Thursday, June 25, 2009

Healthy living can be easy

Have you ever bought a magazine because it promised that just overleaf lay a diet and exercise program that would give you the body of your dreams? Each spring just as the days start to get warmer in September and the cold Westerlies have stopped blowing the magazine racks beckon with these promises. Spring brings that feeling of anticipation and the excitement that summer is just ahead. Day dreams are filled with picnics under the shade of cool trees, summer storms and hot days at the beach. Anything seems possible when the lull of winter is almost past.

I've bought into the dream almost every spring, believing that if I can just manage to stay on the program for the three months, I would have the body of my dreams. Just three short months and I would achieve my goal right? Of course the plan would need to become a lifestyle but by working hard anything was possible.

Healthy living is a matter of following a few simple principles - exercise regularly, eat clean, relax. But that can seem really hard when the starting point is at the polar opposite. Two of those principles disagreed with me and it wasn't the last one. I was scared of having to work really hard to reach my goals by turning down food that I loved simply because 'it wasn't good for me' or having to run regularly even though I hated running (yeah, I know). I could never willingly embrace what I saw as depriving myself of the joys of living for supposed health benefits or even a bikini ready body.

I doubt that I was alone in my unwillingness to change, because people tend to create an identity for themselves based on habits. We then describe ourselves as being the person with the insatiable appetite or the gym junkie. I for example am feeling very comfortable identifying myself as 'a runner' whereas in the past I was the one with the huge appetite and that is what I was proud of being. Healthy living threatened that identity which left me wondering who I would be; perhaps the sprouted greens and salad girl? I fought against becoming that person by not trying because being healthy seemed so hard. I chose to believe that if I found the right plan I could avoid becoming salad girl and still have the body of my dreams.

But what no generically written diet and exercise programme can do in all it's black and white glory is reflect real life. Reality is full of shades of grey and nuances where things change with time. Life is about stages and being ready to take the next step at the right time whether it's ramping up a fitness routine or enjoying eating sprouted greens and salad. By slowly adjusting your lifestyle over time you can grow into it so that it's more unpleasant to go back to old habits than continue with new ones. By tackling it in stages without surrendering an essential part of oneself it is possible to evolve a healthy lifestyle. When you are at the centre of the process, catering for your needs at each stage and adjusting when you are ready, then healthy living can be easy. Once you start, the evolution takes a course of it's own and all that is required is putting your feet, one in front of the other and things will change.

Except of course it's not as quick as a three month plan. But then, is it really possible to get an ideal body in three months? I read a blog by a body builder who had worked for years on his physic. That admission surprised me since I had always thought such a transformation would take many months perhaps, but not years. So maybe there is no express lane to a bikini ready body and it was never in our reach in the first place. What do you think?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Run, run, run

Oh no! They left without us.

Some days bloggyland makes me feel like the luckiest person around. Why? Well, apart from all the thoughtful comments you guys leave me, I can share with you my new found love that the people in real life are sick and tired of hearing about. Running of course! Each time I come in here to post I keep thinking that I could write a really thoughtful post on ageing gracefully or maybe how to get more calcium or various health philosophies. Instead I think, I know I'll write something about running! Won't that be interesting.

For example, I'm now onto week 3 of the C25K and oddly enough it seems easier than week 2. My theory is that running for 3 minutes continuously is easier than two intervals of 1.5 minutes. If anyone knows why, please enlighten me as I would love to know the physiology.

Next fascinating running fact is that I would have though that by the end of each week the workout should get easier, but it never seems to. What I have noticed however is that my recovery time is much shorter than when I started. Again, any explanations?

Hhhmmm. Where next?

Exciting yes? Actually, very few people in the real world know I have even started running as I am being very secretive about it. Perhaps one day when I get the opportunity to slip it into conversation I might just discuss that 5K that I will have run on the weekend.

But perhaps it shouldn't be so. One of the very few people who do know is my husband's colleague who lives locally and happened to be out at the same time I was on a run. When he was in the army he used to regularly run 5K in under 25 minutes and apparently I'm inspiring him to get out there and back in his running shoes. He's hoping to get his wife involved and we even talked about entering a team into the race I am planning to do at the end of August. And that is a wonderful feeling, to think that through my efforts I may encourage others to get active again. It will definitely help ward off the grumpiness on the next run.

And now that I've started this whole spread the feel good fit feeling, do you have any more advice on inspiring other (not so enlightened souls) in the real world to get fit?

PS Yes, the images are totally unrelated.

My, what a bad attitude we have here

I've never been good at pushing myself physically. My motto has always been "when the going gets tough, start whining and preferably quit alternatively complain more". But somehow I thought I was past that with all the positive things that I had written about previously. I suppose I should have heeded the signs that all was not figured out though. Each time I was on the last interval of the Couch to 5K I would swear that I would never be doing this again because it's just too hard.

The problem is that it is the opposite of what I would love to do more of in life. See adventure magazines make me drool, I can get lost in outdoor shops for hours dreaming up crazy ideas of exploring the wilderness and those huge posters of people 'livin' the dream'? They stop me in my tracks each time. I'm not content to simply be an armchair traveller. I want to be one of the them paddling, hiking or cycling in the great outdoors and loving the challenge. There's just always been one tiny little thing standing in my way, which makes my companions duck for cover (or they resort to bribing me with chocolate - can't whinge when my mouth is full!) - a lousy attitude.

Once I could have argued that I wasn't physically fit, like the time when we cycled in NZ. But last weekend on the overnight hike, I really had no excuses. I felt fitter than ever before and yet at the end of the first day I declared to my husband that I would never, ever accept another invitation to go walking again. Sure I would love to travel the world and hike the best trails on the planet, but walking just for the sake of it was not something I enjoyed doing and everyone had better start accepting that that is just who I am. Needless to say, the following day I didn't have a walking companion as he stayed well ahead of me.

After talking about my attitude with him a few days later, I felt ashamed at how much impact my negativity can have on his experiences. He never gets the self-satisfaction and elation at the end of the day after I've clobbered him over the head with my foul mood. So what of our travel plans for the future? At the moment I sure wouldn't want to walk the Inca Trail or hike to Base Camp at Everest (two of my favourite ideas) seeing as there is a high chance of me getting tired and grumpy.

So for me, I need to learn to push myself physically and be able to deal with that mentally so that I can finally reconcile my love of the outdoors and my aversion to pain. I want to be able to get the most out of my body and push my limits. For my husband, I want to get rid of my lousy attitude so that I can be a good companion so that he can finally enjoy a trip even when the going gets tough. I guess I should start with my very next run.

Any tips for leaning how to deal with the mental aspect of pushing yourself? Is it something that can change or do some people have more resilience than others?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

It happened again

On Sunday afternoon I should have been filled with a sense a pride over finishing week two of the 5K training. Unfortunately yet again I wasn't congratulated for my effort and invited to join in week 3. This week, I can't blame my Ipod, because I simply didn't do the last of the 3 weekly runs.

No I haven't given up like I kept promising myself at the end of each day only to be filled with enthusiasm the following day like a belated runners high. We were away for the long weekend and I was even tempted to take my running shoes and do laps of the caravan park. But I didn't thankfully do that. We went away to go on a 30km overnight walk so I got my fair share of aches and pains as well as a healthy dose of self pride.

I'm not sure if it is necessary, but I decided to repeat all of the week 2 runs before progressing. Ironically, carrying up pack while hiking all day actually seemed easier than running. It would seem that all the hard work is paying off then.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A recession beating vegetable

I'm not normally inspired by recession beating things, but then 'technically' Australia isn't in a recession! Plus I wouldn't actually advocate growing a vegetable for that reason; taste, yes; sustainability, absolutely; availability, sure; recession beating, not really. But seeing as this vegetable has more of the latter than the former I thought I would jump in on the bandwagon. So I present to you....the pigeon pea or Cajanus cajan.

Originally thought to be from Asia, the pigeon pea is a grain legume grown in the tropics and sub-tropics around the world. It is commonly used in permaculture as a pioneer plant being a nitrogen fixer and helping to break up clay soils. Being a fast growing drought tolerant shrub between 2-3m tall makes it a hardy windbreak. Other uses include mulch production and forage for poultry.

Some loitering pigeon peas

It was originally invited into our garden a few years ago and now refuses to leave a long time after the first plant was cut to the ground. In the past it was a useful shade plant for the veggies in summer, as well as screening from the neighbours and it has very pretty delicate yellow and red flowers. But we never really ate the peas despite the huge quantities weighing down the bushes, because I'd heard were poor tasting, until one day my step-father showed an interest in procuring some for his chickens. Well, if it's good enough for the chickens I figured it would be good enough for us!

Raw, the green peas taste like cucumber, but cooked they taste like the beans we ate with them. The hardest part is shelling the peas although not as unpleasant as shelling chick peas which have spiky 'fur' on them which scratches your fingers. It's just time consuming but the sense of pride of eating a vegetable you grew, with no actual effort on your part, makes it worth it. And that's not all. They are a good source of protein, they can be sprouted making them even more nutritious and they can be ground into flour. Talk about versatility in one vegetable!

Raw, naked peas

The dried peas also have a use, as apparently in India they are a staple for making dhal. We have few dried ones at the moment, but when the time comes I will be sure to compare a dhal from split peas as is common here to a pigeon pea version.

So that is my amazing vegetable of the week - useful in the garden, on the table and a plant that just won't die! Ever grown or eaten pigeon peas? Do you have any unusual plants that you have grown or seen at the markets? Do you like buying random vegetables you've never heard of and experimenting?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Treadmill vs pavement running

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away (ok maybe not) I joined a gym....*waiting for applause* :-) At this gym, my favourite cardio machine was the treadmill. One day when walking on said treadmill, I realised that instead of listening to music I didn't like and breathing in recycled smelly air I could be outside with the birds and sunshine (and sunscreen) walking my dog, who gave me sad puppy eyes each time I left her to walk on said treadmill. So I didn't renew my membership.

Shortly thereafter I discovered one of the great disadvantages of not using a treadmill. At the peak of my gym going I could run for at least 25 minutes non-stop. I don't remember the distance or speed, but that effort made me immeasurably proud of myself. Unfortunately, it never translated to the street. There was absolutely no way I could run even half that time on the road. I always wondered why that was the case and now that I have started doing some running I thought I might search out the answer.
  1. Wind resistance. Apparently even a slight breeze can make a big difference to the amount of effort required and I was shocked that this was one of the biggest reasons.
  2. Uneven ground. It may look flat, but it is unlikely to be. Which is true if you have ever ridden a bike with loaded pannier bags. Plus you may be dodging puddles, dog poop, little kiddies on bicycles, parked cars or any number of things in your path which tends to vary your pace. And of course you might actually have to face a hill.
  3. Propulsion. Unless living in an earthquake prone area or Godzilla is about, then the ground doesn't move underneath you. This is even addressed in shoe design as explained by Simon Bartold, International Research Consultant for ASICS. It's all about your centre of gravity which on the pavement which needs to be propelled forward by the leg muscles. On a treadmill however, the centre of gravity is static, being moved up an down on an unstable surface instead of forward.
The consequence is that research shows running on the road burns more calories than on a treadmill. But at the end of the day, it depends on what the desired outcome is. For example I'm not interested in the calories, but rather being able to run a 5K race therefore I choose to train outdoors, well that and I don't like gyms even though I no longer have a dog to walk. But if that's also your goal and regular outdoor runs aren't an option, then you can simulate the intensity of the outdoors with a 1 degree incline on the treadmill which will also provide a similar calorie burn.

But there are also plenty of reasons to stay on the treadmill if that's your thing. Often, they are padded so cushion your feet better putting less strain on your body. This translates to fewer injuries. Other advantages include avoid unpleasant weather (although I can testify that jogging in the rain on soggy grass is actually more fun than it would seem), safety, finding having a suitable place to run and convenience. On the forums where this seems a hotly debated topic, some argue that having a set pace on a treadmill means they can push themselves constantly at a steady pace whereas on the road they would be more likely to slow down.

So there you have it, an answer after all these years! What is your preference - hitting the pavement or the treadmill. Why do you choose one or the other for any form of exercise?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A run before dinner

The first week of the Couch to 5K has officially been completed. In typical giant leap style I was on the verge of skipping the first week because it just seemed too easy and moving straight onto week 2 at the very least. Thankfully the lazy part of me took over figuring that if the first week was easy then all the better - no point pushing myself too hard is there?!

Well, it wasn't easy. The first few runs weren't a problem but by the 7th and 8th interval I was ready to give up the whole plan. Except then the following morning I would wake up disappointed that it wasn't a running day. That feeling would evaporate the next day and by the 7th interval I was back to cursing the whole idea.

Until Sunday that is. I had spent all day doing things I was supposed to, like cleaning the house, painting a door frame, cooking for my family who were coming around in the evening for dinner. The Final Week 1 Run lingered on my to-do list when everything else got crossed off. I was genuinely disappointed when 40 minutes before they turned up, I had only just finished cleaning my brush and closing the paint tin. I was torn between for once in my life having everything ready when my guests turned up like a domestic goddess versus hearing that sweet sweet voice whisper softly in my ear "if you have completed your first week, congratulations." I chose the voice.

I followed his commands running when he told me, walking when he told me and paying attention to keeping my body loose when he told me. And then, without warning, he stopped talking to me! The little red light flashed on my Ipod and he was gone like the battery. I persevered without him to complete the last four intervals but I was devastated. All week, well on two other occasions, I had waited for that glorious moment when he would praise me for finishing week 1 *bursts into tears* and I never got to hear it!

Oh and if you have no idea what I'm talking about, as suggested by Cammy (Thank you oh so much) C25K have a podcast for each of their running weeks and they are the absolutemostbestthingeverandIdon'tknowhowIcouldhavedoneitwithoutyouRob *swoon* And better yet than all this fitness/health/strength/good for heart mumbo jumbo I found out that I can put podcasts on my wee little Shuffle. Which means....I can become well versed in a foreign language while I walk! Ha ha, no more listening to the birds for me!

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