I realize that I’m tackling a very broad topic here. It’s like titling a blog post “Food: What should you eat?” My aim is to provide you with some guidelines to make your own choice, rather than give you a precise method for designing the perfect exercise program for yourself. Just like nutrition, what you learn about yourself while experimenting with different types of exercise helps to clarify what you prefer. And just like eating new foods, you never know whether or not you like it until you taste it! Or try it in this case. Don’t taste the dumbbells people; they don’t clean those very often…
The USDA recommends engaging in physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes most days of the week to reduce the risk of chronic disease. That is only to reduce risk of disease. If you want to lose weight or maintain a weight loss you’re looking at 60-90 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every single day. That’s a pretty big time commitment! If you attempt to maintain an exercise routine for an hour every single day and there’s something in it that’s not sustainable or tolerable for you, you’re going to be one unhappy camper pretty quickly. The most important thing about choosing a fitness routine is that you actually do it, so it has to be viable. So here are some things to consider to find your exercise love match:
What do you like to do? This sounds obvious, but some people are under the impression that exercise can’t possibly be fun. Think about activities you enjoy, and see how you could incorporate that into a fitness routine. If you enjoy going out dancing, a dance fitness class such as Zumba or Nia might work for you. If you have a very stressful job, it might be a good idea to go to a boxing gym and take your frustrations out on the heavy bag for a couple of hours. If you have a zeal for trying new things a highly varied workout such as Crossfit may capture your fancy.
Are you more motivated to perform alone or in a group? When it comes to physical activity, you’ve got the option of doing it by yourself or in a group environment. Going it alone can be challenging for accountability. If you are the only one expecting you to show up for your workout, utilizing the snooze bar can be very tempting. A group environment such as a fitness class or a team may encourage you to show up as well as try your best. If you’re recovering from an injury or totally new to exercise, personal training might be best for you. However this can also be cost-prohibitive, which brings me to our next topic: money!
How much are you willing to invest? The cost of exercise ranges from free to pricey. Starting a walking group with your neighbors doesn’t cost any money. Personal training at a high-end gym could run a couple of hundred dollars per session. I guarantee all of it is cheaper than medical treatment for chronic disease from a sedentary lifestyle. Just like working out in a group, sometimes spending money on your workout can help hold you accountable to your physical activity goals. At most of the fitness classes I teach, students have to sign up in advance and there is a fee if they cancel less than 24 hours before the class. This is not just a cruel ploy to take your money, it’s also meant to ensure that students stick to their routine.
What is available in your area? Where you live is going to have an impact on what’s feasible. If you live in a suburban area with no sidewalks the walking group idea I mentioned above might not fly. If you live in a rural area with no Zumba classes nearby my dance fitness suggestion could be unrealistic. For those who would like guidance but have limited accessibility an online platform may be the best. What’s available near your home? What’s located near your job? Is there anything on your way to your job?
What will work with your schedule? This is another one that seems obvious but is often overlooked. If I decide I’m going to take a yoga class every day, and I live in a town where there is precisely one yoga class every morning at 8am, and I have to be at work every morning by 8:15am, is that going to work out in the long term? Not likely! I either have to find a yoga video podcast or find a different workout.
Hopefully these guidelines will grant you some insight on a past or future fitness plan. A sustainable physical activity routine is important for maintaining health, happiness, and longevity.
When monitoring a client’s weight maintenance, I look at it in terms of a simplified health trifecta: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Rest. Are they eating good foods? Are they exercising a healthy amount? Are they resting and relaxing adequately? If someone is able to maintain a wholesome balance between these three categories, their quality of life is sure to show it!
I recently did a presentation on the use and properties of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) for school. Naturally preparing for it involved slogging through oodles of documents from the Food and Drug Administration on labeling and safety requirements- oh goody! I won’t bore you with any details, but I did come across documentation of an interesting little battle that took place in 1997 between the Sugar Association, the National Soft Drink Association, and the FDA. Here is my recap in layman’s terms:
The Sugar Association filed a complaint with the FDA because they felt that soft drink labeling was dishonest. They found that soft drink companies were listing “sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup” in their ingredients, when in fact they were really only using HFCS to sweeten their stuff.
You may have seen an “and/or” ingredient on a nutrition label before. Check out that potato chip bag- it usually says something like “soybean and/or canola oil” in the ingredients. This is because the company may use either one, specifically whatever one is cheaper when they are making their chips. The FDA states that this can only be done with fats or oils, and only when they are not the predominant ingredient in the food. Since your potato chips are mostly potato, the FDA allows them to be non-specific with the oil used.
The Sugar Association got upset because (1) Sugar is not a fat or an oil, (2) Sweetener is the primary ingredient in soft drinks, and (3) The beverage industry had stopped buying their sugar but was still claiming to use it on their labels!
So what did the FDA have to say about it? Essentially that they knew it was happening but they didn’t have the time or money to deal with it:
“The Agency has not initiated enforcement actions… Because of limited agency resources and because this issue does not involve food safety, the agency will likely maintain this position.”
It’s important to remember that the FDA’s primary concern when it comes to label regulations is food safety. They are not omnipotent; they can’t make sure that every company is entirely honest all the time. When it comes to your food, asking questions and buying from manufacturers you trust is the best way to ensure clarity!
If you'd like to see the full report from the FDA you can read it here.
I got together with some fellow nutrition students at Bastyr University
and made a series of short educational videos in honor of Food Day. They cover a range of nutritious topics from healthy cooking to nutrition label reading. For more information on Food Day check out their website
I’ve been involved in a love affair with coffee for well over a decade now. I’m a fan of the whole experience: the aroma, the taste, the ritual of preparation- I’m practically running into its warm embrace as soon as I wake up in the morning.
Unfortunately, during this last year of grad school my relationship with coffee took a decidedly unhealthy turn. I began to depend on the zip coffee provides all day long, not just in the morning. I found myself drinking it later and later in the day, in stronger varieties and larger quantities. Chemical dependency never ends well, so I decided this summer would be a good time to pull in the reins on my coffee addiction.
Anyone who’s ever had the experience of weaning themselves off of a powerful stimulant knows how challenging this can be. So what do you drink when it’s 2pm and you’re dragging yourself through the remainder of your day? Here’s what I brew up when I need a little kick in the pants but don’t want a caffeine buzz.
- Ginseng: This root has been used in Asia to increase energy for hundreds of years, and is available in a number of teas. So far modern research does not support the claim that ginseng decreases fatigue, but there haven’t been many well-designed studies that examined it closely. I’m a huge fan of the placebo effect, and Montana Tea & Spice Trading Co. makes a fantastic Ginseng Mint Tea that tastes wonderful on ice with just a drop or two of honey. This tea is available in bulk at Madison Market in Capitol Hill.
- Rooibos: Also known as Red Bush Tea, this fragrant beverage is the national tea of South Africa. It’s caffeine-free and contains a number of helpful antioxidants. Again the research doesn’t reflect anything yet about the energizing effects of this tea, but it has been used in folk medicine to increase energy and alertness. I’ve been partaking of Equal Exchange’s Organic Vanilla Rooibos Tea as of late; it smells like dessert and has a warm earthy flavor.
- Tulsi: Also known as Holy Basil. This herb is originally from India and has been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s not overwhelming, but my research itch is about to be scratched! There is some evidence in animal studies that this herb may have stimulatory effects and can reduce stress to the immune system. Besides all that, it has a lovely earthy and slightly spicy taste. My favorite is Organic India’s Peppermint Tulsi Tea. This tea is often sold out at the stores that carry it, so now when I see it I grab at least two boxes!
- Sportea: I saved this tea for last because it’s not strictly caffeine-free. Sportea is a blend of black and green tea with some other herbs (including Ginseng) and flavoring. Because black and green teas contain caffeine, I contacted the company to inquire about their decaffeination processes. There are a number of ways to get caffeine out of plant matter- some less nasty than others. Many companies use harsh chemical solvents to remove it. As an example Starbucks* uses dichloromethane, an organic compound that is metabolized to carbon monoxide in humans, to decaffeinate their coffee beans. Some may say that I would have time to get enough rest and wouldn’t need caffeine if I didn’t spend all my time emailing tea companies to inquire about their chemical processing, but those people are crazy. Back to the matter at hand: Sportea doesn’t actually decaffeinate their tea, they just blend it with enough herbal tea so that it is “decaf-equivalent.” That means it contains about 3mg of caffeine per cup, as compared to 40mg in a cup of coffee. Which is precisely why I love this tea- it allows me to slowly wean myself away from my addiction rather than going cold turkey! Additionally it has a pleasant lemony flavor, and is good hot or iced.
*As per a letter from Starbucks Customer Relations in 2009, I’m not sure if it has changed since then. Also I’m not saying here that decaf coffee has carbon monoxide in it, I’m just saying that a potentially hazardous chemical is used in the processing of the food. Don’t be silly.