Fitness Meme of the Week: Running is purpose.

I love running, because it gives me a goal every time I go out there. Running is purpose. And so is any other form of physical activity. This meme uses a quote from the wonderful DailyBurn.com article I posted last week about exercising when you’re grieving a loss. It’s powerful stuff.

Yes. This.
Yes. This. (Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Have a great weekend. See you next week.

Yesterday: A nice REST DAY after running two days in a row (not my normal M.O., but I needed to get some miles in after not running on Sunday or Monday). I did get out for a too-short WALK during the day, but it would have been nice to move a bit more.

Throwback Thursday: How measurement helps a fitness program.

On this Throwback Thursday, I’m thinking about measuring progress. Last night was my first decent track workout of the fall 2014 season after a summer of lots of quadricep-strengthening exercises and way less running than I wanted. I love running with my GPS on the track, because it’s a marker and a barometer for where I’m at now, and where I’m going as I get ready for races later this fall.

One of many excellent tools for measuring your fitness progress. (Image courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
One of many excellent tools for measuring your fitness progress. (Image courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Measurement can really work. It’s not a 100%-failsafe thing, and some things just seem like they might not be measurable at all, like contentment and happiness (though some are trying). Still, quantifying progress can help us get from here to there, as long as we have a good idea of which “there” we want to get to in the first place.

The post below was written on May 1, right before the Insane Tomato Summer of 2014 went into full swing. (It was a hot and sunny summer in Seattle – not exactly our usual weather fare – and my tomato plants went bonkers as a result.) Read below for more on what tomatoes and fitness progress have to do with each other.

I didn’t know then about my tomato harvest possibilities, but I did know that measurement helps us to track our progress in many areas. Count your workouts. Count the minutes you move during the day. It might just inspire you.

And with that nod to the value of measurement, let’s go to the Throwback Thursday post…

Tomatoes! And, how measurement helps a fitness program.

[Originally published on May 1, 2014]

These monthly stats reports are a great exercise for me, because they reinforce an idea I’ve learned time and again in my health journey:

You can only grow what you can measure. That includes tomatoes.

- Me, on May 1, 2014

Yup, I counted them, I weighed them...and then I made fifteen thousand new tomato dishes. Yay for the tomato! (Image courtesy of foto76 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Yup, I counted them, I weighed them…and then I made fifteen thousand new tomato dishes. Yay for the tomato! (Image courtesy of foto76 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

(Yes, when I first planted tomatoes in 2009 when I was losing my weight, I actually would go outside and count the tomato blossoms and weigh the tomatoes when I harvested them. We got 100 pounds of tomatoes from three tomato plants that year. That’s $400 of organic tomatoes for the cost of three $3 starts at the farmer’s market, plus love and attention. I may even have sung to the plants once in a great while.)

But I digress.

When I started writing this blog, “Every48″  was a promise to myself to exercise once every 48 hours in 2014. And even though April was a little wonky because that “every48″ promise isn’t necessarily possible in the first few days (or, um, the first ten days) after running a marathon…that’s not really the point. I was kind of beating myself up yesterday because despite my best intentions, I neither worked out, nor ate terribly well. (There may have been a small tortilla chip incident at a happy hour meet-and-greet).

But then I checked the numbers. And I’m doing okay. And so is the blog.

This guy doesn't work for Every48. But I like his chart, because it kind of illustrates where the blog has gone in the last few months. Welcome, welcome! And...what's next! (Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
This guy doesn’t work for Every48. But I like his chart, because it kind of illustrates where the blog has gone in the last few months. Welcome, welcome! And…what’s next! (Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Here are the numbers: I did 15 workouts this month (average of once every other day – perfecto!). There were 9 runs, 4 spinning or indoor cycling workouts (two on one day when I did the Schwinn certification), and 2 elliptical training sessions (great recovery after a marathon).

But there was no strength training and there could have been at least a little bit in the first week of the month, before my marathon taper really began. And no yoga – yikes. That’s gotta change next month.

Favorite stat of all: I weighed in three times this month (skipping the Saturday before the marathon, since I’m intentionally eating more that week for carbo-loading). And all three times, I was within my Weight Watchers goal range. Four years and eight months after initially reaching my goal, that’s a biggie.

And here are the website stats. Boffo!

April was a little nuts around here. There were 1046 unique page views – an increase of 124% over March. There were 418 unique visitors – an increase of 61% over March. Since January 2014, readership has grown by 234% (page views) and 166% (unique visitors). Yowza!

This month, visitors from 20 countries found this blog – and since January, visitors from 29 countries have visited. Welcome! Willkommen! Bienvenue! You get the idea.

How can you help? Please keep spreading the word about Every48!

This blog is my attempt to capture what it’s really like, day by day, to live a healthy life after having had to learn those hard health lessons as an adult. Once you’ve decided to commit yourself to living healthfully, everything else is just scheduling and details. That’s really all there is to it.

No matter how you choose to get there, and how you choose to get active, stay active, or try new things (remember that lifeguard certification I wrote about earlier this week? I am so determined to learn how to tread water without my arms now!)…you can stay energetic, excited about life, and inspired, just by making the promise to yourself to be active every 48 hours, minimum, for the rest of your life.

Hang with me through the year – the adventure is only just getting started.

And now, get out there and get your workout on.

[Back to real time: September 18, 2014]

Yesterday’s Every48 workout: A hard-but-great TRACK workout with my running group – a couple of hard 1000-meter repeats, then a pair of 900-meter repeats with some hard and easier intervals mixed in, a few 100-meter sprints, form drills, and a last 300 meters to top it off. With a one-mile warmup and 3/4-mile cool down, too.

Science Wednesday: The solution to constant stress? Take a guess.

No joke: Chronic stress is a killer. And, no joke: exercise and eating well are hugely helpful in combating the effects of chronic stress.

This is your brain on constant stress: always slightly anxious, fearful, tired...or all of the above. Guess what you can do to combat constant stress? Read on. (Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
This is your brain on constant stress: always slightly anxious, fearful, tired…or all of the above. Guess what you can do to combat constant stress? Read on. (Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

I’m thinking about stress right now because I’m developing training tools and keynote talks on this subject for 2015, and I’m aware just by reading the news every day as I look for articles on the latest health studies that it is entirely possible for us to live our lives in a constant state of low-level chronic stress. And that means we’re basically constantly sick, tired, and really, really distracted.

There are just so many causes of stress out there in the big, wide world.

I think most of us wake up every morning worried about something. Whether it’s the job we may not be super-happy about going to…or not having a job to go to and wanting one…or caring for a family…or wishing we had a family to care for…or navigating difficult situations…or just being inundated with bad news. We are confronted, day in and day out, with happenings that could cause a whole lot of chronic stress.

Here’s how the American Psychological Association defines stress:

“[A] feeling of being overwhelmed, worried or run-down. Stress can affect people of all ages, genders and circumstances and can lead to both physical and psychological health issues. By definition, stress is any uncomfortable ‘emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes.’ Some stress can be beneficial at times, producing a boost that provides the drive and energy to help people get through situations like exams or work deadlines. However, an extreme amount of stress can have health consequences and adversely affect the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and central nervous systems.”

From “Understanding Constant Stress,” at APA.org

I’m always amazed when I see workplaces that just get it all wrong about how to help their people be productive, happy, and satisfied with the contributions they are making in the world. I have seen “screamers” who yell at people, thinking that motivates them, when all it does is make them not want to engage. Chronic stress: having to report to a job where you could be yelled at, at any moment.

I have personally had a manager tell me I wasn’t “hurting” financially and so didn’t deserve a raise after creating a significant amount of value for his company over the previous year. (Note to all managers who make compensation decisions: Employees don’t get compensated based on whether you have an opinion – informed or uninformed – about whether they are “hurting.” They get compensated based on their value to their employer, and their skill set. If you tie compensation to your opinion about whether that employee “needs” the money, you’re going to lose that person. You’ll never get their best work again, even if they stay in the job, because you will have lost their trust.) Chronic stress: having a job where you feel undervalued.

I have had to break the habit of reading the news first thing in the morning. As a trained journalist, I know that the adage “if it bleeds, it leads” tends to be true. And there can sometimes be attempts to sensationalize the news, too, so that skimming the headlines makes it sound like the world is coming to an end, on a daily basis. Chronic stress: being inundated with the world’s problems, knowing that we don’t have the power as single human beings to solve all of those problems at this exact moment. (In groups, we can do a lot to help. But not first thing in the morning, alone with our coffee or tea and our thoughts and our just-waking-up worries about our own lives.)

That’s your brain on constant stress. Guess what the answer is?

Yes. This is the answer.

(Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
(Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

And this:

(Image courtesy of tiverylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
(Image courtesy of tiverylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

And this:

(Image courtesy of stay2gether at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
(Image courtesy of stay2gether at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

There you go. Movement is the answer to chronic stress. Sweat. Miles. Laps. Dance tunes. Reps. However you measure your exercise progress, whatever type of exercise you like to do. Move, and things start to happen in your brain, in a really good way.

Want the science? This is your brain on exercise (just one of many wonderful points made in this article from the American Psychological Association, The Exercise Effect):

The exercise mood boost…offers near-instant gratification. Therapists would do well to encourage their patients to tune into their mental state after exercise, [Michael] Otto [a professor of psychology at Boston University] says — especially when they’re feeling down.

“Many people skip the workout at the very time it has the greatest payoff. That prevents you from noticing just how much better you feel when you exercise,” he says. “Failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts. That’s the time you get the payoff.”

The entire article is well worth your time. It’s utterly amazing what exercise does for stress reduction, brain health, giving us a healthy and positive outlook on life…it’s a miracle drug. There’s nothing else like it out there.

Now get out there and get your workout on.

Yesterday’s Every48 workout: A fantastic, mood-boosting 6-mile RUN. Done before 8:30 a.m. Loved it.

Tuesday Workout of the Week: The Two-By-Five!

No, that’s not a new measurement for a piece of wood. It’s a workout I created last Friday when I really, really needed to get out and exercise, because I had a three-day dry spell last week where I didn’t move a whole lot. (There were acute contributing circumstances. I haven’t gone three days without a workout in a really, really long time.)

A 2x5 isn't a new measurement for a piece of wood. It's a workout that you break up into two pieces when you're getting back to a serious workout program after some time away. (Image courtesy of domdeen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
A 2×5 isn’t a new measurement for a piece of wood. It’s a workout that you break up into two pieces when you’re getting back to a serious workout program after some time away. (Image courtesy of domdeen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Sometimes, cardio exercise where I don’t “go anywhere” (like riding a stationary bike or circling a track) feels just fine. I get lost in my thoughts, listen to music, regroup. But sometimes I need to feel like I’m accomplishing something. And having a half-marathon on the horizon, one that I haven’t been able to train for a whole lot because of that wonky quadriceps/knee injury I dealt with earlier this summer, is a big motivator for getting my running back together.

So last Friday, when I realized I had scheduled coffee with a friend at a coffee shop exactly five miles from my home, I thought…ooooh, what an opportunity! And so was born a version of a long run that’s just a little easier on my legs and knees: the Two-By-Five (“2×5″ in my workout journal, for short). Ten miles total. But easier than one ten-mile chunk.

It’s crazy simple. Five miles running, then a significant break (in my case, an hour and a half of lovely conversation with my friend over coffee), then five miles running again. I threw in a few two-minute walking breaks in that second five miles as I ran home, just to keep my quads from striking again and saying “what are you doing to me today???”

Given that last week was also kind of a sad week, I needed the time with my friend as much as I needed the workout. The 2×5 gave me the opportunity to have both of them at once.

You can use this concept with any kind of exercise, at any time. Do you really want to get in 60 minutes of walking one day, but you don’t have 60 minutes at once? Do 30 minutes in the morning and 30 at lunch. Or after work, or school, or whatever you spend your days doing. You can break it up into two different activities: 30 minutes of running in the morning and 30 minutes of yoga in the evening. It doesn’t have to be any particular length, or any particular kind of movement.

Just make it something you really love to do, and something that you look forward to doing. Once you know what you love (in exercise, and in life), everything else just kind of falls into place.

Monday “What Went Well”: The boomerang effect is much shorter now.

No joke: last week was a super-sad week. A friend passed away, someone my own age with whom I had shared some really fun times. It was a complete surprise. But what wasn’t a complete surprise was what happened next. All of a sudden, it seemed like a really good idea to have a whole lot of super-sugary comfort foods the day after I heard the news. And to skip my workout that day. And the next day, too. I had a three-day stretch last week where I barely moved at all, except to try to get in a walk in the morning.

It was so easy to fall down the rabbit hole in a moment of sadness and grief.

Last week was a week where I just wanted to cuddle up with a teddy bear and be sad. What happened next? t's What Went Well lsat week, in the end. (Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Last week was a week where I just wanted to cuddle up with a teddy bear and be sad. What happened next? It’s What Went Well last week, in the end. (Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

When I was eleven years old, a close family member lost about 95 pounds. She was a few years older than I am right now when she achieved that goal. She did it the right way – eating well, getting more active – and then, pow. The world caved in. Her father passed away suddenly from a massive heart attack.

And she regained the weight. All of it.

Because somehow, throughout the process of losing the weight, she hadn’t figured out the coping skills associated with taking care of herself, even in times of acute stress and sadness.

I call it the “boomerang effect.” We lose weight or start an exercise program or otherwise change our lives for the better, but secretly we’re afraid that someday, something will happen – and we’ll boomerang back to Square One.

That doesn’t have to happen. As long as we learn how to catch ourselves from falling apart when the world gets sad.

Write down what you're doing to take care of yourself. It helps. Extra points if you use a really fun pencil. (Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Write down what you’re doing to take care of yourself. It helps. Extra points if you use a really fun pencil. (Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

So, what went well last week? I caught myself after the three-dessert Wednesday, and the poor-me Thursday that found me envious of others’ success instead of working diligently towards my own. (That’s monkey mind coming into play: let’s worry about what we have no control over, instead of focusing on what we do have control over!)

How did it happen? I have a habit of writing down what I eat and how much I exercise. I sometimes forget to write down some things I’m eating – it’s by no means a 100%-perfect habit – but it helps my awareness around food a whole lot. And when I saw that crazy Wednesday on paper, and realized I’d heard about my friend’s death on Tuesday afternoon, it all made sense.

By Friday, I realized a scheduled coffee with a friend was presenting me with a crazy-good workout opportunity. (Preview of coming attractions: it’s going to be featured in tomorrow’s Workout of the Week post.) And I grabbed on to that opportunity, and got back to life by moving. And by talking with my friend, telling her I was sad, telling her it had been a hard week because I was mourning a death. And continuing to move. By the end of that day, I had gone out for a wonderful run, listening to great music along the way, got hugs and support from a friend, and got a bunch of work done as well.

The doldrums lifted. I am still sad for my friend’s passing. I will probably be sad for a while more. But today, I will move, too. Exercise always helps, no matter what ailment is gnawing at us. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl (or swim, or lift weights, or take a quiet yoga class, or whatever gets you moving). The sadness passes. And when it does, we’re left with our strong bodies and minds intact, ready for whatever is waiting for us around life’s next corner.

The boomerang effect still  happens, in other words. It’s just that now, its trajectory is much, much shorter. Write down what you’re feeling. Reach out to a friend. Exercise. And enjoy every day to its fullest, for we never really know how long we have on this little planet of ours.

Now get out there and get your extra-awesome workout on.

Recent Every48 workouts: Friday’s RUN was amazing – an easy five miles to coffee with a friend, an hour and a half of spending time with her and talking about lots of great things, and then an easy five mile run home with some walking breaks of two minutes each. Impromptu weight training session along the way when I helped a guy whose car had stalled to push his car into a park-and-ride place to get him out of traffic.

Fitness Meme of the Week: Keep Looking Up (a repeat, for a friend)

Snoopy is a smart little pup. Even when everyone around you is looking down, keep your head up and your demeanor calm. Stuff will work itself out.
Snoopy is a smart little pup. Even when everyone around you is looking down, keep your head up and your demeanor calm. Stuff will work itself out.

I’ve shared this meme before at Every48, but today, I’m reprising it for my buddy Chris. Yes, I’m still sad. But today, I’ll be looking up. Maybe, just maybe, the people who have left us here on Earth are looking down at us, too, just to be sure we’re okay.

Whatever else is going on in your life today, keep looking up. The sky is beautiful. Last night I sat with my hubby by the water as the sun set and the sky turned a beautiful blue and orange…and then drove home under a stunning moon.  Yesterday was the day the tears finally came. It is sad to lose a friend, especially a friend my own age. And yet, we can still take care of ourselves and be healthy, even as we mourn. I’m working on it. :)

Throwback Thursday: Did you have an Eeyore day yesterday? Have a Tigger day today.

It’s pretty ironic (or, maybe it’s not…) that as I perused my list of over 170 blog posts at Every48 to pick one for today’s Throwback Thursday, my post from Inspiration Week in June on what to do when you’ve had an “Eeyore” kind of day stuck out to me. I had already decided that was going to be today’s TBT post when I read my exercise report for that day:

Yesterday: An unplanned REST DAY. Zounds. Only about the fourth time in recorded history (well, since the blog started in January) when I let more than 48 hours go by between workouts. This shall be remedied today.

Wow. You know why I’m saying “wow”? Because that day was the fourth time I’d missed one of my Every48 workouts. And yesterday, September 10, 2014, was the fifth. Clearly, my blog is starting to channel some sort of unnamed coach from the great beyond to get me back and at it when things go a little haywire.

So, in that spirit, I invite you to consider what you will do when you have an Eeyore day. Have a Tigger day next. That’s what!

Inspiration Week! There is always somebody else out there with you.

[Originally published June 18, 2014]

Yup, I had an Eeyore day yesterday. Today I'm getting after it...and reminding myself that we are not alone out there.
Yup, I had an Eeyore day yesterday. Today I’m getting after it…and reminding myself that we are not alone out there.

After a day spent feeling like Eeyore yesterday (those days still happen, even after a biggie weight loss and the massive, mostly-lovely life changes to match), it’s easy to fall back into the place where I always used to live: the land of not-right-nowI-can’t-do-this, and my favorite way to minimize all of the wonder and color of living life out loud:

“I’m all alone out here.”

Um, no, Nicole, you’re not all alone out here. And if you think you are, just sign up for a road race.

There just isn’t a better way to realize that we are not all alone out there in this big, bad, scary world than to participate in some sort of group exercise. It can be as simple as walking to the park and striking up a conversation with a dog owner (there is nothing like hanging out with a dog to get your own blah-blahs moving in the right direction). It can be as simple as going to the gym and getting on a cardio machine in a room full of people doing the same thing.

Or it could be getting out there in the world and putting on a race number, and then running, walking, cartwheeling or crawling to a finish line. I seriously do not care what type of transportation you choose, as long as it’s human-powered and makes you sweat.

By the way, no fair comparing yourself to other people you meet out there on the road. Races are like life: there is always somebody in front of you, and there is always somebody behind you.

And if you’ve ever come in last in a race – like I did once in a high school cross country meet, only to be asked later by one of the boys on the team, “Are you that girl that came in last?” (ah, teenage kindness at its finest) – then I ask you to simply look at the people cheering you on at the finish line. They did not complete the race. You did.

What I'd like to do to the kid who teased me for coming in last in a high school cross country race. But I would never do it. Nooooooo. Not me. I am a Grownup. Seriously. I mean, I may have thought about it just a time or two, but...you know. (Image courtesy of farconville / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
What I’d like to do to the kid who teased me for coming in last in a high school cross country race. But I would never do it. Nooooooo. Not me. I am a Grownup. Seriously. I mean, I may have thought about it just a time or two, but…you know. (Image courtesy of farconville / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

(But don’t you just want to say sometimes to all the naysayers…”Hey, high school boy who teased me for being last in a race. I’ve run 16 marathons since then and I’m 42 years old and hot, too. How have the last 25 years treated you, buddy?” No, I have never once had that desire. Well, maybe just once. Like, now. I seriously have not remembered that moment in decades.)

Okay, back to business. We are not alone. There is always somebody else out there with you. There is always somebody in front of you. There is always somebody behind you. But mostly, we’re just all alongside each other – if we look for one another in the world. And I just can’t think of a better way for us to find one another than to get outside and move.

Yesterday was an Eeyore day. Today, I’ll do everything I can to make it a Tigger day. That means getting to my track workout at 6:30 p.m. this evening with – yes! – my running group. We are not alone.

And back to real time: September 11, 2014.

Yesterday: Haywire, and for no good reason, really. Didn’t work out, didn’t eat well. Today, I’ll do everything I can to have a Tigger day.

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