Tag Archives: Cardio

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.

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!

Things Nobody Told Me About Getting Back Into Shape

I was in great shape in my early to mid-twenties thanks to a physically active job I had back then that kept me running around all day. As my routine shifted over time, though, I found myself gaining weight and losing some of the strength I had built up.

My wake-up call came several years ago when I caught one cold after another. There was a stretch of about four months when I was either coming down with a cold, actively sick, or recovering from a cold. It might have been a string of bad luck, but I took it as a sign that something had to change.

There are some things I learned along the way as I got back into shape that I wish I’d known from day one. Today I’m going to share them with you.

The Beginning is the Hardest Part. 

Starting any new habit is tough. This is even more true when it involves something that leads to sore muscles and moving a body in a way that it isn’t accustomed to moving.

There were a few days early on when I stopped 5 or 10 minutes into a routine and counted that as a workout for the day. The next time I went back to that video or set of exercises, though, I made it my goal to last one minute longer than I had the previous time I’d tried it. I was often able to push through and stick with it much longer than than my original goal had been because almost anything is endurable for another sixty seconds.

It was honestly as much a mental challenge as it was a physical one in the beginning.

Your Diet Matters

What you eat and drink affects how you perform. For example, everyone needs to be careful to consume enough water or other fluids when they’re exercising outdoors in hot or humid weather.

I’ve also found that it’s easier to get through a workout when I’m comfortably full but not overstuffed. A bowl of oatmeal or some hardboiled eggs give me the healthy boost of energy I need to get in that final rep or those last few minutes of cardio.

Yes, I did have to make some changes to my diet in order to get healthier. This isn’t something I spend a great deal of time obsessing over, though, and I still have treats. They’re simply chosen a bit more carefully these days, and I don’t have them as often as I used to.

With that being said…

The Scale Only Tells a Small Part of the Story.

One of the most frustrating things for me when I first started exercising regularly again was not seeing any change in the number on the scale. I wanted to lose some weight, but my results bounced around in the same general area from one day to the next.

What I learned is that the scale only tells a small part of the story. For example, everyone’s weight shifts a little from one day to the next. I’ve had days where I magically “lost” or “gained” 5 pounds or more simply based on when I weighed myself, whether or not I’d eaten anything before stepping on the scale, how recently I’d used the bathroom, and how much salty food I’d eaten in the previous 24 hours.

So now I pay attention to the scale only if the number on it trends up or down for a prolonged period of time. It is one way to keep track of your progress, but there are many other questions that are also important to answer.

Is your clothing getting looser because your body fat percentage is changing even though your weight has remained constant? Do you have more energy? Are you now taking the stairs instead of the elevator sometimes (or usually!)? Have you finally moved up to a heavier set of weights or a more challenging workout in general? Did you finally figure out how to use that complicated piece of gym equipment that you thought you’d never bother trying?

Or, my personal favourites, are you catching fewer colds? Are you recovering more quickly from them? I still get sick a few times a year, but it doesn’t happen as often these days and my colds don’t last as long as they used to.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve never been able to get into jogging despite liking the idea of it and trying multiple times to enjoy this form of exercise. I didn’t like how uncomfortable it was to catch my breath after a few minutes of jogging or how jarring it was to my joints.

Obviously, this isn’t true everyone. I have a friend who enjoys jogging so much that they train for and compete in marathons.

I know other people who can’t do any vigorous exercise at all due to certain health conditions that restrict how their bodies are able to move. A few people that I’ve known have noticed a difference in their abilities from one day to the next. Sometimes they have more stamina than I do, while on other days they get worn out easily.

You’re the only person who can figure out what kinds of exercise work best for you. It can take a lot of trial and error, but at some point you’ll find the right activity.

It Gets Better

All of your hard work eventually pays off. My life has changed in many small but important ways since I started exercising again.

The first benefit I noticed was that I was sleeping a little better. I used to have some trouble relaxing and falling asleep, but that started to change for the better once I became more active.

I’m more willing to try new things now than I was several years ago. My confidence that I’ll eventually master them has grown and continues to grow.

My posture has improved. This one is a combination of having a stronger core, feeling better about myself, and having more practice with moving my body in ways it hadn’t moved in quite a while.

I have more energy, too.

Regardless of where you are with your fitness goals, keep plugging away at them. It gets easier as you go along!