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No Excuses

Woo! Yeah! That elliptical looks super exciting! TRY SOMETHING ELSE.

No excuses.  When it comes to exercise, that’s what I’m supposed to tell you, right?

Well, I would, but I know that we’re human and we’ve all got excuses when it comes to fitting in our workouts.  However, the trick to getting past those excuses is to hear them and then beat them  by using a little bit of strategy and planning.  Here are a few of the most commonly heard excuses for not exercising (some of which I may have used myself) and how to get around them.

1) Not enough time.  You work 10-hour days, you volunteer, you have a packed social life with a boyfriend, a great family, and tons of friends demanding your attention.  Oh, and we can’t forget your standing appointment with your DVR that’s recorded all of your favorite shows.  Sounds like you have a pretty full, pretty great life.  But you know what’s missing?  EXERCISE.  You manage to fit all of these other things in, but you aren’t able to squeeze in a few sweat sessions?  Grab your calendar and pencil in at least 30 to 45-minute workouts per week.  Honestly, to improve your health, that’s all it takes.  A little more if you’re trying to lose a few pounds, but if you’re already where you want to be, for less time that it takes to primp for work or happy hour, you can get your heart pumping.  And please, please, PLEASE don’t let TV be your excuse.  First of all, go ahead and say that one out loud.  It just sounds silly.  And second, if you must watch that show, why don’t you tune in while working out?  Do an at-home strength program while watching or ask the gym if they’ll turn on your show when it’s on.  You can’t be the only one obsessed with “Glee.”     

2) Not enough sleep.  Uhh, why not?  I understand that the above crazy busy life may limit your time spent snoozing, but getting enough sleep is so important!  I didn’t realize how much better I felt with more sleep until I switched jobs and stopped working 13-hour days (which is ridic, btw).  I started getting 8 or 9 hours of sleep almost every night, and my mood and my health both improved!  It takes a whole lot more to get me stressed or upset now, and I even lost a few pounds just because my body was rested enough to repair itself and do its thing.  Rachel had been telling me I needed to sleep more for the longest time, but it wasn’t until I experienced it myself that I became a true believer!  But let’s just say that you’re still struggling in the sleep department, moderate exercise will actually do nothing but wake you up! That’s the great thing about it. And if you you’re missing out on Zzz’s because you just can’t fall asleep then exercise will help with that too!  Regular activity = regular sleep schedule.  Just make sure you get your sweat on at least 3 hours before bed so you can sleep soundly.  Either way, get moving! 

3) Not feeling like you can do enough in the time that you have.  You think that that 20 minutes you have every weekday won’t do a thing, right?  Not so!  Bump up the intensity on most days, and you can really elevate your heart rate.  Try intervals in your cardio, and limit or eliminate your rest between strength sets altogether.  My favorite is treadmill intervals of 90 seconds at a steady pace with 30 second all-out sprints.  For my resistance training, I like to do supersets between my back and chest or quads and hamstrings (biggest muscle groups burn the most calories!).  You can still do a LOT in a little time.  Trust me.     

4) Not exactly loving the whole ‘working out’ thing.  You’ve tried running because it’s supposed to burn the most calories, but you ended up getting bored or a case of shin splints.  You’ve tried swimming because it’s supposed to be a great full-body workout, but you ended up doing two laps and coming up gasping for air, making you feel like an athletic failure.  You tried a cardio kick class, but the instructor was just a little too peppy for your liking, you couldn’t follow the moves fast enough, and the guy behind you really could have used some deodorant.  Whatever you tried, you hated it, and you stopped working out altogether. But why?  Why did you only try that one thing and give up on exercise entirely?  There are so many options out there!  Try a yoga-cardio fusion class if you need something a little more zen.  Get a mountain bike or a pair of hiking boots and find a trail if being in the gym is just not your idea of a good time (you can even do a little resistance training outside! Squats and pushups, anyone?).  Hire a personal trainer that fits your workout style and personality if you like being in the gym and need a push, but don’t like sharing with other people.  Whatever gets you moving, do it!  And don’t limit yourself to what you see your friends or family doing.  Find what’s right for you and start sweating!

Alright, so those are the most common excuses I’ve come across, but what others have you heard (or used yourself!)? How do you combat those excuses or the ones I’ve mentioned? Spill!      

How to Rejoin the Exercising World

So recently my friend Kira tweeted this at me: Hey, have you ever written about tips for getting back into exercise (or start) when you haven’t been doing any? And I realized that, nope! I haven’t! So let’s discuss!

Now, a little background here: Kira and I have been friends since freshman year at the University of Michigan where we were thrown together in a tiny little dorm room in Bursley Hall.  Subsequently, we also ended up in the same a cappella group and the same sorority, so we realized we were going to be in this friendship for the long haul.  Anyway, while I was very much a gym devotee, Kira was not.  Don’t get me wrong, she liked to move and be active, but I don’t think she ever felt that compulsion to go sweat for 2 hours in the campus rec center every single day (plus, having a normal relationship with food along with good genes, she probably felt she didn’t need to), which isn’t necessarily such a bad thing.  But now she does want to hit the gym a little more, and I think this is a great thing.

I want you to work hard, but I don't want you to feel like death every time you finish at the gym.

I think as a lot of us are getting older (read: we’re actual adults with lives that don’t involve weekends full of beer and just a few classes to deal with), we’re realizing the importance of a regular workout routine.  And when we haven’t had one in a while — or never had one — it’s important to have a plan for getting into it.  So, here are a few guidelines for starting or getting back into regular exercise.

1) Pick something you like, or even LOVE. You all know that there are certain fitness philosophies I subscribe to, and one is that you need to sweat, and the other is that you need to do strength AND cardio.  But with all of the options out there now, there are plenty of enjoyable and creative ways to do all of these things.  Hate running?  Don’t do it! If something is more painful than enjoyable for you, then you’re going to do it approximately twice and give up on exercise altogether. So try out a lot of things, and figure out which one gets you huffing and puffing with a smile on your face!  If you detest pounding the pavement, then try a dance class or hit the pool.  Can’t stand the weight machines at the gym?  Then hire a trainer who will make it fun (or at least distract you by chatting with you while they make you squat) or take a class in which you will tell the instructor you are a newbie or just restarting a program, and plunk yourself down in the front row so that he or she can keep an eye on your form.  Whatever gets you moving and fits the three requirements (sweating, cardio, and strength) is an awesome place to start!

2) Ease your way into it. As much as you want to dive right into a 5-day-a week routine, DON’T.  I’m not saying don’t try to be active as much as you can, but think about your current level of fitness.  How long has it been since you exercised last?  What were you doing before, if anything? How does your body respond to change?  What are your goals? Is your body ready for intense workouts?  If it’s been years since you’ve exercised, and you were never really that athletic before, your body probably isn’t ready for 5-mile runs Monday through Friday. Be realistic. If you aren’t, you’ll either hate what you’re doing or you’ll be incredibly sore for days or you’ll actually injure yourself and end up sidelined for a while (read: you’ll be taking another break from exercise before you even get into your routine).  Honestly, when you’re first starting out, don’t even exercise every day! (What? Is she crazy!?) Here’s an example: I recently started running again after a little summer love affair with my bike.  I know that in the past I was able to run 6 miles no problem, but now?  Not so much.  So I devised a little plan for myself to get back into running.  I only run 3 days per week (some days only 2 miles, others about 4), and do other cardio or strength on the rest of the days.  I’ll build up from this schedule.  Whenever I’ve tried to jump right back into it previously, I’ve had ankle and stress fracture issues flare up again, and I had to stop running.  As much as I might be mentally ready to do 6 milers, I know that I’m not there physically.  And that’s OK.  I will be soon, but not if I keep pushing myself on the miles and days I run and get injured again.   **NOTE: You will probably be sore after starting up again, but don’t mistake this for a pulled muscle or another injury and just stop exercising.  Learn to know the difference.

3) Take your schedule into account. I know, I know.  I should be telling you that you should always make time for exercise.  And you really should.  But I realize that when starting a new workout regimen, it can all be a little overwhelming.  Just like I don’t want you to throw your body into a new, super rigorous routine without any preparation, I don’t want you to jump into it without considering your LIFE. Maybe 90-minute boot camps every day aren’t really going to work with your 12-hour work days.  But maybe a quick half hour on the spin bike every other day and one or two days of 20-minute strength routines on your lunch hour is something you can make time for.  (Also, see #2.  Don’t throw yourself into something intense like a 90-min bootcamp that quickly!)  Get used to your beginner routine and how it works with the time you have first, and then ramp it up from there.  Baby steps are the way to go here, and I bet that once you make a little time, you find ways to make even more to keep progressing.

4) Hire a trainer. Yes, I’m a little biased because I am one, but I’ve also been a client, and I know how much this helped me.  I also know that trainers are expensive, but if you have the means, hire one for just a session or two (or longer if you really have the means!).  What you’ll learn will help you so much in creating and sticking to a plan.  They can make sure you know proper form for strength moves and they can give you tips on how to commit to a workout routine.  Plus, making an appointment with someone almost guarantees that you’ll get your exercise in for the day!

I’m sure I could go on and on about how to start or get back into working out, but I want to hear from you!  How did you get yourself (back) into a routine?  Any tips for those who have no idea where to start? Spill!

The Long Battle for Nicky: Raising Awareness for Pulmonary Hypertension

A few weeks ago, a friend and former client of mine, Kate, emailed me about an event her aunt was doing to raise awareness for Pulmonary Hypertension (PH).  She thought I might be interested in her aunt’s story, and once she told me a little more, I definitely was.  You see, Lil Battle Long and her long-time friend Nicky both decided years ago to take the diet drug fen-phen (when it was new and hot and legal).  Little did they know the kinds of complications it would cause down the line.  Both of them, later in life, were diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH).  Unfortunately, Lil lost her best friend Nicky two years ago to the illness, but she decided she would not take this loss lying down.  She is swimming the dangerous Mississippi River on September 4th to raise funds and awareness for PH, and to remember Nicky in a powerful way.  I had the chance to talk to Lil via email about her event, and here’s what she had to say: 

Lil's best friend, Nicky Roberts

HG: You’re holding an event to raise awareness and funds for Pulmonary Hypertension (PH). First things first, what exactly is PH and what causes it?

LBL: Pulmonary Hypertension is the constricting and narrowing of the blood vessels around your lungs. This makes it really hard for blood to get in the lungs to collect oxygen, making the right heart work overtime, enlarging it, and eventually leading to heart failure. It is a rare, incurable, life-threatening disease. Anyone can have it; men, women, children, any ethnic background, any age. People who have it normally don’t look sick, just like people with high blood pressure. It causes chronic fatigue, breathlessness, and dizziness and makes even the simplest tasks seem insurmountable. The chronic fatigue hit me first. I was contracting building my house and I blamed it on that.

HG: What caused it in your case and in Nicky’s?

LBL: Four friends got together one Saturday afternoon and had lunch in 1992. In the course of conversation, we started talking about our weight and how they had come out with this new drug, fen-phen. I’ve buried two of those friends and one is now on oxygen 24/7. Mine was probably caused by fen-phen, but I also inherited leaking valves. My father had a leaking mitral and tricuspid valve. I have a leaking mitral, tricuspid, and just recently found out my aortic valve is leaking too. One more to go!!! Therefore the fen-phen lawyer has dropped my case because we’ll never know whether it was inherited or self induced.

HG: How did you get the idea to swim the Mississippi River instead of hosting some other fundraising event?

LBL: I’m very limited on what type of exercise I can do. I had a horrible accident several years ago that badly injured my left ankle and it never healed right. Then in February of this year I found out I had to have total knee replacement surgery on my right knee, probably due to the way I walked because of my ankle. During my recovery, my blood pressure dropped drastically and I had to have two blood transfusions. By February, I had already been in training eight months! I had to start over.

But to answer your questions, after losing my father and my best friend within months of each other (I was holding each one’s hand when they died) I was feeling terrible myself. I contracted Lyme disease and went undiagnosed for years.  By the time I found out what was wrong (72 claims later) my brain had swelled so badly, I had blood coming out of my ears and Bells Palsy. A doctor in Mobile, AL, diagnosed me and got me in remission. I also had Lyme induced fibromyalgia, so I hurt all other. I sat in a chair and gained 100 pounds and went into congestive heart failure. It was time to see a cardiologist. She did an echocardiogram and a heart catheterization and diagnosed me with Pulmonary Hypertension.

 Then one night, two years after her death, I dreamed about Nicky for the first time. As dreams go, it was weird. She was jumping up and down on a pogo stick, repeatedly saying, “Do something, do something, do something”. I literally woke up the next morning and told my husband I was going to build a pool. I did and went on a diet and lost 21 pounds in the first month (Mostly fluid). I have now lost 52 pounds.

I installed a Badu jet in my pool and the first time I tried to swim, I lasted three pitiful minutes. Now I swim sixty minutes, non-stop. I was swimming with my best friend one day and just popped up out of the water and said I was going to swim across the Mississippi River in honor of Nicky. Nicky and I both were event planners and always trying to out do each other, so I thought this would be the best way to honor her memory. Something huge!!! I did host another benefit, the gala. We had a live and silent auction, cash bar, great band, great food, and raised $41,844.00

HG: I’m a swimmer myself, so I thought it was great that you chose swimming for your fundraiser since so many people have done bike rides, runs, and walks for their causes. How did you and are you preparing for the big swim?

LBL: For eleven months, I read everything I could get my hands on about long distance swimming. I dieted, but found out I was dieting the wrong way. I got my hands on a book by Nancy Clark called, Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, and started following it to the letter. I have built a lot of muscle mass but I’m still losing weight slowly. I was always good at the breast stroke, so that was my chosen stroke. I wore goggles, nose clip, breast stroke snorkel and breast stroke fins. Then, after my trial run, I wrote this: 

Swimming the Mighty Mississippi River

It broke my goggles; it tore my snorkel away from my mouth. My nose clip nearly drowned me because I couldn’t get enough air. In other words everything I thought had prepared me for over a year was useless. My heart was pounding I guess as hard a heart can pound. I swam in circles for fifteen minutes from being so disoriented I didn’t know up from down. That current is a powerful force to be reckoned with.

When I finally figured out what all I was doing wrong, I grabbed the boat (I was swimming with no life jacket or tether) and had to rethink everything I had learned.

First of all, you CANNOT keep your head under water and swim the river, thus the disorientation. Second, you have to spend money on a very good pair of goggles. You cannot do completely without them because my left eye where my goggles broke is almost swollen shut with sand! Third, keep your eyes on the prize, the other side! Fourth, if you ever get a little over halfway across, the current starts to help you instead of hinder you. It will begin to push toward the other side. And, most of all, fifth, stay calm! It’s hard to breathe when your heart in beating 90 miles an hour!

When I figured all of this out, I finally started getting somewhere. If I hadn’t spent that time going in circles, I probably could have made it three fourths across a very swollen river.

Next time I’ll be calmer. It didn’t help any that right before I went in the water the Cap’m and a media guest saw a four foot alligator! I really did NOT want to hear that.

When I got to the middle, I paused to look around. I absolutely could not believe that I was in the middle of that great river of ours. It gave me hope and I felt Nicky all around me. I was completely awestruck.

So now, at the eleventh hour, I am learning an entirely new technique! I have new flutter kick fins that have given me blisters on all my toes and hurt my stainless steel knee. I’m having to learn a new way of breathing, which is MOST important! It’s like starting all over again and I have only 15 days to learn it!

HG: Other than the health benefits, have you noticed any changes in yourself since committing to swim the Mighty Mississippi? That’s quite a feat!

LBL: I’ve learned when people in the past have called me hard headed, it was really true. I’ve learned that determination will get you anywhere you want to be. I’ve learned who my friends are. I’ve learned a LOT about family.

HG: How did you come up with the very catchy and clever title, ‘The Long Battle for Nicky’?

LBL: My name is Elizabeth Battle Long. I just used a play on words. After all, it is my gift to Nicky.

HG: It seems like the fundraising is going pretty well! Have you gotten a lot of support from the community and local media?

LBL: Oh my Lord!!! I live in a VERY rural area. The nearest “town” is 32 miles away, but The Delta is like no other place on earth. They take care of their own. People came from every community within 100 miles in support of this. I’ve been on TV four times. I even did a PSA. I’ve lost count of all the articles that have been written in newspapers and magazines. It’s been incredible!!! We beat the NATIONAL record for most money raised for PHA at one benefit. My original goal was $50,000 a year ago and I thought, yeah, right. But we are only $8000 away and we still haven’t had the event yet, where we’re selling t-shirts and catfish plates, while a gospel choir fills the air with music!

HG: Besides Nicky, who has been your biggest inspiration for the event? Who’s given you the most support?

LBL: The two other people sitting at the lunch table that day; Robert Chapman, who died in June of this year and Linda Oxley who is on oxygen 24/7. All of the heroes that painfully make their way to the PH meetings to see if there is any new hope for them have been a great inspiration. As for support, my Daddy Long (father in law), who is 92 years old, my sweet husband that I was only married to a year when I became ill, my friends who never doubted I would pull this off and my best friend, Alice, who was swimming with me the day I popped up in the pool and said I was going to swim the river. She never hesitated. She said,”OK, when and where?” I like that about her. I usually get asked if I’m crazy or wanting to commit suicide.

HG: Obviously your swim is in honor of Nicky, and is being held in order to inform more people about PH, but is there any other message you would like your event to convey?

LBL: I would like everyone who has a best friend to hug them on the 11th. However you can, be it by computer, telephone, or Western Union! I promise you, you never know when they won’t be there. And you’ll never understand how badly you will miss them unless you’ve been there.

HG: Can you recommend any resources for those diagnosed with PH and their families?

LBL: Yes, the best of the best, the Pulmonary Hypertension Association. When I found out I had PH and decided to do an event, I Googled, just to see if there was such a thing. They gave me support in every way. They will answer any question you have about PH. They are yet cheering me on. They also helped me get sponsorship and sent me materials to put out at the gala.

HG: Anything else you’d like to tell us about the event or about your cause?

LBL: Just that although this has been a VERY publicized fundraiser, it is VERY personal for me. After losing both my father and best friend within months of each other I went through a terrible depression. My father meant the world to me and all of a sudden I didn’t have my best friend to talk to about it. This swim started because I was mad at Nicky for leaving me. I was there for her when she was sick, but she isn’t here for me. This swim is to say goodbye and to let her know it’s all right and I’m all right to move on.

HG: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about this, Lil! Best of luck in your swim, and I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

Lil added this after answering my questions: Just found out ten minutes ago that a film crew from California is coming to do a documentary on my swim! It will also be a PSA on national television!

Are you or is someone you know suffering from PH?  Had you ever heard of PH before now?  To donate to Lil’s cause and support her in this incredible feat, head on over to http://www.firstgiving.com/lillong.

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