Rise up to your challenges; I dare ya.

A good friend of mine from college, Chris Fortunato, just biked the Great Cycle Challenge to help kids fight cancer.

Chris Fortunato, Cyclist & Half-Century Victor

He’d been logging 17 mile rides. The personal trainer in me couldn’t help wanting to make it a little more interesting for Chris so I challenged him to ride a 25 miler, a 35 miler & a 50 miler – with a promised donation of a dollar per mile. He named it the Daunting Dobbs Dare. Note, Chris is NOT a hard core cyclist or triathlete (yet). And guess what?  He completed my challenge today with his grand finale, half-century ride, a notable feat even for experienced cyclists! And he thanked me for throwing down the gauntlet and said it wasn’t bad at all. (I see a century ride in his future.)

Inspiration & Motivation

Sometimes it takes that extra push from an external source to just do it or do the things that we weren’t even sure we were capable of or hadn’t even imagined in the first place. Chris was inspired by a great cause and then my “daunting dare” topped it off.

Back when I used to run some grueling trail marathons, thinking about my Dad who had a stroke and was confined to wheelchair always renewed my grit and determination. I’ve also participated in a couple challenging 100 mile / century rides for cancer, thinking about what cancer patients go through helped me tell my legs to just shut up and keep pedaling.

If causes inspire you, there are tons of walks, runs and bike rides out there where you can contribute to a greater good, improve your health and fitness, and have a good time with like-minded peeps.

Even personal trainers and coaches need motivation and more often than not it comes back to us from people we coach. For instance, I’ve  gotten away from biking lately, other than an occasional 35 mile ride. I’ve been doing other things, swimming, yoga, hiking, mt. biking, rollerblading, weight-lifting etc., but just haven’t been motivated to go the distance on the bike. The thing is, I have been missing the quality endurance training and serious calorie burning of a long ride. So guess what? After Chris achieved his 50 mile goal yesterday, I amped-up my standard route and road 50 in solidarity with him. Chris inspired me.

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Notablely, I was inspired and encouraged by good friends to create this health and wellness blog and my adventure travel blog. It took their kind and persistent nudging to get me to commit to taking those first few steps.

I’m also inspired by other fitness professionals. Last week I took a handstand class from local yoganastic guru, Lexi Beal.

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Lexi Beal, Yoganastic Guru Extraordinaire

Her grace and strength inspire me and I wanted to challenge myself to do a handstand. Why? Because I’ve never done one and I aspire to have that kind of strength, balance and core control. Did I do it? Well, I did go heels over hands, but only made it to a wall stand.

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And that was still a feat for me. Still “on the wall” about taking my handstand practice further. While I love trying something new, I do want to preserve and protect my shoulders for swimming…As we get older, we sometime have to make those kind of choices. (Sigh, but that’s a subject for another post.)

We’re all on this life, health and fitness journey together. Who can you inspire to help them fulfill their potential or explore something new today? And who will inspire or motivate you to rise up to your next challenge, personal, professional or fitness?

Share your stories and let’s help each other grow and become our best selves – mind, body and spirit. Nameste.

L nameste

 

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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!

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.

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.

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.

Just breathe: Why meditation is a must for all of us, especially athletes.

“Recently, I  had the privilege of spending a week at the active paradise of Thanyapura Health and Sports Resort in Phuket, Thailand. It was an amazing immersion in mind and body fitness, including yoga, meditation, triathlon training and more.

My biggest takeaway from the week was how essential meditation and yoga are to optimal mind body health and fitness. (Yoga post to follow.)  I know what many of you hard core endurance athletes are thinking, something along the lines of “Here we go again with that new age mumbo jumbo.” And before my time at Thanyapura, I’d be right there rolling my eyes with you.

What changed?  I encountered and practiced with the mind training meditation guru, Pierre at Thanyapura.  Pierre has a knack for explaining the practice of meditation in a practical way that speaks to athletes and he guides his sessions like training sessions.  This isn’t ethereal stuff, though with dedicated practice, you might find yourself transcending previous limitations, setting new PRs and levitating to new heights. Ok, maybe not the last one (unless you’re a pole vaulter), was just checking to see if you’re still paying attention.

 

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Mind Trainer, Meditation Coach Pierre

 

Without further ado, here’s what I learned about meditation from Coach Pierre:

Meditate on this

  • Meditation is a physical activity. Meditation is anchored in the breath. It doesn’t get more physical than breathing, does it? (Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that before either.)
  • It’s all about being engaged and in the moment. You focus on your immediate experience vs. the ongoing (often negative ) internal narrative. Most physical pain from exertion (not injury)  passes. Once we attach emotional thoughts to physical pain as is the tendency with unfocused thinking, it becomes much more difficult to endure. Also happiness is something that happens only when we are truly engaged in the moment and your senses. Meditation helps us be in the moment more and to be more engaged during and after meditation. Meditation can bring more happiness into your life.
  • Meditation can improve our athletic performance. Unguided thoughts are random and prone to negative spiral, which can sabotage your daily life and your race performance. Ever been in the middle of a triathlon  and felt like giving up? Were you in the moment,  or were you in random thought mode after your rival passed you on the bike? Meditation helps us practice being focused, which keeps us performing well and transcending pain and exertion throughout the race.
  • Just breathe and relaxation will follow. Deep exhalations stimulate the body’s relaxation response. It’s like taking a valium, except it’s good for you. Conversely, if your muscles and body are tense, your mind will look for a reason to be upset and keep you focused on it.
  • Meditation can be undertaken like interval training. (5 minutes intense focus, 5 minutes relaxed focus.) Start with bite size pieces of meditation and soon you’ll be increasing them with ease.
  • Master your mind with meditation. Our mind can be our biggest saboteur, now you’re in control. Now, go, fight, win!

In case you can’t tell, I’m a total convert now. What’s your perspective of meditation? How has it enhanced your life or your sport?