Apr 212010

Many recent articles have discussed the health risks associated with too much sodium added to our foods; high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Because of these risks, the FDA is working to regulate manufacturers so that they reduce the amount of sodium added to foods. The recommended intake is 1500 mg or less, the maximum healthy amount is 2300 and the average American intake 3400 mg according to an April 21 Associated Press release.

Since I consider myself to eat a very healthful diet, I found it an interesting exercise today to add up the sodium in my diet today and discovered that sodium was hiding in foods I never imagined.

Breakfast (pre-swim workout)
Cup of English breakfast tea – 0 mg
English muffin with raspberry jam – 269 mg
1 cup of XOOD sports drink – 105 mg

Breakfast 2 (post-swim)
1 cup oatmeal – 0 mg
1/2 cup milk – 120 mg
1/2 cup strawberries – 0 mg

Lunch
2 string cheese – 400 mg
1 whole wheat bagel – 400 mg
1 cup raspberry yogurt drink – 100 mg

Dinner
Bowl of Split pea soup – 690 mg
1 cup Mushrooms/asparagus – I added the salt – probably 500 mg

Doesn’t this sound like I did well? Truth is, my daily sodium intake is slightly over the 2300 recommended healthy maximum at 2315 mg even though I believed I was eating very healthfully. I learned a lesson, never imagining that salt would be present in yogurt or milk!

The moral of the story? Read your labels carefully and make sure you aren’t getting more sodium than you bargained for. Eat close to the source and avoid processed foods laden with hidden sodium.

Apr 192010

Far too often, my more senior clients arrive at the gym in open-toed or street shoes. I typically ask them, “Why aren’t you wearing the right shoes?” Often the response is “These shoes are really comfortable.” I empathize with them. Comfort matters. And these people grew up in an era when comfortable exercise shoes were hard to come by and the idea of wearing them might strike them as unpleasant (as does the idea of me listening to my teenagers’ hip-hop music in the car instead of my favorite and familiar 70s and 80s tunes). Believe it or not, “gym shoes” really can feel great on your feet if you select the right pair. Not to mention the fact that proper footwear protects you in more ways than one.

Wearing a closed-toe shoe in the gym is imperative because bare toes are very vulnerable to the drop of a dumbbell (by you or someone else) or the end of a piece of equipment (surely I’m not the only one who has broken a toe more than once at home in bare feet)? A shoe with proper cushioning and support minimizes trauma on muscles and joints and reduces post-exercise discomfort.

A shoe worn for lifting weights need not be as “high tech” as one worn for impact activities such as walking, jogging or step aerobics. A weight lifting shoe should cover the entire foot, enable comfortable movement in all directions, and offer enough cushioning and support so the floor doesn’t feel too hard beneath your feet (low back and lower extremity joint discomfort often indicate inadequate cushioning).

If you run or engage in other high-impact activities regularly, you should buy very high quality (expensive) exercise shoes. Also buy the best footwear if you wear your shoe soles unevenly. A reputable sporting goods or running store won’t recommend a shoe without first having someone observe you walking or jogging on a treadmill, measure your arch height, and study your posture. Try on the shoe to make sure you get the proper fit (sizes vary from brand to brand), wearing your normal socks and orthotics.

Shoes worn for activities that include lateral movements, such as step aerobics and tennis, should provide lateral support so they don’t “roll over” when you move side-to-side. Running shoes are a poor choice because they are designed exclusively for forward movement. I prefer owning two pairs of shoes—a pair for running and a separate one for aerobics—over buying a once-size-fits-all “cross-training” shoe which doesn’t work optimally for either activity.

Exercise shoes should be replaced regularly. Once the cushioning in a shoe is broken down, it fails to do its job of protecting you. Get in the habit of replacing shoes every six months or about every 350 to 400 running miles to avoid unnecessary injury and pain.

There is a comfortable shoe out there waiting to be found. So when the shoe fits…buy it (and then wear it)!

Apr 062010

Susan Dawson-Cook stepping in Cancun

Stepping in Cancun (This is a mock class with my daughter in the background - I don't let my students step barefoot).

I once worked at a fitness facility with a women who smoked right before she taught her classes. That always really bothered me, someone who stood up as a role model in front of others walking into her class with the smell of smoke on her breath, practically advertising that the healthy lifestyle she preached about wasn’t the one she actually led. Although I consider myself an exemplary role model for health and fitness, I still find it beneficial to give myself a periodic evaluation to see if there is room for improvement.

To me, one of my responsibilities as a certified personal trainer and group exercise leader is to demonstrate to partipants and clients the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. That means following the ACSM guidelines for health aerobic and strength exercise to maximize my cardiovascular and musculoskeletal health and eating healthy so I stay within healthy weight limits.

I’ll be the first to admit that class participants have spotted me at the grocery with beer and ice cream in my shopping cart and that it made me feel a tad guilty. I will tell you that there were also healthy foods in there and that my diet philosophy is moderation, not obsession. At least one person a month usually asks me if I only eat raw vegetables, as if to look good you have to starve. Not! I eat whenever hungry and have maintained a weight 10-15 pounds less than when I was younger and trying all kinds of crazy diet plans. Experience and education have taught me that the best “diet” is one that includes a balance of the major food groups (with an emphasis on fruits and veggies) and minimizes processed foods high in fat and preservatives.

I most often go askew in good example setting with my athletic endeavors. As a nationally ranked competitive swimmer and occasional triathlete, I train numerous hours weekly in addition to teaching 7 or more fitness classes. I have to remind myself periodically that fitness is my career, whereas competitive athletics are only a hobby. When I keep my priorities in order, my competitive events and training don’t adversely affect my work. The only two injuries I’ve ever had (a rotator cuff tendinitis and a sacro-iliac tendinitis) both occurred, not because of a fitness class, but because of training or competing outside of class. Especially now that I’m in my late 40s, I have to be more prudent than ever training and spend more time warming up, cooling down and stretching.

Below are things I’ve seen instructors do or heard about from class participants (they just love to talk, talk, talk, about us in the locker room) that are worth aspiring NOT to do:

1 – Instructor comes to class carrying a Big Gulp of soda. A water bottle would be better…
2 – Instructor tells class about getting drunk in a bar the night before. Keep it to yourself…
3 – Overweight instructor tells class she gained 20 pounds on month-long vacation. Again, keep it to yourself…
4 – Instructor arrives to class obviously sick (coughing, sniffling, etc.) If at all possible get a sub, but I know from experience sometimes this is nearly impossible and someone has to teach the class, right? OK, so in a pinch, take some really good cold medicine first?
5 – Instructor arrives to class slightly limping (Yes, this has been me after a half marathon or a couple of weeks ago when I challenged my husband to a 3 mile race – I’m still working on my area of weakness 🙂 ) But what I and you should do is follow that RICE formula we preach to others and get someone to cover until the injury’s better.
6 – Instructor wears baggy clothes and constantly talks about how fat she is when she’s practically wasting away. Silence! It will make your class participants feel bad about themselves when someone so obviously thin or underweight is so self-critical.
7 – Instructor wears clothing that is ripped, dirty or too revealing. Fitness attire should always look neat and professional (one time I arrived to class wearing a red-rimmed Nike Vomero on the right foot and a blue one on the other – Oops).

As fitness professionals, we have the opportunity to be living examples that exercise works – it makes you feel great, look great, and have a better quality of life. By “practicing what we preach,” we enhance our influence and our credibility.

Apr 032010

Many people tell me they can’t stand to workout an hour a day because its “too boring.” Mindless exercise is boring. Bringing your brain into the picture is a quick way to make training engaging instead of dull.

If I’ve planned a 3000-yard swim, I can either get in the pool and plod out 120 mind-numbing lengths of the pool or I can pre-establish a workout with specific intervals and objectives to keep my mind engaged throughout.

Occasionally, I’ll do a long swim so I can contemplate something going on with my life and try to come up with a solution, but I woud be bored to death if I just got in and used my brain for nothing more than counting lengths of the pool (kind of like singing 101 bottles of beer on the wall).

Every time I get in the water, it is with some specific purpose. Maybe I want to achieve a certain time on a set of 100s. Or to negative split a set of 200s (swimming the second half faster than the first half). Or to step down a set of 3 500s (first one slow, second one a little faster, last one really hard). When I attend a Masters swimming workout, our coach sets up the workout for us and then I just mentally plan goal times for different parts of the workout.

I also often think about one specific element of my swimming while swimming a set. Perhaps it might be getting a good pushoff on every turn, keeping my head lower when I do breaststroke or avoiding that crossover I sometimes get with my right arm on freestyle. The entire workout, my mind is engaged and there is a mind-body connection going on. When you just try to force the body do an activity in which the brain is in no way involved, you get boredom.

I bet you’re wondering what I think about watching T.V., listening to iPods, and reading or listening to books on tape while exercising. My answer? That depends. If you want to do some long steady state exercise and aren’t concerned with “correct form,” it won’t hurt anything to do it some of the time. But I think its worthwhile to spend at least some time each week tuning into what is happening with your body.

I advocate not “tuning out” while doing a sport such as swimming that requires a lot of skill. I also think its JUST PLAIN CRAZY to go out road biking with a headset on. While road biking, you should watch for objects and obstructions on the road in front of you and be alert to other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. You can also track your speed, heart rate, and distance to make your ride more stimulating.

Below are a few before/after workout makeovers
1 – instead of that same old 3 mile run (treadmill or outside)…. Put on a heart rate monitor and run 5 minutes to warm up and then finish the run with 2 minute easy intervals and 2 minute hard intervals. Make sure your heart rate doesn’t go higher than is safe for your age and cardiovascular health.
2 – instead of that same old X distance run outside….Put on a heart rate monitor and do random intervals. Warm up five minutes and then sprint until you get to the fire hydrant, the next corner or some other land-mark determined distance and then do a recovery jog in between each hard interval. This way you will get more engaged with your surroundings.
3 – instead of that same old boring 45 minute walk (treadmill or outside)…Go ahead and put the iPod on, but put songs of different tempos in sequence so you can walk to the beat of the music. Some songs will have you walking faster, others at a slower interval.
4 – instead of that same old boring 45 minute walk…Recruit a friend (or family members) to join you, walk your dog (or someone else’s), or go to a state or national park for a change of scenery.
5 – instead of a mile swim….400 yards (8 lengths) warm-up, including different strokes and drills you like and some kicking with a kick board. 12 x 25s (1 distance per stroke, 1 fast turnover, 1 combine distance with speed x 4) 3 x 200s (negative split – second half faster than first) 6 x 50s (any stroke – step down 1-3, 4-6). 50-100 easy.
6 – instead of 45 minutes on a stationary bicycle….Buy or use a spin bike instead. Put songs on iPod that are good for hill climbs, sprints, and out-of-the seat jumps and jogs. Miix up the workout with a combination of these. Monitor heart rate and make sure to insert active recovery intervals.

I’ve spoken to open water swimmers who say they rarely get bored while swimming for hours in the ocean. Why? Because there is too much to think about, they say. Keeping your mind engaged in every aspect of your activity can make workouts much more interesting. Have a fun and productive workout week. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I look forward to hearing about YOUR favorite ways to beat boredom in workouts!