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Happy Heart Month!

iStock_000018172590MediumCan someone please tell me where January went?

Well, here we are on February 1st! While I have mixed emotions about turning another year older this month, there’s a special event I DO welcome with open arms: today kicks off American Heart Month. If you’re still looking for a reason to make those healthy 2013 resolutions stick, this is it. There’s simply no time like the present to take stock of how well you’re taking care of your ticker!

It’s no secret heart disease remains a serious problem here in the United States. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
  • About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year. That’s one in ever four deaths.
  • Someone in this country has a heart attack every 34 seconds. Each minute, someone dies from a heart disease-related event.
  • Heart disease doesn’t discriminate. It’s the number one cause of death for most ethnicities in the U.S.
  • Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease.

While your family history can put you at greater risk, there are lifestyle choices each of us can make to decrease our behavioral risk factors for heart disease. These include obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol  and diabetes. Guess what? Along with quitting smoking and following a healthy diet, getting exercise one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against heart disease.

I’m not saying you have to run out to a boot camp class or sign up for a half-marathon during today’s lunch break. The latest guidelines from the American Heart Association indicate we need 30 minutes of brisk activity on five days a week. If that sounds overwhelming, consider this: you can break those 30-minutes down into two 15-minute or three 10-minute sessions.

If you’ve never exercised before, it’s time to get off the couch and get moving! Schedule morning or evening walks around the neighborhood or get a fitness game for the kids’ video console. If you’re thinking of joining a gym, consider signing up with a workout buddy for support. Try group exercise classes (like Zumba®) until you find one you like so you’ll look forward to sweating it out a couple of times a week. Treat yourself to a couple of personal training sessions so you learn to navigate your way safely through a fitness routine. This is your health we’re talking about. If you don’t invest in it, who will?

If you’d like more information about ways to prevent heart disease and events going on for American Heart Month as well as year-round initiatives, here are some websites to check out:

Finally, if you’re still figuring out your wardrobe for the day, throw something red on to support the 10th annual National Wear Red Day® When it’s over, here’s to the weekend ahead and continuing our year-round plan to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Window of Opportunity

As we start a new work week filled with new opportunities, I thought I’d offer yet another motivating factor to make exercise a part of your daily routine: Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption or EPOC. If one of your fitness goals if body fat reduction, consider EPOC your new best friend.

In the simplest of terms, EPOC is the state in which the body’s metabolism is elevated after exercise. During this period of time, the body burns more calories than it did before you started your workout. (Many fitness professionals refer to this as exercise or caloric afterburn.)  Since body fat reduction involves burning more calories than you consume, isn’t it good to know that burn doesn’t stop when your total body conditioning class is over? Thanks to EPOC, the burn goes on -which makes it the perfect time to recharge with a healthy meal.

Why does the body need more oxygen after exercise? The main reason is so it can get back to its resting state which involves:
1. Replenishing energy stores (ATP and muscle glycogen)
2. Re-oxygenating the blood
3. Restoring tissue temperature
4. Restoring pre-exercise respiratory and heart rates

There is conflicting information about the duration of EPOC and whether gender factors into the time limit.  In my personal experience, my favorite group exercise instructors and personal trainers have given me an EPOC window of 90 minutes. That means I make it point to eat a healthy meal within that timeframe.  After getting the heart racing and muscles moving, why waste the chance to burn some extra calories?

I should point out EPOC in itself isn’t the sole reason for body fat reduction or weight loss, but for someone new to fitness, it’s a big boost. As your fitness level increases, so should your exercise intensity, and you will also want to consider adding variety to your routine. For example, many studies show instead of relying solely on the treadmill for your cardio workout, circuit training could be a new way to add variety and intensity to your routine, leading to greater levels of EPOC and strength.

Regardless of your fitness level, I thought it would be helpful to shed some light on why you should take advantage of your post-workout window of opportunity when it comes to re-fueling with food. It’s good to know that once you make the commitment to take care of yourself, the body possesses its own physiological phenomenons to help us have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

The Skinny on Walking

My friend Paula, the List Producer, offered up the following question for a blog topic: what IS the deal with walking anyway? To address this, I offer my personal experience along with input from Brent Brookbush, fitness guru and President of B2C Fitness, LLC; and throw in a link to an article I found particularly helpful about the subject.

These Streets Were Made for Walking!

Since moving to New York City four years ago, I can honestly say I have taken every opportunity to walk wherever and whenever I can: from home to work; work to the gym; the gym to someone else’s home – you get the picture.  I have always thought walking is better than no activity at all and it turns out, Brent agrees with me. However, he also stresses that while it can be a good starting point for beginners or those who fell off the fitness wagon and are slowly working back into a routine, it’s not going to do anything to improve actual performance. Why? Well, you’d have to walk ridiculously fast to get your heart rate up to just the first of three training zones – and how many of us can say that’s what we’re doing even as we try to pick up the pace on a walk to work?

To get some actual data to discuss the difference between running and walking, I searched the Internet and found this article by Rick Morris particularly helpful and hope you will, too. (It even includes a 1000 calorie fat-burning workout.)

So put this information together and what does it mean? While walking to work may not give you the same cardiovascular or calorie-burning benefits of a 30-minute bout on the elliptical machine or treadmill or a high-intensity 45-minute spin class, it’s still better than no movement at all.  Since I’m a big proponent of taking care of your body and your mind, if that walk to work helps you clear your head and makes you want to kick things up a notch with a run in the park or a bike ride over the weekend, then more power to you!

Remember, in the end, we all have to walk, run, ride or skip along our own path to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

A Healthy Business Trip

L-R: Tom Brown, Wheelchair Games Co-Founder; Trish LaBar, U.S. Army Veteran; Doug Beckley, U.S. Navy Veteran

I just wrapped up one of the best business trips I’ve been on in quite a while. I had the privilege of producing a satellite media tour for the Paralyzed Veterans of America and helped them promote the 31st National Veterans Wheelchair Games going on this week in Pittsburgh. It is the largest annual wheelchair sports event in the world and is co-presented by PVA and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

This year, there are more than 600 American veteran heroes with physical disabilities participating in 17 medal events including archery, power soccer, quad rugby, basketball and swimming. Each participant competes with athleticism and a true strength of spirit many of us will never achieve. I was proud to be a part of today’s media outreach efforts for the Games as I believe there will never be enough we can do for those who have sacrificed so much for the rest of us.

While the trip to Pittsburgh proved good for my spirits, it wasn’t too bad for my physical well-being either. Airports aren’t known for their healthy food options, but luckily, the JetBlue terminal at JFK offers more than burgers and pizza. I was able to find salad and even fresh strawberries for lunch.  Last night, our Pittsburgh studio liaison treated me to a fabulous dinner, where I was enjoyed sea bass with fresh spinach. (I did have one glass of Pinot Noir.)  I even managed to squeeze in 30 minutes on the elliptical, three sets of push ups (20 reps) and some core work on a yoga ball at the hotel’s fitness center.

So, for my fellow business travelers, here’s what I do to try to stay healthy on the road:

  • Pack healthy snacks. Even on overnight trips, I keep raw almonds and a couple of Fiber One bars in my bag. If I can’t eat for a while because I’m wrapped up in the project, or if the food options aren’t optimal, at least I have a satisfying snack to hold me over for a bit.
  • Pack workout gear.  If I find 30 minutes to spare, there’s no excuse not to go for a run, walk or quick workout in the hotel’s fitness center. (Breaking a good sweat feels especially good after sitting on a plane or train.)
  • Monitor portions. If meals are brought in for meetings or you’re going out for dinner, watch your portion sizes and perhaps choose to have a drink, but skip dessert or skip an appetizer and a drink but indulge in something sweet after your meal.

Pittsburgh Skyline

The key is to find what works for you. If you’re lucky enough to get a “natural high” from being involved in a project as rewarding as what I was a part of today, you’ll get the extra bonus of knowing you can be working and still have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

The Power of Walking

We’re busy people.  Between work, family and social engagements, there never seem to be enough hours in the day.  Whether your day job involves chasing your kids and running the household, sitting behind a desk, standing on your feet for hours, or catching a flight to the next meeting, sometimes the idea of working out is just too much.

Except for the kid-chasing duties, any day at West Glen Communications, Inc. can involve almost all of the above.  When I’m not putting together the lineup or filming for “Health & Home Report,” I may spend a day (or night) “in the field” with corporate clients for a video shoot followed by an edit. Or I may be at the computer writing scripts about everything from the latest Beta blocker to a survey about diapers.

So, after the multi-tasking, problem solving and brain-power depletion, am I up for going to the gym every single day? No! And I’m here to tell you – as a certified fitness professional – that it’s okay to take a day off.  There are several reasons why you should, but here are my two “favorites”:

First, your body needs recovery time. In activities like resistance training, the goal is to place enough stress on your muscle tissues to cause the changes you want. But too much stress is never a good thing, especially when it comes to your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints. Second, I know firsthand that if you’re completely exhausted and force yourself to go to the gym, chances are you won’t focus on your form and you could end up injured. Then you’ll be out of the game for more than one day.

If you can’t stand the idea of being totally inactive, here’s an idea: Slip off those work shoes, lace up the sneakers (no flip-flops, please!) and take a walk!

If you live in a city like I do where you can walk from home to work or at least part of the way, give it a try. Between the fresh air and the people watching, it never gets old. If the traffic lights cooperate, you can get a good pace going and get your heart rate up.

General health guidelines call for 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity each day. That includes walking, using the stairs, gardening and mowing the lawn.  And guess what?  Studies show performing three 10-minute bouts of exercise can have the same benefits as one 30-minute continuous exercise session.  Need some combo ideas?

The High Line: A Great Place to Walk!

Morning: Walk 10 minutes from your home to the office, or walk to a subway or bus stop that’s a little farther away. Or take a couple of laps around your child’s school after dropping her off.

Lunchtime: Instead of grabbing a salad next door, walk 10 minutes to a different place. At home? Get out in the yard.

Evening:  Enjoy those last 10 minutes on foot in your own neighborhood, and bring someone special along. If you’re stuck working late  – there’s always a staircase to climb.

Whether you’re a power athlete or just getting started on a fitness routine, taking it easy is good for the body and the soul.

In the end,  just remember to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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