Monthly Archives: August 2011

Energy Boost?

Recently, my friend and colleague, Rob, asked if I had ever tried the over-the-counter liquid shots we see at drug stores everywhere called “5-Hour Energy.” When I told him I hadn’t, he suggested I give one a try and write about what happened. I said to myself, “What a great idea!”

I thought today would be the perfect time to try a “shot,” as I had a marathon shoot to produce which featured a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call in order to capture three Internet videos for a corporate client by 4:30 p.m. I cannot drink regular coffee before 7 a.m. as it does a number on my stomach. So, I had an iced decaf around 6:30 am and decided to try the “5-Hour Energy” shot for a boost in the afternoon. It was the first and last time I’ll ever use the drink to get my energy up.

Please know, all my comments are based solely on my personal experience with this popular energy drink. Some of you reading this post may be big fans and never experienced the following effects: within 30 minutes of drinking all 1.93 fluid ounces of the berry-flavored shot, my head started pounding and I had palpitations. I was definitely awake, but for me, the headache and flutters in my chest were not what I expected or hoped to experience. I realize I was under some extra stress and pressure because of my demanding day, but turning to a cup of green tea of second 16-ounce iced coffee after lunch never caused me to feel like I did this afternoon.  In the end, I wish I had simply relied on one of my regular “energy boosters” instead of the shot.

Again, I realize there are many people out there who use these drinks to get through a long day or even rev up before a workout. I thought this was simply a good opportunity to share my own personal experience in the hopes of raising awareness that even over-the-counter products and supplements can cause unwanted or unexpected results.

One positive note: I definitely didn’t experience any kind of “crash” after the five-hours were up. I simply got tired again when the long workday came to an end.  Now, I look forward to getting some solid sleep and starting a new day filled with new opportunities to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!


Getting Back On Track

It’s been an unprecedented week for most New Yorkers with an earthquake and a hurricane taking a bite out of the Big Apple.  As I made my way through my elliptical workout this morning, while my iTunes played in my ears, my eyes were glued to the TV monitors around the gym as live shot after live shot described all the preparations for Irene’s arrival.  Afterward, my usual Saturday errands were replaced with a hunt for batteries, tape and water. (Luckily, I found everything I need.) Now, I write this post not knowing how many people will be able to read it on Monday should we experience the major power outages predicted. As we brace for the storm, I realize this is a perfect example of how the best laid plans can be altered at any given moment and throw off our normal schedules – and that includes our exercise routine.

Weather aside, I just wrapped up a week filled with many unexpected happenings.  Most involved work, and a string of events forced me to stay at the office much later than expected for not one, but three nights in a row. This ultimately killed my workout schedule, with the worst of it meaning I had to scrap my favorite group exercise class of the week. I was also on my own at home, which threw off my eating schedule. I found myself giving in to my old, bad habit of not having small, smart meals every few hours and then ending the day eating almost nothing for dinner. (One “Lean Pocket” and a tall vodka-light-cranberry on the rocks is not what the body needs after a long day at the office.)

So, you could say I fell off the fitness wagon. It’s not the first time it’s happened, and I know it won’t be the last. Do I feel more sluggish this weekend? Absolutely. Will this feeling last forever? Absolutely not! Instead of beating myself up about all the “bad” things I did last week,  I look forward to starting a new week with a brand new attitude and plenty of chances to take better care of myself.  Just like Hurricane Irene, the storms that sometimes make a mess of our everyday lives do pass. (For me, exercise is a great way to deal with the aftermath.)

The next time your best laid plans to follow a healthy lifestyle hit a tailspin, don’t sweat it. Just remind yourself of why you’re doing it in the first place, and before you know it, you’ll be back on the right track so you can have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Laura’s Lo-Cal Cocktails

To celebrate the end of another work week and help you enjoy one of the last weekends of summer 2011, here’s a fun Friday hit-list:  how to enjoy some of your favorite summer cocktails without all the guilt!

On the rocks:

  • When mixing a Cape Codder (vodka & cranberry), replace high-sugar cranberry juice with light or reduced-calorie cranberry juice. For an even “slimmer” version of this summertime classic, mix one shot of raspberry or blueberry vodka with Diet Sprite, Diet 7Up, Sprite Zero or Fresca. You get the berry flavor without all the sugar.
  • Use diet tonic water when mixing with vodka or gin.
  • For the taste of cream soda with a kick,  add a shot of vanilla vodka to a tall glass of  Diet Coke.
Frosty options:
  • Mudslides are delicious, but wow, do they pack a punch when it comes to calories! My recipe replaces the Bailey’s with a Weight Watchers latte flavored ice pop – minus the stick, of course! Put the frozen “ice cream” into a blender, and add crushed ice, 4-6 ounces of skim milk and a shot of vodka.  Blend and enjoy! (You can also add Kahlua, but that will up the calories a bit.)
  • Calorie-Conscious Creamsicle: I haven’t tried this yet, but learned about the option at a recent Weight Watchers meeting.  Put one packet of a Weight Watchers vanilla smoothie mix into a blender, and add WW orange-flavored fat-free yogurt, crushed ice and one shot of vodka. Blend and enjoy!
  • Speaking of Weight Watchers smoothie mixes, if you can get a hold of them, they’re really good and come in several flavors including vanilla, chocolate, caramel latte and even a berry blend.  Mix one packet in the blender with fresh strawberries, blueberries or banana, along with crushed ice, skim milk (or water) and a shot of vodka or rum.  (These taste just as good without the alcohol.)
I am a big believer in enjoying everything in moderation.  So, here’s wishing everyone a safe and fun-filled weekend filled with at least one or two chances to sit back, relax and pat yourself on the back for all you do to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

I Got Myself to the Gym. Now What?

You took the plunge and signed up for a gym membership. You change into your workout wear, turn on the iPod…and find yourself completely overwhelmed surrounded by a sea of equipment.  Don’t worry, you’re not alone.  One of my best gal pals from Northwestern University, Molly, recently posed the following questions:

“My problem with getting/staying fit right now is not knowing exactly what to do with myself once I’m at the gym. Should I just focus on cardio? (I’d like to lose a few pounds.) If so, do I stick with one machine like the treadmill and work on building speed and endurance, or switch it up and try the elliptical sometimes? Should I start again with the weight machines, which I haven’t done in a while? (I’d also like to tone up and gain strength.) Take a class?”

Two important points to address right away:

1) They key to losing weight is burning more calories than you take in. That can be done through cardio and/or resistance training. Whether you’re an exercise novice or seasoned gym-goer, your body will benefit most from a combination of the two.

2) Find what you like to do at the gym, and you will stick with it. Then with some help from perseverance, self-discipline and motivation, you can get the results you’re looking for.

Reminding myself how good I feel after a workout fuels my perseverance and self-discipline.  As for motivation, if you’re new to the gym, I strongly recommend meeting with a personal trainer at least once. Aside from helping you get familiarized with the gym, a personal trainer will also conduct fitness assessments to determine if you have any postural distortions that need correcting as part of your routine. In the simplest terms, you will learn what areas of your body need to be stretched and which need to be strengthened.

Many gyms welcome new members with a complimentary training session. If your gym doesn’t offer this service and a personal training session is not in your budget, then recruit a friend who does know his or her way around the gym to be your training partner.

Group exercise classes can also be a great source of motivation. With classes ranging from cardio kickboxing to Zumba, there is something out there for everyone. To avoid boredom at the gym, I’m a big fan of mixing up group exercise classes with your own program during the week.

Cardio is a topic that warrants its own blog post. For now, I recommend newcomers try the treadmill, elliptical and stationary bike for 10 minutes each. Determine which one you like best, then work on being able to run, stride or cycle for up to 30 minutes where you notice a moderate increase in your heart and respiratory rates.  Doing this five to seven days each week with two days of resistance training is a good workout plan to strive for.

One final note: it takes six weeks before something becomes a habit.  So, your first trip to the gym is the first big step in making exercise part of your routine to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Exercise & Grief

I don’t mean to start the week off on a “down” note, but an unexpected event happened over the weekend that triggered the idea behind this brief post. As I left my apartment Saturday morning for the short walk to the gym, I called my parents to say hello. My mom then broke the sad news that a very dear family friend in Florida had lost her battle to cancer.

Her name was Anne, and she was like a surrogate grandmother to me during all my years traveling to Florida.  She was a fun, feisty Irish gal who always had a sparkle in her eye and a fun story to share.  While I was relieved to know she was finally at peace and reunited with her husband Bill, I was also sad and found myself reduced to tears in the street. (Luckily in New York City, no one finds this odd.)  I composed myself, said a prayer and continued on to the gym. I then unleashed my sorrow in an intense cardio workout that lasted just shy of 60 minutes.

I realize not everyone is going to run to the gym after receiving sad news to jump on an elliptical machine or start circuit training.  Each of us must deal with grief in our own way.  This experience, however, reminded me how exercise has helped me through some of life’s not-so-great moments and given me the strength to face the reality of those moments with a bit more clarity and energy.  Whether I was dealing with the loss of a loved one, an illness in my family, the demise of a relationship or trouble at work, even something as simple as a good, long walk managed to help clear my mind and unburden my heart  just the slightest bit.

No doubt life will throw challenges our way that make it difficult to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous.  When that happens, sometimes having a good cry or breaking a major sweat can help you get back on the path to the place you really want to be.

Smart Snacking

Here’s to making it to the end of another work week! As I am just back from vacation and try to re-adjust to the daily grind, I thought it was the perfect time to continue what I started last week: a quick Friday hit list. This time, I offer some of my favorite snacks.

As I mentioned in my previous installment Food & Fitness, I generally try to eat every three to four hours to keep my blood sugar at an even keel and avoid getting so hungry that I eat too much or the wrong foods at my next official meal. That means I’m always on the lookout for smart snack options that keep me fueled whether I’m on a shoot, gearing up for a good workout or simply reading a book on the beach. Here are some of my go-to items:

  • At work: I always have single serve mini bags of 94% fat-free microwavable popcorn in my desk drawer.  (Yet another tip learned through Weight Watchers.) Not only are the popped kernels filling, it takes some time to get through a bag, which leaves you no choice but to snack slowly.
  • Pre-workout: I usually head to the gym after work, so an hour before I start my workout, I will eat a protein / carb mix. Three of my mix-and-match favorites include:  one Weight Watchers string cheese with an apple, peach or nectarine; non-fat plain Greek yogurt with a serving of almonds or reduced fat Wheat Thins with Laughing Cow cheese spread.
  • Pre-“big time” workout: I absolutely love peanut butter, but I have a hard time restraining myself to the “normal” serving size. However, Jif makes portable single serve cups. They are definitely packed with more calories and fat than I’d normally like to snack on. However, on a day where I couldn’t eat a normal, well-balanced lunch and I’m taking my weekly Club Strength class, I’ll “splurge” on a snack of one single-size peanut butter cup on two slices of Weight Watchers toast. (For a boost to this snack or any on this list, I’ll add an apple.)
  • On the run: I always have a Fiber One bar in my backpack or purse. I get a chocolate fix while kicking hunger to the curb.
  • In a pinch: a hot cup of green tea or chewing gum helps keep my hunger when eating a healthy snack isn’t on the menu.

If you have some different snack ideas, please send them along! (While you’re at it, let me know if you have any good music to add to the Music That Makes Me Move playlist I posted last week.) The information we share can only help us all on our journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Make Time for Yourself

There is a phenomenon in fitness called the cumulative injury cycle. Basically, if you continue to exercise without correcting any postural distortions that lead to muscle imbalances, the compensations your body makes to allow you to follow through with the exercise will eventually lead to an injury. I am also a firm believer our mental fitness can take a serious hit if we don’t take time to rest and regroup.

As I sit here looking at the ocean in Montauk, I realize what a different person I am today than just two days ago. I attribute this mind-altered state to two factors: I am on vacation and I am doing things for myself I simply do not do enough of at home. That includes:

  • Letting the sound of the ocean drown out my anxieties about work
  • Not rushing through my workouts
  • Sitting in the steam room after my workouts
  • Getting a massage
  • Eating dessert
  • Not worrying about having less-than-optimal cell or WiFi service

To expand on that last point, I haven’t been able to upload any pictures taken on my iPhone to my Facebook page and I have only been able to update my status once. I have been able to open my work and personal email accounts, but I haven’t been able to send a reply. Forget about Twitter or LinkedIn. I finally decided to stop trying to open my apps and simply said: “You are on vacation!” If someone really needs to get a hold of me, I can still retrieve voice messages from a few spots in the parking lot.

Whether you run the household, run a business or have a job where you answer to a boss, everyone works hard. No doubt the state of the economy has shattered whatever our definition of financial security was in the past. Many of us still struggle from the aftershock of losing a job or may be trying to keep a business afloat. This makes it all the more important to take some time to be good to ourselves when we can.

Realistically, a vacation or trip to the spa may not be attainable at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t shut out the world for an hour or two a week. Some escape plans include:

  • Replace that Bluetooth in your ear with ear buds for 30 minutes a night and plug them into a sound machine tuned to the ocean surf or frogs in the forest.
  • Add 10 minutes to your workout routine and stretch.
  • For once, try yoga instead of that heart- and muscle-pounding cardio kickboxing class.
  • Take a bath instead of a shower before going to bed.
  • While summer is still here, take your dinner outside and have a picnic in your backyard, roof deck or nearby park.

While it’s important to focus on work, we owe it to ourselves to find our own unique ways to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Music That Makes Me Move

We made it to Friday! As I continue to navigate my way through this new blogging adventure, I’m toying with the idea of keeping Friday’s posts short and sweet with a quick hit list regarding some fitness-related topic.  For the first of these installments, I offer some of my favorite workout tunes that keep me moving either on the elliptical machine or as I hit the floor for some resistance training and core work.

Laura’s Top 10 Favorite Cardio Jams:

“On the Floor” Jennifer Lopez (feat. Pitbull)

“Chemistry” Velvet

“Around You” Jes

“Blow” Ke$ha

“Shut It Down” Pitbull (feat. Akon)

“Inner Sanctum” Blue

“Alright” Red Carpet

“Sorry” Madonna

“Judas” Lady GaGa

“I’m Into You” Jennifer Lopez (feat. Lil Wayne)

Laura’s Top 10 Resistance Training Tunes:

“Wherever I May Roam” Metallica

“The Fire” The Roots & John Legend

“The Game” Disturbed

“Let It Rock” Kevin Rudolf & Lil Wayne

“Shake That” Eminem

“Four Minutes” Madonna (feat. Justin Timberlake)

“Do What’s Good For Me” 2 Unlimited

“Bumpy Flight Home” Oakenfold

“Stagefright” Def Leppard

“Crazy on You” Heart

Obviously, I like a wide variety of music. (Note: these are only a handful of songs featured in my “Workout Mix” playlist.) You may love or hate any or all of the songs listed above, but I figured you could at least give some unknown titles a search and a listen and decide if they’re worthy to be a part of your iTunes library.

On a low-energy day, sometimes just turning up the right heart-pounding beats can help kickstart your adrenaline and get you into the right mood to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Don’t Skimp When it Comes to Stretching!

An old friend, Shannon Palermo, posted the following comment on my LauraLovesFitness Facebook page:

So, what is the recommendation when it comes to cardio and stretching? I walk/run on a treadmill at home. Do I warm up then stretch or stretch first or stretch after? Also any suggested stretches? I recently pulled a muscle in my hip causing me to be sidelined with major hip and knee pain. I believe this is due to my lack of stretching and my need for new sneakers.

These questions raise several important issues, but first and foremost is the subject of pain.  Whether you’re a fitness novice or trained athlete, if you really listen to your body, you can tell the difference between muscle soreness from an intense workout and pain that indicates something is wrong. If you experience “major” pain in any area, you could be suffering from an acute or cumulative injury.  I’ve been the victim of many cumulative injuries because of one simple reason: I’ve ignored the warning signs and simply pushed through the pain.

If you experience pain that causes significant discomfort and doesn’t subside with ice and/or over-the-counter pain killers for more than a day or two, you should see your doctor.  When you let an injury linger, other parts of your body will compensate for the injury, throwing off your body’s proper mechanics and causing postural distortions. In the end, an injury to your foot will lead to compensations that create stress on other parts of your body’s kinetic chain – and you can easily end up with pain in your knees, hips or back. For my friend Shannon, if you’re simply guessing that you pulled a muscle and haven’t seen a doctor, please make an appointment soon.

As for stretching: the jury may still be out on when to stretch, but there is no debate about the fact that everyone needs to include flexibility training in their workout routine. As I learned through my NASM training, countless studies show a link between decreased flexibility and injury.  For example, decreased flexibility in the hamstrings and quadriceps significantly contributes to tendonitis in the knee.

NASM’s training model includes stretching as part of a warm up and again during the cool down period of your workout. The stretching-before-cardio-or-strength-training idea is stretch the muscles that may be tight so that you perform an exercise as optimally as possible and reduce the risk for improper movement and injury.  For a runner like Shannon, it’s optimal to stretch certain muscles like the hamstrings and hip flexors before a hitting the treadmill or the road. Here are two links I found helpful about stretching:

We’ve only scratched the surface and I look forward to writing more about injury prevention and flexibility training , but I hope the information in this post is a good  start to proving why stretching is a crucial part of our quest to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

The Benefits of Group Exercise

Boxing? Yoga? There's a Class Out There for You!

Every Tuesday night for the past six years, unless I was sick, on vacation or on the road for work, you’d find me in the front right corner of the group exercise studio in the New York Sports Club near my office sweating it out in my favorite class of the week. “Club Strength” utilizes free weights and weight plates for a total body workout of resistance training. Add the kick-butt choreography and music selections from fitness instructor Wayne Sims, and you have all the makings for a class that gets the heart rate going and brings on the burn in all your muscle groups.  I absolutely love how I feel when I leave this class.

Of course, even Wayne has to take a vacation or sick day now and then and a substitute instructor fills in.  Unfortunately, the sub who filled in tonight just didn’t do it for me.  I’m not here to name names or bad-mouth anyone, as everyone has their own teaching style and technique. Maybe some of the other class regulars enjoyed tonight’s workout.  For me, it was simply disappointing to leave the gym without my normal Tuesday night rush.

While this let-down won’t prevent me from going back to the gym tomorrow, I realize one not-so-hot class experience can wreak havoc on your fitness goals if you’re just getting started on a workout routine.  You decide to take the plunge and join a gym, you try a class and then you simply hate it.  Well, here’s what I say about that predicament: don’t despair and don’t give up!

There are so many different classes available today that it would be hard not to find something you like. Whether it’s “old school” aerobics, spinning, boxing, core conditioning, Pilates or yoga, there really is something for everyone at every skill level. Group classes can be intense, but between the heart-pounding music and the contagious energy of your instructor and classmates, it’s a fun way to get a great workout – sometimes in less than an hour.  Enjoying all these benefits for so many years and wanting to spread the fun to others is what led me to study and become a Certified Group Exercise Instructor with the Aerobics & Fitness Assocation of America (AFAA).

Like many other activities in life, when it comes to exercise, you need to find something you like doing so you can stick with it. Participating in group exercise classes can be a great way to find your own groove on how to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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