Not immune to the gloom (but stepping it up)

Stairs

It’s been raining for weeks.

WEEKS. Not being dramatic. We had a rare respite yesterday with a 70-degree day and sunshine, but aside from that? RAIN. Rain every day. Every. single. day.

Though I spend almost the entire day indoors, I’m not immune to the gloom. Our office moved to a high-rise in March with a large expanse of windows (natural light, thank goodness), but my view now? Clouds. Gray clouds. Pouring rain.

As it is for many folks, I’m sure, the weather can definitely set the tone for the day.

Especially when I am, for the first time in ages, wanting to move.

In my Christmas stocking last year was a pedometer — a gift from my parents I embraced with gusto. As a competitive person obsessed with numbers and tracking, it was so interesting to see how much — or, in my case, how little — I walked each day.

For Mother’s Day, Oliver (er, Spencer) surprised me with my humble pedometer’s sleek older sibling: the FitBit One, which links to an app that gives me graphs and charts of my activity each day. Charts! For an English major, I get stupidly excited about graphs, man. And having a tangible way to map my progress as I try to move more each day has been really gratifying. And fun.

My step-count is nothing to get excited about. While the American Heart Association recommends walking 10,000 steps a day, I’ve crossed that finish line once since January. I make a concentrated effort to take the stairs at work, take breaks in the afternoons, even force myself to make an extra lap around the building before I head in the front door.

During our short-lived reunion with the sun yesterday, I actually took a 20-minute walk along the meandering sidewalks outside our building: an extra 1,400 steps.

But on an average day, I’m still doing about 4,000-5,000 steps — well shy of the 10,000 step goal.

Purely for selfish reasons, I recently researched how to add steps to your work day for a feature in our health magazine. SparkPeople had some great tips, and this one was my favorite:

“Be Inefficient. We are all so busy that it makes sense to multitask, combining several errands in a single trip, ordering takeout from the computer we’re already sitting in front of, or carrying that armload of clothes + toys + shoes + toilet paper upstairs in a single trip.

While technology has made a lot of things easier on us, what if you deliberately tried to be inefficient — any time it involved being on your feet. On days that I know I’ve been less active, I choose to be inefficient as a way to get more activity in while getting my daily chores or work done. For example, I’ll carry the laundry downstairs in three smaller trips instead of one oversized basket, or pick up and put away one item in the house at a time instead of filling my arms in an efficient way.

Although it can be difficult to justify taking more time to do basic things when you’re busy, I justify it to myself by thinking of it as multitasking: I’m getting activity in at the same time as my chores.”

I’m the person half-collapsed under a pile of grocery bags because I hate having to make two trips from the car, so this? This spoke to me. Spoke to my essence of very being. In the morning, I often come close to wrenching my back out because I carry my purse, laptop bag, lunch bag, Oliver’s bottles and the car seat out before I come back for the baby.

And you know what that is? Crazy.

I’m getting better. Thinking more. Being conscious of how little I normally move, how much better I feel with some activity and enjoying the ripple effect of wanting to eat better when I’m doing better with my movement.

Just wearing the FitBit is a huge motivator for me: knowing I’m earning a few extra steps (and credit for the stairs!) when I have to haul my rump back up for another diaper or my misplaced cell phone makes me . . . well, less irritable, actually.

And maybe that was Spencer’s plan all along. šŸ˜‰


Any favorite tricks or tips for moving more during your day?
Spill your secrets. We’re all friends here!


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If I were waiting for a sign, it would be that number

{Image via Google Images}


I totally fell off the Zumba wagon.

After getting excited about finally finding My Thing — some form of exercise I actually like — I was a faithful Zumba attendee. My friend and I went for months (and actually, she never stopped). I had my corner of the room where I could see the instructor well. When I began to feel better and more fit, motivation cam easily. For the first time in my life, I actually felt like I could move.

But.

Life gets in the way. There’s no real reason why I stopped. My weekly routine was thrown off following a death in the family, and then my motivation scattered like glitter in the wind. I was more likely to leave work and drown my anxieties in crocheting or wandering around than actually exercising, and I stopped making class a priority. My sister bought a Zumba DVD, and we dance to that occasionally, but exercising for 45 minutes once a week isn’t going to accomplish anything.

At a doctor’s visit last week, the nurse had me step on a scale. Totally routine, of course, but I was just there to get some cold medicine — and unprepared for that number. People say, “Oh, I didn’t realize how much weight I’d gained until I saw myself in photos” — and I certainly have cringed at the way I’ve looked recently.

But reality didn’t sink in until I saw that ugly number. The highest it’s ever, ever been.

I’m finally realizing I can make excuses or make things happen. I could sit around all day coming up with reasons why I’m too something to exercise — too tired, too busy, too tied-up, too overextended — but the truth is this: we make time for what matters.

I ended my month-long exercise dry spell by going to class on Thursday. It was hard. Any momentum I developed in the four months I went seemed to have evaporated, leaving me stiff and awkward. Some of the movements came back to me and a few of the routines were the same, but for the most part? It felt like starting over.

But maybe that’s a good thing.

Starting over, and starting again. Better this time.

It is time.

Finding ‘My Thing’ — or, an adventure in Zumba

I’m a shapely woman. I recently heard a lady lamenting the fact that her “thighs can touch” and could only snort with laughter that . . . well, that someone could have thighs that don’t touch. I mean, really — what must that be like?

I don’t know. I don’t bother to ask myself impossible questions.

Still, I can’t play off my weight with bravado all the time. I’m a confident person and know I’m not unattractive, but I’m not always happy with how I look. But who is, right? I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone not looking to drop five pounds or so.

Or, you know. Forty.

My boyfriend and I joined a gym last year and went pretty faithfully . . . for a while. We switched gyms, Spencer moved, I went on several trips in a short period of time and, before we knew it, our routine was destroyed. My one-time enthusiasm for treadmills had worn thin. Mustering up the energy to work out became torture — and gradually, we just stopped going.

You know those Kaiser Permanente commercials — the ones that encourage you to “Find Your Thing”? There has to be one form of exercise that interests you, they say. There has to be something that doesn’t feel like a new form of suffering invented solely to destroy you. You just have to experiment until you find out what it is.

I know how important it is for me to get to and maintain a healthy weight. Since I’m also short, my ideal weight is ridiculous. Medically, my ideal weight is between 107 and 141 pounds. I haven’t been around 120 pounds since middle school, and I can’t envision getting back into 13-year-old me shape anytime soon.

And you know what? I wouldn’t want to. This isn’t about being skinny. This is about feeling confident in clothes that aren’t bursting at the seams, and being able to travel without feeling like the slowest thing goin’. This is about setting myself up for healthy habits that will last a lifetime. Though I was briefly scared straight while trying to fit into a bridesmaid dress for my friend’s beautiful wedding in September, I fell back into old habits as soon as the nuptials were over.

But I’ve found something.

I’ve foundĀ A Thing.

My friend Sandy — officemate; fellow reader — is often trying to find Her Thing, too. Over the years we’ve been seated within eyesight of each other for eight hours a day, every day, we’ve shared our battles with weight and exercise and continuously sought something that might work. Last month, Sandy heard about a dance fitness class held two nights a week. It was conveniently located for both of us and, though I’m probably the world’s most awkward dancer, I agreed to give it a shot. You could pay by the class — no commitment.

So now I Zumba.

For the first few classes, I was so afraid of embarrassing myself that I could barely follow the moves. Our instructor is young and sassy, friendly and encouraging, but I was petrified of looking really stupid. Sandy and I stood at the back of the room. I focused only on completing the dance moves in a class of more than 50 women, most of whom seemed to know far more than me.

But time has passed. I’ve gotten into a groove. After more than a month, I find myself relaxing into the routines and recognizing the songs. Once stiff and uncomfortable, I’m now relaxed on the dance floor. Many women joined the class after us and we’re no longer the “new ones.”

And last Thursday, Sandy and I were almost at the front of the room.

Nothing gave me a jolt like seeing a gaggle of giggly teenage girls in the back of the room. They were tall and lean and wearing the shortest little short shorts you’ve ever seen, bare midriffs on display. Mind you, the average age in our class is probably, oh — 40, I’d guess. Our little buddies thought they were the hottest things going.

When the first pump of the music began, I felt myself drift into the beat. Sandy and I often laugh during routines, refusing to take the whole thing too seriously. Zumba is really just dancing like crazy, and it actually is fun. And I felt strong and fit. As we segued intoĀ routines I knew by heart, I got a glimpse of the teens again.

They had no idea what they were doing.

Our instructor is all about “Zumba love.” I know it’s not nice to judge people who are just trying to work out and have fun — same as me. But did it feel good to see those skinny chickadees completely dumb-founded in the middle of the room, wickedly uncomfortable and unable to land aĀ move correctly? My size-12 tail was a-shakin’ while they tried not to bump into one another, unable to catch up.

I couldn’t help it. I smiled.

Confessions of a non-gym rat

“Fitness” has always been a four-letter word for me. My past “workout” routines have involved making the circuitous route from my favorite easy chair to the fridge for more spinach and artichoke dip, or the short walk from my desk to the restroom. Sometimes, if I’m feeling super adventurous, I park a little farther away from the office door . . . you know, for the extra walk. Or I get a salad instead of a mayo-drenched sandwich.

But these were all very minor, sporadic changes. Only twice have I made a concentrated effort to get in better shape, lose some weight and generally feel better about myself — and once was by accident. In college, my campus was enormous; the miles it took me to walk from my car in a distant parking lot to class were what allowed me to eat Chick-fil-A for lunch daily and still lose weight. My sophomore year at the University of Maryland, I dropped ten pounds without blinking.

And then I got spoiled.

In the post-college world, of course, I’m not walking uphill in the cold or jogging to a class across campus in five minutes or less. I’m getting up and dressed, then going to work and plunking down at my desk chair — where my behind sits for four hours or more at a stretch. I’m not moving. I’m not active. And I think the way I feel reflects that.

My dad warned me this would happen. In your first “real world” office job, it seems, you’re completely stationary — and that’s not exactly conducive to keeping your weight down. I debated doing something about it years ago but never felt motivated . . . until I broke up with a boyfriend. And needed a way to channel my aggression/boredom.

So exercise it was.

I bought a series of walking DVDs by Leslie Sansone, which I’ve written about before. They’re awesome. And for a year or so, I was very religious about doing a two- or three-mile walk nightly. But, you know . . . eventually, I became bored. Complacent. And after getting back from a trip to California, I completely lost my momentum. Then stopped.

For the past few months, Spencer and I have been sporadically going to the gym together. It’s free for him at work, so no commitment, and just $5 for me each visit. This worked off and on each week but, coupled with a 45-minute drive after work to his building, it just wasn’t practical. For us to achieve some sort of real fitness routine, it has to be convenient and sustainable. We have to be able to go several times per week.

Enter the gym.

Yes, friends, I’m now a keychain-card-carrying member of a local gym. I go in and use a locker room. I own workout pants and can use an elliptical. On Sunday, Spencer and I had our inaugural one-hour session and left feeling great. Sweaty, tired and decidedly not glamorous . . . but great.

I’m not going to put pressure on myself to have XYZ complete by a certain time . . . but I would really like to lose some weight before ordering my bridesmaid dress for Erin’s wedding in September. I just want to feel good about me. And with Spencer just as committed to regular gym time, I think we’ll really make a go of this. Our plan is to go every other day after work, and on either a Saturday or Sunday. I’ll have my iPod in hand.

And yes, sometimes I do wear my houndstooth coat to the gym. I’m still me — gym rat or no.

Book review: ‘Fitness 9 to 5’ by Shirley Archer

fitness_9_to_5Anyone who finds themselves plastered to a rolling desk chair eight hours a day will certainly appreciate this small gem from Shirley Archer: a book of quick, easy fitness exercises for the cubicle dweller.

I came across a copy of Fitness 9 to 5: Easy Exercises For the Working Week at a HomeGoods, of all random places, and quickly perused the whole thing. Easily skimmed in a half hour or so, I absorbed many of the tips without any trouble and have put them to practical use at work! Archer includes tips on strengthening specific areas of the body, highlights the calorie count you’ll be burning by completing each exercise and easily guides you through the motions with very specific instructions — and awesome illustrations, done by Chuck Gonzales.

The book is laid out chronologically as you hurry through your day — starting with slight exercises you can do before even getting out of bed and guiding you all the way through your commute home. It’s also full of tips on varying the movements as you get used to them, or changing them up a little if they’re too strenuous. I love the way Archer’s book has made me look at fitness in a new way — and helped me realize that I don’t have to be jogging in place or doing crunches in order to see some results. And since I’m actively exercising nightly, these moves are an excellent way to supplement my workouts.

My personal favorites include exercises for the wrists, designed to increase range of motion and relax sore muscles. Everyone who has spent the day typing at a rapid-fire pace can appreciate that one! I also love Archer’s suggestions for ways to squeeze the exercises in — like a squatting move that can be completed in the 30 seconds it takes to wait for your computer to boot up in the morning! Since I hate waiting for a computer to turn on probably more than anything in the world, I’ve started putting that time to good use. Even if my coworkers might think I’m a little strange!

Most of them don’t, though. (Or they already know me well enough to know that if I’m being silly, it’s business as usual.) And considering each of the 69 exercises boasts how many calories you’ve burned after completing each for one day, one week and one year — and shows you how many pounds that would equate to, should you keep it up daily — I have plenty of motivation to look a little whacky around the office.

I highly recommend Archer’s book, if for no other reason than it gets you thinking about how the simple movements in a day can really add up — and get you thinking about staying fit all the time. Instead eagerly hoping a front-row parking space is available at work or out shopping, I have no qualms with parking farther away. All those extra steps can really add up — and I’m excited to see just how much subtracting (from my waistline!) I can do! (Bad pun, I know. You forgive me, right?)

Just to whet your appetite (or decrease it?), here’s one of my personal favorites from Archer’s collection. Try it while you’re perusing the next post!

“i’m not quite ready to work!” chair squats

from Fitness 9 to 5 by Shirley Archer (pg. 34)

Before you take a seat and begin your day, practice lowering and lifting your tushie to tone your buttocks, hips and thighs. Getting up and sitting down is one of the most important activities of daily life. The leading predictor of whether you will need assisted living in your old age is your leg strength. Do squats regularly not only for a tone backside, but also to maintain your physical independence as you age.

ā€¢ Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart, about one inch in front of your chair. Hold in your abdominals and relax your shoulders.

ā€¢ Inhale as you sit back, as if you are going to sit in your chair. Let your bottom lightly touch the chair without sitting down.

ā€¢ Exhale as you push yourself back up to standing, while squeezing your buttocks.

ā€¢ Work for up to one minute.

One minute of squats burns 10 calories.
One minute of sitting while doing nothing else burns 1.1 calories.

One year:
10 calories x 5 days per week = 50 calories
50 calories x 50 weeks per year = 2,500 calories
2,500 calories / 3,500 calories per pound = .71 pound


5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0811848744 ā™„ Purchase from Amazon ā™„ Author Website

Running (or walking?) for my life

photo by Flickr user d70focus

photo by Flickr user d70focus

Knowing myself as well as I do, I’ve been hesitant to blog about this . . . but I feel the time has officially come. Spurred on by recent success in the weight department, I’m happy to report that . . . I am regularly exercising! Like, every night! Two or three miles! And not in some sissy, Megan-esque way where I pretend like I’m motivated only to spend twenty minutes on the treadmill and forty in a chair, eating Twizzlers and drinking Diet Root Beer.

No, no, no. Those days are gone. This is the new me — the improved me! And not just because I’m losing weight (though that’s a nice bonus, too). I work in an office and spend 9 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. with one leg curled beneath me, firmly planted in my broken rolling desk chair. Save my daily outings to grab lunch at Panera or Einstein’s or the very short jaunt to the water cooler, I don’t move around much. When I had to park miles away from my classes in college, I didn’t have any problems keeping my weight down . . . but those glorious days are done!

In the two years since I graduated, I know I’ve gotten complacent. The weight came on slowly and, busy with all the little insanities of life, I ignored it. But a month ago, it was literally like a switch went off on my brain . . . not to bemoan the classic cliches, but I was tired of being tired. I had little energy and drank two or three sodas a day. I spent all day in a state of basic inertia, my exercise limited to flexing my fingers on the keyboard or stretching my feet out in heels. Cheered on by my awesome coworkers who are also trying to get in shape, we all decided that now was the time. And I wasn’t going to talk about feeling better anymore — I was just going to do it.

Walking guru Leslie Sansone -- my hero!

Walking guru Leslie Sansone -- my hero!

And I’m doing it. I’ve (almost) completely given up soda — even diet! — and drinkingĀ tons of water a day. I’m not dieting (I wouldn’t even know where to begin!), but I amĀ making healthier food choices and trying to cut out all my extra snacks. I’ve walked on the treadmill off and on since last year, but I wasn’t putting my heart into it long enough to make a real difference. So I’ve abandoned that for now in favor of . . . walking DVDs. Leslie Sansone’s walking DVDs, to be exact! And I absolutely love them. Her routines are so easy, fun and really empowering, and just walking to her pace and following her movements lets you “walk away the pounds.” I’m now in week four of my almost-nightly walking regime, and I already feel so much better. I don’t know how much weight I’ve lost — we don’t keep a scale in the house — but I’m definitely seeing a difference. I have more energy, I’m sleeping better — even my skin seems clearer. Basically, I’m jazzed!

I only hope that I can keep up my routine as the initial excitement of formingĀ this new behavior and watching some of the weight fall off wears away. I’m tired after walking/jogging three miles a night, but I’m not exhausted. Pretty soon I’ll have to start pushing myself to finish four miles, and the DVD I have — Leslie Sansone’s Walk at Home: 5 Mile Fat Burning Walk — guides you through fives miles if you can stand it! I can’t imagine walking five 12-minute miles in a row, but maybe I’ll get there eventually. Feet (and body), don’t fail me now!

Getting on a track

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My current read -- and record on the treadmill!

I’m not a runner. Not only am I not a runner, I think it would be pretty generous to say that I’m even a jogger. Heck, I’m barely a walker — except to walk from my cozy front door to my car, then to my office and back again. That usually results in, oh, twenty minutes or so outdoors.

And I’m usually sitting cross-legged at my desk for eight hours or so, shifting my weight around when my ankles start to bother me. I don’t move around much. My hands are always flying, of course, clicking rapidly on my mouse or typing upĀ a hundred e-mails or answering the phone. But my legs? Not so much.

I’ve never been very active, and I’ve always been just slightly on the plumper side. I wouldn’t say I’m heavy, but I’m definitely no stick. Despite being a sportswriter’s daughter, I have no athletic ability whatsoever — and rarely do anything at all “athletic.”Ā The best shape I’ve ever been in in my lifeĀ came asĀ a result of a horrible parking lot assignment my sophomore year of college at the University of Maryland. UMD is a pretty enormous campus and, as a transferring commuter student, I was assigned to the dreaded Lot 6. Anyone who has ever had to park in that garage, right next to Comcast Center, can relate exquisitely well to my pain. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say I would have to walk a solid half hour, and more than a mile or so, from my car to my first class every morning. One way.

Did it suck? Yes. Absolutely. I still laugh with my family about my first week on campus. I had a 45-minute drive to and from school and, after that very first day of driving to College Park,Ā cruising home and walking my little butt all over campus with a heavy messenger bag, I came home and literally collapsed on the sofa. My legs went flying, I covered my face with my hands and bemoaned the fact that there was no way I could make those climbs every single day.

Of course, I look back on all of that fondly now! It was rough, but I made it through — and I lost ten pounds my first semester. I lost even more, and kept it off, my remaining years of school. Even afterĀ I got a better parking assignment for my junior and senior years (Lot 1 — sweet!) I managed to keep my weight in check.

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