reliance on processed foods and know exactly what you are eating. Here are some great snacks for during your workout:

  1. Mini potatoes with salt (or plain, if you need to limit your salt intake)
  2. Tangerines or mandarin oranges
  3. Pretzels (with or without salt)
  4. Homemade trail mix

And one more word of advice, you want to stay away from high-fiber foods right before and during a race. Fiber is a carbohydrate, an important part of any healthy diet, and helps your body function smoothly. But no one wants to be that “smooth” during a long work out. Been there, done that, do not need to do it again!

Reaching the Finish Line

You are probably thinking this is going to be about the election, but it is not. This is about a different kind of finish line. Yesterday, members of the Finding Joy in Motion program reached their finish line: the culmination of 24 weeks of learning, training, and dedication. 

Finding Joy in Motion is for everyone. When I first started this program, I thought it was going to be about training for a half marathon. And while several ladies did successfully complete a half marathon (way to go Tracie Tighe, Paula Duran, Debbie Ternes, and Tracy Moon!!), it turned out to be much more than that. For most of the ladies in the program, yesterday’s run/walk was the farthest distance they had ever completed. Regardless of the distance itself, that is A HUGE accomplishment!

This program is about so much more than running and walking. It is about making a commitment to yourself, getting in touch with your inner athlete (we all have one, really!), and taking care of yourself. We are all getting older. Yes, it’s true. Many people will tell you that your body has to slow down as you get older, but that part is not true. An Newton said…sort of…a body in motion will stay in motion and a body at rest will stay at rest and atrophy. When you do not move, your muscles actually break down and get weaker.  This makes the need to slow down as we get older even more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you are active and move regularly, you can reverse that trend and keep your muscles strong. And with mindful training, you can even build strength to make your muscles EVEN stronger and stay injury free. Stronger muscles lead to better balance, more stability and fewer injuries.

Many of you know my story: I literally failed physical education in high school. As a very hard-working finance and accounting executive, I spent most of my adult life behind a desk…until I decided to walk a marathon for my 40th birthday. I won’t get into what caused me to set that goal (but if you are interested, reply to this email and I will be happy to share with you), but (to make a long story short) it set my body in motion. And I haven’t stopped since! I’ve participated in over 120 races since then. I haven’t won any of them (not even close!) and I haven’t even been first in my age group (ever!). Many times I have been dead last. But that doesn’t matter. The joy I feel from completing my personal goal (whatever that may be at the time) is not in any way affected by my place in the “race”. Competition is merely a “petition” for “comp”anionship. The only person I am competing against is the person I was yesterday. 

At our graduation celebration, ladies walked and ran from 1.5 miles to 13.1 miles and everyone had a fantastic time. Despite the masks, the smiles and sparkling eyes were were shining bright! I did not expect to feel so overwhelmed by everyone’s accomplishment, but it really was an amazing experience. You can see some photos here.  Here is just a sample of what ladies are saying:

So while this program started out as a half marathon training program, it turned into so much more over the last six months. It has become a personal discovery program. If you are interested in discovering your inner athlete, the next session is staring on November 17th. More information is available here

Reducing Inflammation

Last week, I talked about shoes and how increasing the size of your running shoes (compared to the size of your dress shoes) can help reduce discomfort when your feet inevitably swell from continued pounding against the pavement or trail. This week, I am going to talk more about that swelling, why it happens, and what can be done about it.

How the swelling actually occurs:

For people who are active, “inflammation” is common. Although “inflammation” has some negative connotations, this process is also the body’s natural response to the stress caused by intense exercise.

To grow stronger, athletes rely on the tear/repair cycle. After a hard training session, muscles develop harmless microtears. After this damage has been detected by the body, the body’s immune system works to repair these microtears, resulting in overall stronger muscles. White blood cells as well as mediators, such as cytokines, are sent to the damaged muscles to help with the repair process. This normal (and necessary) immune response results in temporary swelling and soreness. The entire repair process lasts 24–72 hours, depending on the relative severity of the muscular damage. After the repair cycle, muscles are stronger than before.

However, when training at higher intensities (for example, longer durations or increased speed), chronic inflammation can occur. This happens because the immune system is continually triggered at a faster rate than repair can occur. Chronic inflammation can lead to the feeling of tired, heavy legs as well as chronic soreness, weight gain, and decreased athletic performance. Many runners wear compression socks to during their runs to reduce the rate at which chronic inflammation occurs. They also frequently wear compression socks after their runs to help speed the recovery process.

How compression socks work:

The heart pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout your body through your arteries. Cells in your body use this oxygen in order to function properly. Deoxygenated blood is then pumped from the cells through your veins back to the lungs to be re-oxygenated. The better your circulation, the more oxygen your legs get. The more oxygen available to be utilized, the better your muscles are going to function.

Graduated compression socks have varying levels of compression throughout the sock. The highest compression level is usually at the ankle and it gradually decreases to the lowest level at the top cuff. When worn properly, they work to reduce the diameter of veins in the lower legs. This reduction causes the speed of the blood flow to increase. In addition, the reduction of vein diameter improves the effectiveness of the valves in both veins and arteries. The overall effect is reduced venous pressure, enhanced circulation, and greater venous wall support. Overall, when veins, muscles, and arteries are compressed and circulating blood is forced through these small channels, the flow of blood back to the heart is significantly improved.

In other words, when you wear compression socks, you are forcing your blood to start flowing faster, making each oxygenation cycle easier. The faster the circulation of metabolic waste products away from the muscles and toward the heart can occur, the faster fresh, oxygenated blood can reach the cells leading to quicker recovery. Poor circulation results in swelling which causes discomfort, hinders performance, and decreases muscle recovery following a hard workout.

In addition to increasing the circulation of blood through the legs, compression socks provide calf support. This essential support helps to stabilize the muscles and guard against muscular oscillations, which makes your muscle movements more efficient.

By improving circulation and reducing muscular oscillations, compression socks not only help you feel better quicker, they can reduce the potential for injury.  For example, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and calf strains are all injuries where unsupported muscles, chronic inflammation, and lack of circulation are risk factors.

People who are on their feet all day, such as flight attendants, waitresses, teachers, and nurses, among others, can also benefit from the use of compression socks to alleviate tired legs. And even when you are not active, poor circulation can be dangerous. Numerous studies have shown that sitting still for long periods of time, especially during air travel, can potentially lead to conditions such as blood clots, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism. Compression socks help reduce these risks.

How to find the right fit:

While compression socks come in a variety of styles, knee-high versions are the most popular because they cover the entire calf. To choose the correct size of knee-high socks, you should first record the circumference of your calf by measuring the widest part of your lower leg. This measurement, in addition to your shoe size, is used to determine which sock size is best for you. Note that the top of the sock should feel snug, yet still comfortable below the knee. If it is too tight, it may cut off your circulation rather than increasing it and have an effect opposite of what you are seeking.

Winter is Coming!

The seasons are changing and hot chocolate weather is almost upon us.  In Lake Tahoe, the bears are getting ready to hibernate, but that is not what we humans are about. In fact, winter is an awesome time to get outside for a run, walk and hike. It is a quieter time when you can enjoy the serenity of nature and experience different scenery than we usually see. And best of all, it is not unbearably hot or humid! An advantage of running, walking and hiking in winter is that with proper planning, you can be completely comfortable. I do not know about you, but I can never be comfortable in the blistering heat. Sometimes I wish I could just peel off my skin. However, with proper layering you can be completely comfortable in the cold and even in the rain. Personally, I love running in the rain because it makes me go faster!

Here is my tried and true technique for layering:

Base layer: the layer closest to your skin which wicks away sweat

As the next-to-skin layer, the base layer is responsible for moving perspiration away from your skin. In cool or cold conditions, wicking long-underwear-style base layers keep your skin dry. This is important because it will help keep you from becoming chilled or even hypothermic.

Base layers are usually made of synthetics like polyester and nylon or natural fibers like merino wool and silk. Base layers can be lightweight, medium-weight, and heavyweight. Of course, the heavier the fabric, the warmer you will be. But the most important function of the base layer is to move the sweat away from your body. In order to do that, the base layer should be snug and fit closely to the skin. Here in Northern California where it is not terribly cold, a short-sleeved performance running shirt makes a great base layer.

Mid-layer: the insulating layer which retains your body heat to protect you from the cold

The insulating layer helps you retain the heat that is generated by your body. The more efficiently this middle layer traps that heat, the warmer you will be. Polyester fleece makes an outstanding mid-layer and is available in lightweight, midweight and heavyweight fabrics. Fleece stays warm even if it gets damp, and it dries quickly. Fleece also breathes well making it less likely that you will overheat with exertion. And it feels so cozy! However, because of its breathability, over time, wind and rain can blow right through it causing you to lose insulation. This is why you need to also have an outer layer.

Outer layer: a shell which shields you from wind and rain

The outer layer protects you from wind, rain and snow. Shells range from pricey mountaineering jackets to simple wind-resistant jackets. Some shell layers have zippered vents to improve breathability. While you may not need a super-pricey mountaineering jacket for a 5 mile run or a day hike, you may need more than a lightweight rain shell depending on the conditions you will encounter. Consider how long you plan to be outside when choosing an outer shell. You may even opt to invest in different types of shells, just like you have different types of regular clothing.

Shells primarily fall into two main categories:

Waterproof/breathable shells: The most functional (and expensive) choice, this type of shell is your best option for full-on storm conditions. Usually, the higher priced shells will keep you drier, but pay attention to the technical details the shell offers to make sure it truly is rated “waterproof” and “breathable”.

Water-resistant shells: These are more suited to drizzly, breezy conditions. They are less expensive than waterproof/breathable shells and are typically made of tightly woven nylon or polyester fabrics that block light wind and light rain. They can be great in a pinch or if you are only out for an hour or so, but they will not hold up to a full day of hiking in pouring rain. I like to keep a packable lightweight shell in my backpack at all times, just in case. You never know (especially in Northern CA) when it will get colder than you expected as the day goes on or as you climb to the top of an exposed hill or mountain.

And finally, do not forget about your head and your extremities:

HatsBody heat is often lost through your head since your exposed head responds to changes in temperature more quickly than any other part of your body. Do not forget to carry along a fleece or wool hat for winter workouts to cover your head in cold weather. If you prefer something lighter-weight. nylon and polyester caps work well also.

Gloves: For cold-weather exercise, be sure to carry moisture-wicking, breathable gloves. For cool conditions, thin liner gloves may be all that you need.

Socks: When you exercise heavily, your feet sweat. This moisture can lead to blisters unless you wear synthetic or wool socks that wick away the moisture. In winter, this moisture can also lead to cold feet. It is best to avoid cotton socks during the winter.

The tips above should keep you comfortable while exercising outdoors in the coming months. However, f you are looking for indoor activities, be sure to check out the 12 Weeks of Christmas Challenge on Facebook Live every Thursday at 8am PST/11am EST. You can also see all the videos for past weeks here.

And if you are looking for additional help staying motivated during the winter season, considering joining the next session of Finding Joy in Motion starting November 17th. The program will meet for 24 weeks at 9:30am – 10:30 am PST/12:30pm – 1:30pm EST on Zoom.  You can learn more about Finding Joy in Motion here.

If the Shoe Fits

You may be wondering what type of shoes are best for running, walking, and hiking. Every foot (or set of feet) is different, so there are no absolute rules about shoes. I highly recommend shopping in person at a specialized running or outdoor adventure store where the sales people are trained in fitting you for shoes. These trained professionals can help you find the best shoe for your particular feet and needs. However, there are a few generalized tips I would like to share:

Mileage

Most running, walking and hiking shoes are designed to last 300-500 miles. If during the pandemic you have been walking 3-5 miles a day (good for you!), that means you will need to replace your shoes after 100 days. That’s about every 3 months! Rather than buying a new pair every 3 months, I recommend buying two pairs at the time (or more!) and rotating which ones you wear. Your feet will thank you for rotating your shoes regularly. And not only will your feet feel more comfortable, you will also have an easier transition when it is time to break in new shoes. It is never advisable to wear out one pair completely and then start with a brand new pair. Not only do I rotate the shoes I run in regularly, I also rotate my shoes in and out of the “run rotation”. What do I mean by that? Obviously, I use my best (read: newest) shoes for running. But before they wear out, but when they are no longer the “best” (say when they get to 250 miles of wear), I stop running in them and wear them while doing errands or casual walking.  So the last 150-200 miles are less intense on my feet (and the shoe) than the first 250.

Fit

As I mentioned earlier, every foot is different, but you will want to have plenty of room for your feet to expand while running, walking, and hiking. You may have heard about runners’ getting black toe nails. This occurs when the toe bumps up against the shoe mile after mile. Make sure you have plenty of space for your toes to move inside the shoe. When shopping for shoes, try them on at the end of the day, preferably after you’ve done some walking or running already so that you get the truest fit possible. Do not try on running shoes first thing in the day. Also, especially if you have wide feet like I do, look for a shoe with a wide toe box. That will also help make sure your toes are not pushing against the front of the shoe. Remember that since you will want room for your feet to expand while running, walking, and hiking, these shoes will typically be a larger size than your dress shoes. I typically wear a size 6 dress shoe and a size 8 running shoe. A good rule of thumb (pun intended) is to have at least a thumb’s length from the end of your toe to the end of your shoe.

Features

Aside from a good fit, there are a few additional features to look for when picking a shoe for running, walking, or hiking:

  • Breathability.  Sweat creates chaffing and blisters. If you have never experienced chaffing and blisters, trust me that you never want to! Good shoes are designed to make sure there is enough airflow around your feet to wick away sweat. Also, some trail running shoes and hiking shoes are specifically designed to let water drain out of them, which is a huge benefit if you run through puddles or across streams. This feature also helps a lot when running in rain.
  • Cushion.  How much cushion you should have is primarily a matter of preference. Personally, I am more comfortable with minimalist shoes that have very little cushion because I have found that literally “feeling the road” helps my running stride. But that is just my preference and yours may be different.  Many (ok, maybe “most”) people prefer more cushion than less, especially as they increase mileage. I recommend trying out the shoes in person to see which level of cushion feels best to you.
  • Support.  Shoes can offer support in the arch as well as minimize pronation (ankles rolling inward) and supination (ankles rolling outward). If you already know that you supinate (your shoes are more worn on the outside of the heel than the inside), you will want to buy a “neutral” shoe. If you tend to pronate, you will want to buy a “motion control” shoe. If you are not sure what type of support you need (if any), I recommend visiting a specialized running or outdoor adventure store as I mentioned before. There they will ask you to run around the store or on a treadmill so that they can analyze your stride first-hand and better advise you on what type of shoe is best for you.

And finally, a word about price. Running, walking, and hiking are relatively inexpensive sports, which is a great thing. Unlike cycling, snowboarding, and other sports, they do not require a lot of gear. Nevertheless, I highly recommend investing in good quality running shoes. These shoes will typically cost you $100 or more at full price, not taking into account sales or clearance discounts. While that may seem daunting at first, your feet will thank you for making the investment in their care and comfort.

The Proof is in the Data

Fitness trackers are an easy, objective way to track your workouts. I say “objective” because perception has a lot to do with how much we think we are working out.  Lately, my trusted Garmin Fenix 6, whom I love dearly, has been quite snarky and judgmental. I have gotten back to my run routine and I have been feeling pretty good about my progress. Nevertheless, my fitness tracker has been telling me I am losing fitness. At first, I just blew it off. It is just a computer after all, right? Obviously, my human brain knows more than my watch, no matter how sophisticated my watch may be. When I kept getting messages that I was losing fitness, I started making up a bunch of excuses: I’m running slower because I don’t want to suck in all the smoke, I’m running at altitude and that’s harder (never mind that my watch knows I’m at altitude and it is supposed to take that into account), I have not kept to my normal eating routine and that must be the reason…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

And then yesterday it finally hit me. I have ignored my strength training routine for MONTHS now!  Yes, I have been doing strength training. But ever since my crossfit gym closed in March for COVID, it just has not been the same. I have done some virtual workouts on Zoom, but not being in the same room with everyone has given me an excuse to slack off.  Since I do not have the same equipment at home, the weights I have been lifting have been much lighter than they would have been if I had been at Crossfit. I have gotten “busy” (oops! there’s another excuse!) and not done strength training as many days a week or for as long each time as I would have if the gym were open. Basically, I have just slacked off. At the beginning of COVID, I increased my running to compensate. But over time, I have migrated back to my normal running routine of 3 days a week and not done much else the other 4 days. I feel fine. Or so I think. Fitness is a lot like body weight. If you do not track it (by monitoring your health statistics or weighing yourself regularly), changes can be so gradual that you do not even notice them; until one day you cannot zip up your jeans, or you cannot lift the box of cat litter.  But apparently my fitness tracker knows better. By monitoring health statistics such as heart rate, oxygen intake, etc, it has identified that my fitness is declining despite my not even noticing…yet. An that is the pivotal word…YET. One day, I will find that lifting the 45 pound box of cat litter and carrying it up the stairs is a lot harder than it used to be. Actually, I have already noticed that.  But again, I let myself convince myself that it was not really true. I am just tired today, I told myself. I have not yet gotten to the day when the cat litter just will not make it up the stairs. But apparently, that day is on the horizon.  I guess I better get working on fixing that! And I have my fitness tracker to thank for alerting me.

While I am very attached to my trusty Garmin, there are many, many fitness trackers on the market and more are coming every day. Even Apple has gotten into the game as fitness trackers are really just mini-computers that you wear on your wrist.  So how do you know which is the best for you? Check out this fact-filled article that tested more than 12 different kinds of fitness trackers through over 200 hours of research. If you are curious about what fitness trackers actually do and how they do it, this article is a must read.

And if you are looking to expand your repertoire of exercises you can do indoors, without a gym, and without equipment, check out this video from Week 1 of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Challenge. Every Thursday from October 8 through December 25, I’ll be going live on Facebook at 8am PST/11am EST with a new exercise. By the end of the Challenge, you will have at least 12 new exercises to help you stay fit during the busy holiday season. Be sure to follow along here.

60 Seconds to No Excuses

Think you are too old, too out of shape, or too “anything else” to work out? In 2019, CNN reported:

 “I do pushups,” the 86-year-old [Ruth Bader Ginsburg] told an audience at Berkeley Law, adding that she planks, “both front and side,” as well as does weight-bearing exercises with her personal trainer.

According to news articles, Ginsburg—may she rest in peace and may her memory be a blessing—did not let chemotherapy treatments stop her from working out, nor did she let gym closures during the shelter-in-place stop her from staying in shape. Think you are too busy to work out? If Ruth Bader Ginsburg can make time, you probably can too.

That brings us to the next question…exactly why type of workout should you do? Laura McKenna, founder of Strength & Shield Coaching, recently posted an article that answered this question with “whatever form of exercise you will keep doing”. In other words, do something you enjoy. Because if you enjoy it, you are more likely to keep doing it. In her words,

“What’s most important is that you are consistently moving your body, doing something that is aligned with your personal health and fitness goals, that you’ll actually do because you enjoy it.”

I could not agree more!  As you probably know from these emails, I enjoy walking, running and hiking because they do not require a lot of equipment and give me the opportunity to be out in nature, which is my happy place. But a lot of people tell me they do not have time (or, perhaps, the desire) to leave the house. That is totally OK! There are plenty of activities you can do at home (even in small spaces) that will keep your body moving. Yoga and stretching immediately come to mind, and these are great activities to help you deal with the stress on your body of sitting all day.  Body weight strength training also comes to mind. And again, you do not need a lot of space or special equipment. Next week, WIM Run the World will launch the 12 Weeks of Christmas Challenge. Yup, October 8th is only 12 short weeks away from Christmas. If you have not yet started your Christmas shopping, you may want to get on that. However, my goal is not to stress you out about your holiday to-do list. It is to encourage you to find a way to fit fitness into your routine, which I hope will help you relieve stress as the holidays approach.

Each week until Christmas, I will be sending a video of a new exercise that you can do in a small space, with no special equipment, in less than 60 seconds. Yes, that’s right, in less than 60 seconds! I would like to encourage you take a break from your computer (or the TV, or Christmas shopping, or whatever it is you happen to be doing) and get up and move for 60 seconds. What have you got to lose? And you may even learn some exercises you did not know before that you may enjoy and that may motivate you to get up and move around once a day, if not more. You have nothing to lose (except maybe 60 seconds) and everything to gain!

And in the meantime, if you would like to take a walk, run or hike with me (virtually), remember that we meet 6 days a week and you can find the schedule and get the zoom link here.  And by the way, if you would like to know more about RBG’s workout, you can check out the book by her personal trainer here.  

Staying Fit During the Apocalypse

I hope you all are breathing clean air these days! Those of us on the west coast really got a taste of what the Apocalypse could be like.  The picture below was published in the San Francisco Chronicle and the entire Bay Area for hundreds of miles (including my town of Healdsburg) looked much the same. By the way, this is not sunset. It is mid-day! And according to the website purpleair.com, which measures the air quality index around the world, it was many times worse in Oregon and Washington.

SF Chronicle

Many of us were stuck inside for more than two weeks. As a result, several people reached out to me asking what to do when they could not get out for a walk, run or hike. Personally, I am a huge fan of exercising outside in nature because nature itself provides an additional boost of good vibes and really complements the endorphins that come from the exercise itself. But sometimes, getting outdoors just is not possible.  That does not mean, however, that we are destined to sit on the couch during these times!

Being indoors is a great time for strength training. Even if you do not have equipment at home, body weight exercises such as pushups, planks, sit ups, and squats can keep your muscles engaged so that you minimize your fitness loss.  If you want to add weight but do not have access to dumbbells, cans of soup, bags of dog food, and boxes of kitty litter work just as well.  And of course, there are plenty of cardio exercises that can be done at home and in small spaces such as jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and the often dreaded burpees.

If you are interested in expanding your repertoire of easy-to-do exercises, join me for the 12 Weeks of Christmas Challenge (starting October 8th) when I will demonstrate exercises you can do anywhere, anytime, with no equipment or simple things you already have around the house. Each exercise will have several options to take into account various fitness levels, so everyone will be able to do each one. I will be posting to Facebook Live on Thursday mornings at 8am PST (11am EST) and will send the videos out by email as well for those you who are anti-Facebook. If you want to follow along live, be sure to join our Facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/wimruntheworld. And yes, October 8th is just 12 weeks away from Christmas.  Shocking, I know!

Now you may be asking yourself, how important is this really?  So what if I spend two weeks sitting on the couch? That’s not going to kill me, right? True, you probably will not die (at least right away or as a direct result of spending two weeks on the couch). However, it will help you.  It is true, I promise! While I know this from personal experience, I also love reposting articles and research that shows how much being active can actually BENEFIT you. It is not just about preventing heart disease or obesity or other illnesses. Exercise can have a huge positive impact on not only your body, but your life.  And according to this article, it can even make you smarter! 

Walking Mistakes to Avoid for Weight Loss

Many people begin a walking routine with the goal of losing weight. Walking is a great low impact way to get and stay in shape. Below is an article by certified physical therapy assistant Marc Lindsay that outlines 10 walking mistakes to avoid if you want to lose weight and how to fix them.  I love this article because, well, I could not have said it better myself!  Not only do I follow these 10 rules in my personal fitness routine, they provide more benefit than just weight loss. These are great guidelines for starting any fitness routine whether or not your goal is to lose weight. Weight loss is just a “free” bonus! And who doesn’t like free bonuses?!?


1. You’re Never Varying Intensity


While walking at a leisurely pace is better than no exercise at all, research shows walking at a brisk pace is the best for torching calories and weight loss. If you find it hard to up the pace, try doing so for shorter intervals of 1–2 minutes, with a minute of recovery in between. This high intensity-style workout can help rev your metabolism and break through a weight-loss plateau.

[Carla’s note: even shorter bursts of higher intensity will be beneficial. So if 1-2 minutes is too much for you, don’t fret! Start with 15 or 30 seconds and work up to longer bursts over time.]


2. You’re Always Taking the Same Route


If you stick to the same route, over time your body adapts and it won’t be as challenging. To boost weight-loss (and keep things exciting) change your scenery a couple days a week. This could be a hilly trail, the beach, an urban hike or even a new park. Not only will you feel mentally refreshed, but different terrain also engages different muscle groups to burn more calories.


3. You’re Not Strength Training


Strength training is a key part of weight-loss since it helps build muscle, which burns more calories at rest compared to fat. Whether it’s with simple bodyweight exercises or using equipment like dumbbells or kettlebells, strength training can help you build the core, glute and hip strength needed to walk further and faster. It can also help prevent injury, which means you’ll reach your goals sooner.
 

4. You’re Not Using Proper Form


Poor walking technique slows your pace, causing you to tire more quickly, and potentially results in injury. Since this can affect how far and long you are able to walk (or keep you from walking altogether), working on improving your form is essential to losing weight. Pay attention to the following on your next walk:

  • Stride length: A lot of walkers overstride. If your steps are too long, your speed can suffer and more stress is placed on your joints. To check your stride length, lift a foot and lean forward. Where the foot naturally falls is where you should be striking the ground. Shorter steps increase your cadence and make it easier to walk faster.
  • Arm swing: Swinging your arms helps you get more power and propels your forward motion
  • Standing tall: Slouching as you get tired is a common problem when walking. While you might need to strengthen your core to make it happen [Carla’s note, see step 3 again!] , work on keeping your back straight and your head up.

[Carla’s note: poor walking and running technique is the number 1 cause of injury. Increasing activity should not be painful. With proper form, everyone can increase their fitness level injury-free.]

5. You’re Not Focusing on Proper Nutrition


A hard walking workout can sometimes make you feel hungrier than normal. While you want to fuel your walks with smart snacks, it’s important to pay attention to your overall diet, too, to make sure you’re in a calorie deficit for weight loss. Tracking your food intake and keep you motivated to reach your goals.



6. You’re Not Using Weights Correctly



Some people use ankle weights to burn more calories and make their workouts more challenging. However, if you prefer this style of workout, adding weights should be done with caution. Ankle and wrist weights can place extra stress on your lower back, hips and knees, causing muscle strains and other injuries. If you choose to use ankle weights, limit it to no more than one or two days per week. Keep it to easy walks, and avoid using them on days when you have a longer duration or high-intensity interval training. If you want to increase the intensity of your workouts without relying on ankle weights, trying hitting the trails, where hills and other challenging terrain can boost your calorie burn and help build strength.

[Carla’s note: See step 3 again! incorporating strength training into your fitness routine safely through the use of body weight exercises will improve your overall health. Personally, I am not a fan of ankle weights for the reasons Marc mentions above.]
 

7. You are Sedentary for Long Periods of Time


Studies show a direct correlation between sedentary behavior and obesity. Even if you are getting out for a daily walk, it will be harder to lose weight if you’re sedentary for the remainder of the day. Setting an alarm reminder to get up and walk for 5 minutes every hour can help counteract the negative effects of sitting. Moving more throughout your day will also up your step count, help you lose more weight and contribute to overall health.

8. You’re Setting Unrealistic Goals

Goals are almost always a good thing. They can provide motivation to exercise daily and push you to challenge yourself. However, it’s important to avoid habitually setting unrealistic goals. For instance, your goal may be to walk a marathon. But if the event you want to complete is only a month away and you’ve never walked more than a few miles at a time, it’s going to be difficult to ramp up your mileage for a marathon without getting injured. Failing to meet your goal or expectations can lead to disappointment and negative thinking.


9. You are Procrastinating
 

Whether it’s mindlessly surfing the internet or not using social media to your advantage, it can be easy to procrastinate and avoid your walk. If you don’t have a set routine it can be easy to say, “I’ll start tomorrow” or procrastinate until you end up shortening your workout or skipping it altogether.

To avoid procrastinating, set a schedule and try your best to stick to it. Whether it’s waking up early, exercising during your lunch hour or making a post-dinner walk a habit, you’ll be more likely to make your daily walk a consistent part of your routine if you set aside a dedicated window of time when you can make it happen. If you miss one day, don’t beat yourself up, simply resume your routine as soon as possible.

10. You are Not Going Long

At least once per week, try to include a longer walk. This could be a weekend day when you have more time or first thing in the morning. You can even include your family (on part of or all of your long walk) to help you stay on track. Each week, increase the distance by about a mile, or 15 minutes. Not only will a longer walk improve your stamina, but it will also help you build up to increasingly longer distances and burn more calories in the process.

If you want to learn more about how to incorporate these guidelines and more into building an effective fitness routine for yourself, join me for the Finding Joy in Motion Program, starting this Tuesday, September 15th.