Move to the Rhythm: Music and Your Run

Music has long been used to direct human movement. Ancient Romans would play drums on their ships to synchronize the strokes of their rowers. Our bodies just naturally want to move along with music and this can be a powerful tool when incorporated into your training.

Speaking to the American Council on Fitness, Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., a leading authority on music and exercise, says that “Music is like a legal drug for athletes.” He went on to explain that well-selected music can not only reduce the perception of effort during a workout, but it can also measurably improve endurance.

Music is a powerful potential exercise aid. How can you incorporate it into your workout?

Timing Is Everything

The key is to capitalize on our natural tendency to make our movements match the beat of a given song. When we run, we do so with a certain amount of steps per minute – this is defined as our pace. By choosing music that has the same beats per minute (BPM) as our desired pace, we essentially give ourselves an entertaining and easy-to-follow coach.

For this reason, it’s important to pick songs that have a very distinct beat. There are programs, generally intended for DJs, that will tell you the BPM  of a song so that you can design your own playlist. But there are also several podcasts that have done this for you.

One of the most popular free programs is called PodRunner, produced by electronic music DJ and runner Steve Boyett. Each edition of PodRunner is designed to provide you with a specific BPM so that you can easily achieve your goal pace by following the music.

Additional Research and Considerations

Although the positive effects of music on exercise are well documented and have been used for centuries, recent research has shown just how deep and powerful the connection is. These studies also point to some interesting facts to consider when using music in your routine.

A 2004 study in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation experimented with different genres of music on a cycling workout. The subjects were told to perform a normal workout and their exercise output was measured. What was interesting about the results of this study is that the subjects’ output increased in conjunction with the tempo of the music regardless of the genre. Specifically, the researchers looked at musical genres, such as Polka, that the subjects either hadn’t listened to before or didn’t enjoy. Performance improved regardless.

The lesson here?  Be willing to go outside of your musical comfort zone to new genres when building your playlist.

This was emphasized by a 2010 study that looked at specific components of music to find which was the most influential on exercisers. Subjects were played a song and then split into three groups. The groups heard either a percussion track of the initial song, a matching metronome track or a track with no rhythmic elements. The subjects all responded the same to the full song, the percussion track and the metronome. This study suggests that while we might enjoy all musical aspects of a song, it’s the percussion and rhythm that is the driving force of good workout music.

As with all things health and fitness, caution is necessary even when picking your workout music. A study published in the same journal in 2007 increased the tempo of music used in a chair aerobics class by 33 percent. The patients followed the music even when their heart rates increased to potentially dangerous levels. Based on these findings, it’s important not to underestimate the push you can receive from music and make sure that you don’t exert yourself beyond what you can handle based on your fitness level.

Equipment

Although music can be very useful for runners, and all endurance athletes, bringing it with you can be challenging. Many runners are sensitive to any additional weight slowing them down, so using small, lightweight devices are your best bet.

Storing these devices in your pockets can be difficult, too, since this can mess up your stride. Fortunately, armband cases are available and perfect for runners and endurance athletes. Make sure that your headphones are also comfortable and fit tightly. Few things can be as frustrating as fiddling with earphones while you’re trying to focus on your run.

Have you used music to improve your workouts? Please share your tips and experience in the comments section below.

Sources

http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/805/

http://www.djsteveboy.com/podrunner.html

Understanding Sweat

Sweat is one of those aspects of exercise, along with exhaustion and muscle soreness, that we just learn to live with, as much as we may dislike it. Some people, though, learn to embrace sweat.

For these exercisers, sweat is a sign that they’re doing something right, that they’re releasing toxins and burning off all that fat. A lot of us may feel that we haven’t worked out hard enough if we don’t emerge from the gym dripping in sweat.

But is perspiration really an accurate measure of workout intensity? Let’s examine what purpose sweat plays and what factors affect how much we sweat to decide that answer for ourselves.

Purpose of Sweat

There are several methods your body uses to maintain a healthy internal temperature, with sweat being the primary tool.

When your body’s temperature rises, whether from external heat, exercise or a combination of the two, the hypothalamus sends an activation signal to the sweat glands that are spread throughout your skin. These glands produce the fluid we call sweat, which absorbs the heat and rests on the surface of the skin. Once the sweat evaporates, it cools the body.

Controlling Factors

Even when you aren’t exercising, your muscles are working constantly, and when muscles work, they produce heat. This heat, logically, increases when we exercise and demand more from our muscles. But more than exertion controls how much we sweat. Gender, age and fitness level all contribute to our sweat patterns, and the environment in which we are exercising plays one of the most powerful roles.

Men tend to sweat more than women and women seem to start to sweat at higher temperatures than men do. Statistically, as people age they seem to sweat less but this could be because of declining fitness levels. The more trained your body is, the fitter you are, the more efficiently it will process heat and you will sweat less.

When the air around you is cooler than your body, you radiate heat through your skin into the air. Conduction is the direct transfer of heat from contact, like when you swim in cold water. Convection is a reaction to cold air passing over your skin. Evaporation, from sweat, is perfectly suited for when the air around you is hotter than your internal temperature.

Confusion arises, though, when that hot air is also humid. In that case, sweat can’t evaporate and will just collect on the skin until it starts to drip, making it look like you’re sweating excessively.

Warnings

If you are dripping with sweat, it’s a signal that your body isn’t cooling down effectively, and that you could be in danger of overheating. To help sweat serve its purpose properly, avoid exercising in extreme heat and humidity.

Certain forms of exercise, such as Bikram yoga, are specifically performed in hot, humid environments, though. If you partake in these forms of exercise, where the point is to work up an intense sweat, make sure to stay hydrated with electrolyte-enriched drinks.

Be careful to stay properly hydrated no matter what kind of exercise you’re doing. The typical recommendations for hydration are one to two cups of water two hours before exercising, a half cup to a cup during and two and a half  cups in the half hour following exercise. Your individual hydration needs will be different, so listen to your body and drink when you’re thirsty.

Whew! Wipe your brow. So although sweat isn’t necessarily an accurate measurement of your workout’s intensity, it does play an important role in keeping your body healthy. Just don’t forget your sweat towel.

Sources

http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/3598/1/If-You-Dont-Sweat-During-Exercise-Is-It-A-Waste-Of-Time.html

http://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/information/anatomy/how-sweat-works2.htm

8 Ideas to Get Fit On the Cheap

A few years ago, I realized I was spending a good chunk of my income on fitness. Between my gym membership, regular classes at the hippest yoga studio in town, running a few races per month, and the stylish clothes I “needed” to participate in these activities, it was getting out of hand.

So I reined in my spending and learned an important lesson in the process: you can get and stay fit without breaking the bank. Here’s how:

1. Invest in the basics. Buy a couple of pairs of handheld weights, a jump rope and a fitness ball. These affordable equipment staples may cost you less than your gym membership this month.

2. But don’t buy what you won’t use. If you’re not into weight-lifting, it’s probably not a good idea to buy a kettle bell set. Likewise, don’t join the state-of-the-art health club with all the perks if you just plan on using the elliptical trainers. Only spend your hard earned money on products you’ll use.

3. Find affordable alternatives. As much as I enjoy practicing yoga in a studio, it was not ideal for my budget. I was taking three classes per week, at $16 a pop. This added up to $200 per month! Now I follow yoga DVDs instead. I buy them when they’re on sale, swap DVDs with friends and order them through my Netflix membership. This approach saves me so much money that I’m able to practice in the studio from time to time without feeling guilty about the cost.

4. Hit the great outdoors. Walking and running are some of the cheapest forms of activity. Just invest in a good pair of athletic shoes, find a safe route and you’re set. Nature lovers, take a trip to a national park and spend the day hiking and taking in the scenery. You’ll only need to spend a few dollars to use the trails.

5. Channel your inner child. What activities did you enjoy as a kid? Basketball, tennis, inline skating? Most of these sports require minimal equipment. It’s not too late — or too expensive — to take up these activities again.

6. Join a group. Running and cycling clubs and intramural kickball and softball leagues are a fun way to get fit and be social. Through these groups, your practice sessions, games and/ or routes will be planned for you. Most of these organizations just require a small seasonal membership fee.

7. Use online resources. Thanks to fitness websites, blogs and videos, great workouts and training plans are literally right at your fingertips. Many of these resources are free of charge.

8. Think long-term. Buying a piece of fitness equipment may seem like a high expense. However, look at it as a long-term investment in your health. Quality equipment lasts years and you can get an affordable treadmill for less than a one-year membership at most gyms.

How do you save money on fitness? My favorite workout is a 4-mile run around my neighborhood followed by jumping jacks and push-ups. I work up a sweat without spending a dime!

Sources:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fitness/HQ00694_D/NSECTIONGROUP=2

http://www.wisebread.com/frugal-fitness-twenty-five-and-a-half-ways-to-make-it-happen

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/on-fitness/2009/03/20/how-to-get-a-cheap-workout-8-ideas-for-building-a-100-home-gym

Half Marathon Training Questions Answered

Ask Coach Jenny

Three Great Half Marathon Questions from Heidi: Cross-training, Long Runs and Nutrition

 Q: I am training for a half marathon and in my training there is one day of cross-training and one day of rest every week. Is it okay to run two days in a row or should I look at spacing out the day of rest and cross-training so I run in between?

A: Running back to back days is okay. However, if you are new to running or to the half marathon distance, running every other day will allow more time to recover and therefore allow you to run stronger in every running workout. It also depends on the age of the runner, as many 40+ year old runners perform their best on 3-4 runs per week and focus on quality over quantity. This is also the case for runners who struggle with recurring aches, pains and injuries. Cross-training, especially when it is low impact (elliptical, cycling) is a form of active rest for your running muscles and a fantastic tool for making it healthfully to the finish line.

Q: My training plan calls for three shorter runs, one speed or hill workout, one cross-training workout, one long run and a rest day per week. What is the best day to fit my long run in? After my day of rest? After a day of speed work? 

 A: Although the long run is run at an easy, conversational effort, due to the progressive distance, it is considered a hard run on the body. When you train at harder efforts during the speed/hill and long run workouts, it is optimal to follow up with rest or cross-training to allow the body to adapt and grow stronger.

Here is one example of how you could plan your training week:

Monday:  Short Run

Tuesday: Speed/Hill Workout

Wednesday:  Cross-Training

Thursday:  Short Run

Friday:  Short Run or Cross-Training

Saturday: Long Run

Sunday: Rest

A great time for the long run is on a day when you can invest the time to get it in and recover. For many runners, this is the weekend. It is also best to space the hard workouts a few days apart to assure recovery. The key truly is to develop a recipe that works for your body. If you find your energy levels fading, you’re developing aches and pains or just not feeling strong for more than a few days, you may need to tweak your program to match the flow of your life. For instance, if this is new for your body, you may recover faster by replacing one short run with a low-impact cross-training session. That can boost motivation, alleviate burnout and decrease the impact on your body – allowing it to adapt to the demands of the long and hard effort workouts.

 Q:  If I am training for a half marathon – what are the best supplements for me to take to get the most out of my runs and which ones are best for my body?

A: Nutrition plays a vital role in your overall life performance, not just on your runs. A good place to start is by taking a personal inventory of your fuel. That is, plug in what you eat on a daily basis for a week to evaluate the types of foods (carbohydrates, protein, fat) and the quality in terms of nutrients. Making sure to consume a balanced diet with clean foods is the first step in making sure you’re getting the nutrients you need. Clean food refers to foods with a short list of ingredients (5 or less) that are natural in their essence – fruits, vegetables, lean proteins (including legumes, turkey and lean beef) and whole grains (brown rice, qunoa).

From there, taking a gender-specific multivitamin can be used to complement that part of your diet. It is common for endurance runners to have low iron, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc. It is best to talk this through with a doctor, as taking too much of one vitamin can upset the balance in your system and create other issues. If you want to take it to next level, get tested to identify exactly what you need. It may cost a little up front, but you’ll know where your weak spots are and can make changes in your diet and supplements to create balance.

Hopefully these tips can keep you heading in the right direction in this complex game of race training. It’s great that you’re focusing on optimizing your workouts and nutrition. It will make you a stronger runner, not only in this race, but for life. Good luck in your training, Heidi.

Turn Over a New Leaf with Fall Resolutions

AutumnFall has always symbolized a new start for me and many parents sending kids back to school. It’s been the time of year to shop for new clothes and school supplies; to start going to bed a little earlier as the sun sets sooner, and to plan for the months ahead.

The crispness in the air invigorates and inspires me. It’s a perfect time to make changes as we hit the ground running after a lazy summer. And it seems like a better time to tackle the world — or at least our own imperfections — than waiting till January 1 and the dead of winter when all you feel like doing is hibernating and drinking hot tea!

But I’m not talking about making resolutions that you can’t keep — lose 10 pounds, organize the house, etc. When goals are too big, you’re only setting yourself up for failure.

Fall resolutions, on the other hand, can be realistic goals you hope and plan to accomplish, even if it’s just one modest step at a time. And if you haven’t reached any by New Year’s Day, there’s a second chance to make that list!

So here are some of my resolutions/goals for the rest of the year to keep me happy, healthy and sane. Will you join me?

1. Help the environment more by reducing, reusing, recycling. I’m already pretty good at this, but I think it’s a great idea to try to discard as little as possible. I bring my used batteries and ink cartridges to Staples for recycling. I drop off my husband’s old socks and t-shirts at the church around the corner for the homeless. I bring books to the library for their book sales.

2. Try something new. I often walk around a farmer’s market eyeing the vegetables I don’t know, but somehow I still seem to head for the tried and true. For my fall resolution, I vow to try a strange new vegetable. Who knows? I may have a new fave to add to my repertoire and liven up my cooking and my health.

3.  Start meditating a little each day. I’ve heard it does wonders to step off the merry-go-round of life for just 10 minutes when you are at your wits’ end…or even better, before you get there. According to Stephan Bodian, a licensed psychotherapist and author of Meditation For Dummies, meditation lowers stress, increases energy and creativity, reduces pain and helps create more loving relationships. Sounds good to me!

4. Move more. I try to exercise frequently, but I still wait for the elevator. No more. Unless I’m carrying heavy items, I’m taking the stairs. Did you know how much electricity you can save this way, never mind the calories you burn?

5. Take smaller bites. And I don’t mean of food. We all get overwhelmed by too big a plan, so I’m going to start small. I’m going to clear out one drawer at a time, not tackle a whole room. It’s all part of having a well organized life; take it one step at a time and it will add up.

6. Do something for myself every day.  After 23 years of parenting, both of my kids are on their own. Now that my daily duties are cut drastically, I should have more time for myself. So this fall I will allow myself the time to play Words With Friends without feeling guilty; to watch a reality TV show or to window shop. I deserve it. We all deserve it.

7. Do it now!  And I mean everything. Don’t put off anything from a doctor’s appointment to calling an old friend. Waiting can never help, but it can hurt you with missed opportunities or worse. I’ve learned this the hard way, yet I am still putting things off. I’m going to try to be better….I promise.

What goals have you set for yourself for the rest of the year? Let us know if you are able to keep them.

Shin splints: Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Shin splints are one of the most frustrating things a runner will ever encounter. And chances are, most runners will deal with them at one point or another. In fact, shin splints make up more than 13 percent of all injuries suffered by runners.

Since this condition is so common, it makes sense to prepare yourself for it by learning how to prevent, identify and treat shin splints.

Causes and Symptoms

Shin splints, known in the medical community as tibial stress syndrome, are not a condition in and of themselves but are generally just a symptom of some other underlying problem. Since, like all pains, shin splints can be a signal that something else is going on, it’s important to know whether or not what you’re dealing with is indeed shin splints.

The pain we call shin splints is a dull, throbbing ache in the front of the lower leg. This can manifest during or after exercise, either along the edges of the shin bone or deeper in the muscle. In some cases, the pain is constant but the area can also be more sensitive to touch. As with any persistent pain, you should get your doctor’s opinion on the best course of treatment.

A medical professional’s input is especially important in shin splints because they can be a symptom of stress fractures. These tiny, hairline breaks in the bone can happen without your knowledge and require medical attention so that your bone heals properly.

Over-pronation, an incorrect stride associated with flat feet, can also cause shin splints. In these cases, the natural arch in the soles of your feet are pressed flat when from the impact of each step. This stretches the muscles and tendons in an unhealthy and unnatural way that will lead to tibial stress. Many people have flexible flat feet and don’t realize it until they run on hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt.

The most common cause of shin splints, though, is overuse. Working your lower legs too hard or too often will cause the muscles to swell and become irritated. Of course, what is too hard or too often will depend on your fitness level and may take some experimentation at first.

Prevention

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and shin splints are no exception to this rule. Even when the pain is minor, shin splints can potentially keep you from running for weeks and slow you down even once you start your training again. Fortunately, preventing shin splints is pretty simple.

Before you even hit the road, the first thing you need to do is select your perfect running shoes. These shoes will have good padding and promote a healthy stride, with a mid-foot strike.

Be warned: too much padding is very possible. If the soles of your shoes are overly-thick, it will be more tempting for you to adopt a heel-strike and several other bad habits. You want to land on the middle of your foot and roll forward to the balls of your feet. Also, consider investing in arch-support inserts if you have flat feet. Even once you have your ideal shoes, avoid running on inflexible surfaces that can wreak havoc on your arches.

Once all your footwear is in order, you’re almost ready to run. First, don’t forget to stretch and warm-up. These are often neglected aspects of runners’ training, generally left out to save time. All it takes, though, is a 5 to 10 minute warm-up, including a few stretches before and after, to help prevent shin splints.

Finally, don’t overdo it. Runners, and athletes in general, have a habit of pushing through pain, but this could just cause more injury and keep you down for longer periods of time. If you feel pain during your workout, stop running.

Treatment

If, despite your best efforts, you have shin splints, the best possible treatment, regardless of the underlying cause, is something terrifying to all athletes: Rest.

Your body will act to repair the damage on its own if you give it the chance. One of the most productive things you can do is work to lessen the inflammation. Ice your shins for 20 minutes every three hours until the pain goes away. Aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory painkillers can also help, but should only be taken regularly under a doctor’s direction.

Once the pain subsides and you decide to brave another run, start slowly. Don’t try to pick up your training right where you left off. Start with slow jogs and listen to your body for any signals. Your legs will tell you how much they can take.

For more serious and persistent cases, your doctor may recommend physical therapy and mobility exercises.

Have you struggled with and overcome shin splints? Please share your tips with us in the comments!

Sources

http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/shin-splints

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/shin-splints/DS00271

Pain-free Running

We often push ourselves through our workouts, encouraged by the mantra “No pain, no gain.” But the truth is that this is a gross oversimplification. Some pains shouldn’t be ignored or worked through because they could be a warning of debilitating injuries. Running, in particular, can come with all sorts of little aches and pains, some more severe than other.

Since pain is our body’s way of telling us that something is wrong, we should do what we can to alleviate that pain. The solution will depend on the exact pain you’re experiencing and if you’re having persistent pain of any kind you should speak with your doctor. However, these are some little changes you can make to your routine to help reduce some minor, common pains.

Check Your Stride

We don’t generally think of running form since it’s something that we do so naturally. But it’s very possible that your running technique could be contributing to your pain.

Jane Unger Hahn of Runner’s World says that the first aspect of good running form is good posture, which starts with head position. Hold your head up straight and look ahead, resisting the temptation to look down at your feet.

Your shoulders should be level and relaxed. Especially as you get tired, your shoulders may start to tighten and lift up toward your ears. Shake them out and focus on keeping the muscles relaxed; there’s no point in allowing your shoulders to use energy your legs, heart and lungs need.

Don’t clench your fists when you run, but keep your hands loosely closed so that your fingertips just barely touch your palms. Maintain a 90-angle in your elbows and allow your arms to swing in conjunction with your stride so that they can work to keep you balanced.

Many running coaches will describe the proper torso position as “running tall,” meaning that you should keep your body upright with a natural curve in your spine. This allows your lungs to operate at maximum capacity and keeps all of your joints aligned so that they can do their jobs correctly.

In addition to an upright torso, many modern running styles encourage a slight forward tilt at your ankles to allow gravity to pull you forward in sort of a controlled fall. This technique can be hard to master, though, and will take some practice.

Make sure to keep your hips level throughout your run. Misaligned hips will throw out the rest of your lower-body and create problems in your knees as well as your lower back.

Your steps should be short and quick, so that your knees have a slight bend when your feet hit the ground and your feet should land just under your body. If your lower leg is in front of you, you’re over-extending and your stride is too long. This could cause joint pain and injury, especially to your knees.

Your feet should hit the ground with a mid-foot strike and then roll forward on to the balls of your feet. This can be difficult since many running shoes are built with extra padding on the heel and encourage a heel-striking. Landing on your heel has been shown to increase the risk of injury to your calves and knees. Likewise, landing on the balls of your feel doesn’t allow your foot to properly absorb the impact and puts too much pressure on your calves.

Get Up and Warm Up

Many modern jobs require people to sit for long periods of time and going from a desk to the track can be difficult on your body. Try to break up your day with small bits of activity about every hour or so by doing some basic bodyweight exercises, stretching or going for a short walk.

Immediately before your run, take the time to warm up as well. Start out with an easy walk but, over the course of about five minutes, work your way up to a brisk walk so that you are moving only just slower than a jog. Coach Jenny also recommends working in brief bouts, about 20 seconds long, of walking backwards to thoroughly open up your hips.

What has helped you to avoid injuries while running? Please share your tips with us in the comments.

Sources

http://www.active.com/women/Articles/5-Elements-of-Chi-Running.htm

http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-267-268-8210-0,00.html

http://askcoachjenny.runnersworld.com/2011/11/6-strategies-for-pain-free-running.html

Organic Food: Health or Hype?

Fruits and VegetablesLike many consumers, I have a goal when I enter the grocery store: buy healthy foods without breaking the bank. For the most part, choosing nutritious foods is easy. I stock up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and nonfat dairy products. But there is one gray area: organic.

Organic foods often cost a good bit more than their conventional counterparts. But are organic products really better for you? And are they really worth the higher price tag? These are questions I ask myself on every grocery store trip.

What Does “Organic” Mean?

Organic foods are made without using conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. The word “organic” means that the product has met certain standards set by the USDA:

100% organic: The food has no artificial ingredients, and can use the organic seal

Organic: The food has at least 95 percent organic ingredients, and can use the organic seal.

Made with organic ingredients: The food contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients, but it cannot use the organic seal.

Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy with the organic label come from animals that have not received antibiotics or growth hormones.

Farms must meet USDA criteria before they can become certified organic growers. Not all farmers can afford this certification, though. Organic farming practices are more expensive, which is why organic foods come with a higher price tag. If you have any questions about a local farm’s practice, talk to the farmer. He or she can give you more details than any label can.

Better For Health?

Some experts believe that consuming organic foods instead of conventional foods may be healthier, but the results are inconclusive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “makes no claims that organic food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced foods.”

A large study looked at scientific articles from the past 50 years and compared the nutrient content of organic vs. conventional foods. The researchers found that both organic and conventional products were comparable when it comes to nutrition. And just this month, a Stanford study concluded that eating organic foods over conventional products offers little to no health benefits.

As far as pesticides go, keep in mind that all organic and conventional foods sold in the U.S. don’t exceed government safety thresholds. This means that eating foods grown with pesticides shouldn’t harm your health. Just be sure to rinse all produce under running water before eating it.

Should I Go Organic?

The decision to buy organic foods is a personal one. Know that there’s more to having good nutrition than buying organic or not. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables — whether they be conventional or organic — instead of processed foods is a great way to enhance your health.

If you’re thinking about going organic, the “dirty dozen” is a good place to start. The Environmental Working Group encourages people to choose the organic versions of fruits and vegetables in the dirty dozen because produce on this list has the highest amount of pesticide residue: apples, celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries and potatoes.

You can save money on organic products by shopping at local farmers’ markets. Produce and other goods at farmers’ markets tend to cost less than food sold in grocery stores. Eating foods when they are in season in your area can also save money.

Do you buy organic? Why or why not? I’m going to start opting for organic when it comes to the dirty dozen.

Sources:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/organic-food/NU00255

http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442451536

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20120618/apples-again-top-dirty-dozen-list-for-pesticides

What Is An Appropriate Fitness Goal?

It can be extremely difficult to stay motivated over the long haul and stick with an exercise program. In fact, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) says that over 50 percent of exercisers quit within the first six months of starting a program.

Exercising, just like many other long-term endeavors in life, becomes much more satisfying when you set appropriate goals for yourself. Several studies have shown the motivational benefits of setting clear fitness goals. These progressive goals give you something to continually work for and help you to challenge yourself.

But, notice that I specified “appropriate goals.” What is an appropriate fitness goal and how can you set them? What else will help you to reach these goals?

Be S.M.A.R.T.

ACE advocates a goal setting model called S.M.A.R.T that lays out several principle requirements your goals need to meet. We’ll briefly consider each of these requirements.

Specific- Consider exactly what you want to accomplish. The goal should be clearly defined with absolutely no room for individual interpretation. For example, don’t say “I want to be more fit,” but try saying “I want to run a 12-minute mile.”

Measurable- It should be easy for you to track your progress and see how much you’ve accomplished. To this end, your goals should be clearly measurable. Keep a log of the improvements that you’ve experienced, whether it be your mile time or your weight. Being able to look at the positive changes, plainly laid out, will help you to realized how beneficial your program has been. ACE points out that your goal can be either objectively or subjectively measurable, meaning that you can measure your percent body fat or simply how your pants fit you. Objective measurements, however, tend to be easier to track in standard terms.

Attainable- This particular aspect of goal-setting can be tricky and requires a lot of forethought and balance. Your goal should be challenging but still something that you can realistically accomplish considering, among other things, your time frame and fitness level.

Relevant- Your goal should fit your circumstances, interests and chosen activity. While cross-training can be extremely beneficial, you don’t want to get distracted or do anything that could be counterproductive. For example, if you were preparing for a 5k walk, running quarter-mile sprints would not be the most logical, or safe, approach.

Time Bound- Set a definite deadline for your goals. This will help you to stay focused and make the best use of your time, rather than procrastinating because you have no specified completion date.

Consider, too, that smaller goals with shorter timelines can be used to help you build up to bigger goals. For instance, maybe you’ve never run before but decide that you want to run a marathon. It would be unrealistic to expect yourself to accomplish that with no preparation. Setting more achievable goals like running a 5k, a 10k and then a half-marathon will help you progress toward your ultimate goal.

Other Tactics

In addition to the initial act of setting the goal, there are other steps  you can take to help you along the way.

Before you start your program, and even throughout, it’s good to check your resolution to maintain your healthy lifestyle and continue working toward your goals. To help you build resolve, try making a list of benefits versus costs to make it plain to yourself how much you stand to gain.

Reward yourself for reaching different milestones and define these rewards when you’re designing your plan. This way, you won’t just be running to lose weight or to cut time off your mile, you’ll be running for that gift your promised yourself.

With any lifestyle change, you should never underestimate the value of a support system. Tell people who are close to you about your goals. Not only will they be able to support and encourage you, but you’ll feel more accountable once someone else knows what you’re working to accomplish.

Has setting goals helped you to make changes in your life? Please share your experience with us in the comments!

Sources

http://www.csus.edu/indiv/s/shiltsm/pdf/Goal%20setting%20review%20PDF.pdf

http://www.acefitness.org/fitfacts/fitfacts_display.aspx?itemid=2637

Choosing the Right Running Shoes

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: How big of a difference do the correct running shoes make as far as brand, fit and arch? ~Jeff

A: Hi, Jeff. I love this question because everyone has different needs for running shoes and yes, the fit really does matter. What works for you may not work for me and vice versa. And running in the wrong shoes can cause aches, pains and detours in your routine.

That said, it’s important to note that shopping for running shoes can be as overwhelming as the cereal aisle in the grocery store. There are rows and rows of flashy-colored shoes and styles, enough to make you lightheaded. But there are a few things you can do to make the shoe shopping process flow with ease and maybe even a little joy, too.

  • Get fitted. Find a local running specialty store in your area. They should measure and look at your feet, and watch you run and walk in shoes to make sure they are the right fit. Some stores even record and analyze your stride on video so you can see for yourself (bonus points). If they don’t provide these fundamental services, it’s time to look for a new store. Every brand of shoes offers good quality; it’s how they fit, feel and function on your feet that matter the most (in other words, don’t shop by color or one brand only).
  • Research and learn. If you don’t have access to a running store in your neck of the woods, use the wet foot test below to determine your foot type and research shoe styles online or at a sporting goods store. Having this information will help better guide you to learning the right shoe for you, whether you have a store or not. Using shoe websites that offer free shipping and returns (Zappos) is also a handy perk when trying to find the right fit and size.
  • Go later in the day. Shop later in the day when your feet are swollen to avoid buying shoes that are too small. Your feet swell when running and it’s important to find a size that will leave a thumb’s width space between the front of the shoe and your longest toe. It’s also important to fit the width and volume of your foot. Nothing should bind or feel tight. If they do, try another pair. Remember to bring your current running shoes if you have them to check for wear patterns and the socks you plan to run in (wicking are the best).
  • Take the wet test. Get to know your feet by performing a “wet test” to determine the shape of your foot (arch, flat footed or in between). It’s an easy way to zone in on the functions of a shoe style for your foot type.
  • Wet the sole of your foot.
  • Walk onto a paper towel, paper shopping bag or piece of paper.
  • Look at the shape of the wet pattern.  It will indicate whether you have a high or low arch or are neutral.
  • From there you can narrow down your shoe options to match the shape of your foot.

Check out this link from RunnersWorld.com if you’d like to know more about the wet test and which type of arch you have. http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-240-319-326-7152-0,00.html

  • Track the miles. Lastly, write the purchase date of the shoes with a black marker on the side of the sole. This will remind you when you bought them and if you track your miles in a log, you’ll know when to replace them as well. The replacement date varies greatly by the shoe and the runner’s form and weight, but the general rule of thumb is every 300-500 miles of use or 4-8 months. Keeping your shoes fresh makes a huge difference in keeping the aches and pains away!
  • Also good to know. Minimalist shoes are a hot trend these days, and it’s important to be mindful that going with less shoe requires patience and time to develop foot strength and balance to run with less under foot. Some adapt faster than others, but for all of us it takes time to adapt to less under foot from a traditional fully supported shoe. Make sure you are well educated on how to make the transition or run in less shoe before you reduce the support in your shoes – especially if you’ve been running in supportive shoes for a while, have injuries or are training for long distance events.

There you have it, Jeff. I hope you find these tips to be helpful the next time you’re looking to trade out those old running shoes and slip into something more comfortable, and supportive, for your feet.