The Dark Days Ahead

I truly don’t know where the month went, but here we are on the last Workout Wednesday of October. Election Day is only six days away. In three nights, we turn the clocks back for the end of Daylight Saving time. And every day, I see the alarming statistics and hear stories that prove we’re nowhere near the end of struggling with a pandemic. While I’ve always considered myself an upbeat and optimistic person, 2020 continues to put us all to the test on just how much we can take.

In an effort to focus on the positive, I’d like to turn your attention to a crucial element in our health and wellness routine: self-care. I realize some of you are smirking and thinking, “Sure, Laura, and just when would you like me to fit that into my schedule?” Well, my repeat readers know when it comes to fitness, I’ve always believed 10 minutes of exercise is better than zero. The same can be said for finding moments of me-time -which may be more important than ever.

Here are a five things you can do in 10 minutes or less to de-stress:

  1. Leave your computer/work station and go into a different room for a change of scenery. (Close the door for extra solitude if you can.) If you have access to outdoor space, step outside for some fresh air.
  2. Make a cup of tea.
  3. Practice deep breathing / meditate.
  4. Stretch!
  5. Eat some dark chocolate.

Just so you know, I’m making more of an effort to follow my own advice as I continue my work as a contact monitor for the Test & Trace Corps. (My colleagues and I get two 15-minute breaks and a half-hour for lunch during our shifts.) The number of cases is on the rise again in New York City and our call volumes have increased in recent weeks. Each day, we hear stories from our fellow New Yorkers different in age, gender, race and creed – but many share the same fears and frustrations. So many parents, teachers and students feel overwhelmed as they struggle to navigate this unprecedented school year. Healthcare workers continue their tireless efforts to care for the sick and worry about bringing anything home to their own families. Essential workers grind through their shifts and remote workers miss the socialization of office life. And many of our city’s seniors are scared and lonely, and need ongoing assistance with necessities including food and medication. After listening to these often emotional stories almost daily for the past 14 weeks, I’ve learned if don’t make time to shut off my mind for even just a few moments during the day, sleeping at night will be nearly impossible.

Meanwhile, I miss my extended family and friends and find myself feeling sad about the strange holiday season ahead. My hope is that each of us find one or two things that give us some peace and comfort throughout the darker, colder days ahead. For me, that means buying some warmer workout gear to keep up my running efforts as the days get colder and incorporating more mini-moments of Zen into the day.

I also encourage everyone to strive to follow a healthy diet, bundle up for those outdoor exercise plans, wash your hands often and of course, wear a mask! Here’s to getting a game plan in place for the new month ahead and hopefully finding more than just a few moments to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

 

 

One Strange October

Highlights of Octobers past… Boston, 2017

And so we turn the calendar to a Breast Cancer Awareness Month like no other.

As we kick off October, I find myself feeling more out of sorts than usual because I’m not gearing up for what’s been a favorite fall highlight since 2014. There’s no breast cancer awareness walk on my calendar. I completely understand why  fundraising walks around the country for all types of causes have been put on hold until at least 2021, but this absence only punctuates another aspect of “normal” that no longer exists thanks to COVID-19.

My repeat readers probably recall my journey in the fight against breast cancer started as a tribute to my Mom, a warrior survivor; and my dear high school friend Elizabeth, who sadly lost her battle with the disease in 2016. The experience changed dramatically in 2018 when the annual 39.3-mile trek as part of Avon39 Walk to End Breast Cancer morphed into a much shorter walk through Central Park as Avon began a new partnership with the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides campaign. The mission, however, remained the same: to raise awareness about a disease that is still the leading cancer-killer of women worldwide and support patients and their families through the fight. This year, the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer initiative has made changes for less crowd-centric fundraising efforts and the main push kicks off today.

2016

Like so many people, I’m trying to navigate a much different October path this year. My passion for helping in this fight remains, but there comes a point when each of us has to step back and acknowledge “I can’t do it all.” I would have loved to join the Pink Forward Step Challenge, but between my new job in the contact tracing world; caring for my elderly parents; planning for an upcoming move and trying to stay healthy – physically and emotionally – well, sometimes you just have to say no.

What I can do is make a donation to this year’s Making Strides of Central park 2020 campaign. However, I encourage those only with the means to do so to consider doing the same. I realize it’s been an extremely difficult year for so many people, especially on the financial front. I hear about these hardships almost daily as I reach out to COVID cases and contacts around my beloved city.

2015

While everything looks very different, the passions that drive our heart and soul can remain strong and steadfast. Finding a different way to channel that energy will continue to be a challenge as we push forward through these difficult days. All we can do is try our best each and every day and not give up hope for better times ahead and more chances to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

Happy Fall, Y’All!

Here Comes the Fall!

Wow. I blinked and somehow we made it to the first Workout Wednesday of fall. It’s nearly impossible to believe at this time last year, I was in the midst of peak week leading up to my first NPC competition. I still can’t believe how unbelievably different the world is this year.

While the mercury will register just shy of 80 degrees here in New York today, the past few days certainly felt like autumn and I found myself searching for heavier sweaters and socks to ward off some chilly air. Yet the bright sunshine and crisp air that greeted me on my morning runs also fueled me with new hope that better days are ahead for all of us as we start a brand new season.

I thought I’d kick things off season three of 2020 by reminding everyone of the few health perks found in a top fall favorite: pumpkins! While I recommend practicing moderation when it comes to enjoying pumpkin beer, pumpkin pie or pumpkin lattes, there are plenty of nutritional perks packed inside fall’s signature squash when enjoyed in its natural form:

  • Post-Workout Power! Bananas seem to get all the credit as a top source of natural energy, but pumpkins actually provide more potassium. One cup of cooked pumpkin has 564 milligrams of potassium compared to a banana’s 422 milligrams. A little extra potassium helps restore the body’s balance of electrolytes after a workout and keeps those muscles firing.
  • Good for Your Baby Blues…and Browns, Greens and Hazels, too!:  One cup of mashed pumpkin contains more than 200 percent of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin A. Also, pumpkin is chock full of carotenoids, a fancy name for the compounds that create its orange color. One of those compounds is beta carotene, which has been linked to eye protection.
  • Keep Your Appetite in Check! Poor little pumpkin is often overlooked as a great source of fiber. A one-cup serving packs three grams or protein at only 49 calories. Countless studies show a fiber-rich diet can help you stay full longer so you eat more sensibly throughout the day.

If you have any recipes featuring the all-powerful pumpkin, please feel free to share! Also, don’t be shy about asking questions or offering ideas for mixing up your workout routine. Whatever is on your fall menu or exercise agenda, here’s to all of us embracing the season ahead filled with new chances to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous! (Just stay safe out there!)

The Reluctant Runner

Always happy AFTER the run!

This Workout Wednesday marks exactly two weeks since my gym re-opened in New York City. While I’m beyond thrilled for the trainers and staff who are back in action after the five-month furlough, I have yet to step foot inside those concrete walls. To be honest, I’m just not ready in this ongoing COVID-19 world. To my fellow fitness fanatics who have been back to those favorite indoor workout haunts, I’d love to hear about your experiences so far.

While I look forward to your feedback, I’ll stick with my running efforts. I can’t say it’s been easy, and not just because of the shin splints I developed back in May after getting a little too aggressive with my speed and mileage in too short a period of time. (Another reason to kick that no-pain-no-gain mantra to the curb!) It’s been more of a mental challenge, and the reason is simple: I just don’t like to run.

Staying motivated to do anything you don’t particularly like is a struggle, but I do try to focus on the positives. First, running provides the calorie burn I crave so I don’t feel guilty about that second glass of wine with dinner. Second, tracking my progress using the Strava app since late April has helped. While I’ll always consider myself the tortoise and not the hare, I have noticed an uptick in my speed and the distance I can travel before my legs and lungs start screaming. Finally, while I can’t say I’ve experienced that “high” described by true runners who love the sport, I definitely have more energy to face the workday after getting those four miles in (along with one or two core-focused Tabatas and push-ups) first thing in the morning. Since my contact monitor job does involve sitting for much longer periods of time than I’m used to, getting the blood going first thing in the day has definitely had its perks.

I really do look forward to a time when I’m back in the weight room and back in front of a heavy bag. In the meantime, I’ll keep reminding myself of the good I’m doing for my heart, body and spirit by sticking with the running / power walking regimen. As we all continue to muddle through a less-than-optimal year for all our pre-COVID “normal” activities, let’s remember to be kind to ourselves -and each other – and to be grateful for each day we wake up to do what we can to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

A Whole New World

Well, hello September. I hope this Workout Wednesday post finds you and your loved ones healthy and safe and stealing some moments of sunshine as another summer winds down. I thought I’d kick off another almost-fall season here at LauraLovesFitness with an update on how my world has changed in a way I never could have imagined.

I find it nearly impossible to believe it’s been roughly six months since New York City basically went into shut down mode. Only a few weeks before, I had decided to make a major career change and leave the world of corporate video production and hosting to become a personal trainer. When the gyms closed, I had no idea what I’d do next. I never could have imagined just a few months later I’d be using the journalism skills I learned during my years at Northwestern as part of the New York City Health + Hospitals Test and Trace Corps.

My official title is contact monitor. From Sunday through Thursday, I reach out to those who have tested positive for COVID-19 (cases) along with contacts they’ve identified. Sometimes I’m the first person to alert a neighbor he or she has been in close contact with a case. The purpose of each and every call is to conduct wellness checks, encourage the case or contact to follow the appropriate isolation or quarantine guidelines and also provide resources. That includes everything from providing the phone number for the city’s mental health hotline to setting up food or medication deliveries and informing my neighbors about the free hotel rooms available for those who need a place to isolate or quarantine safely.

It has been a challenging and rewarding experience so far. I’m able to do my work remotely, though there are other members of Test & Trace who go out into the community when multiple attempts to reach people by phone fail. Thanks to help from translators, I’ve communicated with my neighbors in many languages, including Spanish, Bengali, Russian and Mandarin. I talk to nervous parents of pediatric contacts as young as three years old and happily tell a 75-year-old case they can get back to the “new” normal on their last day of isolation or quarantine. While I do this work from my laptop, I “meet” with my supervisor and the rest of the contact monitors in my team for a virtual chat each morning. We also reach out to each other to vent after a particularly emotional call or on a day when we just need some extra support. We all look forward to the day when the 20 of us can meet in person.

As we muddle our way through a September like no other, my heart goes out to students, parents, teachers and administrators across the country who have either started or are gearing up for a first-of-its kind academic year. I also think of the gym owners and fitness professionals and those still struggling with whether they feel “safe” enough to return to their favorite workout spot. Then there are the struggling restaurant and small business owners; out-of-work Broadway actors and crew members; healthcare and essential workers; and pretty much everyone still doing their best to keep it together day after challenging day. Last but certainly not least, I think of all the victims of 9/11 and the families and friends who continue to mourn them as we approach the 19th anniversary of that horrific day.

No doubt we’re all in for a strange fall season. Here’s to hoping things improve a little each day and we simply do the best we can to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

See you in September!

Vitamin “Sea” Therapy

Some longtime readers may recall August is typically when LauraLovesFitness goes hiatus. That goes for 2020, too. However, unlike previous years, I just realized I never left you with a one-last-thought-for-July post before taking the break. Since it’s hard to remember the last time anything in 2020 resembled normal, I imagine you may forgive the omission.

As this strange summer winds down, I hope you and your loved ones continue doing all you can to stay safe. As many of us long for the barbecues and happy hours of summers passed, I also realize parents, teachers and of course students across the country are also struggling with how to navigate a bizarre school year ahead. Meanwhile, back here in Manhattan, we have no idea when gyms or city staples including Broadway theaters and music venues will be able to re-open safely. While New York City’s numbers have improved when it comes to COVID-19 cases and deaths related to the virus, this is no time to get over confident and stop following the protocols. Wear a mask, wash your hands and maintain a distance of at least six feet from others when you are out in public.

I have heard from many people who continue a daily struggle with anxiety, fear and boredom as we continue to move through a year unlike any other. I hope some daily exercise – walking, cycling or even dancing in your living room – will help you get some endorphins flowing. Also, remember there are many mental health counselors available via Zoom or other telemedicine platforms these days. For my fellow Manhattanites, you can reach a counselor by calling 888-692-9355. You can also text “well” to 65173.

I’ll wrap up this last Workout Wednesday post of August with a huge thank you for sticking with me through my random musings over these past several months. I hope to return with some updated information here on the blog about me (my bio is extremely outdated!) and my newest career adventure. Stay tuned, stay safe…and cheers to better days ahead for all of us and new opportunities to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

I Forgot My Blog’s Birthday!

Considering I still have trouble sorting out what day of the week it is, I guess it’s no surprise I recently forgot one special date on the calendar. LauraLovesFitness.com turned nine years old last week!

I use each blog birthday as a chance to reflect on some highlights during the past year. Needless to say, nothing looks the same as it did at this time last July. However, before the start of a year many of us can’t wait to leave behind, the last half of 2019 provided some truly memorable experiences. I’ll always consider it a successful cross-this-off-the-bucket-list year. So, here are the top three memorable moments in since last summer in chronological order:

 

 

My First-Ever NPC Bikini Competition (I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever compete again – assuming we’re able to have these shows again the the not-too-distant future!)

 

And… last but certainly not least..

 

Now, as we continue to push through a challenging and downright scary 2020, I am more thankful than ever to my readers and followers for your ongoing support. I hope my sporadic, yet candid posts during these past months have offered a few minutes of distraction during otherwise monotonous or difficult days. I look forward to better days ahead for all is us and to the times we can once again truly have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Hello, July!

Yesterday should have been the beginning of my favorite month of the year. Despite the slow re-opening of businesses and activities here in New York, we are nowhere near pre-Coronavirus life. The city streets and scenes are very different from the ones I fell in love with when I arrived in 2008. And being my normal, candid self, I still find find these days to be a little scary.

Many businesses remain shuttered, and who knows how many will remain closed for good. Broadway will remain dark until the New Year. The New York City Marathon is officially cancelled. Beaches are open at half capacity, but the last time I visited my “happy place,” I was quite alarmed at the amount of large groups I saw ignoring social distancing and sharing everything from beach blankets to beer cans. Finally, and perhaps a huge source of extra anxiety is the fact that gyms remain closed. Despite my best efforts, my new running hobby has yet to give me the same stress release I experience when punching a heavy bag or lifting weights.

Meanwhile, anger over racism and socioeconomic injustice has reached a boiling point. People are enraged, scared and beyond restless after months of being shut in. And super close to home, my mom continues her slow yet steady recovery from open heart surgery while my Dad continues to grapple with his own health issues. Because of their age and vulnerability, I worry that one wrong move on my end could make them sick with a virus that’s still killing people every day. It’s no wonder I’m struggling with my own new health issue: insomnia.

However, it IS July. So I tell myself to snap out of it, turn the page and use whatever vitamin D therapy I can to focus on the brighter times ahead. I will keep the power walks and quasi-runs going to give my mind and body some sort of endorphin boost. I’ll keep praying. And I’ll remind myself of the the good that does exist in this upside-down world. Like the fact that my dear childhood friend married the love of her life last week at the Church we grew up in, masks and all. Then there’s the selfless goodness seen in the kind and compassionate eyes of the doctors, nurses and aides who took such good care of my mom during her seven-day stay in the hospital. Last but certainly not least, I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by love during moments with my husband or my parents in person – and the virtual hugs I get from family and friends via emails, texts or phone calls.

Thank you for still being here to read my extremely random thoughts during these past few months. I hope you and your loved ones continue to stay safe and healthy. As we head into a Fourth of July weekend like none before, I wish you peace, love and whatever joy you can find to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

One Strange Summer

Forever My Happy Place – Even When The World is in Chaos

Sunscreen? Check.
Water? Check.
Umbrella? Check.
Mask? Check.
And with that, I ventured out to Jones Beach for my first day by the sea to unofficially kick off one very strange summer.
Before I continue, let me apologize for the premature launch of this post earlier today in its unfinished form. I had the best intentions of posting these thoughts yesterday, the last Workout Wednesday of May. However, like many other best laid plans during these difficult days, I got caught up in I’m not exactly sure what, the day came and went and so did the deadline for this post. Better late than never, I suppose.
Back to the beach. It looked totally different from the moment I drove into the field six parking lot. Orange cones took up every other parking spot. There were hand sanitizer stations set up in several places along the boardwalk and near the restrooms.  Police patrolled the beach via SUV and ATV and encountered the occasional crowd of more than 10 teens and asked them to separate their towels and blankets by 10 feet. When leaving our beach chairs and blankets, the majority of people I came in social-distance contact with wore masks or had them hanging around their necks at the ready.  It felt as if we were all on our best behavior to ensure our happy place would remain open for the season.
On the not-so-crowded Tuesday, the solitude I always relish at the beach felt even more profound. There was no music escaping from a contraband radio or two on the few blankets nearby. I took in the roaring sound of the ocean, often closing my eyes and taking deep breaths of the rich, salty air. After countless days in our one-bedroom apartment in the concrete jungle,  this escape was like a vitamin B12 shot for my psyche. I still felt uneasy and uncertain as normalcy here in New York seems an eternity away. However, just as the sea always retreats from the sand then crashes back again, I felt a glimmer of new hope that we will get to the other side of this eventually.
As we’ve unofficially kicked off this unprecedented summer of 2020, I wish you all continued good health. For those who’ve lost loved ones over these past weeks, my heart goes out to you. To all the healthcare and essential workers who continue to show unbelievable fortitude and compassion, thank you. To all those who’ve continually checked in on us since this all started, hugs. Here’s to staying safe and getting back to those plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Keep On Keepin’ On…

Three of nine albums made during quarantine….so far!

On this Workout Wednesday, we’ve reached the middle of May and day number who-knows-what in this fight against COVID-19. States around the country are starting to re-open, but things here in New York City remain the same. As the monotony continues, I thought I’d share one thing that’s helped maintain my mental health in addition to my near-daily power walks through Central Park: Snapfish.

I don’t know about you, but while I’ve loved the simplicity of taking pictures on my iPhones for the past several years, I hate the fact those photos usually end up in a sea of disorganization on my laptop. So, I decided to tackle the tedious task of creating some actual “old-school” albums to be placed on a bookshelf. While I still have plenty to tackle, I’ve used Snapfish.com to slowly assemble memories from various vacations; four Avon39 Walks; highlights from last year’s NPC Brooklyn Grand Prix along with images captures during the 15 weeks of prep time leading up to the main event; and finally, two year-in-review compilations for 2014 and 2015. (James and I met in 2014, so I thought that was a happy place to start.) It’s been wonderful to receive the finished products in the mail, sit with a big glass of wine and re-live some happy memories. (Bonus: Snapfish has been offering great deals on albums and other photo creations almost daily since these quarantine days began.)

If there’s a creative project you’ve kept on the back burner because of all the normal chaos of life, maybe now’s the time to give it a whirl. Working on a crafty project can also provide a feeling of accomplishment on days when much of life has stood still. Speaking of getting things done, one of my besties texted me earlier this week to say she felt unproductive because the “only” things she got done that day were laundry, bills and some other paperwork. I reminded her completing any kind of chore on days when many of us would like to just pull the covers over our head and stay in bed is something to feel good about. Whether you get one or five things crossed off your to-do list today, give yourself the kudos you deserve. Things are hard right now, and we can only do our best each day we’re lucky enough to start anew.

If you’ve worked on a project that’s given you some joy during these challenging times, I’d love to hear about it! In the meantime, stay safe, soak up the warmer temperatures that are starting to creep into this otherwise unprecedented spring and do the best you can to stick with your plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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