29 February 2012

Should you exercise with an injury?

I recently researched the topic of exercising with an injury after I tweaked my lower back lifting my 43-lb child over a snow bank.  I didn't want to be sidelined, but wanted find a way to keep momentum and motivation going.

My pain wasn't so bad that I needed to visit a doctor.  Until the soreness and stiffness subsided, I wanted to find an exercise that I could safely do.  But what?  Was swimming my only alternative for a low-impact, weight-supported exercise?

My husband (a Track and CC coach) advised,
“Do what you can do.  Try your regular workout, but always stop if you are in pain.  My general rule is: if you have discomfort or soreness, you can usually work through it.  Sometimes injuries will loosen up with activity.” 
If you do need to find an alternate activity, he suggests swimming for knee, hip or IT band problems.  He echoed trainers citing biking and rowing as other sports that are easier on joints.

The AmericanCollege of Sports Medicine recommends people with knee injuries incorporate

23 February 2012

Karate for Strength, Balance, Skill and Discipline.

We’ve enrolled our children in a variety of sports since they were age 3 including swim, gymnastics, soccer, t-ball and dance.  Most recently, we started karate for kids.  This sport provides aerobic exercise and teaches them new skills, practices balance and builds strength.

As a bonus, it also addresses discipline (repeat offenders are instructed to “fall out of line” and do pushups) and respect for the teacher and opponent. It's good for my son who doesn’t necessarily like competitive sports and is easily distracted, and for my daughter who is naturally competitive and apparently needed to learn how to make a proper fist.

We started with private family lessons and learned blocks, rear and snap kicks,  and punch and chop strikes.  But, recognizing that I was hovering and diminishing any confidence-building benefit, I decided group lessons with other children would be a better route to take. 

I highly recommend the sport for children as young as 4 (a 30-min class).  Although we’ve just begun, I can see more benefits unfolding, such as watching advanced students practice on an adjacent mat, and the intrinsic reward and goal-setting effect of the belt color system.

While I miss taking the class myself (what better way to punch and kick off stress?), their “Little Dragons” class introduces them to the same skills in a fun environment.  And now I get to step back and enjoy watching them grow.

15 February 2012

How Much Meat Do You Eat?

I often referred to our eating habits as following a Mediterranean diet – limiting consumption of red meat, and primarily eating a plant-based diet.  To my surprise, there was a real classification for this diet. We are flexitarians — n (pl)  1. people who eat a predominantly vegetarian diet, but who eat meat or fish occasionally, i.e. flexible vegetarians. 

Our typical weekly dinner meal plan looks like this:
  • Monday – soup and sandwich                 
  • Tuesday – chicken (occasionally a burger or steak)
  • Wednesday – pasta                                   
  • Thursday – night out
  • Friday - fish                                             
  • Saturday – vegetarian dish
  • Sunday – day of grazing
Because we limit the amount of meat we eat, we consciously choose other lean protein foods like oatmeal or fortified cereal for breakfast, and protein-rich snacks during the day (mentioned in an earlier post: almonds, cottage cheese, yogurt and humus).  

Second only to eggs, fish is a healthy, complete protein, which is important for growth, maintenance and repair of all cells.  In addition to offering important vitamins and minerals, fish is most often
praised for Omega 3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) which has been reported by the Mayo Clinic to help reduce inflammation, cholesterol, and blood pressure, and ehow health to assist brain, nervous system and eyesight function.  Note: the best fish to eat for Omega-3 is fatty,cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna and cod (or freshwater lake trout).  

However you want to label your diet, we ask: how much meat do you eat?  And encourage you to find alternate sources of protein, substitute fish for meat at least once a week and watch portion size when you do eat red meat.

A golfer's diet:  live on greens as much as possible.  ~Author Unknown

10 February 2012

The Broccoli Challenge: serve broccoli to a picky eater

Eating vegetables every day is not an easy task, especially in the Winter.  Not as sweet and often requiring more preparation than fruit, I'm always searching for ways to serve veggies to my kids.  Corn, naturally high in sugar, is an easy sell in July when we can eat it off the cob with butter and salt.  (The Steamfresh microwavable bags are pretty good too.)

Carrots are also well liked.  I used to cook frozen carrots, dress them with butter and brown sugar and call them “candy carrots” to get my toddlers to eat them.  But now that the kids are older and I’m less worried about them choking, I just peel whole carrots and serve them while my kids are playing (getting active kids to sit and eat is often a challenge in itself!)

But broccoli (a good source of calcium, iron and vitamin C) has been my biggest challenge.  My daughter will eat it, but my son won’t sniff those florets.  Calling broccoli tips ‘little trees’, covering them with melted cheese, and reading “Green Eggs and Ham” didn’t convince him.

 So, I took broccoli on as my challenge – how can I prepare broccoli that picky eaters will eat?  Here are three recipes I tried:
1.       Roasted Broccoli w/ lemon juice and pine nuts from AmateurGourmet .  I love roasted vegetables (asparagus, potatoes) but never thought of cooking broccoli this way. It was a tasty alternative to the usual steamed dish we eat.

2.      Broccoli Cheddar Biscuits from TheSalted Spoon  were easier to roll out and cut than cookies and initially got a thumbs-up, but biscuits are not very good the next day so I had to toss the second tray of biscuits out.  Might try again for a dinner with the extended family.

3.       Finally, we found a Broccoli Salad recipe that promised to be the “incarnation of broccoli even the most stubborn of broccoli haters can’t hate” from foodess.com and a comparable recipe with less sugar and sunflower seeds instead of cashews (but more mayonnaise) on allrecipes.com   which received a 5-star rating by over 850 reviewers.

Was I able to get my son to like broccoli?  Anyone want to place bets?  Maybe I should revisit Jessica Seinfeld’s “Deceptively Delicious” cookbook which hides the veggies inside!

03 February 2012

Top 9 Picks for a Healthy Snack

Yesterday, I was asked for some healthy snack ideas.  It’s easy to grab the pre-packed or vending machine snacks that are higher in calories, sodium and likely highfructose corn syrup.  But with a little forethought and preparation (cutting), you can bag these snacks in the morning to munch on in between meals.

Fruit is an obvious go-to snack that is tasty, healthy and naturally prepackaged!  But you already know that, so we won’t count it.  Given that most people aren’t eating enough vegetables, here are five that even my 4-year-old daughter liked:
1.       Carrots.  Loaded with beta carotene (plant based vitamin A, which is good for night vision, healthy teeth, skin and your immune system.)
2.       Cucumbers.  This food (peeled or not) does not offer a lot of nutritional value, but is low in calories if you are counting. 
3.       Sugar snap peas.  Excellent source of vitamin C, and pretty good for vitamin A and iron.
4.       Celery.  Not just good for fiber, but also potassium – a 1-cup serving has ½ as much potassium as a banana.  The greener stalks have more nutrients, but the lighter stalks are less stringy.
5.       Red peppers.  Sweeter than the green variety, and full of vitamin C & A.  Tip:  vegetables that are red or orange are all great sources for beta carotene.
Snacks with protein satisfy your hunger longer. 
6.       Yogurt:  14g of protein per serving, so many flavors to choose, and is a good source of calcium.
7.       Humus:  19g of protein per serving, higher in calories but also delivers iron. 
8.       Cottage cheese: 28g of protein per serving and decent source of calcium, but high in sodium if that is of concern.
9.       Almonds: 20g of protein per serving, high in fiber, calcium and iron.

Our final tip: Often thirst can be mistaken for hunger, have you had 64oz of water today?  Remember the “8 by 8 rule”?  For a refreshing twist,  try green tea which has the added benefits of antioxidants.  I steep a pot every morning to drink cold in the afternoon.  

Recommended Resources:
Easy to look up nutritional value charts for any food raw or processed (including items offer by Starbucks!) at http://nutritiondata.self.com/
Clear descriptions of the value of key vitamins, and how it’s processed by the body at http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/family-nutrition/vitamins

01 February 2012

5 Fitness Factors and 5 at-home Fitness Tests

People often mistakenly judge fitness by weight alone.  I distinctly remember sitting at dinner with my in-laws a year after my second child was born. I had lost all the weight, and had gained some upper body strength from carrying a 6-month-old and a 2-year-old everywhere I went.  But I hadn’t found the time to get back running and felt horribly out of shape.  I do
n’t think I could have run a mile.

So, when my father-in-law commented how in shape I was and I groaned a regretful “not really”, I was surprised that he was surprised.  You can’t measure fitness by body composition and muscle strength alone.  Endurance, aerobic fitness and flexibility are equally important.   

Do you know your fitness level?  Here are five, simple do-it-yourself tests you can do to find out. Before beginning any strenuous exercise, consult your physician and use your judgment.
1.    To test the strength in your chest, shoulders and triceps, try the Push-up Test.  Do as many push-ups (ladies can do modified push-ups on your knees if needed) as you can within one minute.  Assuming you are under the age of 50, can you do at least 20 pushups*? 
2.    To test your abdominal strength and endurance, do the Crunch Test.  Do as many partial curl ups as you can within one minute.  (Keep your lower back on the floor for support and stability.)  Assuming you are under the age of 45: ladies, can you do at least 25; men, can you do at least 40 crunches*?

To test your cardiovascular endurance, try the 3-minute Step Test – remember this one from Middle School gym class?  Step up-up, down-down on a stair that is 12” tall.  Here you are not counting how many steps you complete, but your heart rate after.  Keep a consistent pace and rest if you need to. (note: a typical stair isn't 12" but your fireplace hearth probably is.) After 3 minutes, sit down and check your pulse and once again after one full minute of rest.  The fitter you are, the faster you’ll recover. 
A simple formula to calculate your predicted maximum heart rate is subtract your age from 220 (ex. if you are 40, the answer is 220 - 40 = 180 beats per minute);
Your target heart rate during exercise should be 60-80% of your max (or 108-144 in the previous example). 
Your recovery heart rate one minute after stopping should be 30-39 beats less than your exercise heart rate.  Learn more from The Cleveland Clinic
4.     Another aerobic endurance test is to Walk 1-Mile at a moderate, sustainable pace, preferably not on a treadmill and don’t forget to warm-up first.  Were you able to walk a mile in 15 minutes*? 
5.     There are a variety of Flexibility Tests including Sit and Reach, Trunk Rotation, Hamstring and Shoulder Flexion.  We have found yoga to be an excellent practice for improving all five fitness factors, particularly flexibility.

*Find specific benchmarks by age and gender below, published on SparkPeople.
Push up Test
Crunch Test Standard Chart
Step Test Chart
1-Mile Walk Chart

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit." - Aristotle