Mar 242010

Susan Dawson-Cook in 2009 Tinfoilman TriathlonPeople are always asking me about the latest 5 minute exercise plan and wondering if it will be the magic bullet to help them lose weight without time and effort. If you don’t believe the latest guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (which say 300-400 minutes of aerobic activity per week is necessary for most people to lose weight), an Associated Press release, published in today’s (Wednesday, March 24) Arizona Daily Star, should get your attention.

Research on more than 13,000 middle-aged American women over a 13 year period showed an average weight gain of 6 pounds over the 13 year period, including those who were on calorie-cutting diet plans. Participants who gained little or no weight during this time (only 13 percent) consistently exercised an average of an hour a day.

What this means for you? If you’re a female over 40, start blocking out 60 minutes a day to exercise (and then get out there and do it) or be prepared to fight a losing battle with the bulge. I’m over 40 by a long shot and I’m doing it. With a little discipline and determination, so can you!

Mar 162010

Many people ask me “Why do you workout?” I work out primarily because being fit feels great. Swimming has always been my favorite mode of exercise. Whenever I stroke through the water, it flows along my body’s contours, reminding me of how wonderful it feels to live in a sleek and toned body. The natural resistance of the water tones, loosens connective tissue, and keeps my muscles feeling loose and flexible.

Whenever I go to the high school to watch my kids participate in sporting and other events, I look around at other parents and often find myself thinking “Why DON’T they workout?”

So many of them have bulging bellies and double chins and some of them even have mobility issues (I see limping, difficulty sitting and standing or hear groans and other verbal expressions of physical discomfort). I wonder why people in their 40s and 50s let themselves go when they have the potential to live more comfortable and active lives. I think of all the people I know at SaddleBrooke where I do personal training and teach group exercise classes, who run marathons, swim, play tennis, and even do triathlons in their 60s, 70s and beyond. They, like me, recognize the benefits of an active lifestyle and make exercise a part of every day. They also have found activities they most enjoy participating in, so that exercising is a pleasure rather than a chore.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to experience the joys of living in a fit body, why not start working toward that goal today? Try some new activities and discover where your exercise passions lie. And when you find them and start to reap the benefits, I hope you’ll post and let me know!

Mar 152010

Susan Dawson-Cook swimming in the Tucson TriathlonAt 5:06 a.m., my alarm clock rings. I roll over on my side to silence it, then groan. Sometimes being female really sucks, I nearly mutter, but I stay silent as not to awaken my sleeping husband. It feels like a swamp creature is crawling up my throat. I feel like my ovaries, fallopian tubes and everything else around the middle part of my body is being squeezed (like a grapefruit in a juicer) and stretched (like a torture victim’s body) at the same time. It is “that time of the month.” I need ibuprofen and fast. Or maybe just to go back to sleep. I sure as hell don’t want to go to work. Or swimming practice.

As best as I can at this hour of the morning, I weigh my options. I can stay in bed and skip the workout, but if I do, I will be nauseous, tired, and uncomfortable all day. Everyone and everthing will annoy me. The day will end with a headache.

No, I tell myself as I throw off the covers. A swim is a much better alternative. The nausea will be gone after 4 lengths of the pool. The cramps will be forgotten after 8 (swimming relaxes my lower back and reduces that pressure which makes me so uncomfortable). By the end of practice, I will be in a great mood and will feel energetic and (with a little help from ibuprofen) pain free the rest of the day. Today’s workout won’t be about preparing for a race or getting in “X” number of yards. The focus of today’s workout will be to improve the quality of my day.

After forcing down my normal tea and English muffin, I drive to the pool. I toss my kickboard and fins on the side of the pool and plunge into the water. Within minutes, the rhythm of my strokes carries me back to that comfortable place where I feel strong, happy, youthfu. Alive. And even though it is “one of those days,” I know its going to be all right. By the end of the hour, the swimming workout has delivered all I had expected and more. It gave me the gift of a healthy and happy day instead of one I otherwise would have spent crampy and nauseous. And to me, that’s much more valuable than anything money can buy.

Mar 082010

The shriek of your alarm clock jolts your brain. You groan. You don’t want to get up. Not now, possibly not ever. You want to go back to sleep because not only are you exhausted and your muscles achy, but because you want to forget about everything that isn’t going right with your life. Then all at once you remember today’s triathlon. You shrug. It will be a disaster, you know, but so is everything else lately so you might as well go ahead and get up. You stagger out of bed and go through the motions…

Most of us have had these kinds of days at some point during our lives. I certainly have. One of the reasons it took so long for me to post on this topic is that I fell into a sinkhole of misery about a month ago when our dear dog Sammy died suddenly. The last thing I wanted to do then was post. For almost two weeks, I ran through the scenario in my head, repeatedly, telling myself that if only I had gotten him in the car more quickly or driven faster to the emergency clinic, he might have lived. Maybe he didn’t really have cancer. Maybe he got stung by a bee or a scorpion or someone poisoned him or…This chatter in my head never ceased. I cried for hours, had trouble sleeping, didn’t write well, missed workouts, and just generally didn’t want to get up in the morning.

When my father died of cancer in 2008, I didn’t feel depressed at first, just shocked. I didn’t live with him all the time like I did with my dog, so somehow his passing didn’t seem real. I cried myself to sleep at night and when I awoke, I buried myself in work and tried not to think about it. Depression moved in like a sudden fog when I kept calling home and never spoke to my dad. Snippets of my childhood streamed through my head. Then it really hit me that I’d never see him again. Although I drew closer to my family, I grew distanced from my desire to achieve goals set for myself and started making excuses for my lack of motivation. I trained less, slept much more, and started feeling sick often. My performance quickly went down the tubes.

I share my tales of woe so that you won’t imagine me to be some high-and-mighty person saying “don’t worry be happy” as if its so easy to run around every day with a big smile on my face. I’m not chronically depressed, either. I have a wonderful life. Like many people, I have highs and my lows and when I am overwhelmed by depression and pessimism, not only am I not happy, but I DO NOT PERFORM WELL. I think its safe to say most of us don’t. It is endeavor enough to swim a mile or run a half marathon well and if you have to try to do it carrying a burden of sadness along for the ride, the journey will be much harder than it would be if you dropped that load!

I have also found that if I work at it, I can change my negative outlook. It takes effort, time and patience. Start by forgiving yourself for less-than-stellar performances. It happens to everyone and better days lie ahead. Then, arm yourself with some tools that will lift you out of that trough and land you back on solid ground again. Below are some suggestions, many of which have helped me greatly on my darkest days:

1 – Get sufficient sleep (but not too much, which can leave you feeling sluggish).
2 – Improve the quality of your diet (avoid processed foods, skipping meals, excessive caffeine and alcohol). Try mood enhancing foods such as spinach and salmon.
3 – Increase or reduce exercise (if you stopped, start; if you are overtraining, back off for a few days)
4- Talk to an understanding friend or family member (if they don’t get it, end the call quickly, though)
5 – Shut down the negative chatter in your head that says “I’m so depressed, lazy, I suck, etc.(if it hits you when you are driving to work, put on relaxing music or an upbeat book on CD).
6 – Watch a really funny movie.
7 – Read a favorite book again.
8 – (Ladies) Take a long soaky bath and put in your favorite aromatherapy oil or bath crystals.
9 – Write down 5 things that you are really grateful for in your life.
10- Write your feelings down in a journal to get the weight off of your chest.
11 – Enjoy the great outdoors. A walk or picnic in the park where you hear birds and wind in the trees instead of horns honking and phones ringing can help you relax. Enjoy the company of nature…and yourself!
12 – Take mindful classes like meditation or yoga to help you relax and feel more in synch with yourself. Just breathe!
11 – Seek counseling or consult with your doctor about depression medication if your condition doesn’t improve.

Mar 052010

If you are tired of following complicated diet plans and eating measured portions out of packages, maybe you should try the Mediterranean diet. These foods pack in the nutrients without all the calories, preservatives, and saturated fats.

What comprises the Mediterranean diet? Nuts and seeds, fish, lean meats, legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Not only is this diet anti-inflammatory, which means you’ll likely have more energy and feel less achy on this plan, you’ll also be able to control your weight and reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

Mar 022010

The author and SammySometimes we let our goals and our bull-headedness keep us from using good judgement when it comes to training and exercise. A knee is swollen and hurting but we still go out for a morning run. Our rotator cuff muscles hurt long after we stop swimming, but we dive in the water and workout as if the shoulder pain didn’t exist. Before long, we end up in rehab. If only we had listened to our bodies sooner, we could have avoided weeks of physical therapy and rehabilitation later!

I have had more nagging injuries than I’d care to mention, only one of which escalated to a point where it required physical therapy. In the case of my recent shoulder tendinosis, which took three months to rehabilitate, I knew I should back off, but I was in the middle of a 2 day swim meet and I just kept on going, despite what my better judgement was telling me to do. In the cases where the injury mended within days, I adjusted the way I taught my classes so I wouldn’t overly stress the tender area and adjusted my workouts so the muscles had time to recover. Often figuring out the root of the injury was beneficial.

In 2008, I pulled an adductor muscle on my left leg 3 weeks before the USMS Long Course swimming nationals. Despite the fact that breast stroke was my main event, I had to stop swimming that stroke altogether for nearly two weeks and also iced the muscles three times a day and took anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling. I determined that I was tighter in the glutes and piriformis on the left leg and, which resulted in too much strain on the adductors when swimming breaststroke. When I resumed swimming breast stroke again (a week before the championship), I always stretched the piriformis first. I have never had a problem with my adductors since.

My point? Listen to your body. If something is hurting, something about your training needs to change. Determine why the injury is happening, reduce your training and ice, and pursue training that is non-traumatic on the injured site. When my shoulder was at its worst, I increased my running and often got into the pool and did long kick sets with a board. I was able to stay in shape without hurting my shoulder. This morning, once I take my kids to school, I will swim rather than do my normal Tuesday run because my knees ache after wading nearly 8 miles up Sabino Canyon in my bare feet. Every day, I think about what kind of training will work best for my body given its current circumstances.

Here’s some more tips on how you can prevent injuries”
– always warm up before and cool down after high intensity exercise
– find different modes of exercise (crosstraining) to avoid putting the same stress on the body day after day
– stretch after every workout
– adjust training whenever something starts to hurt and ice inflammed areas regularly
– strength train appropriately for the activities you pursue
– assess the source of the injury and aim to remediate the problem. A common problem is too much strength or tightness on the dominant side of the body. Strength train and stretch to minimize these imbalances.

Follow these principles and you’re likely to enjoy many more enjoyable and injury-free workouts. Well, I gotta go – the pool is calling my name right now!