inner engine fitness

building a better body

How Much Exercise is Too Much?

It’s a question that is all too familiar. How much of a good thing is too much? Sometimes it is hard to know, but your body will provide the answer.  You just have to listen to it.
The first thing you need to look at is your activity level at work. If you have a job where you are sitting all day, you are physically unchallenged all day. Mentally you may be doing somersaults, but your body is sedentary.  On the other hand, if you perform a labor job or are standing all day, you are burning more calories and are more active. This is important because when it comes to workout time, you need to address your needs carefully. If you are active all day, your body could benefit from a workout that emphasizes sitting and stretching more than high-energy activity. If you sit all day, you might need an activity that is fun and invigorating, making you feel like you can wash off the stress.  Of course these are just a couple of scenarios, so you might fall somewhere in between and need a yoga class one day and a group workout another day. Just remember not to push your body beyond what it is capable of handling, as that will contribute to injuries that will derail your efforts.
As far as diet is concerned, your calorie needs depend on a few things. First of all, you need to consider your goals.  Most people benefit from eating small, nutrient-dense meals that give you energy throughout the day. If you are active and burn many calories at your job or during your day, you will need more fuel than someone who sits in front of a computer for the majority of their day.  Higher carbohydrate diets should be for lean types that have a high-revving metabolism all day and need the extra energy.  For sedentary or heavier folks, cutting back on the calories, especially from carbs and fats, will be more helpful for maintaining and losing weight.  Focus carbohydrate foods around workout times or times of high activity because that’s when you will need them the most.

Now that we have focused on energy intake, let’s address the effects of exercise on your body. You shouldn’t punish your body with activity, just provide it with enough to stay fit and healthy. How do you know how much? Well, if you are having trouble waking up in the morning even though you have gotten at least 7 hours of sleep, your body is sore all the time, and/or you are famished more often than not, I would definitely consider dialing down the intensity and the amount of exercise you are doing. Moderation is definitely the key to a happy body. Just remember that all or nothing is not the answer. Strive for a plan that will be sustainable, regardless of the time of the year and your level of motivation. You don’t want to make yourself sick or get injured from too intense of a workout schedule, so find a few activities that work for you and give yourself choices each workout day.

So, here’s a real life example. If you’re an office worker who is sedentary most of the day, save for getting up for breaks and lunch, you could benefit from a daily walk and a few classes or workouts a week. Aim for some cardio, which is something that gets your heart going, like jogging or dancing, and some resistance exercise to keep your muscles strong. If you feel like your body is really sore one day, just walk or stretch instead of pushing through a vigorous routine. The next day you can give it your all and get back some intensity.

Make sure to find what works for you with regards to activity, food and sleep. If you slight your sleep and end up eating too much because your body is tired, you can end up injured from pushing yourself too hard on a low energy day. So pay attention to your body and be kind to it. Recovery is an important part of staying fit and healthy. A massage or a nice hot bath works wonders for soreness on a day when your body is not up for activity.

So, listen to your body and have fun. Fitness should be enjoyable and good for you. It’s great for your mood and your body, especially if you find activities that make you feel good. And make sure to pay attention to cues your body is giving you, especially in the aches and pains department. Too many days of soreness could lead to injury in the long run. Overall, balance is the key to a long and healthy relationship with movement. Figure out the right recipe today to help keep you moving tomorrow and for many years to come.

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Cold Weather Calorie Burn

It’s been darn cold around here lately, and that got me wondering whether we burn more calories in the cold.  Apparently we do, even when we are not shivering, which is great news!  So, make sure to add an outdoor workout to your winter fitness plans, if you haven’t already!

According to this article, http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/02/how-being-cold-burns-calories/283810/, just a drop in the temperature of your indoor environment makes a difference in how many calories you burn.  So, in addition to getting outside, save yourself a few dollars and turn down the thermostat a few degrees.  It will help your health by enabling you to get better sleep and force your body to vary your temperature depending on the time of year, as well as burning extra calories.  Any time your body encounters hot or cold, it works harder to regulate your temperature, causing a slight increase in caloric burn.  The other advantage is that your fat actually burns more calories in the cold.  Usually, your muscle is the best at burning calories, but when you’re cold, your fat gets into gear, too.  That’s great for your heart and your waistline!

I know not everyone is real keen on being cold, but if it helps your health and burns more calories, isn’t it worth it?  The fresh air from just getting outside does your mind and your body good, keeps you from getting sick as often, and helps you to sleep more soundly at night.  Add some exercise and you’ll burn more than you do for a gym workout of the same type.  So, you can save time and money by not having to make the trip to the gym and you get a better calorie burn, especially if you can vary your routine.  Even 100 calories a day can help with a weight-loss goal, so challenge yourself and venture into the chilly weather to see if you feel a difference.

So, what are you waiting for?  Set a date for a workout outside.  Make it today and see how much you benefit from taking a brisk walk or run in the cold.  You can lift weights or do circuit training, but whatever you do, make sure you do it outside to burn those extra calories.  It’s fun and beneficial, giving you room for a little indulgence here and there!  And that makes life just a little sweeter!

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Your New Year

How should we begin the new year? Most of us have similar ideas for health and fitness every year, but how can this year be different? By adding to what we already know and, more importantly, not starting over in the new year!

Let’s change our mentality when it comes to turning over a new leaf. We have the ability and can all put in a little time, so why not renew our pledge to a healthier life now? Right this minute!

Take 5 minutes and walk around your house a few times while your kids are playing or the commercials are on. Take a break from your work or home project and do a few jumping jacks, or walk to the water fountain. Stop by the store on your way home, park far away from the door and speed walk to and through the store. Find the fresh produce section and spend the majority of your money there. Go home and cut up all of your veggies to use for the next few days. Sip on cool, clear water or green tea while you read your favorite newsletter or blog.

So, now that you have a couple more ideas to add to yours, put them to use right now. Don’t make the mistake of having a starting (and therefore an ending) point to your “diet” or your new year’s resolution. It just sets you up for failure, and that is the last thing you want along your way to a healthier, longer life of fitness.

If you haven’t figured it out just yet, better health and fitness comes from a day-to-day commitment, not just a few month-long binge of hardcore exercises that make you want to throw up. Moderation is key and makes for a healthy relationship between you, your family and friends, and your fitness life.  Step up your game now and feel renewed throughout this and every year.

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Holidays In Balance

This is a hectic time of year, so most of us don’t have much time to take care of ourselves very well. If you’re wondering how to get through the holidays without adding extra weight to your waistline and losing your ability to cope with stress, here are a few tips to keep your health in balance.

1. Don’t deprive yourself. Yes, you heard it right, you can indulge… a bit. Healthy eating can be really stressful this time of year.  With grandma’s cookies around to tempt you and your uncle offering you eggnog to drink, you have your choices to make.  Just remember that the holidays are here for you to take part in, not to stress about every little thing that you put in your mouth. In general, you need to make healthy food choices to stay healthy and fit, but give yourself a break and enjoy the moment. A small treat once or twice a week isn’t going to derail your fitness efforts if you don’t let it snowball into an everyday activity. Make the moment count and enjoy your treat with the people you care about.  Stress may just float off of you if you let go of counting every last calorie.

2. Make sleep a priority. It is easy to get wrapped up in the activity of the holidays and let sleep slip away. Burning the candle at both ends deprives your brain of the energy to handle stress. Next thing you know, you are eating cookies and drinking more coffee to give yourself energy.  This may in turn lead to snapping at your family members because you are too tired to control your emotions. Don’t be the crank of Christmas! Get your zzzzs!

3. Have fun! Enjoy your family, friends and football. Remember what the holidays are really about and don’t get so sucked into consumerism that you forget to enjoy yourself. The best memories are those spent doing things that you cherish and shopping is probably not high on your list. If it is, enjoy it. But if you’d rather do something else, make time for that, too.

4. Don’t forget to sneak some exercise in when you can. If you are planning an afternoon shopping, park far away and walk the distance. If you have ten minutes that you can spare in the morning, do some quick walking around the house or a few sets of squats. If you get some exercise in before you shower, you don’t have to worry about getting sweaty later in the day. Find small amounts of time when you can be active. You will feel better for doing so.

5. Stay organized. Lists are helpful for everything this time of year. It’s a whole lot more stressful if you forget something and have to go back to the same store to get it later. Before you head out or get online, know what you’re looking for and stay focused. A productive trip is one that accomplishes what you set out to do. Make every effort count and you’ll spend less time and energy in the long run.

6. Recruit help. This is a tough one for some people, myself included. You don’t need to do everything. When you make your list of activities to accomplish, make sure to figure out who in your family can help with each task. If your partner can make dinner, let them. If your daughter can help with the wrapping, include her. If it is just you and recruiting help is not an option, practice saying no.  It is okay to put yourself first and to commit only to the activities that are necessary and bring you some joy.  You have more control than you think, so choose wisely and be decisive!

The holidays are meant to be a time of peace, love and togetherness. Try to remember that and keep the stress in check. Being in balance means focusing on what really matters to you and making sure that you enjoy yourself. It is better for your physical and mental health, and can lead to a long, happy life. Indulge in peace of mind and enjoy the holidays!

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Rain, Rain, Motivation Has Gone Away

Sometimes it’s hard to find motivation to exercise. And then other times it’s downright impossible…or so it seems. When the weather is not on your side and the rain just keeps coming, it’s best to have a few tricks up your sleeve to keep your mood afloat and your body moving.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, here are some of the ideas I use to keep exercising even when it rains for days on end:

1. Employ your sunlight lamp. This one is a must in the Northwest, where dreary weather occurs quite often in the fall and winter months. The pick-me-up that you get from the sun is needed when you don’t feel motivated to move during the dark days.  A mood lift motivator is just a click away if you have a sunlight lamp on hand. Get one, use it, and feel the energy!  (I use a Verilux happy light.)

2. Go outside even if you need to bring the old umbrella. I know it’s not a glamorous addition to your wardrobe, but a bumbershoot can keep you relatively dry on those downpour days and enable you to get some fresh, albeit moist air. Getting outside has many advantages, including changing your perspective, replenishing your oxygen stores, and clearing your mind, just to name a few.  The outdoors can be a great brain stimulator!

3. If you just can’t make it outside, don’t ditch the workout. Make sure that you have a backup for your exercise plan. An inside workout can be fun, invigorating, and less time-consuming.  You can make your workout as simple as combining jumping jacks and mountain climbers or you can include favorites like push-ups, planks, and back extensions. Use whatever gear you have to add some challenges.  Get creative and have fun!

4. Eat healthy foods in the winter, too. Pay attention to your food choices even when comfort foods call out your name…loudly. Casseroles and stews can be included in a healthy diet, but make sure to eat plenty of fruits and veggies, too. Maybe even combine the two by throwing extra vegetables into a favorite recipe.  Extra fruit and vegetables help to keep your mood up and your body ready for exercise.

5. Make an exercise schedule and stick to it.  Don’t fall victim to not having enough time or getting side-tracked. Write your exercise appointments down on your calendar or set an alarm on your phone to keep you accountable.  Get motivated by using a Fitbit or an app like Mapmyfitness, which helps to track what you’ve done.  Include a friend or colleague in your workout plans to make you think twice about canceling.  Make exercise a priority and do what it takes to hold yourself accountable.

6. Get plenty of sleep.  Fall and winter are times of hibernation, making us feel like sleeping more.  Make sure you listen to your body, giving it the sleep it needs to power you through the day.  A set sleep schedule is helpful to keep your body energized and healthy.  It is all too easy at this time of year to push through the normal bedtime to get more work done, but shirking your sleep leads to fatigue, less motivation for exercise, dependence on caffeine, and poorer food choices.  Sleep is a very important part of overall health, so make sure to include enough shut-eye in your routine.

So next time it rains outside and you feel your motivation waning, just remember some of these tips.  They are sure to help get you moving in no time.

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Weight Loss Basics

Everyone is looking for the perfect combination of food and exercise to lose weight. The front covers of fitness magazines taunt you with six-pack abs and new diet fads. They make it sound easy, but with just a sample workout and a few diet tips, your goal will still be elusive. I would like to provide you with a few starter steps that you can use to dial in your perfect combination for success without depriving yourself. Each person is different and will require an individualized plan to get the results that they want, but it is simple to come up with a beginning plan if you are willing to stick to the basics. So, how do you know where to start?
If you want to get a generalized idea about how many calories you should be eating, head to a calorie calculator site, like http://www.calculator.net/calorie-calculator.html. You will need to put in your age, height, weight, gender, and activity level to give you an idea about how many calories you should eat daily. Then figure out how many times you eat during the day and divide your calories pretty evenly between those meals. Make small changes, if needed, but make sure the calories are close to your total by the end of the day. For instance, if you know that lunch is always your biggest meal, make sure to shave off some calories from the other meals to compensate for the bigger meal.  Of course, strive to get most of your calories from whole food sources, as this will help to provide better fuel for your body.
As far as exercise, you can look at your daily habits and then start adding in exercises that appeal to you where you can. If you have a weight loss goal of one pound per week, you will need to reduce your calorie consumption by 250 cals/day and increase your activity by about 250 cals/day. Calories burned by exercise vary by person, so you will need to make sure that you are doing enough exercise to make the plan work. Walking is a great way to start, but be sure to add challenges or different exercises and get the most out of each workout.
This will give you a great baseline and will enable you to see how your plan works for you. Record your activities and keep a food journal to track your progress. Give it a couple of weeks and then check where you are. Did you lose weight? If you did, pat yourself on the back and continue the pattern until there is no change. If you didn’t, you will need to reduce your calories or increase your activity level to see progress next time. For example, pick more vigorous exercises or eat more green vegetables instead of heavier carbs like potatoes and rice. Each time, just tweak the formula to see results. It is a simple design, but it is not easy for everyone to stick with, so try to have patience and enjoy the journey.  Keep your goals in mind and know that you are in control of the outcome. Stick to it and you will succeed.

So, now you know a great way to find the perfect combination of diet and exercise to meet your needs. Keep in mind that when you need a break from the routine, take some time and relax a little. Enjoy a couple of items that you wouldn’t normally eat on your food plan. Then, after a day or two, jump right back to the routine and give it your all. When you work hard and get the feel for how to change your body for the better, you will start to see the benefits in energy and attitude, not to mention in your waistline. With patience and perseverance, you will make a significant difference in how you look and feel. And you don’t have to feel like you’re depriving yourself to do so!

As a side note, if you choose to do some resistance training, which I highly recommend, realize that if you don’t lose weight at first, that is normal.  You gain a bit of muscle at first that will help you lose fat further down the line.  You may need help from a fitness professional if you want to get into more specifics, but don’t stress if it takes you a few more weeks to start losing weight.  If you are interested in personal training sessions, leave a comment.

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Sleep and be healthy

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our health.  It helps us recover from a long, stressful day, replenishing our cognitive and physical stores.  We all need slightly different amounts, ranging from 6 to 9 hours on average, but if we don’t get enough sleep repeatedly, we are asking for serious derailment of health and wellness.

We all know what it’s like to wake up after tossing and turning all night long.  It feels like the day is interminable and we will wait forever to get back in bed.  But, in addition to feeling tired, look at some of the choices that we might make during a day following poor sleep.  Most likely, we will need more coffee to get going in the morning, perhaps leading us to skip breakfast.  Maybe breakfast will come later in the morning in the shape of a doughnut or pastry accompanied by more caffeine.  Lunch may be missed, due to low cognitive processes and the same workload, or will find us famished after our plunge from the sugary snack earlier.  So, overindulgence could be likely, keeping us on the path to having even less energy for the rest of our long day as our bodies struggle to devote much-needed energy to digestion.  If we are somehow able to decompress later in the afternoon by having a nice walk or a short nap, we are the lucky ones.  We may be able to reverse the spiral.  But for many of us, the day is just too busy and obligations call, making the prospect of getting in a workout ever more daunting in our exhausted state.  Well, on to dinner, be it take-out or quickly prepared comfort food.  To top it all off, poor choices all day may come to roost in the form of digestive discomfort late at night, making it likely to interrupt our sleep again tonight.  Whew, I’m tired just thinking about it!

Now, let’s look at the pattern. When we’re tired, it’s common to take the easier route.  More coffee, no breakfast, sugary and comfort foods, little exercise.  Unfortunately, we often cave to our inner comfort side when we are less than awake.  It’s easy to go with the flow and not put in the effort when we can’t think straight and our bodies are tired.  Yikes, that doesn’t work well for overall health and fitness.

So, what should we do?  The answer is simple, but not always easy to follow.  We should take care not to drink or eat too much caffeine during the day, as this will keep our bodies awake long into the night.  Get a good exercise session in, preferably outdoors because the fresh air and exercise combine to promote wonderful sleep.  And last, but certainly not least, come up with a healthy bedtime routine that may include reading a light novel, shutting off our computers an hour before sleep, having a cup of bedtime caffeine-free tea, and snuggling with our favorite companion.  All of these activities will be sure to help us usher in a calming feeling and will promote good quality sleep.

There are many more ideas out there, so feel free to try some or all of these or other techniques and see how tomorrow finds you ready to make healthy choices.  Here’s to a healthy, well-rested tomorrow!

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Fresh Air Fitness

The sun has come out in Seattle, so many (or all!) of us are headed outside.  How will you spend your free time when the sun decides to shine where you live?  A good way to make sure you don’t miss a beat of the good weather is to consider adopting a new activity you’d like to try or by giving your usual exercise routine a slight makeover.  Whether it’s hiking a new trail or trying out a new activity, make the spring and summer weather count by getting a little vitamin D and fresh air!

Everyone knows that being outside is good for your health, but did you know that exercising outdoors gives you an extra calorie burn, not to mention engaging your brain in a bit more stimulation?  It’s true!  You gain a lot more from exercising outside than just feeling the fresh air on your face as you hike to the top of your local mountain.  So ditch your computer for a bit of walking meditation and reap the feel-good benefits!

What will be on your to-do list of outside activities this season?  Here are a few of my favorites to get some brainstorming started:

1.  Nothing says summer like a long bike ride.  You don’t have to rack up miles to get the benefit of a good ride.  Find some new hills for a challenge or just cruise along at a comfortable speed, taking time to notice nature as you go by.  You could even give yourself a destination like a favorite coffee shop!

2.  Explore new hikes in your area.  Whether you feel like heading out for a day-long trek or just a short jaunt, check out a website or pick up a book on trails to help you decide the day’s plan.  A good website for Washington is http://www.wta.org/

3.  Take up a new sport like stand-up paddle-boarding.  This activity has taken Seattle by storm and is a really fun way to enjoy the sun and water without getting wet if you don’t want to.

4.  If you’ve gotten in the habit of walking or jogging the same route every time you head out to sweat, find a new path or just jazz up your routine with a few lunges or squats along the way.  Changing your normal routine will give you an added calorie burn and a mental spark by taking in new sights.  Maybe you live nearby or are willing to drive to one of these sweet spots in the greater Seattle area: http://www.irunfar.com/2012/08/trail-running-in-seattle.html

5.  Take the workout outside.  Trading the gym or the stationary machine for the backyard can be just the spice your routine needs.  Bodyweight exercises like push-ups, one-leg squats and lunges can easily be done in a park and may give you a bit more room to move.  Be creative and have fun!  Try a few new exercises and see how good it makes you feel.

It’s just a start, but I hope my list got your creative juices flowing and has spurred you into thinking of the outdoors in a fresh, calorie-burning kind of way!  Feel happier and healthier by treating yourself to a new experience outside.  It may just become your new favorite way to spend the long summer days!

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Put some spring into your step

Spring has sprung, so that means that it’s time to get moving again.  If you have been a little more sedentary the past few months and are feeling a little heavier than you would like to, just strap on those walking shoes and get outside.  This is a great time of year to renew your fitness goals and jump into action.

 

It is our body’s natural reaction to want to move more as our energy renews in the spring.  Use this natural desire to step into action!  Think about what you would like to achieve in the next month or two.  Keep the goals small and manageable, as those are the ones we tend to finish.  They also serve to spur us on and make us feel more in control of our lives and our bodies.

 

As an example, if you have never run in your life and would like to start, just begin with small steps.  First, make sure that you have a comfortable pair of shoes.  Then, start with a short distance and time commitment.  Each day, increase the distance little by little, walking farther each day of the month.  At the beginning of the next month, start with a few short bouts of jogging followed by walking.  Extend those short bursts to longer periods of time, and by the end of the next month, you will be ready to jog a longer distance.  Keep increasing the goals until you are running, say a quarter mile, then a half mile and so on.  By keeping the goals small, you will be able to increase your abilities slowly, thus making significant progress.  Keep track of your improvement and then look back at what you have achieved each month.  It does wonders for your motivation!

 

Now, it’s time to get moving!  Think of your small goal and then head out the door.  Walking is a great place to start.  You can simply just wander and admire the flowers.  I’m sure with the time to think and move you can come up with a perfect accomplishment to work toward for the spring.  Good luck and happy walking!

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Top of the Tower (Big Climb 2014)

Well, the Inner Engine Climbers made it to the top of the Columbia Tower yet again!  Thank you to everyone who participated with and supported the team in all of our efforts.  It feels so good to raise money for such a great cause and to push through limits to get to the top of a very tall building.  Both feats seem tough at certain points and it’s wonderful to know that we have many wonderful people to help get us through the event.  The summit is a lot harder to reach without a team behind you!  Thank you again and enjoy the pictures!  Until next year…

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