Five MORE ways to return to exercise

How’s your return to exercise going? I’m gradually resuming my prior activity level, although I’ll admit I’m aching more than I was before I stopped working out to go on vacation. Not sure why this is going on, but I’ll hope it has to do with using muscles I had ignored, and not with getting older!

Today I’m adding to the tips in my last post with five more “do’s” and “don’ts” to consider when you return to exercise.

1. Do try something new

Trying a new sport or activity can stimulate your mind at the same time as you’re exercising your body. There are so many options available now, and many fitness or yoga studios offer thirty-day unlimited passes, just to attract newcomers and give you the chance to try different offerings. For example, even though I’m terrible at yoga, last summer I tried a “yin yoga” class that focused on slow, meditative holds of floor poses. It was so relaxing that one day I fell asleep in the middle of class! Other people return to exercise with music and fun in a dance class like Zumba, or they challenge themselves with a barre workout or Crossfit.

If you try a new exercise, remember that you aren’t likely to “get it” the first day. In fact, you may feel like a complete klutz. When I started spinning, I wasn’t sure I would survive the hour, but I told myself I’d keep going back for a month until I could make a better-informed decision about whether I liked it or not. Now I really like spinning and also appreciate the community of friends I have there.

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2. Do cross train

Along the same lines, be sure to mix up your workouts a bit. Don’t run every day — bike, swim, lift weights, take a fitness class. Not only will you train complementary muscle patterns, but you’ll keep from getting bored with your workout. One thing I’ve started doing recently is Pilates. I know Pilates has been around for a long time, but I’m finally getting the coaching I need to do it “right” and hopefully address some balance, strength and posture issues that tend to affect women as they grow older. For me, Pilates complements my cardio and tennis activities, so it keeps my workouts varied and fun.

 3. Do consider buying an electronic fitness tracker

Recent news of the Apple watch announced a sleek “wearable” that will sync with your iPhone and tracks heart rate, activity type and level, plus alert you to incoming texts and emails, calls, etc. Starting at $349 and available in early 2015, the Apple Watch promises to do lots of things well. You can learn all about it on apple.com, and they even created a video describing the watch’s fitness and health monitoring features.

If you don’t want to wait and/or want something cheaper, you’ll find numerous alternatives. Look at the Pebble smart watch, Nike Fuelband SE, or Fitbit — they’re market leaders among devices that track calories burned, steps taken, sleep patterns and more. Some of them focus on fitness and health, and some (like Pebble’s wearable or the Apple watch) do much more. There are even cheaper options in the form of apps for smartphones — check out Map My Run and competitors.

The point is that using a device or app not only helps you measure your progress, but it can increase the “fun factor” for people who like technology. I used a Nike Fuelband for nearly a year (see this post). For me, it offered a constant reminder to incorporate exercise into my day.

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Tory Burch bracelet for Fitbit

4. Do exercise for a good cause

Another way to engage in fitness, social interaction and philanthropy at the same time is to sign up with a charity walk, run, bike ride, danceathon, you name it. You can join a local Team in Training to train for an endurance sports event like running, hiking, cycling or a triathlon — while also raising money to beat cancer. You can walk/run/bike/etc. to fight Alzheimers, juvenile diabetes, breast cancer, AIDS and many other worthy causes. A web search, your local news and sports stores can help you identify ways to get involved in your own area.

5. Don’t give up

Despite all efforts to find a fitness routine that works with your ongoing life commitments, even if you can mix it up and keep it fun, there will still be times when working out seems like a chore. We all have good days and bad days, and we need to be patient with ourselves. At low points I’ve gotten discouraged about my tennis game, even considered whether I should quit the sport. Or I’ve compared myself to someone in yoga class who is more flexible and coordinated than I believe I ever could be. But seriously, self-criticisms like these are too harsh.

Like anything else, fitness is a journey. We all move along our own paths, at our own paces. The main thing to remember is: keep traveling, and enjoy the trip.

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Image credits: Anton Stetner, ToryBurch.com, Arya Ziai

How to start exercising again

Why is it so hard to start exercising again? I took off two weeks in August, and resuming my fitness routine has made September tiring, as well as frustrating. It’s not that I work out super hard anyway. But this month I feel stiff and sore, fat and out of shape. Spin class and tennis practice — things that I generally enjoy doing — have challenged me just to complete the workouts. So I’ve been reviewing my own tips for how to start exercising after a break — whether that break is a week or several years long. Here are some “do’s” and “don’ts.”

1. DO make a realistic plan

Set exercise goals, but keep them realistic. If you haven’t worked out in six months, don’t commit to spend an hour at the gym every day. You’ll probably have trouble sticking with this plan and get discouraged early on, risking a return to your former couch potato state. DON’T set yourself up to fail! DO make a plan within your reach. If you exceed your goals, you can celebrate and then revise them upwards.

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2. DO find an activity you like

Exercise should be fun, something you look forward to. Being miserable doesn’t help you burn more calories, at least not in the long run. If you like walking, walk. If you enjoy playing a sport, by all means do that. If lifting weights to your favorite music or watching a movie while you run on a treadmill is a good break for you, go for it. The more you enjoy a physical activity, the more likely you are to make time for it.

3. DON’T go too hard at first

Coming back from a break is not the time to make up for “time lost” by pushing yourself too hard. You may feel like punishing yourself, but resist! You’ll probably overdo it and get so sore, or even injure yourself, that you’ll need to take another week off. Best to ease back in and build on your success by training a little harder each time you work out.

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Late 19th-century fitness machine and exercise clothing

4. DO buy a new exercise outfit

There’s something about a cute fitness outfit that gives me a boost. And if a new outfit can help me look forward to exercising, I consider it an acceptable use of retail therapy!

Keep in mind you want to dress appropriately for whatever activity you’re doing. In the same way you shouldn’t wear your old college t-shirt, you also want to avoid making fashion statements with edgy outfits that are best left to the twenty-somethings with perfect bodies.

If you play tennis, buy a tennis skirt with built-in shorts — toss out the old “tennis panties!” A multi-purpose staple these days is the black capri legging — you can wear it to the gym, yoga, Pilates, spinning, fitness dance and so on. As an added bonus, you’ll look chic when you stop for coffee or groceries on the way home.

5. DO get a coach or exercise buddy

Sure, it decreases your flexibility to make a workout date with a friend and/or personal trainer. But it also helps you maintain exercise as a priority in your schedule. Besides, working out with a friend makes fitness more enjoyable, and that’s also likely to help you stick with it. If you can afford a personal trainer or small-group class, this is a great way to build confidence that you’re “doing it right,” to learn proper technique and avoid injury. You also can invest in several sessions with a coach at first, and then join a larger class or develop your own fitness routine.

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Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you enjoy and look forward to doing. After all, it’s better to go for a walk with a friend than sit on your couch and “plan” your weight-lifting routines.

My next post will continue with more tips. Until then, get out and get going!

Image credits: alantankenghoeTekniska museet, pixabay

Yoga for TMJ: does it work?

TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint, or jaw pain and stiffness associated with stress, clenching and grinding the teeth — often while asleep. Over ten million US adults suffer TMJ symptoms, with women experiencing it at twice the rate of men: nearly 7% vs. 3.5%. Dentists often prescribe night guards, soft foods, hot and cold packs — which can help, but they don’t usually cure the problem. Knowing that my own TMJ was related to stress, I sought to resolve the underlying causes through yoga for TMJ.

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Workshop on Yoga for TMJ

Even though my track record with yoga classes is spotty, I signed up for a three-hour workshop, full of optimism that this was going to help me when other things hadn’t. Although I got lost and arrived late, I was the second-to-last person to get there, so the punctual people reserved their judgmental stares for the lady who came last. Thank goodness. I quickly realized I wasn’t the only stressed-out person in the room.

Our instructor was a yogi and an experienced cranio-sacral practitioner. She was about my age and had two little buns near the front of her curly hair, perhaps to contain the longer part of her bangs? Her hair also had streaks of pink and of blue, plus a hairband to keep it off her face. She used a colorful plastic teaching model of the skull to explain what goes on when our jaw starts to tense up. The bright colors on the skull ostensibly differentiated the various bones, but I thought it added a cheery note to what otherwise was a sober topic.

The only downside was when our instructor dropped her visual aid, and it fell apart. She became distracted and un-zen-like as she tried to fit the pieces back together.

 

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Yoga for TMJ: the lion face

“Okay, before we do anything, give me a little lion face,” our instructor said. The Lion Face pose involves dropping your jaw and sticking out your tongue. It’s often accompanied by rolling back the eyes. Here’s a video that shows you how to do it. There are lots of funny lion poses out there, even a flickr group that showcases some of the best ones.

You can’t clench your jaw when you’re doing a lion face. Our teacher emphasized that we needn’t do a “major lion face,” just a “little lion face.” She would talk for a bit, then stop her lecture for us to do the lion face. She would also interject “now do a little lion face”  into the sequence of poses she led us through later.

After I told my family about the lion face, my son took to doing it at random times. We might be at the dinner table, and my husband would bring up a controversial topic. I’d look across at my youngest, and he’d cue me to relax with the stuck out tongue and rolled back eyes. So far, this has been the biggest benefit of my class on yoga for TMJ.

 

Benefits of yoga for TMJ

I learned there is a link between the skull and the pelvis, and that yoga poses to open the hips and give you more hip stability can augment the lion face and other things you do to relax the jaw itself. At the same time, I’m not sure I demonstrated the proper attitude during class. It was hard to remain in a zen state, when actually I got tired of sitting for three hours on the bare floor, not to mention my annoyance at repetitive, self-oriented and generally stupid questions asked by one of my classmates. Why is there always one person who asks dumb questions? Faking a pleasant look while she was wasting everyone else’s time was NOT helping my TMJ!

 

Yoga for TMJ: attitude is everything

There was also a section where our instructor taught self-massage, and when I questioned whether rubbing my temples so hard that my arms hurt was really what I wanted to do, she came over to me and suggested I use less pressure. She placed her fingers on the sides of my head and asked me if I felt that.  “Sure,” I replied. “It feels like you have your fingers on my temples.” It did. But others had expressed amazement when she did it to them, so my comments weren’t appreciated. It was as if someone had said, “The emperor has no clothes.” Clearly, the subject of yoga for TMJ needed to be treated with more reverence than I offered.

Owing in part to bad attitude, I’m not benefiting from yoga for TMJ as much as I could. But at least the class was fun and provided some good stories. Bottom line: I think yoga can reduce TMJ, whether through specific asanas or general improvement in the ability to deal with stress. I’m just not there yet personally.

In the meantime, though, join me in a little lion face.

 

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Image credits: Amazon/Wellden, Damn Good Yoga, Anne Rosales

 

 

 

A non-cyclist’s guide to spinning, part 1

In a previous post, I talked about going to spin class after trying (and failing) to find easier ways to stay in shape while tennis elbow prevents me from playing my favorite sport. It’s true, spinning produces endorphins, those amazing neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals that decrease sensations of pain and increase feelings of well-being, often referred to as the “runner’s high.”

But it’s not just the endorphins that keep me coming back to spin class. There are a number of other reasons spinning works for me.

Spinning burns serious amounts of calories

Since I don’t run  (bad knees), there’s no other exercise I do that provides me a comparable workout. I love the fact that, on days when I go to spin class, I don’t worry about having dessert or an extra glass of wine — I earned it!

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Spinning doesn’t require a ton of physical coordination

Yes, there are fine points of weight distribution and balance, but face it: you’re pedaling a stationary bike. You can’t fall over, can’t run into a tree or a ditch. You fix your feet to the pedals with clips on your bike shoes, or by putting your toes into cages that hold them in place — you’re not going anywhere. So much less embarrassing than having to lunge and kick and spin, all on the count of four that repeats before you figure out how to do it properly.

There’s a spin class at Uforia in Palo Alto called Revolutions that incorporates dance moves to give a full-body workout while riding the bike. You lift some weights and do pushups on the handlebars. Some people prefer it or find it more efficient and/or fun, I suppose. For me, however, dancing on a stationery bike is not spinning.

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Aerobics fever: move over, Jane Fonda!

Redoubling my efforts to find a way to stay in shape while tennis elbow issues are keeping me off the court, I checked out an aerobics class at a fitness studio called Uforia that opened two years ago in a historic building formerly belonging to the AME Zion Church. It’s pretty cool to be working out and glance up to see stained glass windows.

The class was called “fever,” billed as “a fun and athletic aerobics inspired class.” Supposedly it would be “45 minutes of heart pounding, sweat pouring and smile inducing fun,” and no prior dance or fitness training was required, just a readiness to come and move. The description also added that “Jane Fonda won’t know what hit her.”

Aerobics fashion: check

Great, I was there. I showed up early, attired in black Nike capris and a racerback tank — clothes I thought would help me blend in, fashion-wise. I didn’t want to stand out as dorky, or edgy. As others arrived, I decided my clothing choice had been good, but if I continued with this class, I would definitely need to upgrade my shoes.

 

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Aerobics moves: not so much

Our instructor connected her iPod to the speaker system and put on her cordless mic. After a bit of stretching and warm-up, we plunged into the moves. “Lunge right, feet together, lunge left, feet together. Now forward, two three four, back, two three four. Grapevine right, two three four. Left, two three four. Add a twist, two three four. Left, two three four.”

She shouted over the pulsing beat, pointing right and left to help us stay in step. By the end of the first song, I was back in the aerobics class I used to do in a converted store at the mall during evenings between my sophomore and junior years in college. For me, it was 1982. Jane Fonda had just released her first Workout video:

How ’bout those high-cut leotards? Hopefully they won’t come back, the way some fashions do. I was reminded of being on college tours with my daughter. When we visited my own school, our student tour guide was energized to hear I had lived in the residential college that enjoyed some small fame for an Austin Powers-style party. “Essentially, it mocks the ’80’s — it’s become quite the tradition, I’m sure you remember it.”

I had to remind him that actually, I was in college during the ’80’s, so it would technically be my generation that the party would be mocking. No problem.

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