Sunday, October 25, 2009

Are you a Skinny Fat, a Treadmill Rat or a Classic Guy? Find Your Fitness Profile

Welcome back to the third installment of fitness tips for those of us who are not marathon runners, gym rats, yoga gurus or health nuts. The first blog in the series was "Neighborhood Fitness for Workout Flunkies" and the second, "Top Ten Tips from a Personal Trainer." Maybe you are like me when it comes to fitness: a little lazy, and looking for some new sources of inspiration.

It appears this subject hit a chord with many of you. Thanks to your incredible readership, last week's blog was the #3 most read - with over 51,000 views. Wow! The comments were fabulous and included other ideas, tips and personal stories. Clearly I am not the only one wondering or worried about this subject.

This week is about the secrets of being comfortable in your own skin. My muse of inspiration for this series is Terri O'Hara: an incredibly inspiring mom and personal trainer, who is bringing the idea of fitness and lifestyle back to the basics. No gimmicks, not hype, no false promises - just simple information and refreshing common sense.

The question of how you feel in your own skin translates both physically and emotionally. Physically it can mean fretting that the triceps under your arms flop around, and your backside droops. Emotionally it can be feeling tired and lousy during the day, even with enough sleep. Your answer to the question becomes the starting place for your own fitness program.

Part of lifestyle fitness is gaining a sense of 'well being,' and everyone has their own unique definition. For some, 'well being' may have to do with the inner experience of feeling calm, balanced and connected. For others, it is our physical fitness. And for most, it is a combination of the two. How is your well being lately?

Bottom line, many Americans do not feel comfortable in their own skin, and do not rank their "well being" very high. The tabloids paint a picture of fitness and glamor that is impossible for most people to attain. Over 67% of Americans are overweight, and facing debilitating illnesses like diabetes in record numbers. Clearly the concepts of dieting just don't work.

Think of the French: fabulous, breezy, fashionable - comfortable in their skin - and what do they eat? Bread, cheese, wine and chocolate! What are we missing over here? Check out the wonderful book, "French Women Don't Get Fat" by Mirelle Guiliano for a wonderful read on the secrets of eating for pleasure.

"It is so important to know where we stand with our body." stresses O'Hara. "The only way to figure out how to be comfortable in your own skin is to know where your body needs support, and then you can create a list of what to address first."
When it comes to nutrition - some people need to eat less, or different foods, and others actually need to eat more. When it comes to exercise, according to O'Hara, variety is the key, and the genders have to trade places!

Here are three classic fitness profiles of everyday folks who need a little change in their health and fitness routines, as well as a few expert tips:

#1 The "Skinny Fat" - This is someone who is thin on the outside, but has a high fat content on the inside. They have mastered the ability to starve themselves through most of the day, with coffee and a granola bar, and then pig out on a pound of oysters and camembert cheese in the afternoon. They can look thin, but have a 35% fat level, and do not have effective energy or muscle mass. "These people forgot to maintain nutrition!" said O'Hara, "if they start eating healthy meals and snacks throughout the day, as well as adding resistance training, they will lose that high percentage of body fat and increase their muscles."

#2 "Treadmill Rat" - A classic example of a treadmill rat is Mom USA: she has kids in school, goes to the gym and gets on the treadmill 3-4 times per week, or takes an aerobics class - and is convinced she is making a big difference in her health. "80% of women at the gym are 'doing their thing' on the treadmills or elliptical, and are in a total fitness rut," explains O'Hara. "They are not building any muscle or strengthening their bones, which is so critical in later life. They need to switch with the boys and get on the free weights,and for a great nutrition tip: divide your weight in half and try to eat that many grams of protein each day." (For example: if you weight 120 lbs. you would try to eat about 60 grams of protein each day.)

#3 "Classic Guy"- The classic guy goes to the gym to 'push around some weights.' They have protruding bellies, and love to do arm curls, bench press and build their calves with leg presses. They hang out on the "macho side of the gym" with the free weights. "These guys need to introduce some movement into their routine," said O'Hara. "They need to increase cardio as well as multi-joint, multi-muscular, and functional resistance training."

Here's the bottom line for any fitness profile: strengthen muscles through resistance training, strengthen the heart through cardio, change your weight by keeping a food log of what you eat, and get back in the kitchen. It's that simple.

A great tool to help figure out where to focus is to check out the state of the art website: www.realage.com and take the real age questionnaire. It takes about 30 minutes, and you receive an instant report that shows your real age vs. your physical age. You can be 80 and living like a 50 year old - or vice-versa. It is 100% free, and has some inspiring tips about fitness, health, and lifestyle with the infamous Dr. Oz.

After writing about this for a month straight, I am happy to say I am back in the gym, and gingerly trying to steal a bench press from the guys. I have reassessed my guilt over working out, into a positive movement towards how I want to feel every day. Love to hear your thoughts, inspirations or questions!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Top Ten Tips from a Personal Trainer

Personal fitness is one of my ongoing challenges to balance in life. Last week, I wrote about how I am a "workout flunkie" and my pursuits of neighborhood fitness - with the help of personal trainer, Terry O'Hara. Most of us can't afford a personal trainer, yet the ideas, support and insights are real gems that have me rethinking the investment!

This week, I want to share her "Top Ten Tips" - and I'll bet you will be surprised they have nothing to do with money, struggle or pain:

1. Your mental image of yourself defines what you will work toward. What is your reason for getting out to exercise in the first place? Is it so your clothes fit better, or to be able to ski this winter without dying on the slopes? Developing a strong mental image that is specific and positive will help motivate and guide your decisions.

2. Nobody eats enough good food. This one is huge, as most of us are on a perpetual diet, and pride ourselves by not eating, or skimping along with a minimal meal in order to splurge later. Wrong! "By 1pm, you should have already eaten breakfast, a snack, lunch, and be getting ready for another small snack," said O'Hara. "You need to take a counter intuitive approach to your diet and until you start eating, the diet cycle can trap you."

3. Your body adapts to everything. This applies to your diet and exercise, or lack of it. If you start walking a route in your neighborhood and think you can just do that forever- wrong! Ever noticed you start on new cardio equipment at the gym and it is hard to get through 20 minutes, but after a month you are hardly out of breath? That means it is time to mix it up and do something new. Try rowing, or stairs.

4. The word "Carbs" is a misnomer for dieting. If you are taking all carbs out of your diet, you are depriving yourself of one of the four necessary nutrients for your body, as well as vital B complex vitamins and critical fiber. Complex carbs contain valuable nutrients responsible for energy production. Cut out the simple processed carbs like cookies or crackers, and replace with plenty of whole grains, oatmeal, or brown rice.

5. Memories dictate bad habits. Ever wonder why you buy the same things over and over again at the store? Do you buy chocolate Oreos because your mother did? "Time to change up the menu," says O'Hara. "Replace those frozen waffles with homemade with fresh blueberries, or forget the top ramen and make a quick soup that is simple and delicious."

6. Face up to your personal statistics. This one really woke me up. Rather than just knowing your weight on a scale or your size of clothes, do you know your body fat percentage, your basic heart rate or the number of maintenance calories you should be eating for your age? "For less than $100, you can hire a personal trainer one time, to help you assess exactly what you need to know," said O'Hara. Or, for absolutely free, O'Hara steers clients to the website: sparkpeople.com to get all your info and ideas on exercises to do. Check it out and get informed!

7. All or nothing exercise gets you nowhere, (or hurt). Lots of people are like me; the pants just get WAY to tight, so we all fired up about working out again, go out and buy new sneakers, and start running everyday like we are old pros. Then after a week, shin splints kick in, and then we quit. Others may hear about a new type of exercise, and try it without building up first, and get injured. O'Hara encourages starting with a solid, organized plan that can keep your progressing and organize a workout schedule you can use for the rest of your life.

8. We are not supposed to get weak and incapacitated as we get older. It is not true that we should stop being physically active as we age, but continue with cardio, resistance training and core building for a lifetime. Tennis, swimming, golf, yoga and power walking can be done forever.

9. It's all about PUSHUPS baby! Come on, be honest, how many "proper" pushups can you do? "If you can't do a push up properly, it means you lack core strength," explains O'Hara, "and that is the most important area to maintain for posture, back support, and ongoing health." For the ultimate challenge (and one that I am going to start myself) check out the One Hundred Pushups website for a full six week program to help you reach the seemingly impossible goal of being able to do 100 consecutive pushups. Wow!

10. There is a fountain of youth!
"Strength in life is the fountain of youth," said O'Hara, "strength in keeping the muscles strong and building them, strength in what you choose to eat, strength in your character - it is the absolute secret to a long life."

Next week, to complete the three part series, O'Hara and I will talk about why "French women don't get fat" and more on the power of simple strength. What are some of your "Top Ten Tips" for the workout flunkies to get motivated, and inspired? Love to hear your comments below! Join the conversation, and click on "Become a Fan" to receive weekly updates of this post, and share on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Neighborhood Fitness for Workout Flunkies

I have a funny relationship with fitness, and working out. I never caught on to aerobic classes, kick boxing or the zumba craze. I felt like a dork - stepping left when everyone else was stepping right. I couldn't afford personal pilates lessons with those crazy contraptions. I ordered the "at home" equipment so I could look like Christie Brinkley - forget it. I like yoga, but couldn't make the classes consistently - and I am down right bored with the drone of the gym.

I still get out and bike sometimes, hike sometimes, swim sometimes, ski sometimes -but creating a consistent fitness routine eludes me. If you want to get right down to it, having coffee with a friend trumps working out any day of the week. Apparently, I am known as one of those "in-between" people: not a total couch potato, but not in top shape either.

Does this sound like you? Bored with the gym, or need to save money on monthly dues? This week I am starting a three part series on how to incorporate fitness into your everyday life, with the guidance of personal trainer, Terry O'Hara. In the next three weeks we will explore "neighborhood fitness," followed by tips from the pros, and nutrition basics.

The national guidelines for fitness from mypyramid.gov state that to maintain established fitness levels- you must be vigorously active for a minimum of thirty minutes per day - every day. If you want to lose weight, or to maintain weight loss, vigorous activity is required for 60-90 minutes per day.
"That's pretty aggressive," said O'Hara. "All the articles that say you can get flat abs in 10 minutes per day are wrong. To affect change, you have to make it a part of your life."


O'Hara took me on as a bit of a pet project last year, and created a "neighborhood fitness" program for myself, and a group of girlfriends. Instead of going to the gym or a class, we met in a local parking lot, and spend an hour jogging through neighborhoods, huffing and puffing up stairs, stopping at a nice view for group squats, using park benches for push-ups, and ending with plank style ab crunches, and giggle-filled kegel tightening exercises. Think: "Desperate Housewives Does Basic Training."

It was one of the toughest workouts I had ever done, and a total paradigm shift for me. Everyone loved it; we felt energized, sore and happy. We got our cardio, strength training, and all the week's gossip in one tidy little hour! The numbers grew each week, and all of us were challenged in some particular way. Some could hardly jog a block, while others zipped along. Some struggled with the push-ups and others with stretching. We learned that the gym had actually decreased our overall fitness level - by becoming stagnant with the same exercise pattern over and over again.

"Everyone has to find the goal of what their body needs the most," explained O'Hara. "For some, the goal is to lose body fat to expand their range of movement. Some forgot to do resistance training their whole life - and can't do a single push up. Others have a difficult time running, because their heart is so tired and weak. In a group of relatively fit people, there is a huge difference in what they need to develop."


In between group workouts, the concept of getting in that sixty minutes per day became something to achieve in short increments. I discovered there were plenty of ways I could sneak something in. While waiting for the school bus, I could stretch and do push ups in the yard. In the evenings, I started doing exercises during the commercials of my favorite show - and made it a contest to see how much I could do, before flopping back on the bed for the next installment of Grey's Anatomy.

One of my challenges is running. I could not keep up with the group, even though I was the tallest. I do not like to run long distances, and consistently cramp with a side stitch. I asked O'Hara for other ideas to help me get that "vigorous exercise" under my belt, in the shortest amount of time. She surveyed my neighborhood for options, and noticed I have a fairly steep hill on my street. Viola! My "neighborhood fitness" homework was to run up the hill, and then walk back down again about 4 times. Running UP was the opposite of what I wanted to do!

It worked. I could jog up the hill without a side stitch, and got to the top gasping for air. Running up a steep hill is just enough to get the heart pounding, and walking down offers time to get the breath back. The unexpected challenge of my hill inspired even the most fit to show up and give it a try. Imagine plenty of moans, groans and expletives as middle aged Facebook junkies heaved themselves up and down a sleepy suburban hill. The rewards were quick; the hill got a tiny bit easier to manage each time, if we kept it up.

I am still a work out flunkie. I still don't exercise every day, or nearly as much as I should. However, I now know that I don't need a gym, yoga mat or fancy equipment to be healthy. In fact, I can strengthen my body more than I ever imagined on the swing set, park bench or the municipal building's concrete stairs.

How about you, Huff Po readers? Do you have any "neighborhood fitness" ideas, and are you a fellow work out flunkie? Love to hear your comments below, and be sure to click on Become a Fan if you would like weekly reminders, and Huff Po picks if you are a thumbs up. Time to lace up my sneakers - after my latte, that is.....

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Women Moving Millions- the Girls Give Back, Big Time

Hey ladies: imagine the rush of being able to give one million dollars to the charity of your choice. Think of it: any cause that mattered to you could be the recipient of your gift. Who would you pick? How would it feel? Not to leave the men out here, but I found a sparkling story of women stepping up like never before to flex their financial muscle, and pool their money to fuel a fundraising revolution - despite the drop in the Dow.

Two sisters, Helen Lakelly and Swanee Hunt are scholars of the feminist movement, and discovered that women with money have historically stood on the sidelines of social change. Together they co-founded the Women Moving Millions Initiative, and challenged women to use financial muscle power to lift women's voices in the culture. They set a gigantic goal of raising $150 million over three years, via private one million dollar gifts. Women heard the call within, made their commitments, raised a whopping $180 million for women and girl's foundations world wide - $30 million more than anticipated. 101 individual women and 41 women's funds made gifts of $1 million or more.

"I think we earned the unique status of being the only philanthropic story that surpassed their goals last year, as women began flexing a muscle that had been dormant for centuries," said Lakelly Hunt in a recent interview on NPR.


The initiative is a part of the Women's Funding Network, a collection of over 145 funds for women and girls worldwide, with collective assets of over half a billion dollars. Over 70% of the world's poverty victims are women and children. According to Idealist.org:

"this massive infusion of million dollar investments, spurred by the Women Moving Millions campaign, will be a force for lasting change for women and girls across the globe, with major reverberations for entire communities and countries. Together, women's funds will advance everything from community leadership and education improvement to poverty eradication and increased healthcare access."


I know, I can hear readers lighting up the comment box like a Christmas tree - grumbling about how I can they possibly be writing about million dollar giveaways when most of us are pinching pennies until it hurts. I hear you, believe me. But when hundreds of women ponied up $1 million each - that is a story of empowerment, courage, capacity and vision.

In Dallas, the Dallas Women's Foundation had never had a single $1 million gift before. They sat down and thought maybe they could hope to receive one or two. One year later, Dallas had secured 19 of the $1 million donors - and the women giving were empowered to a level they agreed was 'life changing.'

Here is a short YouTube clip from some of the organizers and donors:



Studies from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University also show that women are more likely than ever to contribute to charity. In the last 30 years, women's median income has increased over 60%, and more women are becoming educated, and dedicated to giving back. Their studies report that women are less likely to seek recognition, and more likely to want to be involved directly in the causes they support.

This trend of women giving together has trickled down to those of us who don't have such a lofty capacity to give away a million bucks. More and more women are forming "Giving Circles" in their local area. Together they are researching what causes they can support in their local communities, and pooling their charity dollars together for greater impact.

The money they are raising often goes directly into programs and services that impact their neighborhoods and most needy. They gain social benefits, and raise funds with a handshake and a "roll up the sleeves" attitude of barn raising days gone by. Ironically, according to studies from Indiana University, those in the lower income levels historically donate a whole lot more of their net worth to charities than the higher incomes. "The lower income women are the heroines," said Lakelly Hunt.

You go girls.

Women Moving Millions- the Girls GIve Back, Big Time

Hey ladies: imagine the rush of being able to give one million dollars to the charity of your choice. Think of it: any cause that mattered to you could be the recipient of your gift. Who would you pick? How would it feel? Not to leave the men out here, but I found a sparkling story of women stepping up like never before to flex their financial muscle, and pool their money to fuel a fundraising revolution - despite the drop in the Dow.

Two sisters, Helen Lakelly and Swanee Hunt are scholars of the feminist movement, and discovered that women with money have historically stood on the sidelines of social change. Together they co-founded the Women Moving Millions Initiative, and challenged women to use financial muscle power to lift women's voices in the culture. They set a gigantic goal of raising $150 million over three years, via private one million dollar gifts. Women heard the call within, made their commitments, raised a whopping $180 million for women and girl's foundations world wide - $30 million more than anticipated. 101 individual women and 41 women's funds made gifts of $1 million or more.

"I think we earned the unique status of being the only philanthropic story that surpassed their goals last year, as women began flexing a muscle that had been dormant for centuries," said Lakelly Hunt in a recent interview on NPR.


The initiative is a part of the Women's Funding Network, a collection of over 145 funds for women and girls worldwide, with collective assets of over half a billion dollars. Over 70% of the world's poverty victims are women and children. According to Idealist.org:

"this massive infusion of million dollar investments, spurred by the Women Moving Millions campaign, will be a force for lasting change for women and girls across the globe, with major reverberations for entire communities and countries. Together, women's funds will advance everything from community leadership and education improvement to poverty eradication and increased healthcare access."


I know, I can hear readers lighting up the comment box like a Christmas tree - grumbling about how I can they possibly be writing about million dollar giveaways when most of us are pinching pennies until it hurts. I hear you, believe me. But when hundreds of women ponied up $1 million each - that is a story of empowerment, courage, capacity and vision.

In Dallas, the Dallas Women's Foundation had never had a single $1 million gift before. They sat down and thought maybe they could hope to receive one or two. One year later, Dallas had secured 19 of the $1 million donors - and the women giving were empowered to a level they agreed was 'life changing.'

Here is a short YouTube clip from some of the organizers and donors:



Studies from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University also show that women are more likely than ever to contribute to charity. In the last 30 years, women's median income has increased over 60%, and more women are becoming educated, and dedicated to giving back. Their studies report that women are less likely to seek recognition, and more likely to want to be involved directly in the causes they support.

This trend of women giving together has trickled down to those of us who don't have such a lofty capacity to give away a million bucks. More and more women are forming "Giving Circles" in their local area. Together they are researching what causes they can support in their local communities, and pooling their charity dollars together for greater impact.

The money they are raising often goes directly into programs and services that impact their neighborhoods and most needy. They gain social benefits, and raise funds with a handshake and a "roll up the sleeves" attitude of barn raising days gone by. Ironically, according to studies from Indiana University, those in the lower income levels historically donate a whole lot more of their net worth to charities than the higher incomes. "The lower income women are the heroines," said Lakelly Hunt.

You go girls.