Thursday, August 25

The Hidden Benefit of Exercise

Weight loss, increased muscle mass, improved mood, more energy, better sleep—these are the often-touted benefits of exercise. And they are of course, true. But there’s a hidden benefit that gets lost in the shuffle. And for me, it’s the reason to do it.

Last weekend, we joined a group of friends at Smith Mountain Lake near Roanoke, Virginia.

Since we were on the lake boating activities dominated our days, especially tubing—being dragged behind a boat at 25 mph on an inner tube. This is surely a punch line to the Jeff Foxworthy joke, “you might be a red neck…,” but we love it anyway.

A seasoned tuber myself, I know that the secret to staying on the thing is balanced weight. (I learned this through years of battle with my father on Clark Hill Lake in Georgia. As the driver of our boat my father’s goal was clear: throw me off the tube, by whatever means possible. My goal: stay on, do not let him win. He always won. Turns out no matter how young and stupid you are, the combination of a 50 hp motor sending the tube, and you, sideways into the wake of a cabin cruiser will always toss you off. In dramatic fashion.)

Even though my father wasn’t driving our boat this past weekend, all drivers have the same evil sense of purpose. As I watched my two daughters climb on the tube, Amanda my soon-to-be fourteen-year-old and Janelle my eight-year-old, it was clear the tube was going to capsize. It leaned dangerously to the left, toward Amanda. There was only one solution. I climbed aboard as well, sandwiching Janelle between Amanda and myself.

Asking our friend Joe, the driver, to please take it easy on us we bounced over the boat wake, careened around corners as he turned the boat and squealed with delight and fear. But we didn’t fall off. (Ah, the beauty of a balanced tube. And a nice driver.)

Our ride ended, Janelle climbed aboard the boat, but Amanda and I stayed on for a more extreme ride. We soared across the wake and bounced through the waves, our arms straining the keep us on the tube, our legs flailing about skimming the surface of the water. Amanda laughed while I screamed like Janet Leigh in the movie Psycho.

Joe couldn’t toss us either.

Later that day I continued my daredevil behavior, opting to ride a jet ski with my friend Mike at the helm. More wake jumping and screaming ensued.

Finally, as an end to the day, I tried water skiing. In my youth I could slalom ski—use only one ski. But that was years ago. Nevertheless, I gave it a shot. To my delight, I popped up behind the boat (on my second try) on one ski. Hallelujah! Cutting back and forth across the wake I felt fantastic. Then my legs turned to jelly, my arms started to burn and I slammed into the water, face first.

I immediately resurfaced, threw up my arms and screamed, “YEAH! I DID IT!”

And that’s my point to this long story. I did it.

Did my muscles ache afterwards, of course, but not excessively.

I know there will come a day when my body really can’t do the things I want it to do, but with consistent exercise I plan on pushing that day as far out into the future as possible.

Your goal may not be to water ski, but being able to carry bags of groceries up the stairs or a sick child to bed are also possible when your body is strong.

It’s the ability to accomplish these every day activities that are the hidden benefits of exercise.

Wednesday, August 17

What Was I Thinking?

I hate cardio workouts. And I haven't been shy about exploring this hatred on this blog. (Remember my blog “The Least of Multiple Evils?”)

But I do know that it’s good for me. One of the tenets of the In8 program is that you need cardio and strength training for good health. Honestly though, I don’t do it as often as I should. It’s the one thing that when I get overwhelmed and feel my schedule getting tight, I cancel.

My thought process goes something like this, “Ooh, I have a deadline tomorrow/toothache/hang nail/bad hair day/four unseen episodes of Glee on my DVR, I can’t possibly make that cycling class tonight. I’ll have to skip it.”

Ah yes, my excuses are endless, but creative.

Knowing my propensity to sabotage myself, I suggested to my trainer Marq that we incorporate cardio into my strength training workouts with him. Kill two birds with one stone and all that jazz.

With a sly, evil little grin Marq said, “Sure, we can do that.”

Next thing I know, in between weight lifting exercises, I’m doing Jump Squats. (Squat, touch the ground with your hands and then explode up, jumping as high as you can like you’re trying to dunk a basketball) And some hideous thing called Fast Feet. (This is that football player speed drill where you stand, legs a bit wider than your hips, bend your knees, crouch over a bit and pump your legs up and down as fast as you can.)

After four sets of Jump Squats and four sets of Fast Feet I was hyperventilating.

“You alright?” Marq asked. His voice tinged with genuine concern.

“I’m (gasp) fine. (gasp) Just need (gasp) to catch (gasp) my (gasp) breath,” I wheezed.

As I paced around the room making sure to keep my head above my heart so I wouldn’t pass out, I thought, Who’s bright idea was this? 

Oh yeah, it was mine.


This is what I get for not doing cardio on my own. I get Marq standing over me with his stopwatch and telling me to “hit it.”

The upshot though, (yes there are some positives) is that I’m doing interval training—alternating high intensity activities with less intense ones—and according to the Mayo Clinic, there are some big benefits to this.

1.     You'll burn more calories. The more vigorously you exercise, the more calories you'll burn — even if you increase intensity for just a few minutes at a time.
2.     You'll improve your aerobic capacity. As your cardiovascular fitness improves, you'll be able to exercise longer or with more intensity. Imagine finishing your 60-minute walk in 45 minutes — or the additional calories you'll burn by keeping up the pace for the full 60 minutes.
3.     You'll keep boredom at bay. Turning up your intensity in short intervals can add variety to your exercise routine.
4.     You don't need special equipment. You can simply modify your current routine.
Well, I can vouch for number three. My workouts certainly aren’t boring! But the best reason for doing it is number one—you burn more calories. Who doesn’t want that!
Even though it’s killing me and I’m considering packing an oxygen tank into my gym bag, I’m sticking with this interval training thing. 
If you're interested in cranking up your workout, click here for more information on interval training.

Wednesday, August 10

Well, now what?

A friend recently asked me how I transitioned from the In8 program (an 8-week weight loss/lifestyle change program I did last year) to a “normal” lifestyle.

Good question.

When I enrolled in the In8 program I was fully committed to it. I attended all the sessions, worked out the required 5 times a week, counted my calories and drank my water. I was a model student.

Well, with the exception of continuing my coffee habit. Oh, and the occasional glass of wine. And, come to think of it, I never really did get into the meditation thing. (I was supposed to meditate once daily for stress relief.)

Okay, so, except for the coffee, wine and mediating, I was great. (What can I say? No one’s perfect.)

But then, before I knew it, the program ended and I was on my own.

My first thought was, “THANK GOD THAT’S OVER! No more checking in with the In8 staff. I’m throwing away that stupid piece of paper that says how much and of what I am allowed to eat and I’m definitely not drinking any more of that UltraMeal stuff. Woo hoo!!”

Without someone watching over me, I was free. That’s the good news, and the bad news. Now that I was only accountable to myself what was I going to do?

It’s been a little over a year since my 8-week program and I’m happy to report, I’ve kept most of the weight off. (I’ve only gained four pounds back.)

The journey’s been full of highs and lows and I’ve learned a lot.

Here’s are my key lessons for managing the transition from a structured lifestyle change program to your new “normal” life.

1) Know thyself.

First and foremost you have to find things that fit with your tastes, time constraints and personality.

For example, one of the tenets of the program is to eat breakfast. I hate eating in the morning. I’d rather sit quietly with my coffee until about 10:00 am. However, I realized that if I don’t eat something I’m starving by 10:30, at which point I’m more likely to reach for something unhealthy. As a compromise, I eat light. A protein bar, small bowl of cereal or some oatmeal works for me. It’s enough to fuel my body but not so much that it completely repulses me.

Another example of knowing thyself, relates to working out.

I am a pleaser. I don’t like to let people down. Unless of course that person is me. I will renege on promises made to myself in a heartbeat, but every other human on the planet, no way.

Recognizing this, I decided to continue working out with Marq, the personal trainer with the In8 program. Knowing that I have a scheduled workout with him gets me to the gym. Or more accurately, my insatiable need to be liked gets me to the gym. If I stood Marq up he wouldn’t like me and that would kill me. Not to mention that that would be rude and the second most important thing to me is being polite.

Don’t let people down and be nice. That’s my mantra.

Tapping into this piece of insight about myself has resulted in maintaining my twice-weekly workouts for over a year. I only miss a workout if I’m out of town or sick.

If you’re self- motivated, great. But if you’re struggling with maintaining your workout routine, find a gym buddy or hire a trainer. Having someone else push you to be accountable is a good thing.

2) Snack your way to good health.

I never used to snack, but one of principals of the program is to eat five small meals a day as this allows your body to maintain an even blood sugar level.

Now my house is stocked with healthy snacks. There’s always a bowl of nuts on the kitchen counter, protein bars in the pantry and fruit and yogurt in the fridge. When I get a little hungry, instead of saying, “I’ll just wait until dinner,” I grab a light snack. It keeps me satisfied and prevents me from overeating at the next meal.

3) Planning is a necessary evil.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that “plan” is a four-letter word. People hate it. And here’s the dirty truth. You have to plan ahead to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

If you wait to think about what to make for dinner when you come home from work, you’re sunk. Most likely you’ll go out to eat or order take-out. And those options tend to be higher in fat and calories than what you’d cook at home.

I plan out my weekly menu on Sunday, taking into account any family evening activities, and then I shop for all the ingredients. The weekly menu sits on my recipe stand next to the stove, so there’s no guesswork. On Monday I look at the menu, grab the ingredients and make dinner. Easy breezy.

Planning ahead is necessary for your workouts too. Like planning dinner on the fly, trying to grab a quick workout when it fits into your schedule is a disaster. Schedule those ahead of time. I’ve found that keeping my workouts at the same time every week helps me stick to them. Knowing that Tuesday and Friday mornings are blocked out for exercise, I plan other activities around those times.

4) Be calorie conscious

While I don’t track my daily calories any more, I am aware of high-calorie foods and I choose lighter versions.

For example, creamy salad dressings are loaded with fat and therefore calories, so I choose oil-based instead. Grilled or baked meat is better than deep-fried. Low-fat dairy products are better than full-fat versions.

When dining out, if I’m unsure of a meal I’ll Google its calorie count. CalorieKing is a great web site for calorie information.

5) Splurge a little

There’s nothing wrong with indulging on occasion. Food is good! That’s why we love it. So go a little crazy, and then get back on track.

Monday, August 1

Food Spotlight: Tomato

Nothing says summer like the tomato. Cherry, heirloom, grape, beefsteak. The varieties are endless and so too appear to be their health benefits.

The most lauded compound in tomatoes is lycopene, a carotenoid touted for cancer-preventing properties. The research is strongest for linking lycopene to a lower risk of lung, stomach and prostate cancers. But studies also suggest it could be beneficial in lowering the risk of cancers of the cervix, breast, oral cavity, pancreas, colorectum and esophagus.

While lycopene gets all the press, researchers are unclear about whether it's really lycopene that’s at work or the interaction of lycopene with other compounds in the tomato that provide the benefits. Thus to get the most out of it, scientists recommend eating tomatoes and tomato products rather than taking lycopene supplements.

When summer’s over, don’t fret. Processed tomatoes (e.g., canned, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce and even ketchup) contain higher levels of lycopene than fresh tomatoes. So you can enjoy the health benefits all year long.

In addition to lycopene, tomatoes are packed with traditional nutrients. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A and fiber. A cup of fresh tomatoes provides 57.3% of the daily value (DV) for vitamin C, 22.4% of the DV for vitamin A, and 7.9% of the DV for fiber.

How to pick a good one
Choose tomatoes that have a deep, rich color. Not only is this a sign of a delicious tasting tomato but the deep color also indicates that it has a greater supply of lycopene.

Tomatoes should be well shaped and smooth skinned with no wrinkles, cracks, bruises or soft spots. Ripe tomatoes will yield to slight pressure and will have a noticeably sweet fragrance.

How to store them
Store tomatoes at room temperature since they are sensitive to cold and it impedes their ripening process. They will keep for up to a week, depending upon how ripe they are when purchased.

To hasten the ripening process, place them in a paper bag with a banana or apple. The ethylene gas these fruits emit increases the tomato's maturation. If the tomatoes begin to become overripe, but you’re not yet ready to eat them, place them in the refrigerator (if possible, in the butter compartment which is a warmer area), where they will keep for one or two more days.

Removing them from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before using will help them to regain their maximum flavor and juiciness.

There are hundreds of ways to enjoy tomatoes. In summer I like to eat them raw, drizzled with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Or, for a yummy summertime soup, try this cold gazpacho recipe.


Asian Gazpacho (from the In8 recipe book)

6 tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped (or 1 28 oz. can chopped tomatoes)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp. dry sherry
2 Tbls. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 Tbls. light soy sauce
4 scallions, white part only
4 thin slivers of fresh ginger
¼ - ½ tsp. Chinese chili sauce, depending on your taste
2 limes

·      Place the tomatoes over low heat in a sauce pan.
·      Add in the vegetable broth, sherry, cilantro, soy sauce, scallions and ginger.
·      Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
·      Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.
·      Puree in a food processor or blender.
·      Chill.
·      Just before serving stir in the chili sauce, the zest from one lime and the juice from both limes.