Category Archives: Exercise

The Top 5 Must-Haves If You Want to Start Exercising

If you haven’t exercised in years, what equipment do you really need to get started? What is optional? What items can be skipped or put off until later? What can be bought second-hand?

All of these questions will be answered in today’s post.

1. Comfortable Shoes and Clothes

Nearly all of my workout clothing is old, mismatched, and basically impossible to ruin. I have one sports bra that I wear when I’m overheated or for activities that work better if my outfit isn’t so loose. There are times when it’s safer to avoid flowy fabrics or fits, although most of my workouts can be done with any kind of clothing that allows a full range of movement.

Since a lot of the exercise I get is in the form of brisk walking, I specifically buy shoes based on how well they can stand up to a lot of wear and tear. I don’t have a problem spending more on them than is strictly necessary because of how much use I get out of them.

If you already have a pair of sneakers, keeping using them until they need to be replaced. If not, this is one of the few things that I’ll recommend getting immediately. You don’t have to spring for the most expensive pair of sneakers, but make sure you get something comfortable that supports and protects your feet.

Don’t spend money on new workout clothes in the beginning unless you genuinely don’t have anything to wear. Once you know whether you’re going to spend most of your time doing, you’ll have a much better understanding of what – if anything – you actually need.

After all of my stuff finally wears out, I will probably upgrade to a matching outfit or two if I can find a good deal on them. There are some cute styles out there these days that I’d like to try. This is definitely not necessary, though. The workouts will be the same regardless of what you wear.

2.  Hand or Free Weights

I’m assuming here that you do not have a gym membership. If you do, consider this one optional.

Yes, you can build up your strength doing nothing but bodyweight exercises. Some of my weightlifting routine each week includes these moves, but it didn’t when I first began because I wasn’t strong enough to do a full pushup yet.

It wasn’t until I moved down to a less challenging set of moves that I was able to actually start making progress with those fitness goals.

The nice thing about a pair of hand-weights is that you can start off at any level of strength you currently have. I’ve known people who began with 1-, 3- or 5-pound weights and moved up from there.

Dumbbells are also useful once you become too strong to be challenged by bodyweight exercises. Someday I’d love to lift weights as large as the woman on the right is. I think I’ll make it there eventually!

This is something that can be bought secondhand if you’re looking to save money. Weights wear out incredibly slowly, so you’ll almost certainly outgrow them before they’ve outlived their usefulness.

3. A Yoga Mat

I’m still using the same yoga mat I did when I first began working out again several years ago.

This isn’t something you need to spend a lot of money on. I picked the least expensive one I could find, and it still looks pretty good after years of regular use.  You can get a pricier one if you want, but the cheap ones are perfectly serviceable.

Comfort is the biggest reason why I so strongly recommend picking up a yoga mat up as soon as possible. I have hardwood floors in my home, so lying or sitting on the floor for any kind of workout routine quickly becomes uncomfortable. This is especially true when I’m trying to hold a difficult pose or support my weight on one leg.

The other nice thing about this piece of equipment is that it reframes the space you’re working out in. When my mat is unrolled, I know it’s time to push myself to finish that workout. After I roll it up again, I feel psychologically prepared to transition to whatever it is I’ll be doing next that day.

4. A Water Bottle

Every year I have to remind myself to drink more water when the temperatures warm up again. It is very easy to get a little dehydrated when you’re exercising outside under the glare of the sun.

One of the few fitness-related items I’m thinking about getting this year is a reusable water bottle. I had one years ago that eventually broke. It’s high time that I replaced it based on how rare it is to find a drinking fountain in Toronto. I can get by with visiting fountains in certain parts of the city, but other sections are sorely lacking in this department.

A water bottle is a good investment for beginners. They are inexpensive unless you purposefully decide to buy something fancy that’s designed for a specific sport like running. Water is also something that everyone needs during or after a workout.

If you don’t happen to need a water bottle after all, great! I do recommend picking one up if you’ll be spending time outdoors or in any place where it’s difficult to find a drink.

 

5. Determination

If only I could sell you an ounce of pure determination!

This sadly can’t be bought in any store, but it is one of the most important things you’ll need as you begin your new exercise routine.

There will be hard days. You might try a new workout and wonder if you’ll ever be able to do the whole way through without needing a break.

They’ll either get easier over time or you’ll find a different form of exercise that suits you better. In the meantime, determination will see you through the rough spots.

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5 Fitness Rules You Should Break

One of the most interesting things about fitness culture is how many different rules there are about what you are and are not supposed to do in order to get healthier. I’ve learned so much about the art of staying fit by listening to what other ordinary people find helpful.

There is a lot of fantastic information out there about what you should be doing, but today I wanted to talk about fitness rules that should be broken instead of being followed.

No Pain, No Gain

Of course there are times when I’m a little sore during or after a workout, but I genuinely enjoy the time I spend exercising overall. It feels good to get my blood pumping as I learn a new move or break a new record. Achieving small goals like that are what keep me motivated as I push through tough or new workouts.

If whatever I’m doing starts to genuinely hurt, though, I take it as a sign that I shouldn’t be doing that particular activity for now. Often it’s okay again if I ease back on how quickly I’m doing it or if I move to a lighter set of weights. Over the longterm, I can almost always work up to whatever it was that was too hard to do the first time I tried it.

There’s a difference between pushing yourself to run a little faster or lift harder this time and risking an injury by ignoring your pain.

If it isn’t fun on at least some level, don’t do it.

Work Out No Matter What the Weather Is Like 

Here in Toronto we occasionally get warnings about smog, snowstorms, fog, sleet, snow, heat waves, or cold snaps. As much as I like exercising outdoors, these days are not safe and healthy ones to do anything active outdoors. This is even more true for people with pre-existing health conditions like asthma.

Other areas of the world have different warnings. I have relatives whose lives are occasionally put on hold by haboobs (dust storms). When I say their lives are put on hold, I mean that they have to stop whatever they’re doing, find shelter, and wait for the storm to pass. One time one of them even got stuck on the side of the road for a little while because all of that dust would have badly damaged the engine of their car if they had kept driving through it.

There are times when it can be downright dangerous to go for a jog or do other strenuous activities if the weather in your community is really bad. I have a full repertoire of workouts that can be done in my apartment or other places indoors when the weather isn’t cooperative. If it’s extremely smoggy or humid, I might not exercise at all that day depending on what the air conditioning situation is like and how my lungs are feeling.

Missing one workout isn’t going to make a big difference in the scheme of things. Safety always has to come first.

Make It a Competition

Some people thrive on competition, but I find that kind of motivation to be demoralizing instead of encouraging. I really don’t enjoy pitting people against each other. This is especially true when it comes to something as individualized as how or when you work out.

Part of the reason why I dislike making exercise competitive is that I have a few friends who are living with various illnesses and disabilities that restrict how much energy and strength they have. They are simply not physically capable of doing a lot of things that I can do without a second thought. There are other people I know who are in much better shape than I am. In all of these cases, the competition wouldn’t be a fair one because we’d be coming from such different starting points.

Even when we’re more or less evenly matched in strength and overall fitness, some of my other friends  participate in types of exercise that are so different from what I do that it’s almost impossible to compare them. For example, how on earth would you compare swimming to jogging? What about tai chi to a team sport like volleyball? There’s no easy way to weigh things like these, especially when you factor in the different fitness levels and physical abilities of everyone involved.

The final problem I have with it is that I believe exercise should be fun for everyone. As someone who isn’t competitive, having only one winner at the end of it makes me not want to play at all.

Why not focus on having a great time instead?

It’s cool if other people want to compete with each other to stay motivated, but I’d much rather encourage everyone at whatever it is they enjoy doing and not worry about who “won” in the end. If you’ve found a sustainable way to stay active, you’re a winner in my book!

All You Need Is One Routine

Confession: I was guilty of this one myself when I first started working out. I stuck with the same cardio and light hand weight routine for a long time and was a bit hesitant to try anything new because of how much I liked what I was currently doing.

All of that exercise was still very good for me, but I didn’t realize how much more I was capable of until I started branching out. Dancing and bodyweight videos on Youtube made my muscles ache in ways they hadn’t ached since I first started working out. It was also much more mentally stimulating than doing the same routine day after day. I had to learn how to move my body in new ways and try stuff I’d never considered doing before.

This has become even more true as I explore what yoga routines work best for me. Once again, I’ve been thrown into an entirely new way of working out that’s challenging and exciting.

Food Is Nothing But Fuel

Yes, having a healthy diet is important. One of the things that alarms me about certain parts of fitness culture, though, is how they focus on the physical effects of food so much that they sometimes forget the other meanings it can have.

Sharing food is a sign of love and friendship in many cultures. Some of the best memories of my childhood involved spending time with my extended family as they cooked a big meal. My grandmother has a huge dining room table that gets filled up with family members at the holidays and on other special occasions.

Anywhere between some and most of the food served there would come from my grandparents’ farm depending on what time of year it was and what we’re eating.

There are a lot of fresh vegetables from the garden in the summer, but in the winter we eat more bread and meat instead.

While I wouldn’t recommend doing this every day, eating a specific treat can also be emotionally satisfying. For example, my mom and I used to drive to a nearby city to buy dairy-free chocolate bars when I was a teenager. We lived in a small, rural town at the time that had almost nothing in the way of specialty foods for people with dietary restrictions, so these trips were a wonderful glimpse into how people in more populated areas lived.

Once or twice a year, I’ll buy a couple of bars of dairy-free chocolate and think happy thoughts about that part of my childhood. Those extra calories are easily burned away over the next few months until I treat myself again.

How about you? What fitness rules do you think should be broken? Come over and tell me about it on Twitter today!

Exercise Makes Me So Hungry

Today’s post is going to be short and sweet. I don’t mind writing a long post when the topic requires it, but I also think there’s something to be said for conserving your words if fewer will do just as well.

My exercise routine was interrupted a few times over the winter due to an injury and a couple of mild illnesses. Now that I’m back into the swing of things, though, I’ve noticed that I’m much hungrier than normal these past few weeks.

Drinking extra almond milk, water, and tea has helped this somewhat. Sometimes thirst can masquerade as hunger, especially now that we’re in a time of year when the temperatures are slowly beginning to rise above freezing again. I know have to remind myself to drink more fluids once it gets warmer outside until I’m back into that habit again. It’s an easy thing to forget when the weather is cold and you’re not losing a lot of extra fluids through perspiration every day.

The portions of food that filled me up when I temporarily needed to stop lifting weights and taking long walks aren’t enough for me now. Even the amount of oatmeal I eat for breakfast has needed to increase to keep me full until lunch. (That makes me giggle for some reason. I’ve never thought of oatmeal as something that wasn’t completely filling, but now that I’m eating a bigger bowl of it I’m feeling full after breakfast once again).

I didn’t have a huge appetite before I started exercising regularly a few years ago. In fact, I’ve always been known for having eyes that are bigger than my stomach. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve ordered a meal at a restaurant or made a plate of food that I soon realized I couldn’t possibly finish in one setting!

To be honest, I’d half-forgotten how hungry I felt when I first began a regular exercise routine. It was a little surprising to start needing more food again until I remembered that this has happened before.

I’ve started adding food like:

  • Hardboiled eggs
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Radishes
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • And occasionally homemade blueberry muffins

as snacks or in addition to my regular meals.

It’s going to take some time to get used to my bigger appetite again, though. It amazes me to see how quickly I can polish off a dinner plate full of sliced fruit and vegetables as an afternoon snack and still be ready for supper a few hours later.

Does this mean that I’ll be able to eat an entire portion of restaurant food the next time I go out to dinner? Anything is possible, although I’m still going to be prepared to ask for a doggy bag for the leftovers unless I’m very hungry that day. Haha!

If you’re around on Twitter today, come over and tell me about your experiences with exercise and suddenly wanting to eat all of the food in the entire world. 😉 I’d also be curious to know what other changes in your life you’ve noticed after exercising more frequently or more intensely.

What Cheesy Ghost Movies Can Teach You About Getting (and Staying) in Shape

One of my favourite things to do during a boring workout routine is to watch the kinds of ghost movies on Netflix that desperately try to be scary but end up being predictable and silly instead.

The nice part about these films is that they don’t require your full attention. Paying attention to 80% of the things happening on the screen is more than enough to figure out the plot twists well in advance, so they’re perfect for watching while you exercise.

The other reason why I watch these films is because there are lessons in every single one of them that would honestly work as well, and maybe even a little better, if you applied them to your workout routine instead of waiting until you move into a haunted house or accidentally knock over a gravestone to see how useful they’d be. Figuring out what those lessons are have also provided me endless amounts of entertainment on cardio days.

Lesson #1: Don’t Be Afraid to Take Advice from Others Who Have Already Been There

No one is ever too old to learn something new, and no one is ever too young to teach you something you didn’t know before.

I’m slowly forming a small group of fellow exercise enthusiasts who bounce ideas off of each other and ask for advice when there’s something we find challenging or confusing about our workouts.

Not everyone in this loosely-associated club of sorts practices the exact same routines, but we share enough in common that we can find those areas where we overlap and trade information about what does and doesn’t work.

There have been a few times when I’ve considered something and decided that it isn’t something that I should worry about for a wide variety of reasons, but I always listen to the reasons why someone gives for recommending or not recommending it before making my final decision.

Lesson #2: Always Tie Your Shoes

Have you ever noticed how often characters in horror movies forget to tie their shoes securely? Sometimes they have to do that in order to give a menacing ghost the chance to catch up with them once they run away, but the last thing you want to do while running or walking is step on your own shoelace and trip over your own foot.

I always double-check my shoes and anything else I’m wearing that could potentially cause an accident before I start working out. Sometimes I have even been known to double-knot my laces if I’ll be going somewhere muddy or cold. It isn’t much fun to tie laces when they’re covered in dirt or slush.

Lesson #3: If Something Feels Wrong, Don’t Ignore It

There’s a fine line between pushing yourself to do better and injuring yourself because you overlooked pain while you were exercising.

If a specific move sends a tingle down your spine in a bad way, stop immediately. Most people wouldn’t wander into a dark basement in the middle of the night to investigate a strange noise if their flashlight kept dying at the top of the steps.

Use that same common sense when you’re working out. There will be more opportunities to try that move again  once you’ve gained more experience or moved on to better equipment.

Lesson #4: Some Days Are Going to Suck No Matter What You Do

Just like some houses are so deeply haunted that you won’t ever find enough holy water to cleanse them, some workouts are going to falter for reasons you couldn’t possibly predict or prevent.

For example, I’ve had multiple workouts that were interrupted by fire alarms. Obviously, fire alarms can’t be ignored for all kinds of safety and noise reasons. When that alarm sounds, the only thing you can do is get to somewhere safe and wait for someone to turn it off.

On a less urgent note, there have been times when my workouts were cut short because I was recovering from an illness or injury that turned out to be further back in the healing process than I originally thought it would be. My spirit might be willing to push it to the limit, but my body is a completely different story in that scenario.

Your mental health matters, too. Occasionally I have a day when my workouts are begrudging at absolute best due to other things that are going on in my life at that point. The faster I accept that I won’t be breaking any personal records those days, the faster I can get through the routine and put as much effort into it as I can reasonably manage for that particular day.

Lesson #5: Practice More than One Kind of Exercise

Could you outrun a vengeful spirit? Could you pick up an injured friend and carry them to the car? Are you limber enough to turn to the side, stretch backwards, and unhook your jacket from that rusty nail sticking out of the door before the ghost comes back again?

Obviously these things aren’t literally going to happen, but the failure of many horror movie characters to stay in good shape is a reminder that there’s more than one way to be fit. Ideally, we should all be practicing as many of them as we can.

I have been walking long distances for a decade and lifting weights for a few years now. Yoga is the next form of exercise to check off my list in 2017. I hope I’d be able to do all of the things listed above in an emergency.

Lesson #6: Try, Try Again

Not everything in life happens right away. As I blogged a few weeks ago, yoga wasn’t something I liked the first or even the second time I tried it.

Even now I’m not entirely sure what I think about this form of exercise, but I continue giving it chances to change my mind. Just like it can take horror movie characters more than one visit with a psychic to convince a restless spirit to move onto the next world, sometimes new workout routines need some time to settle into a groove as well.

If you truly don’t like it, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that and moving onto something new.  Don’t assume that your first impression of something will be your last one, though. People’s opinions change every day if they give themselves enough chances to decide what they really think about a specific form of exercise.

Lesson #7: It Never Ends

There will always be something new to learn.

You could always be a little stronger, faster, or more flexible.

Someone else will always need your advice.

There will always be other people who will have good advice for you if you open yourself up to it.

What about the spirits?

Yes, they will always return in the sequel regardless of how well you think you vanquished them at the end of the third act in the original film.

What Will Exercise Routines Be Like in a Hundred Years?

A new fitness fad comes along every decade or so. There were gentle stretching exercises for ladies in the 1910s, twist dances in the 1950s, aerobics videos in the 1980s, and Zumba classes in the 2010s. (If you haven’t seen it already, this video shows 100 years of fitness in 100 seconds).

A hundred years ago, exercise was built into everyone’s day. The vast majority of people didn’t own cars or many other modern conveniences back then. They walked or rode a horse into town, chopped wood, scrubbed their clothing by hand, planted, weeded, and then harvested their crops, preserved food, repaired their wagons and tools, carried buckets of water to the plants and animals under their care, and did many other physically demanding chores from morning until evening.

The First Half of My Prediction

As fossil fuels become far more rare and expensive, humans will start adding some of these activities back into their daily lives in order to save money. Walking a couple of miles to a nearby destination only costs as much extra food as it will take to fill your stomach once you need to eat again. While this has already been a common thing here in Toronto for many years, I see it becoming much more socially acceptable to walk to all kinds of places in suburban and rural communities, too, in the coming years.

Eventually the price of driving to all of those locations is going to be too high to do anything else on a regular basis. As grocery store costs rise, I wouldn’t be surprised if it also became more common for people who own a patch of unused land to start growing and preserving some of their own food again as well.

Exercise will no longer be about purposefully lifting weights or setting aside half an hour a day to break a sweat. People will naturally need to do these things during their daily routine in order to save money or maybe even to survive in general. This is going to change everything from what folks do for fun to how far away from their jobs or schools they’ll be willing to live.

I wouldn’t be surprised if tele-commuting became almost universally available for students and workers alike, especially for those who aren’t able to live closer to town for any number of reasons. Why physically go into school or the office if you can get all of the same information online while saving valuable money and time on the commute?

The Second Half of My Prediction

The other thing I see happening with exercise in the future is it becoming much more technologically-aware. We have just entered the age of digital fitness trackers, and I only see them becoming more important in the future for many different reasons.

Imagine students who are enrolled in online schools getting credit for gym class while they’re digging potatoes out of the garden or wiping off the solar panels next to their house. Some kids would respond much better to this than they would to playing the kinds of team sports that are generally shown as examples of staying active. I know that I would have been much more interested in gym class had I been shown a wider range of ways to stay fit and then been allowed to pick a few that interested me the most. There’s nothing wrong with liking football or basketball, but there are so many other forms of exercise out there!

Think about how much information your family doctor could get about your health if he or she was able to see an average of how many minutes of exercise you’ve gotten per day for the last year as well. Maybe he or she could also see your blood sugar levels, blood pressure numbers, and resting and active heart rates, too. I’ve known people whose blood pressure rises dramatically whenever they have it checked at the doctor’s office because they get so anxious around people in the medical profession. These sorts of changes to the way health data is collected could give doctors a much more accurate picture of how their patients are really doing.

Insurance companies could give discounts to people who agreed to share their activity levels or who showed a steady increase in the number of minutes of exercise they did every week as well. While I would never agree with forcing people to share this kind of information in order to qualify for insurance coverage, it could be a nice incentive for folks who want to save a little cash and begin some healthier habits at the same time.

Will some of these predictions come true far sooner than 2117? I wouldn’t be surprised if they did, to be honest. It will be interesting to see how technology and exercise continue to develop over the next few decades. Only time will tell if I’m right about some, all, or none of the societal changes I think are on their way.

Why I’m Giving Yoga Another Chance

Those of you who have been following me online for a while might remember my previous forays into yoga. I’ve tried a few different times now to practice this form of exercise regularly. I love the idea of becoming more physically flexible than I currently am. Yoga seems like it should fit in well with my current… Read More

Rest Days Aren’t Optional

It’s been a few weeks since I blogged about fitness. I stuck to my exercise routine pretty well during the holidays. (My diet, though, definitely had more treats included it than normal). On a recent rest day, I thought about an experiment I did last summer that turned out to be a bad idea. The Experiment  You see,… Read More

Exercise Gear Shouldn’t Be Gendered

Today I wanted to talk about something that annoys me a little bit every time I go shopping for new exercise equipment. In every store I’ve browsed in so far, there’s been a pastel section for women and a black or grey section somewhere else for men. I haven’t noticed a huge difference in quality between the two sections, although the equipment… Read More

When Exercise Is a Bad Idea

One of the hardest things for me to deal with when it comes to my exercise routine is to step away from it when I’m sick or injured. Why is that, you ask? Well, I don’t want to lose the gains in muscle mass or endurance that I’ve worked so hard for. Logically speaking, I know that… Read More