Category Archives: Exercise

6 Ways to Stay Active While Travelling

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers! If any of my readers will be travelling anywhere soon, I hope you have a safe journey.

One of the tricky parts of travelling is figuring out how to adapt your daily routine to all of the new experiences that come with visiting another place.

Between spending hours in airport or bus terminals while waiting for the next leg of the trip to begin and adjusting to a new climate, culture, or time zone, it can be challenging to stick to a fitness routine.

This post is going to talk about how to squeeze activity into whatever kind of trip you may have planned for the future.

Take Advantage of Dead Time

A year and a half ago, my spouse and I travelled to California for a beach vacation and extended family reunion. We couldn’t get a nonstop flight to our destination, so we ended up needing to book a layover. Our first flight took off first thing in the morning, and the second one wasn’t scheduled until the evening. What this meant was that we had several hours of dead time in the middle of the day while waiting for our connecting flight.

It wasn’t enough time to go out and explore the city where our first plane landed, so I walked laps in the airport instead. It wasn’t a challenging workout by any means, but it did allow me to stretch my legs and increase my step count while waiting for the next stage in our journey to begin.

Walking around can also be a more interesting way to pass the time than sitting for hours in the waiting room before you sit for even longer while on the train or bus.

Use the Hotel Gym or Pool

Checking out the hotel gym is a fantastic way to try out new equipment. You might discover that you like running on treadmills or that you prefer free weights to using a cable bicep bar. Alternatively, you might love gym machines and not find treadmills helpful at all. The only way to know is to try them out for yourself.

To give another example of why you should take advantage of these amenities, I love to go swimming. If my apartment building had a pool, I’d practically be a mermaid. You’d better believe that I spend as much time as I can swimming whenever my spouse and I stay somewhere that has one.  I’m not a huge fan of travelling in general, but this is definitely one of the perks of it.

Practice Body Weight Exercises

Body weight exercises don’t require any special equipment. Most of them are easy to memorize, and they can be done in your hotel room or in another small space as well. Due to all three of these benefits, I can’t recommend them highly enough if you’re looking to include some strength training sessions in your routine while you’re away from home.

Some of the exercises in the link above are already part of my strength training routine. The next time I go somewhere far from home, I’m looking forward to creating a hotel-friendly workout that can be done using only my own body as resistance.

Pick Active Entertainment

You don’t have to go to the gym to improve your fitness. There are so many other ways to exercise, and many of them can be valuable forms of entertainment in and of themselves.

Several years ago, I went hiking with my youngest brother and some other relatives while on a family vacation. He was a much more experienced hiker than I was, so we picked one of the easier trails and started walking.

There were many things I loved about that trip, but that hike remains one of my favourite memories from that time period. It had been ages since I’d been surrounded by mountains, and even longer since I’d hiked around in them.

We noticed a few subtle signs of the animals who lived there, from holes in the ground where snakes lived to the sound of birds singing in the bushes. While we weren’t actually that far away from the road, I was slightly surprised by how quiet the world is when you can’t hear any cars driving by or people having conversations just out of earshot. It was an incredibly peaceful experience.

Spending time with my brother was also a blast that day. We’re two of the quietest people in the family, so I relished the chance to listen to whatever he had to say while we hiked.

Playing Counts, Too

One of the things I like the most about visiting my other brother and his family is all of the playtime that happens with them. It’s not limited to the kids, either!

From playing catch with my oldest nephew to going swimming with everyone, we found so many active ways to spend time together that I didn’t bother doing a formal workout on those days.

Running around with them was all the exercise any of us needed. Now that my nephew is a proud big brother, our family reunions are only going to be more active and playful in the future.

Do the Best You Can

I’m going to be completely honest with you here. My workouts vary quite a bit when I’m travelling, and I don’t always meet my fitness goals. Some days could be full of more activity than I’d typically do back home, but others are more sedentary due to the kinds of activities the extended family chose for that particular day.

Vacations are a time to relax in whatever way you see fit. Don’t worry if working out doesn’t fit into your plans for a particularly busy day. Missing one session isn’t going to matter in the long run, especially if that short time away energizes you. I know I miss my workouts when I’m not able to squeeze them in. The longer I go without them, the stronger my urge becomes to get back into old, familiar routines again.

Why Everyone Should Use a Pedometer

Lately, I’ve been thinking about some of the simplest lifestyle changes I made several years ago when I decided to take charge of my health and get into better shape. Getting into the habit of using a pedometer every day was at the top of that list.

My first pedometer was actually an app on my phone. That phone had to be in my pants pocket in order for it to count my steps back then. If I carried it or put it in my jacket pocket, my step count would rise much more slowly than was normal for me at the time.

I suspected it was a little inaccurate from the beginning, but I didn’t realize exactly how many steps it was missing until I upgraded to a new phone that included a more sensitive step counter in its operating system.

Suddenly, my final count at the end of the day jumped up by a few thousand steps even though my routine had stayed the same. Wow, was that a pleasant surprise! I ended up increasing my daily goal from 10,000 to 12,000 steps a day in order to continue challenging myself.

While my current pedometer seems to be much more accurate, I do sometimes wonder if it still misses steps. I now get about 14,000 of them in the average day, though, so I don’t worry about it as much as I would if I were using the older and more inaccurate model or consistently struggling to get more than a few thousand steps per day.

The nice thing about this piece of technology is that it doesn’t require perfection in order to give you a rough snapshot of how active you are and to encourage you to gradually increase your goals over time.

Every Little Bit Counts

When I first began paying attention to my step count, there were times when it seemed impossible to reach 10,000 steps without spending my entire day walking around. It took time to realize that this wasn’t true and that there were many ways to fit more activity into the habits I’d already formed.

The nice thing about having a pedometer is that you can see the results of even minor lifestyle changes very quickly.

For example, I now know that a walk around the block is good for adding about 500 steps to my step count. Ending a trip one subway stop sooner can add a thousand steps or more .

Even when I didn’t make my original goal every day in the beginning, I was still able to see my average step count rise for that week or month as I figured out how to squeeze a few more minutes of walking into whatever else I was doing that day. The more tricks I found, the more motivated I became to push my steps closer to the 10,000 mark and to make new goals once that one felt easy.

It’s a Great Source of Motivation

Speaking of motivation, I find it incredibly motivating to see how something as simple as taking an extra walk to run some errands could add a few hundred to a few thousand steps to my daily total without me feeling like I was doing anything that out of the ordinary at all. Small lifestyle changes like the ones I just mentioned add up over time.

Many fitness goals aren’t like this. For example, losing weight, reducing your body fat percentage, strengthening your muscles, and becoming more flexible are all goals that generally need to be pursued over the long term. You probably won’t see much improvement at all with them in the beginning.

As much as I’ve enjoyed seeing the results from my longterm goals, there is definitely something to be said for setting goals that you can reach in a month, a week, or even a single day as well.

I can’t double the weight of the dumbbells I lift in that amount of time, but I can commit to taking a walk or pacing around while I’m waiting for something to nudge my step count average up while also working on more difficult goals during other parts of the day.

Nearly Everyone Can Do It

Unlike many other forms of exercise, walking doesn’t require a gym membership, special equipment, or protective gear. The only thing you need other than a pair of comfortable walking shoes is a pedometer. I’ve seen pedometers for sale for as little as $5 to $10 each.

There are also options for people who can’t afford that expense or who want to try this idea out before buying one of their own. Many public libraries have developed programs that lend out pedometers to their patrons the same way they’d lend out a book or DVD.

The Toronto Public Library had one of these programs several years ago, and I believe they allowed people to keep the pedometers for up to two months at a time while they had it. I’d gotten ahold of my own step counter by the time I became aware of this program at my local branch, but it was a great way for people from any walk of life to get a snapshot of how active they were and decide if buying their own step counter was a good decision.

Pedometers Teach You How to Stop Needing Them

After you’ve used a pedometer for a while, you may very well develop an automatic sense of how active a day should be in order to reach your goals like I have.

For example, I now know that I need to spend about a hour a day walking around in order to make my step count goal. This time is virtually always broken up into smaller increments. Occasionally, it’s as brief as as a five minutes walk here and a ten minute walk there every hour or two until I’ve gotten my full 60 minutes of movement in for the day.

Other people have different goals, of course. I’m young and in decent shape, so my exercise routine may be too challenging for people who aren’t used to any sort of exercise at all. That same routine might be too easy for athletes in peak physical shape who are used to vigorous workouts instead.

While I continue to check my step count for the sheer joy of seeing what my numbers are looking like and as a reminder to keep encouraging myself to do a little more over time, I could stop using it and maintain my current routine without an issue.

To me, this is a sign of a worthwhile piece of equipment. Just like my muscles have outgrown lighter pairs of hand weights, my mind has learned to adapt to my new fitness routine. Any habit takes time to develop. The fact that my pedometer has done such an excellent job of teaching me how to intuitively know how much and how often I should be moving makes it something I’d wholeheartedly recommend to anyone reading this who is hoping to develop similarly strong habits.

What I Love About Weightlifting

Last Thursday I blogged about the parts of weighlifting that I hate.

Now it’s time to dig into all of the reasons why I love this form of exercise. Today’s post will be longer than the one that was published here last week because there are far more things I enjoy about bodybuilding than there are things I don’t.

If I had known how much I was going to enjoy it, I would have started doing it much sooner in life!

Growing Stronger

I know I’ve mention this several times before in previous posts, but it is incredible to see how much easier all kinds of tasks are when you’re physically capable of lifting heavier loads.

The first time I noticed I was growing stronger happened when my groceries began to feel lighter. Since I don’t own a car, I need to carry home everything I buy. There was a time a few years ago when I had to plan ahead for shopping trips that involved buying a few litres of milk, canned goods, and other items that weren’t light.

Often I would break this errand up into two trips to make it easier on me. If I had several heavy items on my list that had to be purchased immediately, sometimes I’d also need to pause and rest for a minute before picking up my load again.

I slowly became capable of bigger loads over longer distances, though, and now I rarely think about what I’m putting in my shopping cart as far as its weight goes. Unless I’m sick or injured, I can carry home just about any combination of ingredients I might need for my small household.

This spilled over into other ordinary parts of daily life, too, like bringing a bottle of detergent and a large hamper full of a few loads of dirty clothing and from the laundry room. I was always able to lift that stuff, but it definitely feels lighter than it used to.

Having More Energy

When I began working on this post this past weekend, I’d just arrived home from a long, brisk walk outdoors that lasted about an hour. The weather has finally grown cooler here in Toronto, and I was soaking up every bit of mild air I could before I jumped into writing.

There were many things I was hoping would happen when I first began lifting weights, but having more energy wasn’t one of them. In fact, I didn’t think about it much at all back then.

It wasn’t until I began to feel more energetic that I realized how much my life was changing for the better. I was never so tired that I thought something might be medically wrong with me. This was a mild symptom of my fairly inactive lifestyle back then that I didn’t really notice until it began to fade away.

It simply never occurred to me that I could get a burst of energy from exercising or that someday I wouldn’t be so sleepy every night before bed or after a long, brisk walk.

Sleeping Better

Speaking of sleep, it is much easier for me to lie down and get a good night’s rest when I’m in my regular routine of lifting weights.

Exercise in general does wonders for my ability to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep all night, but weightlifting in particular has had a positive impact on how I feel every night when I go to bed and every morning when I wake up again.

I have no idea why or how this works, but I notice a reduction in the quality of my sleep every time I have to temporarily take a break from lifting weights due to illness or injury. It always feels great to get back into my regular routine and then begin falling asleep quickly at night as a result of that.

Losing Inches

While weight loss was one of my original goals when I first began working out again, I didn’t realize how much my body would begin to change as a result of lifting weights in ways that had nothing to do with how much I weighed.

This is another one of those situations where I wish I’d snapped pictures, taken measurements, and otherwise kept a closer eye on where I started out and what I look like today.

I didn’t need those measurements to start noticing a difference in the way my clothing fit, though. Pants that had been a little tight in the past suddenly began to feel looser even during times when my weight itself wasn’t changing at all. The same thing happened to a few other articles of clothing as well.

A pound of muscle is much denser than a pound of fat. Over time even small changes in what percentage you have of each can lead to big changes in how you look and feel.

As my body fat percentage slowly began to drop, I started to look and feel better in clothing I’d owned for ages.

The interesting thing about this is how my goals have shifted over time. The fitter I become, the bigger my goals become for the future. I rarely think about how much I weigh anymore. There are far more interesting goals to pursue these days.

Reducing the Risks of Certain Diseases

I’m going to be honest with you here. This wasn’t something I thought a lot of about when I first began lifting weights. It’s a benefit that I only realized was happening after I’d gotten into the habit of including this form of exercise in my regular routine and began reading about the benefits of staying active in general.

With that being said, I do have relatives who were diagnosed with certain diseases that have been shown to happen less often among people who lift weights and otherwise exercise regularly. There are no guarantees in life, but I’m glad that I’m helping to reduce my risk of developing these diseases.

Nobody can choose what genetic risk factors they were born with, but you can control many other risk factors like diet, alcohol consumption, and exercise.

Seeing What My Body Is Capable Of

I was never one of those kids who excelled at or looked forward to gym class. The schools I attended focused very heavily on team sports for physical education. While that may have been motivating for students who enjoyed and were good at basketball, football, or volleyball, I sure wasn’t one of them.

One of the best parts of becoming an adult has been gaining the freedom to explore many different types of exercise and discovering what actually appeals to me. It has been especially interesting to see what my body is capable of as far as weightlifting goes.

I never would have imagined that I’d love lifting weights or that I’d become as strong as I have. There are so many goals I still want to accomplish, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I’ll be able to do next.

If you haven’t begun lifting weights yet, I can’t encourage you enough to give it a try. It is such a fantastic way to get into better shape and, as I hope this post has showed you, the benefits of it can affect so many different parts of your life.

What I Hate About Weightlifting

Today I’m going to be talking about the parts of weightlifting that I hate.

Every type of exercise has its downsides no matter how much you enjoy it overall. In no way is this essay meant to be a put-down or a rant. I’m writing it from the perspective who loves bodybuilding even when certain parts of it annoy or frustrate me for reasons that I’ll discuss below.

The purpose of today’s post is simply to honestly discuss the things I wish I could change about this form of exercise.

On Monday, October 2 I’ll be publishing a longer follow-up to this post that talks about all of the things I love about lifting weights. I hope you’ll read both posts once they’re available and think carefully about your favorite sport or workout routine.

If you  share your own lists of the things you love and hate about whatever kind of exercise you do on a regular basis and let me know about them, I will happily share links to those essays on a future Suggestion Saturday post.

The Gender Stereotypes

When I was a kid, I remember watching an interview on TV with a woman who was a bodybuilder. One of the first questions the host of this show asked her was about the fear that women have of becoming too muscular if they begin to lift weights regularly.

She laughed and talked about how difficult it was for women to create the kind of bodies you see in female bodybuilding competitions.

It wasn’t until I began lifting weights myself years later that I realize exactly how right she’d been about that. Regardless of whether or not you want to look like them, it’s not a body type that accidentally happens a few minutes after you lift a 5-pound weight.  The large, defined muscles you see on the women in those competitions require years of dedication that include a strict diet and strenuous exercise routine.

I still meet people who believe that “real” women aren’t supposed to be muscular and that lifting even light weights without changing your diet will result in these kinds of figures.

The sexism in the first part of that statement saddens me. There is no such thing as being a “real” woman, and even if there was this would have nothing to do with it. I’m also dismayed by the idea of pitting people against each other based on the size of their muscles.

The unrealistic expectations in the second part make me roll my eyes. If only it were that easy to build muscle!

The Callouses

Callouses were the last thing on my mind when I first began lifting, but now I have them on both hands. The weights I use have ridges etched into them to make it easier to hold onto them if your hands are sweaty.

Given that I’ve moved up to lifting 30 pounds at a time now, this is an important safety feature. I’d hate to think what would happen if a non-ridged set of weights were to slip out of someone’s sweaty hands. They could very easily break a bone or do other serious damage to anyone who got in their way!

With that being said, I still miss the smooth skin I used to have. Don’t laugh. This is definitely a minor issue in the scheme of things, but it bothers me to have callouses that I can’t get rid of no matter what I try.

The Lag Between Working Out and Seeing Results

Weightlifting doesn’t give me that same mood boost that going on a long walk does. When I first began bodybuilding, I felt nothing other than some muscle soreness after those workouts. These days it’s pretty rare for me to be sore, so I usually don’t have any particular feeling at all when I finish a set.

Building muscle and lowering your body fat percentage takes time. It’s such a gradual process that I don’t notice any differences from one day or week to the next. It’s only when I check my statistics, or need to buy new clothing, or get a comment from someone who hasn’t seen me in a while that I realize my body is slowly growing stronger and leaner.

The changes are still exciting over the long term, but I do still sometimes wish that it was as easy to see your muscle growth as it is to notice positive improvements in other types of exercise like jogging or dancing where people can do stuff like count how many miles they ran or which new dance moves they’ve mastered.

You Can Injure Yourself If You Don’t Do It Correctly

 This isn’t something I’d recommend to anyone who isn’t willing to put in the time to learn how to do it safely. One of the benefits of walking is that it’s pretty difficult to hurt yourself when you’re on a walk. There might be an occasional slip and fall in slippery conditions, but other than that a walk can be taken safely regardless of your posture, how you move your body, or how much attention you’re paying to your surroundings.

Weightlifting isn’t like that. By no means am I trying to scare people out of trying it, but it is a sport that needs to be taken seriously. The last thing you want to do is hurt yourself by lifting something that’s too heavy for your or by not using the right form.

On that note, I’ll sign off. Come back on Monday to find out what I love about this form of exercise.

Getting in Shape Is About Small Decisions, Not Big Ones

One of the things I found most surprising about improving my fitness was how much the small decisions I make every day can accumulate over time.

The first fitness goal I set for myself a few years ago when I decided I wanted to get back into shape was to finish a 30-minute cardio and weightlifting video I found on Youtube. I didn’t even have a pair of hand weights in the house back then, so I improvised with canned food to get myself used to those moves at first.

There were times in the beginning when I could only get about 10 or 15 minutes through it before I needed to take a break to catch my breath because I wasn’t used to moving my body in certain ways. Nevertheless, I persisted. 😉

This was also the only change I made in my daily habits for those first few weeks. My diet remained the same, and other than taking some walks I wasn’t active during the rest of my time.

Getting In Shape Is About Small Decisions

The interesting thing about small decisions is how they build on each other when you’re least expecting it. Once I started making it all the way through that video, I decided to start using an actual set of hand weights during the weightlifting portions of it. I’d previously loaned a 4-pound pair of weights to someone I knew, so once I got them back I began using them instead of lifting tonight’s dinner over my head. Ha!

Suddenly, my routine became challenging again, and I reveled in the idea that those little weights would someday feel too light for me. This was about the same time that I made the commitment to take a walk every day no matter what else I did. Sometimes those walks were a light, 5-minute stroll around the block, and sometimes they lasted an hour or longer and left me sweaty and out of breath by the end of them.

The act of taking the walk was much more important to me than how strenuous it was or how long it lasted.

Once that habit had been formed, I started to take a closer look at my diet and other lifestyle habits that needed to be tweaked in order for me to become healthier. There was never a point when I quit eating anything cold turkey or when I suddenly jumped from not really working out at all to doing something active every day of the week.

It was gradual. One good habit encouraged me to build another. Now I walk or do other cardio exercises for about an hour each day, lift weights for about a hour each week, and have averaged 15,000 steps per day over the last year.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

I’m writing this portion of today’s post with the knowledge that some people want to quit certain habits cold turkey and leap into long, challenging workouts right away. If that’s what works best for you, great!

It’s been my experience, though, that breaking unhealthy habits and building better ones takes far more time and effort than you might imagine at first.

Most of the people I’ve known who were successful at reaching their fitness goals over the long term were folks who focused on one habit at a time and committed to eliminating (or adding) it to their daily routine before choosing their next goal.

Change is difficult. I won’t sugar-coat that for you. There were – and sometimes still are – days when I don’t want to move a muscle for reasons that are completely unrelated to needing time off to heal from an injury or illness. If I had tried to change everything I wanted to do differently in the beginning, I think I would have had a very hard time sticking to my resolutions.

By focusing on one small goal at a time, I was able to build the habits I needed to take on more challenging stuff in the future.

The Difference Between Simple and Easy

Getting into shape is simple in the sense that you will become healthier once you’ve committed to a workout or diet tweak and stuck with it over the long haul.

This doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. To give you an example of what I mean, I’ll tell you the story of what happened when I first decided to switch from drinking rice milk to almond milk. The rice milk I used to drink was sweetened. The almond milk I decided to switch to in order to cut some unnecessary sugar out of my diet was not. It was a simple decision in the sense that both of these milk alternatives are sold in nearly all of the grocery stores close to my home.

I was not a big fan of the almond milk at first because my taste buds were so used to sweet beverages. It took a while to adjust to the more subtle flavours of almond milk, and I definitely had my fair share of gripes about the process in the beginning. I didn’t realize just how much my taste buds had adjusted until my local grocery store temporarily sold out of unflavoured almond milk a few months ago and I had to buy a jug of the stuff I used to drink.

Wow, was it sweet! It tasted like a dessert to me instead of something I’d put into my morning oatmeal or add to a savoury recipe. I honestly didn’t like it at all, and was very happy when my almond milk was back in stock again.

Simple choices aren’t always easy ones to stick with, but if you keep going you’ll be surprised by how much your body can adapt to new routines, foods, workouts, and so much more.I hope this post has encouraged you to find one small change to make in your daily routine. If I can do it, then so can you!

My Biggest Health and Fitness Mistakes So Far

Lately I’ve been thinking about how much has been slowly changing for me from a health and fitness perspective over the last four years. After mulling it over for a while, there are three things I wish I would have done differently when I first decided to start working out regularly again. I Wish I’d… Read More

How to Encourage Someone Else to Start Exercising

No, this post isn’t about cajoling, bribing, manipulating, or otherwise pushing people to do what you want if – or even because –  it will be good for them in the longterm. Not only is this kind of behaviour completely ineffective, it’s also destructive regardless of whether it’s happening between friends, relatives, or romantic partners. The decision to… Read More