Archive for the ‘Habits’ category

Fit Tip #30

September 19, 2009

I like 2 work out in the morning.

Swimming or cycling each day.

When U work out in the morning

“My health comes first,” U say

Fit Tip #28

September 12, 2009

“You have to give your heart to the Goddess of Wisdom. The Goddess of Wealth will become jealous and follow you.” – Born to Run

Fit Tip #22

August 7, 2009

Your body’s going to go to pot
Just ask your oldest friends
I know this isn’t real good news
Or news at all: Life ends.
So what’s the point? What can you do
‘Tween now and your last breath?
WORK OUT. Each step puts distance
‘Tween you and illness, death.
(Ok, this morning’s message
Is not one filled with cheer
It’s hopeful, though, and loving too:
I want you strong. And here.)

Fit Tip #15

July 13, 2009

At 85, my mother still enjoys a daily swim. Her secret? Ever since her 70th, she’s been going 2 the gym.

Fit Tip #14

July 12, 2009

You tell me you can’t face the scale. I understand, I say. But losing or maintaining weight begins with truth: Go weigh.

Back in the Swim

September 28, 2008

Here’s a love story:

I don’t know when I learned to swim but I must have been three or younger because the year I was four, I broke my arm and spent the whole summer standing awkwardly in the shallow end of our neighbor’s pool, holding my plastic-wrapped heavy white cast above the splashing water and watching forlornly as my siblings and neighbors frolicked.

I swam in my first meet at age five. Mom reports that my first question, upon arriving at the end of the pool, was, “Did I win?” (No.)

I swam on competitive teams every summer until I was sixteen, when I had to choose between swimming and basketball and chose basketball – not because I loved it more, but because, relative to other kids, I was better at it (i.e. more likely to win.)

At 24, I retired from a basketball career that had included Stanford University and professional teams, and immediately returned to the pool. I discovered that “masters swimming” includes people as young as 19, and that I still loved swimming, with or without the added bonus of trophies. Diving into the pool again, soaring out over the water in a racing dive, felt like coming home.

I swam on masters teams for another 26 years, until I turned 50 and accepted a job with a thirty-minute commute. Though my masters team practiced from 6:30-7:30 at a pool en route to my new workplace, the schlep didn’t work for me. I tried it: Get up at 5:45, pack the car with swimming bag, the day’s work clothes, and drive to the pool. Swim, shower, dress, eat breakfast in the car, and arrive at work by 8:45. After work, unpack the wet bathing suit and towel, which had been moulding or freezing in the car all day, and re-pack everything for the next day. After a while, my life seemed to revolve around packing and unpacking clothes, swimming gear, and food.

Though I never forgot to pack my underwear or other key articles of my professional attire, I worried about it constantly, left some duplicates in my office locker, and more than once selected and packed a professional outfit I no longer wanted to wear when — too late — I tried it on in the swimming locker room, miles from home.

After a year of this, I stopped swimming, and remained out of the pool for a year. I felt less exhausted and stressed out but missed my swim team: Coach John Flanagan and teammates Sue, Cindy, Mei Mei, Karen, Beth. Even more, I missed those racing dives and my long strong strokes through the water. My heart actually ached for that freestyle motion. When swimming freestyle, the water hugs your chest, somehow, and the balanced, rhythmic motion is satisfying on a deeply primal level. 

I stayed in shape through yoga, weight-lifting, cycling, walking. But I never stopped craving swimming. Switching from showers to baths in a vain attempt to satisfy my need for total immersion did not help. Nor did “imaginary swimming,” an exercise I found myself doing on my way to sleep. Nor did occasional ecstatic swims in the ocean, three hours from home. 

Finally, it occurred to me that I could swim at the local high school, one mile from my house, shower there, drive back home, dress and eat breakfast at home, and still get to work on time without having to pack my work clothes or eat breakfast in the car. 

For about six months now, I’ve been back in the swim. It’s a very different experience than my swim team training, which had been intense, competitive and highly structured. Now I do my own thing, talking to no one and coordinating my laps with no one.

Since I work with people all day, this non-competitive, almost anti-social swimming provides just what I need these days: an hour just for me. Though surrounded by other swimmers, I feel alone in the pool in the best sense of the word alone: solitary, self-contained, quiet. I focus on my breathing, my stroke, my strength. It’s swimming as meditation: deeply satisfying in a way I almost didn’t know swimming could be. 

And throughout the day I feel immensely better: more physically balanced, spiritually centered, at peace. No matter what happens in my sometimes hectic and demanding job, I always have that morning meditation to refer back to. Swimming doesn’t “ground” me but rather buoys me, supports me as I swim through the rest of my life. 

I’m euphorically happy to be back in the swim.

May everyone find a form of exercise they love this much.

Whole Foods Diet Experiment

November 14, 2007

To heal my gall bladder and prevent surgery, I just switched from a very healthy no-meat diet to an even-healthier no-meat diet without fish, eggs, dairy products, fried foods, or processed foods. Oh yes, and also no caffeine or alcohol.

I am avoiding all the things that were triggering attacks (Chinese food, iced tea, eggs, tuna, salmon) and while I’m at it, avoiding the things I’m allergic to (dairy products) since some experts suggest gall bladder attacks are mostly a result of allergic reactions.

While this may appear to be a terribly “restrictive” diet, it doesn’t seem that way to me. It seems quite rational – like the way I was meant to eat.

After about 10 days I feel much less hungry – surprisingly. I would have thought a vegan diet would make me more hungry.

I wonder if I was chronically hungry in the past because I was hungry for the nutrients I was not receiving.

Eating used to be almost annoying; I’d eat simply to make my hunger go away. Now I’m eating to give my body what it needs, and am surprised to notice that food tastes better, more satisfying. I seem to be waking up to the deliciousness of simple things: apples, Clementines, even broccoli.

I’m not sure if this will heal my gall bladder but it’s an interesting experiment!

Also I have no cravings (so far) for anything except what I’m thinking of as whole foods.

A colleague told me that there are many things people ingest that “the body does not recognize as food.” That rang true.

I’m determined to only put things in my mouth that my body will not only recognize as food, but welcome.

I’d be interested in others’ experiences, experiments, or responses.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Food Choices: Not as Easy as Pie

September 15, 2007

“Just make healthy food choices,” diet gurus say. As if choosing to be well nourished and svelte were simple.

Brian Wansink, a Cornell professor and founder of Consumer Camp, studies food choices in Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab. An article in this month’s Stanford Magazine (“Mind Over Platter”) desribes some of his fascinating (and helpful) findings:

1) We eat more M&M’s when they’re sorted by color.

2) We eat more nuts or candies from a jar when we can see through the jar than when it’s opaque.

3) We eat more popcorn if given a huge bucket than we do if given a medium-sized bucket. Same goes for plates.

4) We value food more when it comes with pleasant surprise, even a simple thing like a plastic toy. (Parents filling school lunchboxes, take note. Also anyone planning a dinner party. Airline dieticians – ignore this! We’d really rather have edible food!)

5) We prefer food with exotic, descriptive names – such as Bavarian Dark Forest Chocolate Cake – as opposed to chocolate cake. Same goes for Starbucks’ “grande chai soy latte” and infinite other variations on that theme.

The “takeaway” lesson? We’re not as “in control” as we might think we are. Our choices and perceptions are greatly influenced by the subconscious, which has its own ideas about what it likes and wants. Therefore, pay attention not only to food, but to how it’s prepared and served and described. And if you prefer not to eat a lot of popcorn, never buy the big bucket.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Five Reasons to Start a Corporate Fitness Program

August 19, 2007

1) Fit workers make 27% fewer errors on tasks involving concentration and memory as opposed to unfit workers

2) When executives start an exercise program, they improve their ability to make complex decisions by 70%.

3) When DuPont instituted an employee fitness program, they had a 47% reduction in absenteeism over six years.

4) When General Motors instituted an employee fitness program, they had a 50% reduction in job-related grievances and on-the-job accidents.

5) For every $1 invested in corporate fitness programs, Coors Brewing Company received a $6.15 return on its investment.

In other words, physical fitness leads to fiscal fitness – and mental fitness as well. The moral of the story: Invest in employee exercise programs. Give people a chance to get up and move. It will pay off, in more ways than one.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Easy, Effective Diet Plan

June 15, 2007

Eat less for dinner.

That’s pretty much it. Eat a normal breakfast and lunch. Snack if you’re hungry.

Oh yeah – choose healthy foods. That’s a big caveat.

But the real trick to this diet — or maintenance plan — is to eat less for dinner. Just a little less, so you go to bed a wee big hungry.

Lying there in bed, you don’t need to do anything (usually,) so you don’t need fuel. You can let your body burn off a few calories because of the caloric deficiency you just created by eating a little less than you were hungry for.

The next morning, eat a normal breakfast. Eat a normal lunch. Oh yeah – keep choosing healthy foods. Then eat less for dinner.

The reason this works is because you’re not starving yourself. You don’t feel deprived, emotionally or physically. You just feel a wee bit hungy – which, on the way to sleep, I find to be a rather pleasant sensation, much preferable to going to bed full.

Most importantly, you wake up happy, because you’re a little thinner – and you still get to eat a regular breakfast and lunch.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Tooth Grinding and Mouth Guards: An Alternative

June 10, 2007

Your dentist says, “Do you grind your teeth at night?”

You say, “Yes.”

Or you say, “No.” Doesn’t matter.

Your dentist says, “You need a tooth guard.”

You say, “Okay.” The dentist then sells you an expensive rubber contraption for your mouth, or you buy a cheaper one that doesn’t fit as well from the grocery store or the internet.

But you do have another option. This option is: Stop grinding your teeth.

I say to my dentist: How about if I stop grinding my teeth?

It’s clear from his response that he’s never heard of such a thing, and doubts if it’s possible.

I persist: “Surely, with all the tooth-grinding patients you see, there are some who have taught themselves to relax their jaws at night?”

“It’s hard to change an unconscious behavior that happens when you’re asleep,” he explains.

Well, sure. But worth a try. So on the way to sleep, I relax my jaw. There are many muscles in the jaw, and it’s an interesting experience to try to release the tension in all of them. It’s…. relaxing!

Then, if I wake up at night, my first thought (besides “I wonder if I really need to go to the bathroom or can wait”) is, “Relax the jaw.”

After about a year of this, I’ve noticed these things:

1) Jaw tension happens during the day too.
2) I have significantly decrease tooth-grinding through this awareness campaign
3) my entire head, neck, and even shoulders feel better when I relax my jaw.

Better than a mouth guard? You bet!

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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You’re at the Beach. Relax and Slow Down

June 3, 2007

Upon entering Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, drivers eager to get to the ocean, get to their condos or hotels, and get out of their hot cars encounter this sign: “You’re at the Beach. Relax and Slow Down.”

It’s a small sign, sky blue with dolphins or clouds or something peaceful painted on it — not a screaming billboard. A quiet sign, with a quiet message.

I love that sign.

I love vacationing in Rehoboth.

I love relaxing and slowing down, and I have noticed that we don’t really need to reserve that behavior for the beach.

We could, if we choose to, create our own signs:

You’re alive. Relax and slow down.

You’re racing through life, and missing many of the good parts: Relax and slow down.

Your kids and parents need your attention: Relax and slow down.

Your body needs your attention: Relax and slow down.

It’s fun; try it: Relax and slow down.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Stress Positions: Are You Torturing Yourself and Calling It “Life”?

June 3, 2007

In an article called “Bodies Under Stress” and other writings, author Mark Danner delineates the euphemisms the United States government uses to describe torture.

“Stress positions”: people hung by their wrists, men standing naked with women’s underpants wrapped around their faces.

“Use of dogs to induce stress”: Trained attack dogs biting and threatening to bite prisoners.

“Waterboarding”: the practice of holding someone’s head underwater for long periods of time – then repeating the practice.

“Sleep adjustment”: Forcing people to stand on a box for hours, believing they’ll be electrocuted if they fall off the box.

“Enhanced interrogation techniques”: a compendium of abuses that any rational person (especially on the receiving end) would describe as torture.

Danner is the author of “Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror”and “The Secret Way to War: The Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War’s Buried History.”

What this brings to mind for me (besides a fervent desire for a “regime change” in the United States government) is this: Into what “stress positions” do you choose to contort your own body?

What do you call it when you starve yourself, stuff yourself with unhealthy foods, “beat yourself up” with negative thoughts, or remain sitting for hours on end, depriving yourself of the oxygen, blood flow, and muscular activity you know your body needs?

Do you justify these self-torture techniques as “necessary”?

Am I comparing military torture with personal bad habits?

You bet.

You don’t have to be a political prisoner to put yourself on a medieval sort of “rack”: allowing over-commitment to pull you in all directions at once until your joints ache, your head hurts, and you can’t think straight.

The only comforting thought, when reading about torture, is, “At least it’s not me.”

What I’m suggesting is this: Maybe it is you. Maybe you are imposing your own “stress positions,” your own “sleep adjustment,” your own “waterboarding.”

Maybe you’re drowning in work or worry. Maybe you’re placing extreme stress on your body through prolonged inactivity and neglect – then failing to face the reality of the situation.

I hope not. But as a lifelong athlete, I know that I succumb to self-destructive behaviors myself sometimes: sit too long, for instance, when absorbed in the task at hand. Place my shoulders or back in “stress positions,” ignoring the pain while pursuring other pleasures, such as golf. Drink “grande Chai soy latte,” even though I know it will result in “sleep adjustment” that night as I needlessly fret about deadlines and commitments.

Most of us have the privilege of never being physically tortured by others.

Let’s not do it to ourselves.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Every Day Your Body Changes

June 2, 2007

At the end of Karen Voight’s Yoga Sculpting DVD, after you’ve done Warrior One and Warrior Two and Downward Facing Dog and Chair Pose until you’re literally blue in the face, Voight says, “Just notice how your body’s feeling. Every day it changes.”

Every day your body changes.

Why? Because of how you feed it, water it, stretch it, strengthen it. Because of how you take care of it, or don’t. (And yes, Karen Voight is INCREDIBLY buff, and no, looking like Karen Voight is really NOT the point, and NOT achievable for most people.)

One of the greatest miracles is the miracle of an individual human’s evolution: from infant to toddler, kid, teen, young adult, older adult, old person: every day our bodies change.

But this is not “automatic.” How we grow – straight or crooked, healthy or sick – is largely a function of how we treat these sensitive organisms called our bodies.

This miracle of growth and change — all the sensations of skin and muscle and breath — should be, if we’re paying attention, sufficient to prevent all boredom forever.

More importantly, this miracle alone – the fact that our bodies are changing every day — should be, if we’re paying attention, sufficient motivation to persuade us to be kind to these miraculous bodies.

This seems to be Karen Voight’s point. Pay attention — without judgment. Every day your body changes. A simple fact. Are you doing everything you possibly can to facilitate positive change?

Are you paying attention?

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Muscle Memory Run Amok

May 17, 2007

Mom says, “The word that comes to mind is engaging.” She’s talking about this Bodies in Motion blog. She’s my biggest fan. How fortunate I am!

But here’s what else she said, after reading the Muscle Memory post: “Sometimes muscle memory goes awry. Like today, I was at the bank, and the teller handed me the receipt. I started to sign it – as if it were a credit card receipt. Isn’t that weird?”

Yes! Weird and common. I remember her joking about this while driving me to swimming practice. Sometimes we’d end up instead at the hospital, where she used to visit patients. “Whoops! The car just drove itself here!” she’d say, laughing.

I’ve “driven myself” many places I didn’t intend to go, because my muscles went on automatic while my mind went blank. I bet you have too.

“When you’re old, you worry that this is dementia – or that others will think it is,” adds Mom. In her case, fortunately, it’s not.

(She also adds responding to another post on this blog, “I AM old, by the way. I don’t mind the word. I use it all the time.” (She’s almost 83.)

She’s right about muscle memory. Our muscles respond in the ways they’re in the habit of responding. Our hands reach for French fries. Our mouths open. Our hands reach for more French fries. Mouths open again. All of this can take place repeatedly while the brain is fully engaged elsewhere – in a conversation, for instance.

Which is why good habits are so essential. Half the time, we’re not really consciously deciding what to do and not do anyway.

Our hands and mouths are just reaching and chewing, reaching and chewing… signing slips of paper…. driving in a certain direction… all because of habit.

Get in the habit of doing good things for yourself – and others – and doing good things will start to come naturally.