Category Archives: Exercise

6 Things I Wish My Gym Teachers Had Done Differently

The other day I had a conversation with some  friends online about our experiences in gym class when we were growing up. Most of us disliked that class quite a bit growing up, and none of us came away from it with positive feelings about sports or exercise in general.

There were many different reasons for those reactions, but the biggest ones had to do with our  complete disinterest in sports and lack of athletic prowess in general.

This is a real shame. Physical Education teachers have a golden opportunity to show students how to stay fit regardless of how coordinated or athletic they might be. I empathize with how difficult it must be to get kids interested in gym class if they show up already expecting to hate it, but I’d also argue that there are a lot of changes that could be made to the way P.E. classes are run that will make them far more appealing to kids who aren’t athletic and who don’t think of exercise as a fun activity.

Today I’ll be sharing those recommendations. If there are any gym teachers reading this blog, I’d be quite interested in hearing your response to this post. These are the six things that I wish my gym teachers had done differently when I was in their classes.

Explained Why It’s Important to Exercise

My English teachers regularly explained why it was important to know how to write a grammatical sentence or be familiar with certain authors. They used examples like writing a formal letter or understanding certain literary references that the vast majority of adults know.

My math teachers told us how equations helped you save money or solve problems as an adult. They used examples like figuring out how much a sale item will cost after the 30% discount or calculating how many gallons of paint to buy when you repaint your living room.

None of my gym teachers ever made the connection between what they taught in class and what we’d need to know in order to function well as adults. We played endless rounds of basketball, football, volleyball, and other sports without hearing a single word about how exercise strengthens your heart, builds your muscles, burns calories, or reduces your risks of many different diseases.

It was like being given an equation that didn’t make sense and then never being told what the real answer should have been.

Because I said so isn’t a persuasive or helpful response in these scenarios. Kids, and especially teenagers, are smart enough to be told why they’re being expected to do something. It might be a while before they come to fully appreciate these lessons, but I think that explaining the reasons for gym class would go a long way to encouraging reluctant students to change their habits.

Taught Us the Proper Form

I wasn’t the most coordinated kid in the world, so I’m definitely not going to lay all of the blame on the  injuries I regularly received in gym class on the teachers.

There were multiple times when I sprained fingers or got bruised up in gym class.

Yes, some of them were true accidents that could have happened to any child.

With that being said, I do think I would have been injured much less often if we’d all been taught the proper posture for the sports we were playing and if someone had corrected my posture if it still wasn’t right.

This never happened once in all of my years of attending public school. As an adult, I sympathize with my teachers for being responsible for the physical education of so many kids. I don’t think we should expect perfection from teachers in this area, but I do think they should have the support and resources to prevent as many injuries as possible.

Eliminated Dodgeball and Picking Teams

Dodgeball is the only sport I can think of where the purpose of it is to throw balls at people and purposefully hit them. I don’t know about you, but I remember feeling pain when those dodgeballs smacked me. This was not a pleasant experience in any way.

It’s one thing if a small group of friends decide to play this game at recess, but school isn’t an appropriate place to make kids to throw objects at each other.

If it happened in any other context, the kid who threw the object would be sent to the principal’s office and possibly even suspended or expelled for assault.

Picking teams is unnecessary, ripe for bullying behaviours, and a waste of time. It would be so much faster to divide the students by preassigning groups or having them count off (e.g. 1 through 4) so they could quickly be divided into four equal sections.

Spent 1/3 of the School Year on Non-Competitive Sports

Yes, I know that many schools have limited budgets for their physical education departments and therefore can only offer certain types of workouts to their students.

The schools I attended didn’t have anything fancy like swimming pools or tennis courts. We had gyms that always smell faintly of perspiration, plenty of old sports equipment, and far more wrestling mats than we knew what to do with.

With that being said, there are plenty of inexpensive and even free types of exercise out there that don’t require any competition at all.

For example, there would be little to no equipment needed at all for a P.E. teacher to teach martial arts or several different units on various types of dancing. The music for the dance classes could be piped in over the loudspeakers or played on an old boombox. Many types of martial arts don’t require any equipment at all.

Spent 1/3 of the School Year on Individual Sports

One of the reasons why I hated gym class so much growing up is that 95% of the units we did were team sports.

Basketball, volleyball, baseball, football, and hockey might be good workouts, but they didn’t appeal to me in the least. The more I played them, the less open I became to exercising at all.

While I do think it was a good idea to expose kids to team sports, I’d also argue that it’s just as important to show students the many ways they can work out that have nothing at all to do with competition or teams.

There are so many other ways to strengthen your heart and body that could easily be taught to students depending on their ages and what types of equipment are already available at the school: yoga, weightlifting, jogging, bodyweight exercises, and gymnastics to name a few.

The final third of the year could be dedicated to various team sports. Some kids honestly do enjoy those forms of exercise, so I’d be fine with keeping them as a small part of the curriculum.

Occasionally Given the Students a Say

This is by far the biggest change I’d recommend making to the way physical education classes are currently run.

My high school Spanish class was allowed to vote on which pre-approved Disney movie we wanted to watch after we’d studied that language for a while and were reading to start practicing our listening skills in real time.

One of my elementary school teachers regularly let us vote on which pre-approved book to read as a class next. This would be a little trickier to do in high school since certain authors are often required to be taught, but I could see a secondary English teacher narrowing down the choices to two or three Shakespeare plays and then seeing which one their class was most interested in studying over the next month.

Being able to have a say in those classes made me much more interested in reading those books and watching those movies.

There’s no reason why gym teachers can’t offer their students the same choice. Why not let them decide whether they’ll spend the next few weeks playing basketball or learning how to square dance? They’ll be exercising either way, and the fact that the teacher listened to them will mean a lot.

What were your experiences with gym class growing up? What could your P.E. teacher have done differently to get you more involved in that class?

What I Missed the Most About Working Out

Its’s been a long time since my last workout thanks to a stubborn cold I caught weeks ago that only now seems to have faded away for good.

There are many other things in this world I can sit patiently through:  obscure jokes I don’t understand; long lines at Service Canada when I need to update my identification cards; medical tests that require you to remain perfectly still for a certain amount of time; an animal or small child who insists on following the same routine over and over again.

With that being said, I never enjoy being sidelined by an injury or illness that requires me to stop exercising for a while. I’ve been feeling restless this past week as my cough faded away and I slowly healed. It’s hard to stay sedentary during this part of the healing process because of how many different things I miss about my regular workouts when I’m not able to do them.

Today I thought it would be interesting to talk about the three parts of exercising that I miss the most now that I’m poised to finally get back into my regular routines.

Better Sleep

I fall asleep more easily and sleep more soundly when I get some form of exercise every day. It doesn’t have to be a strenuous  workout either. Even something as simple as a thirty-minute walk has a positive effect on how I sleep that night.

Some of my sleeping issues over the past few weeks were definitely related to being ill and would have happened regardless of what else was going on in my life. It’s impossible to sleep through a sneezing or coughing fit, and I slept better once most of these symptoms had gone away.

With that being said, I’m going to sleep even better now that I’m getting back into my normal routine.

A Sense of Accomplishment

There’s an app on my smart watch that gives me regular updates on my fitness and activity goals for the day. When I’m not sick or injured, I make those goals so reliably that I can pinpoint exactly when I’ve been under the weather in the past based on when my stats dip below my goals for those particular days or weeks.

My app gives me friendly notifications when I reach a goal or when I’m close to reaching a specific goal for the day. Seeing those updates not only makes me happy, it gives me a small sense of accomplishment as well. It’s easy to discount all of the other things I accomplish every day as a writer and volunteer because of how abstract many of those goals are, so it’s nice to occasionally be reminded of something I’ve done in a more concrete manner.

A Reason to Watch TV Shows

I’ve spent so much time exercising while watching TV shows over the past several years that it now feels incredibly strange to me to sit or lie down quietly while watching them.

Yes, I watched a few shows every day while I was getting better, but I found it a little more difficult to pay attention to their plots while my body was so still. The healthier I began to feel, the more restless I felt as well. I had the urge go run around outside in the freezing Ontario weather, not lie quietly and watch another episode.

It’s going to be so nice to at least be able to move again while I’m watching TV shows this winter!

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The Cold That Stuck Around (Or Why I Haven’t Lifted Weights in Ages)

Every once in a great while, my body meets a cold virus that decides it likes living in my body and becomes reluctant to leave it. I’m talking about the kind of devotion that some people are never lucky enough to experience once in their entire lifetimes. If it didn’t involve so much coughing, I’d be much more willing to feel sorry for those poor viruses who hang around for as long as they do.

I like to blame this on the fact that I didn’t grow up in Canada as well as the fable that I therefore have yet to mingle with some of the more virulent germs floating around up here. When Canadians emigrate to the U.S., I’m sure they’re occasionally just as surprised by our fierce American germs down there. (I will now wait for my mother, who has worked in the medical field for over 20 years and has no doubt forgotten more about these things than I’ll ever know, to shake her head and laugh at the idea of Canadian vs. American viruses.)

For the past few weeks, I’ve had about as much stamina and energy as the sleeping cat in the picture on the left.

There were a few beautiful naps to be had in the early stages of The Cold That Stuck Around™, and I was grateful for every one of them.

After the sneezing, fatigue, and congestion finally began to fade away, I started thinking about weightlifting again. I miss it every single time I have to take a break from it to heal from an injury or illness.

As usual, I waited a couple of days until after my cough finally faded away before tentatively doing a light bodyweight fitness routine that I normally find pretty easy. I was otherwise  feeling well by this point, and I really wanted to get back into my normal routine before the new year.

Something tells me The Cold That Stuck Around™ was expecting this, because I began coughing at the end of that workout. It wasn’t a hacking cough, but it did bother me off and on for the rest of that day.

The next morning I was still coughing, so I took another couple of days off to rest. Yesterday, I decided to try to reach my daily step count goal without doing any weightlifting. Maybe that fairly small amount of exercise would be acceptable while I healed.

I’ll give you the amount of time it takes to read this sentence to guess how that turned out for me.

Yes, I had another coughing fit this morning. It was milder than the last one, but I clearly haven’t shaken off The Cold That Stuck Around™quite yet.

I otherwise feel perfectly healthy. It’s hard to justify the idea of not getting my normal amount of exercise in, but clearly my body isn’t quite ready for that yet.

So now here I am staring wistfully at my weights as I wonder when I’ll get to use them again. In the scheme of things, it is a very minor problem to have. I honestly shouldn’t even be complaining about it at all, but I’m going be very happy when the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named finally wanders away for good and I’m no longer coughing at all. There are many things in life I can be perfectly patient about,  but this isn’t one of them.

I hope that all of your fitness routines are going much more smoothly!

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… Read More

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