Thursday, October 28, 2010

Are you functionally fit?

I hear this buzz word a lot in fitness circles, functional fitness.  What does it mean to be functionally fit?  For me, its about having a fitness level that will allow me to move freely through the myriad of situations daily life throws at me.  I can run & play with my kids easily & with energy.  I can lift heavy boxes, move furniture, and do yard work without worrying about injury or straining.  Essentially, my fitness level allows me to work & play with a relative sense of ease.

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a fan of long distance running.  I'm also not a fan of lifting weights for the same reasons, its not necessary and the risk of injury outweighs (no pun intended) the benefit.  That is not to say that I do not regularly partake in lifting heavy things.  The heaviest thing I lift is about 145 lbs..  My body.  I'm a huge fan of body weight work, particularly in the form of yoga.

My story of weight lifting reads much like my story of running.  Many attempts and many failures at continuing with a consistent program.  The absurdity of it all hit me as I was lifting weights on a hydraulic machine at the gym, a machine that counted my reps for me and adjusted the weight load with a push of a button.  That's not functional in any way!  To be honest, it seemed downright soulless.  There was no mind/body connection with my movement, it was simply a precisely targeted exercise done while mindlessly listening to music on my ipod.

Yoga, on the other hand is about a connection with my body.  The time spent in yoga practice each week are truly about me, about my body and about creating a genuine understanding and awareness of how my body moves & works.  Now, thats functional!

Add to this, I am stronger than I've ever been.  I have defined shoulder & bicep muscles, I can do a push up or 10 (but I much prefer chaturanga) , I can even do a chin up (oh no, not a dead hang - but if I give a little leap, I'm up there and I can lower myself with control!), I can hold a plank position for 90 seconds, I can easily squat below parallel (but I much prefer utkatasana) and if I really try hard, I can even do a dive bomber (but I much prefer dolphin dips).   The other day, I completely surprised myself by holding an arm balance for more than two seconds!

I'm functionally fit.  And its never meant that I've had to count reps mindlessly while lifting cold, hard plates at the gym.   I've been able to achieve this by doing exercise that is truly enjoyable.  Of course, I've had moments where I was silently swearing at my yoga teacher while trying to hold a long pose, but the feeling of connection was even stronger at that moment as my body spoke very loudly and clearly to me (as did my mind, which I've come to learn is considerably weaker than my body in those situations).

We all have different paths to fitness, but I'd encourage you to seek one that allows you to achieve a level of fitness that will enable you to move through your days with ease, grace, mindfulness & agility!  Be that through yoga, the Primal Blueprint Fitness Program, body weight work, Crossfit, or whatever you enjoy.  The point is to keep lifting heavy things, keep moving your body, and stop using those darn soulless weight machines at the gym!

Because, you never know when you'll need to rely on your body to do some hard work...

This fall snowstorm yesterday gave me the opportunity to lift lots of heavy, wet snow.  It took an hour of shoveling to finish this big job.  I was thankful for my strong shoulders, and quadraceps! 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Running, it's not all its cracked up to be.

My running career began in grade six, I have very distinct memories of running cross country races with the school team.  The sound of my shoes on the grass, the strong rhythmic beat of my heart, the sound of my breath echoing in my head, the smell of fall in the air... my brain's constant dialogue "when will this end? when will this end? its almost over, I think I see the end,  I hate this".  While, I enjoyed being part of a team and often enjoyed the natural settings we ran in, the actual running was torture.  I could never convince myself that running was fun.

Fast forward to high school.  I opted to take phys ed classes over the other choices of home economics, art, or physics.  In fact, my grade 12 gym grade was what tipped my average higher allowing me to go to the University of my choice.  One of the yearly requirements for our class was the 800m run around the track.  Our high school gym track was in a hot, dusty field behind the school.  All I truly remember of these runs is the nausea.

Over the years I have tried to implement distance running as part of my workout routine.  Like many, I mistakenly thought that being able to run long distances was an indicator of good health, cardiovascular endurance and would inevitably allow me to shed those unwanted pounds I had gained during University and into my child bearing years.  

My attempts at running often began in earnest as I tied on a new pair of running shoes and attempted a jog around the block.  Most recently, I attempted the very popular C25K podcast program.   I think I did week 1, day 1.  But, alas it was never to be.  I am not a runner.  Shin splints, nausea, boredom, and my own mind's inability to push through the pain of a 20 minute run kept me from ever truly becoming a "runner".

My last attempt at a C25K was right before discovering Marks Daily Apple and the Primal Blueprint.  After reading Mark's posts on Chronic Cardio,  I realized that in order to have good cardio vascular health & endurance, lose weight, and build strength I did NOT need to pursue any sort of distance running.  What a relief!

I've often wondered to myself how so many people could have it wrong?  Especially those who struggle through their runs, or who are not naturally born to run.  Why do they pursue this torturous exercise? (I do believe that some people are naturally adept at running, and truly do love to run, more later)

I think conventional wisdom has us duped again. Running has gained popularity for the very same reasons I thought I should be running.  It is seen as the ultimate cardiovascular exercise and a great way to lose weight!

But, what about the long term?  In my last post I spoke about WHY I eat the way I do, parent & live the way I do and why I exercise the way I do.  For me, its about longevity.  Its about preserving my body in a sustainable way so that I am as agile, fit & strong in my 60's as I am now, perhaps even stronger.  I, for one, do not want to be dealing with osteoarthritis (caused by the repetitive impact of running), joint pain & tendinitis, runners knee, and plantar fasciitis as I age.  I also do not want to be relegated to a regimen of anti inflammatory medication & physio therapy.  Prevention is a key factor for me when longevity is taken into consideration. 

So, why would I pursue an activity that I dislike in the name of good health especially taking the risk factors of injury and inflammation into consideration?  That seems highly illogical.  I can receive the same fat burning effects without the risk of injury or inflammation by choosing to walk a short hike, or walk my kids to school daily, or even spend a few hours housecleaning.  Furthermore,  I can receive the same, if not BETTER cardiovascular effects from doing 10 minutes of low impact hill sprints.

Maybe you are thinking I'm on to something here?  Keep reading.

Instead of running, I ensure that I log approximately 3 hours of low level cardiovascular exercise into each week.  To do this, I try to walk as much as possible, do household chores with a bit of speed, go hiking, bike riding, practice Vinyasa yoga, or play with my children.

Every 10 days - 2 weeks I try do some hill sprinting.  In the winter I opt to do sprints on a stationary bicycle instead.  It takes no longer than 10 minutes, is lots of fun, is challenging, and really gets the blood pumping.  Add to this the many many benefits of sprinting such as promotion of fat loss, and building lean mass.  Sprinting is a great way to break through those weight loss plateaus.  To me, sprinting is the ideal replacement for long distance running.

Not convinced?  For those of you who truly consider yourselves natural runners (I know you are out there, I live with one of you!), consider running barefoot or in minimalist shoes.  This post is not meant to discourage those who truly do enjoy running and can do so with with minimal risk of injury.  This post is meant to assure those of us who truly dislike distance running, who think they HAVE to run in order to be fit, lose weight, and have good cardiovascular health that there are other, safer, easier paths to fitness.  This post for those who intend to complete a C25K program but can't seem to get past week 1.  It is for those of us sitting on the couch holding our running shoes, contemplating that 15 minute jog around the block but just cannot seem to get the motivation to head out the door.    Go for a walk around the block with your kids instead!  Better yet, head to the park and play on the monkey bars.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What are we in this for anyway?

Okay, Okay - If you've followed my blogging pursuits before you'll know that I've started and stopped several blogs along the way.  To be honest, I have no idea what the future will hold for this blog.  I will say, that if you do hang out and enjoy what I write, please comment and join my discussions.  I'm happy to keep writing as long as I know there is an audience!

This is more than a parenting blog, this is more than a food blog, more than an exercise blog - it might actually be a philosophy blog to be honest.  I think an awful lot about nutrition, movement, parenting, & ethics (mostly from an ecological perspective).  I tend to erupt much like a volcano whenever someone seems slightly interested in a topic I am currently researching.  I often wonder if I frighten a few away in the process, as I bombard them with so much information.  And my dear sweet partner Steve, has put up with more than enough of my thoughts on nutrition and exercise.  It might be better for all that I write this stuff down, and allow those interested to seek it out on their own.

I also have random thoughts on topics like the purpose of honey, or the motivation behind seeking a healthier lifestyle.   I've been thinking a lot about why we seek to eat better or to exercise more.  I will admit, these thoughts have also extended into why I parent the way I do or why I strive to leave a minimal footprint on this planet.  For me, its all about longevity.  I want to live a long long time, but I also want to be vital and strong as I age.  I want my children to learn and grow and perhaps even continue elements of my own life philosophy as they have children and their children have children, a bit of a legacy one might say.  I want the earth to be a healthy place for future generations to live as well.

This is why I try to eat real food.  This is why I chose exercise with low risk of injury or inflammation, but also in a way that is effective and fun! This is why I try to live in the moment with my children and model healthy eating and an active lifestyle.  My children may not always follow suit, and thats okay.  They are still seeing what I value and they will chose their own path, hopefully having been given all the tools to make good choices along the way.  This is why I recycle, walk as much as I can, and support organic grocers and local farmers.

I am not sure what form this blog will take.   Here are a few of my ideas:

1. I am thinking that often I may just post a snapshot of Primal Living.    If you are unfamiliar with the Primal Blueprint, check out Marks Daily Apple.  Much of my lifestyle is based upon the 10 Primal Blueprint Laws.
2. Rants
3. Recipes I like
4. The latest topic I am reading about
5. Links & internet reading I find interesting
6. Personal stories
7. Reader submitted content.
8. Interviews with or guest posts from health & nutrition experts

(I feel like I need to have 10 items in this list, this will be good for me to leave it at 8)

Does your exercise regime promote longevity?  What about your diet?  Or, is it an immediate solution to a short term situation like the need to lose weight or achieve a personal goal?  What about your lifestyle?

These are topics I will explore as I ask myself these same questions.

I am continually adjusting and changing and accepting as I grow older, wiser, fitter, stronger and healthier.  I do tend to be slightly dogmatic and though I am willing to listen, I do think that I am onto something that is "right".  So, I'm not going to be convinced to run a c25k (although, I did dream I ran a 5 k run with ease last night), nor am I going to be convinced to eat a vegan diet or lift weights that are not part of my physical body. If you do those things, don't click away.  I encourage you to read and participate.

I think overall this blog will interest the real foodies, the exercise enthusiasts, those who follow a Paleo/Primal lifestyle, those who parent using attachment parenting philosophy, those interested in yoga & body weight movement, and those who are interested in reducing their footprint on our planet.

I've posted this video on other blogs I've written and  in forums I frequent.  I post it a lot.  I think it contains some valuable information that is accessible from all perspectives on healthy living.