Tips to maximize your trail time: Head for the hills or mountains

Getting outside on the trails for a refreshing workout beats the gym any day. First, the immersion in nature is a feast for the mind, body and spirit. Second, there are too many benefits to count, including the cardio advantages, reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, obesity and lowering your blood pressure. Muscle benefits extend from your calves up to your quads, hamstrings, hip flexors and glutes through your core (especially if you’re trail running) and up to your shoulders. Sold? Ok, now if you want to get the most out of your trail time, head for the hills, or mountains, for that matter. L backside monserate

A 5%-10% incline boosts your calorie burn by as much as 30%-40%. I’m a glutton for the incline. (Check out the Monserate hike here.) Traversing uneven terrain, recruits your core muscles, and helps improve balance and flexibility.

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Using hiking poles will amp your caloric burn up even more as you engage the muscles of your upper body. (Poles will help save your knees on steep downhills as well.) Carrying a stuffed backpack will also boost your caloric burn by another 10-20%, depending on the load. Get the scoop on this amazing hike in Mammoth Lakes.

To top it all off, that magical combo of exercise, nature and fresh air will have you sleeping like a baby.

Like the idea, but not sure you’re ready to “go wild”? Start by walking with a friend in your neighborhood, then head to a park. Before you know it, you’ll want to explore more – farther, longer, wilder. Be safe, use common sense and the buddy system.

Happy Trails!

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Go take a hike! And Mother Nature will take care of you.

Big Sky, MT: Beehive Basin Hike

Did you know that nature improves our well-being so much so that studies show that even a fleeting look at a natural object (plant, bird, ant, flower, etc.) can improve our quality of life? Unfortunately, in today’s urban, indoor, sedentary society, most of us are as disconnected from the nature around us as we are from our own physical bodies.

9 reasons to “go wild” and immerse yourself in nature, the gift that keeps on giving

  • Healthy body
    • Reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and boost the immune systems
    • Delivers a scientifically proven anti-inflammatory effect
    • Promotes a healthier microbiome (the beneficial bacteria in our bodies)
  • Healthy brain
    • More robust amygdala, a portion of the brain that helps process stress
    • Enhanced plasticity of the brain, ability to adapt to learn new thing and recover
    • Improved brain development & higher cognitive functioning in children with fewer incidences of behavioral and emotional problems
    • Helps prevent cognitive decline
  • Healthy mind
    • Helps combat depression, anxiety, stress and headaches
    • Boosts creativity and productivity

Scientists found that the “wilder” the setting, the better it is for us. Think forests and coastal areas, but we hardly need scientists to tell us this do we? People have been “taking cures” at the seaside or in the countryside for centuries.

So how do we maximize nature’s positive effects? Yup, you guessed it  – get physical in nature. (You are welcome to translate that any way you want – I’m keeping this post PG.) Formal exercise isn’t the end all.

Hiking or walking in nature is the simple Rx for so many of our 21st century ailments. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise–because it’s what comes naturally to us. We are not built to spend our days sitting at our desks, on our couches, or in cars, buses, planes, or trains. We are genetically wired and built for daily, long walks. Our hunter-gather ancestors’ survival depended on daily movement in the natural world (walking, running, climbing, scrambling, swimming, etc,). And our health and well-being today still does.

So what are you waiting for? Get outside and play!

Additional reading : This Popular Science article sums up a couple of the recent studies.

Avalon to Two Harbors: Catalina Mt. Bike Adventure

Just living the active, outdoor life and packing in as many adventures as I can. Check out my posts about this crazy escapade on my adventure travel blog at onthelooselive.com. See the critters and other wild ones, (including mtb legends Hans No Way Rey and Missy the Missle Giove),  we met on our TransCatalina journey.

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Get in the moment for mind and body fitness

inthemoment first shortboard ride

I captioned this pic of my first time surfing a short board “In the Moment” for my Instagram feed@onthelooselive. It captures the great thing about so many vigorous, outdoor athletic pursuits and creative pursuits as well. When you are in the moment, aka “the zone”, you are completely absorbed, anchored by your senses and grounded by your physicality and concentration. There’s no room for all that other stuff that can bog you down. Total immersion – it’s the best way to cleanse your mind and renew your spirit of joie de vivre.

There are so many wonderful ways in this life for us to experience those magnificence moments of pure bliss.

I’m not a a very good surfer, but I enjoy it, especially when the water is warm and the waves are friendly. I’ve been surfing an 8 foot board for a while, but have always wanted to try a shorter one. They’re a lot more challenging though… Since I don’t surf  a lot, I’ve been hesitant to try because my skills aren’t up to par and I don’t practice enough…Lots of excuses not to … (Sound familiar?) So the other day, my BF brought a 5 foot foamy to the beach and encouraged me to try it. I had a blast. Sometimes, even self-motivated peeps, need a little extra push to get out of their comfort zone.  Thanks Ken. : )

So back to the fitness bandwagon, there are a couple takeaways here. In order to create and immerse ourselves in these moments of pure joy in our activities of choice, we must be fit enough to participate.

Sadly, I know many women who no longer surf because they didn’t maintain the upper body strength to push themselves up. (Semi-regular push ups would have kept them surfing and most could start strengthening and return to it if they were so inclined…) Unfortunately, there is so much more to lose and at risk when we relinquish our strength and baseline fitness levels.

Being fit for life means preserving our quality of life and health, enjoying the activities we love, and being able to discover new ones.

Cultivating our health and fitness in some way everyday is essential – even it just translates to eating extra vegetables and taking more walks. What we do today determines what we’ll be able to do tomorrow and the day after. No doubt I owe being able to push off of and stand up on the 5 foot board to my regular swim sessions, push-ups, weight training and yoga practice.

What’s your favorite “In the Moment” activity? (Keep it PG please.)  And how do you stay fit for life?

 

Ps. I know the pic is horrible quality, but it does capture the essence of this post and my feat. (Also, it’s probably the worst pic of me – 2 people who know me thought it was my BF. So much for vanity these days anyway…)

Sustainable fitness: Get back to you and rediscover physical bliss.

Fitness means cultivating an active lifestyle that’s sustainable for you. That means it has to be fun and rewarding for you. Exercise / moving our bodies should not be a necessary evil, but a fundamental pleasure.

I run into lots of people who suffer from various forms of workout “burn out”. Unfortunately many of them drop all activities and  loose what fitness they’ve gained. Many of these people have personal trainers who have over prescribed regimented routines or they’re following some training guide or guru.

I know someone who was on a strict, intense Ironman training program for 2 years. She set goals, signed up for races with friends, and followed the program to the letter. And she succeeded, completing Ironmans, half irons,  many sprints, marathons, halfs, etc. She accumulated so many finishers’ medals that she had to buy racks for them.  Now despite her achievements, and possibly because of them, she has zero enthusiasm for biking or running. It’s more than the familiar post-race partum. Here’s the rub, she doesn’t like biking or running, never has. So instead of checking the triathlon and running activities off her list and pursuing something she enjoys, she’s made a pact with a friend to run a mile a day, every day for 12 weeks. Sound like a good plan? Not to me. If you dislike running, how is forcing yourself to run a mile a day for 84 days in a row going to make it better? TBD if she sticks with this pact. If it works for her that’s great―everyone is different. I’m skeptical because it sounds like punishment (a minor daily flogging) without the promise of enhanced fitness or renewed mindset.

The struggle to overcome inertia happens to ALL of us

Yes, even the biggest workout fiends have those days where they struggle to pull themselves out of bed to make that 5:45 AM swim session, etc…And if having a pact with a friend helps us show up to our activity that’s great. As long as it’s an activity we like that yields the results we want.

But it’s important to know the difference between every day inertia and your body or mind telling you, “Hey, a break is the healthy choice today.” As in, recuperative sleep is going to do your body more good than a junk workout in an exhausted condition that may make you more susceptible to injury.” And in the scenario above, running a quality 3 miles a couple days a week is going to do your body and mind more good than slogging out an uninspired mile every day will. I get that some people need discipline and regimented workouts to overcome inertia. I’m just saying monotony is monotony and if you’re already burn out on an activity, forced monotony is not going to help.

What’s important is that we make the positive choice to move more often than we succumb to inertia. And as long as we’re happier for it once we’ve done it, we’re choosing the right activity for ourselves. Dread must transform into pleasure―whether it’s the endorphins, the fresh air, the company, the scenery, the results―it must make us happy, or we won’t sustain it for the long run.

If you find yourself force fitting some type of exercise, why not substitute an activity that makes you happy? Note I chose the word activity because exercise and workout have taken on negative connotations. Life’s too short for self-inflicted punishment when there are so many joyful ways for us move, experience the world around us and interact with each other. Change your mindset on exercise. Think of activity time as your adult play time with or without playmates.

8 Questions to help you discover your activity bliss

  • What activities do you love that you “used to do” ? What’s keeping you from enjoying them today? (Ok, injuries are legit excuses. My favorite activity was trail running and severe chrondomalacia/ runners knees prevents me from doing so, but I still hike…)
  • What activities have you always dreamed of trying? Set a goal of trying 1 a month.
  • When was the last time you mixed it up? (The same routine day in and out not only kills motivation, but it won’t rack up the results you want.) Keep it fresh by rotating your activities, and adjusting intensity and duration.
  • Are you getting results? (When you define and attain results that are meaningful to you, you’ll appreciate the activity more- lower body fat %, personal record run times, stress release, a calmer, happier mind set, etc..)
  • What activities have you tried once and dismissed? Try again.  If it’s skill -based, you need to give yourself time to develop the skills before making the final determination. Also as you evolve, you may find your activity tastes change. (For me, yoga falls into this category. Previously, I resented taking time from my endurance sports. Now, I really appreciate the balance it brings to my body and mind and understand how it could have benefited me then, had I been more patient.)
  • Are you having fun; does the environment engage you? (What would make it more fun for you – add music, friends, a change of venue, etc…)
  • Do your favorite hobbies involve movement? Here’s your excuse to indulge in them.
  • Who inspires you? What are they doing? Even personal trainers need inspiration now and again. I follow a few kindred spirits on Instagram and have a couple of people in my life who help keep me motivated and engaged.

Get back to you and rediscover your physical bliss.

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Sometimes just getting back to the basics can be refreshing. Long before triathlons, I was big on weight training. I’m coming back to it now because it’s a great way to maintain muscle tone and boost your metabolism. Both become more essential as we get older…

 

Tell me, what’s your physical bliss? How do you overcome exercise slumps?

PS: Want a great running substitute that will bring back childhood memories and can be done anywhere? Pick up a jump rope, you’ll get an efficient workout in less time and with less impact than running.

Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Tap into an internal fountain of youth to stay nimble & quick.

For all of you old dogs like me out there, and all the rest of you too, I ask “What new trick are you learning today?” Learning skills of any kind stimulates our brains to create new neural pathways  and coordinate with our bodies to develop new motor skills / patterns.

Whether an artist, musician, or athlete, we recognize that learning a new skill requires time and patience. As we get older, there may be a tendency to be less open to trying something new and to be less patient with ourselves when we do. We may get to a certain stage in life where we’ve mastered so many skills that we’re easily frustrated and discouraged when we don’t get something right the first time. And some people as they grow older become close minded, finding comfort (however small) in living a narrow, unchallenged life. Change it up and challenge yourself  and you’ll reap the rewards.

As a beginner triathlete, my biggest “opportunity for improvement” was swimming. Despite surprising myself with 3rd place in my first triathlon, I was the last one out of the water in my age group. (Wearing my heavy surf wetsuit didn’t help me much, but neither did my “muscling the water” style.) I really disliked swimming then, but realized if I wanted to pursue triathlons, I’d have to get with the program. After 6 lessons with a pro coach and lots of practice sessions, I was 5th in my age group out of the water in my next triathlon. Great, right? Yes, improved, but still plenty of room for improvement.

And now, nearly two decades later, I love swimming and am still working on my technique. Yikes, you may say, but this doesn’t discourage me.  It excites me that I still have the capacity to improve. (If you’re a swimmer, you know it’s all about technique.) I swim regularly with a Masters Swim Group and get tips on my stroke whenever I can.

What I haven’t mentioned is that despite all these years of Masters Swimming, I never learned how to flip turn. I rationalized that triathlons are races in open water so flip turns don’t apply to me. Truth be told,  I thought I wouldn’t like it or be coordinated enough to pull them off. I think the translation is FEAR of FAILURE.

“Giving up [or not trying in the first place] is the only sure way to fail.”

 – Gena Showalter

While my swimming technique improvements have made me faster, flip turners gain a whole body length on me at ever turn – very annoying. So this annoyance had to grow bigger than my fear of failure in order for me to do something about it.

Fortunately,  my boyfriend, who taught himself flip turns years ago encouraged me and patiently gave me 3 lessons. The first lesson lasted 45 miserable minutes. I got water up my nose and was so nauseous after so many failed attempts that I was dry heaving by the side of the pool. Anyway, I hated it right away and felt like giving up. We had 2 more fifteen minute sessions where I got a couple partially right. Next, I started practicing on my own – throwing them into the swim workout here and there and actually “nailing” one or two of them. Today, I threw a bunch of flip turns into the workout. At one point, I noticed a much faster gal swimming parallel in the lane next me. (She’s my athletic benchmark across the board.) The only thing is, she doesn’t do flip turns either. She is known for her quick open turns though… So I did my flip and didn’t see her anywhere next to me. For a moment, I wondered if she’d somehow managed to get in front of me. But no, there she was coming up from behind. I’d gained a whole body length! Now she might have been fixing her goggles or her suit for all I know, but I’m counting this as a flip turn victory and proof that any old dog can learn new tricks.

swim pic chiang mai

New skills make us nimble and quick in body & mind. Practice makes perfect.

 

When it comes to keeping our minds and bodies nimble and quick, learning new tricks is our virtual fountain of youth. We are so fortunate to have so many opportunities in this life to learn, adapt, improve and grow.  I’m so grateful for that and for my boyfriend’s patience with me – certainly more than I had for myself.

So tell me, what new skill will you try today?

 

 

Sleep your way to optimal health, fitness & performance: 7 tips for better sleep

 

 

Alfie practicing what he readsSleep is as essential to our health and wellness as breathing, hydrating and getting good nutrition are. In fact, when push comes to shove, your need for sleep overrides hunger. Getting adequate sleep is required for optimal cognitive and physical performance. The quality and length of sleep we get impacts every aspect of our lives. If you short yourself on sleep, you short circuit your athletic performance and so much more.

Aside from feeling and performing sub par, not getting the sleep we need can take a significant toll on our health. Chronic sleep deprivation has been associated with serious and life-threatening diseases, including high-blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, cancer, diabetes, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Lack of sleep has also been associated with irritability, mood swings and impulsive behavior–a recipe for disastrous interpersonal relations.

According to a 2013 Gallup Poll, 40% of us are sleep-deprived. The consensus of Harvard researchers and the National Sleep Foundation is that 7 to 9 hours is ideal. Making sleep a priority will help regenerate, regulate and replenish your body. Sleep repairs and restores your muscles so you can reap the benefits of your workout and prepare you body to go to a whole new level.

By the way, naps are A-Ok as long as they don’t interfere with logging your 7 to 9 hours. In the book pictured above, Littlehales stipulates that we need to be mindful of our natural 90 minute sleep cycles that alternating between NREM (Non Rapid Eye Movement – a deep sleep) and REM (Rapid Eye Movement – dreaming sleep). He maintains that we’ll feel better waking at the end of a full 90 minute cycle versus waking in the middle of cycle even though we may have added on another half hour or hour of sleep…There probably something to this, but I haven’t really experimented enough with my cycles and wake up times. (Admit didn’t want to give up the add on half or hour.) Let me know if you do and I’ll update this blog if I do.

7 Tips for Better Sleep

  1. Exercise in the morning, preferably in the sunlight.
  2. Eliminate alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before bed.
  3. Unplug all blue screens 30-90 minutes before bed (tv, phone, tablets, computer).
  4. Practice meditation to calm your mind and lull yourself to sleep. (The American Academy of Sleep Medicine Recommends it as an effective treatment for insomnia.)
  5. Establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine / ritual. (Do some gentle stretching combined with deep breathing, listen to soothing music, meditate, soak in a bath-not too hot.)
  6. Try to stay on a consistent sleep schedule.
  7. Make your bedroom your sleep and intimacy sanctuary. (No work, tvs, phones or computers allowed.) Speaking of intimacy, orgasms are a natural sleep aid with many health benefits so there you go.

Sweet dreams and sleep well to fulfill your potential – athletic and otherwise.

Any sleep tricks up your pajama sleeve? Do share.