Tag Archives: Walking

Health and Fitness at the Dollar Store

One of the biggest misconceptions some people have about getting fit is that it requires a significant investment of money in the beginning if you’re starting out with little to no equipment.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

A few nights ago, I took a stroll around a dollar store to see what kinds of health and fitness items they had for sale there. I jotted down everything I could find that could somehow be connected to this topic, and the list was much longer than I ever would have imagined it would be.

Seriously. I was expecting to find maybe ten things there, but I ended up finding closer to a hundred of them if every category is fully expanded to include every example in them.

This is what they had for sale there:

  • T-shirts
  • Hats
  • Sandals
  • Hair ties
  • Socks
  • Sports bras
  • Ponchos
  • Support insoles for shoes
  • Sunglasses
  • Beach towels
  • Goggles
  • Bug Repellant
  • Sunscreen
  • First Aid supplies (bandaids, disinfectant, etc).
  • Plastic and metal buckets of various sizes (for transporting dirty or wet items back home)
  • Reusable plastic water bottles
  • Fishing poles
  • Headlamps
  • Small lanterns (if hiking or camping are on your to-do list)
  • Pet toys (for playing tug-of-war or fetch)
  • Pool toys
  • Toys and games for all ages/abilities (dart guns, dart boards, balls, chalk, jump ropes, etc)
  • Young children’s toys (plastic baseball bats, miniature golf clubs, etc)
  • Balloons (for water balloon fights or other similar games)
  • Beach toys (small shovels, plastic molds for making sandcastles, etc).
  • Frisbees
  • Rainbow flyers
  • Gardening tools (hand rakes, small shovels, etc).
  • Badminton rackets and balls
  • Plastic/rubber balls for other sports
  • Hula hoops
  • Sports equipment (rackets, balls, etc).
  • Yoga mats
  • Kettleballs
  • Resistance bands
  • Exercise wheels
  • Push up stands
  • Stretch bands
  • Roll out exercise wheels
  • Yoga mats
  • Yoga towels
  • Nonperishable, fairly healthy snacks (nuts, beef jerky, bottled water, canned fruit, applesauce.)
  • Many types of large reusable bags (for toting around everything on this list!)

Some of the items on this list did cost more than a dollar, but all of them were very inexpensive in general.

Whether I was planning to hike, swim, build sandcastles play any number of sports, jog, lift weights, stretch, do yoga, garden, go camping, or participate in any number of other activities, there were products for almost every type of exercise one could possibly imagine. I was seriously impressed by their selection.

Why am I recommending checking out your local dollar store if I believe in minimalism and buying quality over quantity?

There are a few reasons why this could be a smart idea under certain circumstances:

Not Everything Needs to be Well-Made in Order to be Useful

Several years ago, I bought a sun hat from the dollar store that suits my purposes perfectly when I want to exercise outdoors on a sunny day. Was it fashionable? Well, only if you’re a time traveller from 1995, but I’m not the kind of person who worries about how trendy I look when I’m working out.

Why spend $60 on something like that if you can spend $2 or $3 instead for the exact same outcome? For the kinds of activities I do, the type of hat doesn’t matter in the least. Anything that shades my face and neck from the sun will be more than adequate for my purposes.

It’s a Low-Cost Way to Try New Activities

For example, I like the idea of playing badminton. Every so often, I toy around with the thought of playing that sport as part of my fitness routine.

As mentioned above, the dollar store carries badminton equipment. While it isn’t made from high quality materials, it would be the perfect thing for me to play around with if I ever decide to finally add this sport to my list of preferred activities.

Spending a few dollars wouldn’t break the bank, and I could  go to a secondhand store or a regular store to find much sturdier equipment if I decided that this was something I wanted to play more than occasionally and my original racket broke.

Speaking of broken items….

Losing or Breaking A New Item Won’t Be So Disappointing

I’m very protective of the few possessions I have that are top-notch. Anyone who wants to borrow them has to earn my trust first, and I’d horribly disappointed if they were damaged, lost, or destroyed in an accident or through someone else’s carelessness. There are certain places that I really wouldn’t want to take those items to due to the risks of them being exposed to the water, dirt, or sand that could ruin them.

The nice thing about dollar store purchases is that you don’t stand to lose hundreds or thousands of dollars if they’re accidentally broken or lost. I wouldn’t hesitate to lend out something like a hula hoop or a pool toy I bought from the dollar store to a friend or relative.

If that item was later returned to me in pristine condition, great! If not, I’ve only lost a few dollars at most. Replacing it won’t hurt my bottom line at all, so I don’t have a problem lending it out or taking it places where the risks of something happening are higher than usual.

What’s At Your Local Dollar Store?

Assuming you live in a part of the world that has dollar stores (or pound shops/variety stores, as they’re sometimes called), what kinds of health and fitness items have you spotted there?

I’d love to compare my list with yours!

My First Outdoor Walk This Spring

My first outdoor walk this spring happened this past weekend. Since it isn’t possible to magically transport one’s readers to Toronto to experience this for themselves for half an hour, I’ll tell you exactly what it was like.

The wind had a slight cold snap to it, and I shuddered a little bit every time it blew against me.

There were still dirty patches of snow on the ground. They were especially noticeable in parts of my neighbourhood that don’t get a lot of sunlight in the average day.

The sunnier places where other snowdrifts had recently melted were now soggy puddles of cigarette butts, lost receipts, candy wrappers, and other small pieces of garbage.

A few people were bundled up in big, warm coats like it was still winter. Others had transitioned to lighter spring  jackets.

Some of the dogs were still wearing their cold-weather jackets, too.

The ground was muddy in the places where it wasn’t paved over with cement. It was brown and dull just like the bare trees and most of the bushes.

But on the Other Hand….

I live in a city, but the contrast between the sky and the ground here reminds me a little of my neighbourhood.

There was no ice on the ground at all. I could walk as quickly as I wanted to without any fear of slipping and falling.

The temperature was warmer than it’s been in months.

No one was wearing toques, gloves, or scarves. Many people who were wearing heavier coats had left them unzipped. This isn’t something that happens when it’s truly cold outside.

Some of the dogs weren’t wearing any winter coats at all.

One guy was walking down the street while wearing  running shoes, a pair of shorts, and a t-shirt. I would have been chilly if I were him, but maybe he was from a much colder climate and found 10 C balmier than people in southern Ontario do.

When the sunlight touched my face, it felt warm. It’s always a happy surprise when that happens for the first time in the spring!

There were the beginnings of so many flowers poking up from the soil that I couldn’t begin to count them all. It’s too early for the majority them to have buds yet, but their stems were looking green and healthy.

I even saw two red flowers that had already begun to bloom. They must have either been recently transplanted from a warm indoor location or be varieties that don’t require many warm days at all before they bloom.

When I looked at the trees closely, I saw tiny buds on their branches.

Some parts of the sky were brilliantly blue. Toronto can go many weeks without a single clear day during the autumn and winter, so it was a thrill to look up and not see a thick layer of grey clouds overshadowing the sun and sky. It was like the world had doubled in size overnight.

Spring has finally, truly arrived in my city. I look forward to many long walks as the weather warms up. What are you looking forward to this spring?

How to Get Back on Track With Healthy Habits

Just about everyone has an off day or even week every once in a while. I recently found myself started straying a little bit from my normally much healthier habits.

Let’s just say that the after-effects of a stomach bug mixed in with the long, dull, dreary days of March did not make me all that eager to eat my vegetables or do my normal workouts even after I started feeling better.

I’m now back into my regular habits after this short break, though.

No matter how long it’s been since you slipped up, you can always recommit yourself to the goals you set for yourself earlier. It’s never too late to try again.

Remind Yourself Why You Made These Lifestyle Changes

Whether you were hoping to build muscle, run faster, lift heavier weights, reduce your risk of certain diseases, or reach some other goal, it’s important to remind yourself why it is you made these changes in the first place.

If you’ve been keeping track of your progress, now would be a fantastic time to look back over your old stats to see how they’ve changed over time.

For those of you who don’t have any statistics yet on anything related to fitness and health, now is the perfect time to change that if you’re interested in keeping track of how you’re doing!

(Maybe I should write a blog post about statistics, fitness, and health at some point in the future. What do you all think?)

Plan Ahead

It’s much easier to get back into healthier habits if you put some thought into your daily routines ahead of time.

For example, this might involve making sure your gym bag is packed with clean clothes and ready to go the night before you were planning to go back to the gym, setting an alarm to remind you to meditate at a certain time each night, or running to the grocery store to stock up on healthy food before your stomach becomes as empty as your fridge is.

Will it save time? In some cases it might, but in other cases you’ll be doing the same five or ten minutes of prep work regardless of when it happens.

With that being said, the psychological benefits of not having to pause and look for a clean shirt or a specific piece of workout gear can be enormous if you’re already struggling to find the motivation to get back into your old habits. It’s so much easier to start a workout if you can jump into it right away without any delay.

Make It as Easy as Possible

Speaking of healthy eating, I’m just as big of a of planning and prepping meals and snacks ahead of time as I am of making sure that workout gear is always ready to be used.

When I get home from the grocery store, I immediately start washing and chopping the fresh vegetables I bought so that they will be ready for an instant snack the next time I’m hungry.

There’s something about having a few plastic bags or containers filled with ready-to-eat snacks that make me much more likely to actually pick them up the next time I feel hungry.

My meals are often planned in advance, although I do try to include some wiggle room in case someone invites me out for a last-minute dinner or I decide to eat a large plate full of fruit, vegetables ,and one small serving of hardboiled eggs or cold, leftover meat from a previous day instead of a traditional meat and two vegetables dinner.

The nice thing about washing produce in advance is that it makes it so easy to assemble one of these light meals when I’m hungry and at a loss for what to eat. At the most, I might need to wait twenty minutes for my eggs to be ready, and I can nibble on the rest of my dinner during that time.  If everything I want to eat that night has already been cooked or is a fruit or vegetable, I can have a full plate of food ready for me in less than five minutes.

You don’t have to eat exactly the same way I do, of course, but working with whatever your preferring eating style happens to be is going to make it much easier to make healthy choices. A fridge full of nutritious food that’s just waiting to be heated up or eaten cold is going to tilt the odds in your favour.

Take It One Day at a Time

I wish there were a quick-fix when it comes to fitness and health, but there isn’t. Any permanent changes you make to your lifestyle that you want to keep going indefinitely can only begin with the decisions you’re making today. A small shift in your daily routine might not seem that impressive a few days from now when you look in the mirror and can’t notice a single change in your body, but all of those little adjustments can lead to amazing results over a long period of time if you keep pushing forward.

I won’t mention any identifying details about them out of respect for their privacy, but I have multiple friends and acquaintances who have dramatically changed their lives for the better by slowly tweaking what they ate, how often they exercised, and what kinds of exercise they did.

This blog is never going to be the kind of site that encourages all-or-nothing thinking. Getting into better shape is a journey no matter what your current fitness level is in or how long you’ve been pursuing a healthier lifestyle.

No matter how long it’s been since you drifted away from your healthier habits, take it one day at a time. You’ll be back in your old routines before you know it!

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.

3 Reasons Why You Should Meditate Outdoors

I’ve slowly been trying to incorporate more meditation into my routine after the long break I took from it earlier this spring. This spring has been a chilly, wet one so far here in Toronto. We’re only now beginning to have a few days in a row where it hasn’t rained and the temperature has been above 10… Read More

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… Read More

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… 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