Saturday, August 27, 2011
Image from http://www.marcird.com/_blog/blog/post/Fit
I FINALLY had talked my boss into getting me a sit-stand adjustable desk station at work. I was actually trying to get them for everyone, but he said since I had been "the most vocal" about it that I would get one to test it out, and then others may get them later if there is interest. The desk arrived this week and someone else even set it up for me, so it was ready to go when I got to work on Wednesday. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. It easily raises up to stand or lowers to sit without any equipment, and I can even adjust it while I'm on a phone call. My desk was manufactured by Ergotron ( www.ergotron.com/ ), and there are a lot of options available. My adjustable work station attaches to an existing desk, but they also have work carts and arms that attach to walls. The model I have was around $500, so not too bad. Some options cost the upwards of $1,000.
I think the desk station will take some of the dread factor out of going to work. I am a very fidgety person, so sitting is hard enough as it already is. I've only worked 3 shifts since having it, but I can already tell a big difference. I have arthritis in my spine, and it affects most of my joints. Sitting is the most exacerbating activity I do to make my joints stiff and painful, and it takes several hours after leaving work to feel better. My back already feels better from not sitting for 8 hours straight. My knee is not constantly flexed, which has been an aggravating factor with my knee pain. For some bizarre reason, it's kind of difficult to be nice and helpful when you're really uncomfortable. Hopefully I will start to like my job a little more and feel a bit more compassionate if I'm not glued to a chair for 8 hours straight, being in pain.
Here is where I stand when people call screaming at me to save their pets.
Sitting all day is bad for anyone, even if we are sitting with good posture. When the trunk is flexed, circulation to and from the lower body is hindered. Ultimately, this could lead to deep vein thrombosis. Sitting upright also causes tightness in the hip flexors and can cause the pelvis to be tilted forward. This can contribute to back pain. Sitting too much can lead to overall inflammation and metabolic problems, probably because it contributes to sedentary lifestyle combined with disrupting blood and lymph circulation in the body. "Sitting disease" is coming to light and more and more workplaces are bringing in adjustable standing desk stations to increase productivity and workplace health. The website juststand.org has a lot of information about sitting versus standing and the science behind the health issues caused by sitting too much: juststand.org/tabid/674/Default.aspx .
Even schools are starting to rethink the tradition of sitting all day. We have always thought it traditional to sit all day and that it is a sign of attentiveness and discipline to do it well. Adults have a hard enough time sitting all day, yet it is expected of children. Having adjustable workstations for kids makes a ton of sense. They would be healthier mentally and physically with being able to stand. There are movements to bring standing desks to schools:
The added bonus is that I will burn more calories standing versus sitting. I used the calorie calculator at juststand.org and I will burn an additional 460 calories by standing during my 8 hour shift. I have also been doing lots of calf raises and isometric lower body exercises (like holding squat, lunge, and plie positions). I'll be building rockin' legs while saving lives! Thus far I have been standing for a majority of my shifts and taking short sitting breaks.
There are also treadmill desk options, but these usually cost at least $2,000. I had originally asked for a treadmill desk, but was shot down immediately. With the treadmill desks, you can just walk slowly all day (some of them have built-in limits of about 3 miles/hour). Treadmill desks are certainly ideal, but the expense probably puts most employers off. I have also seen people do a homemade treadmill desk by building an attachment to put on the treadmill console, however, it wouldn't really be adjustable to sit and stand.
I would like to get an adjustable station for home use, too, but since my next computer will likely be a laptop, I'll see about that. I don't sit at my desk at home unless I'm at my computer (usually Sparking!). In the meantime, I may actually just do a set up where I stand only. I can stand or fidget for hours on end, so that may be a better option for home.
And I said I loved my desk so much that I wanted to marry it...SCHWINNER! said she wanted to see pictures, so here you go:
Thursday, August 25, 2011
I bet you won't believe the real secret behind why I am having success...and why I know I will continue to have success. This windbag of a blog entry actually reflects months of introspection (Ha! More on that later...) and journaling, so pardon the length of the blog.
I am not a shy person. You can probably tell that from reading my blogs or communicating with me. Actually, I tend to be known as one of the most brash and frank people that anyone knows. I am, however, an introvert. I have always been extremely sensitive to noise, lights, and crowds. If I am in a large crowd, I can feel my energy draining away. This has been viewed as an abnormality that must be fixed so I could be "normal." Even psychologists chalked up my desire for quiet as attempting to recover from trauma, and after healing for long enough, I would "come out of my shell." At some point, I would get over wanting to spend hours in my room writing stories (well, some things never change) and would become more "social." Other kids would go hang out with large groups after school, and I just wanted to go home and play my saxophone for a bit (huh, some things really don't change). However, I actually had a tight-knit group of close friends when I was a kid. I tended away from large groups, but I had play dates with others all the time. But then, just like now, I needed a lot of "me" time to recharge.
A major part of our identity stems from whether we are an introvert or an extrovert. Both terms are thrown around casually, but these deep-seated personality traits tell us a lot about who we are. Introverts get their energy from introspection, quiet, and solitude. Extroverts are energized by being around people and feed off the energy of others. Introverts tend to get their energy sapped by being around large groups. People tend to confuse introversion with shyness, loneliness, or disinterest. Since introverts tend to be quieter, the perception may be that an introvert is not engaged in a situation or is just "too bashful" to speak up. Extroverts, on the other hand, tend to talk a lot more and very actively seek social interactions. I am NOT saying that I think that extroverted people are somehow inherently toxic. Introversion and extroversion are simply personality traits that are neither good or bad in and of themselves. Whether an introvert or an extrovert, I believe it is important to know what end of the spectrum we fall on so we can better understand how we think and what we need to nurture ourselves. Namely, it's about not trying to force ourselves into being something we're not.
For those familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test, I am an INFJ (Introvert-Intuitive-Feeling-Judging). I was talking to my dad about the Myers-Briggs personality types, and it turns out that he is also an INFJ. This kind of goes to show how much of our personality is probably genetic, as I was not raised by my dad. I do think that this personality type is very accurate for me (and probably fitting that only 1% of the population has this type--I always did have to be the outlier). The Myers-Briggs test is based on psychoanalyst Carl Jung's theories on personality, and is widely used to assess personality types in jobs and schools. The test measures the four traits of introversion-extroversion, intuition-sensing, thinking-feeling, and judgement-perception, and these traits are measured on a continuum. I wish I had paid more attention to my personality type sooner. I had first taken this test as a teenager, and even after getting a degree in psychology, I did not utilize this tool. No personality type is better or more desirable than the other and the test is, of course, not fool-proof, but it is known for giving insight into how we think. Over the past couple of years, I have gotten to know my personality type better (typically classified as "The Counselor"), and I have molded my life to foster my personality type.
(Image from http://poofygoo.blogspot.com/2007_05_01_ar
Is this what an introvert looks like?
We live in a noisy, busy, 24/7 country where silence is anything but golden. It can be truly challenging to be an introvert when the norm is to be highly "sociable." I have allowed people to convince me that my introversion was a deficiency that I must overcome. Over the past two years, I have truly learned to embrace my introversion and to nurture it. Does this mean I have purposely become some kind of hermit? No, not at all. I have awesome friends, I just no longer have that circle of insignificant acquaintances (mostly toxic people) buzzing around and wasting my time. I used to expend a great amount of energy attempting to be more "outgoing," but I just ended up being "fake nice." "Fake nice" really takes it out of me, so now I don't even bother. Now, if I don't have anything nice to say (or anything at all), I don't say anything--literally.
I'm not sure what it is about me that screams "partier" or "schmoozer," but people have constantly expected that I would be a lot more social than I actually am. I have been teased about being "friendless" (ironically, by toxic people who I've rejected as friends). This is probably because I am now a fairly private person and I don't talk about my life with people who I don't know well (or who I may not want to know well). When I would attempt to be more "social," I would talk about myself a lot with whomever, even though I didn't want to. Rejecting the introvert in me has had some very serious consequences throughout my life. I would go as far as to say that my major depressive episodes were triggered by failure to recognize and accept my introversion. I believe it was an interplay between having too much time around other people and allowing toxic people in my life in an attempt to be more "social" (i.e. "more normal"). Instead of giving myself the solitude to recover after trying to help people all day, on top of being at a huge university all day, I would go out with large groups of people to a bar, because that's what "normal" people do. If I told certain "friends" that I would rather stay in, either with them or by myself, for some quiet time, I would get an eye roll and a, "God, you're boring." (In retrospect, why were they my friend if I thought I was so boring?).
(Image from http://timemasternews.wordpress.com/2010/0
My work poses the biggest challenge for my introversion. I have a co-worker that sits right by the door to our office, and every time I walk into work she turns around and chirps, "HEY, HOW ARE YA?!?!?!?" in a fake uber-chipper voice that sounds like a chipmunk on meth. I want to respond with, "Let's be honest, you don't care, and I don't care about you, so let's not pretend we do, 'kay?" But a lot of people in America take silence as rudeness, and even the shallowest social interaction is better than "nothing." My current job has posed the biggest issue with trying to embrace my introversion. It seems that almost everyone I work with wants to chit-chat between phone calls (what little time exists between them), and I prefer to take advantage of whatever silent time there is to recharge. It takes everything out of me to talk to people on the phone all day trying to help them (on some days, with a real emphasis on the "trying"). Needless to say, there isn't a lot of quiet time in a call center with 10-20 extroverts in it. My co-workers think I'm bitchy, not because of what I've said to them, but because of what I don't say. It had gotten to the point where a couple of co-workers started teasing and bullying me. I talked to my "supervisor" about it, who blew me off because she is friends with both of the offenders. I went to my boss-boss, who immediately let me move to a different desk in the call center where I would not be directly between the bullies. I told him frankly that when I come to work, I am here to work and I don't really want to socialize with my co-workers. He told me I am well within my rights to blow off whomever I please, so at least I have some support from the higher-ups. Being able to have a little more "me" time at work makes my job a bit better, despite some of the organizational issues at my job.
(Image from http://neuroish.tumblr.com/)
I still get the toxic people, especially at work, trying to worm their way into my life. The best way to keep them out is to not tell them anything at all. I have built up a shameless fortress around myself, and I finally feel okay about it. I just smile because that day I may have met my mother for tea, met a friend for coffee and a walk, met another friend for a swim, and then go to kickboxing with my brother. Far from friendless or anti-social, my life is richer than ever; the toxic people just don't get to know about it. Embracing my introversion has allowed me to prioritize my time to spend it with people who truly matter to me, and that has made my social life as rich as I could ever hoped for.
It took a while for me to realize that all of the changes I have made in the past year have been thanks to getting to know my introverted self better. Accepting and nurturing my introversion has allowed me to be healthier overall--my stress is reduced, and making healthy food and exercise choices are much easier. My stress and emotional eating habits are much more easily kept at bay because I now understand how to reduce my stress levels by creating an "introvert-friendly" environment. I have stress-reduction and coping plans in place. Rather than turning to food to reduce my stress, I carve out time by myself to write, play my saxophone, exercise, or just space out. Rather than trying to turn myself into an extrovert to bring me out of my shell, I had to let the introvert out. I am able to be passionate about the things I want to be passionate about, and distance myself from the things and people who I do not care about. I have more energy now, because I allow more time to myself. I feel like I am even more caring with my friends than I was before, and am better able to be sympathetic with my callers at work. It has only been recently that I truly feel like I am really myself, and who I am meant to be. Being who I am meant to be means I can become the person I really want to become.
I think that understanding our basic personality traits of introversion and extroversion helps us to develop coping mechanisms and to ultimately understand how and why we make the choices that we do. Although it is a popular magazine and not a scientific journal, I thought this article in Psychology Today gave a pretty good overview of introversion and how to cope in a world (or at least a country) where extroversion is the norm. My dad had shown me the article, and I swear it sums me up perfectly:
If you have never taken the Myers-Briggs personality test, here is a link to a free online test:
A good link for thorough descriptions of the personality types is here (although you'd have to pay to take the Myers-Briggs on this site, so I would use the free one for the test):
As for the toxic people who still keep trying to "fix" me or for those who go as far as to bully me, maybe I should be a little more ingenuous with them:
(Image from http://dump4free.com/preview.php?ID=3538)
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
This year was the first year I have attempted to plant vegetables and some fruits. I had planted the following:
peppers (sweet bell and spicy)
beans (soybeans, Dragon's Tongue, and Calypso)
variety of herbs
I admit, I have been a relatively neglectful gardener this summer. I've gone out and done some quick and dirty weeding, but the bed is far from weed-free. Despite this, I have still had some pretty good yields, especially considering this is my first attempt at vegetable gardening. I thought veggies would be a lot more work, but I basically just planted them, then waited for the harvest!
The vegetable garden August, 2011. Those are carrots in the lower left-hand corner.
It's ridiculously easy to grow veggies in containers. Here are my tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. Watering is a breeze, too, with them all being together.
Handful of strawberries. Over the past couple of months, I've been able to pick a small handful almost every day. I have never had better tasting strawberries.
The blueberry plants (with a strawberry container and a bucket of water lilies). I had a couple of blueberries this year, but I expect that these young plants will produce more next year.
Lettuces in window boxes. I had good production May through early July when it started to get way too hot. I will start planting some again as it cools down over the next couple of weeks.
Broccoli plants next to the strawberry patch. I produced a whopping 2 broccoli florets!
Soybeans--really fresh edamame!
Dragon's Tongue bean pods.
Teeny tiny baby bell peppers.
Lil' itty-bitty baby eggplant.
Yukon Gold potatoes. I grew these in a potato growing bag. Super easy!
I look forward to next year, as I've learned a lot this year!
Monday, August 22, 2011
"Brain is worth more than brawn."
Most people picture one thing when they think of strength training: muscles. Muscles are like the engine driving the body's actions. The muscles provide the brawn to make the movement happen. But what good is the engine without the computer? Muscles don't exist in a vacuum. The nervous system is the computer that makes the movement possible, and is often forgotten in training. Since I take more of an exercise physiologist's approach to training rather than a personal trainer's approach, I focus a lot on the nervous system in developing strength training programs. Having a basic understanding of the computer driving the engine assists in getting better results from a strength training program.
In every one of my physiology courses, the nervous system was the first system covered. This is because the nervous system controls everything that we do. The strength gains during the first six months of a strength training program occur primarily because of changes in the nervous system ("neural adaptations"). Of course, all of the body systems (musculoskeletal, nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine, etc.) incur changes from exercise, but adaptations in an individual system will wax and wane during different phases of training. The major player in starting out a strength training program is the nervous system. Once the nervous system is adapted and programmed to the exercise, then other adaptations really start to come into play. The neural adaptations "prime" the body, in essence, to make other changes. Neural adaptations occur in the motor units and neuromuscular junctions, which are how the nervous system communicates with the muscles.
A motor unit is an individual motor nerve and the muscle groups to which it connects. The motor nerve originates in the brain or spinal cord and connects to the muscle fiber by a gap called a neuromuscular junction. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine is released at the neuromuscular junction when a motor unit is stimulated. Acetylcholine then stimulates muscle contraction. This short, short version explains the very basics of how the central nervous system communicates with the muscles.
Scanning eletromicrograph of neuromuscular junctions. Image from http://accessmedicine.net/
Diagram of a motor unit. Image from http://skinnybulkup.com/neural-adaptations
Diagram of neuromuscular junctions. Image from http://www.nvo.com/jin/scrapbookanatomy/vi
Diagram of acetylcholine being released at a neuromuscular junction after motor unit is stimulated. Image from http://www.als-mda.org/publications/als/al
In order to develop power in the muscles, the motor units must be highly stimulated through training. As I mentioned, most of the strength gains occurring during the first six months of a strength training program come from neural adaptations. The strength gains are a result of motor unit recruitment and synchronization. Large muscles, such of those in the legs, may have thousands of motor units connecting to it. Strength training synchronizes the motor units, and better synchronization means more efficient movements. When more motor units are recruited during a movement, there is better coordination and faster connections between the central nervous system and the muscles, and thus there is greater strength. While the motor units of an individual muscle are being trained with strength training, the coordination and connections between different muscles are improved as well.
While most people picture a bodybuilder when they think of someone who is very strong, it is not necessarily the case that someone with large amount of muscle mass will be incredibly strong. The nervous system must be trained in order to develop great strength. In the case of having very powerful muscles, having less is sometimes more.
Picture of Melanie Roach, Olympic weightlifter. You don't have to be big and bulky to be very strong--this is the nervous system at work. Image from http://weightlifting.teamusa.org
This bodybuilder (Betty Pariso) is probably not nearly as powerful as Melanie Roach. She also probably used steroids to look like this. Image from http://www.mensfitness.com/fitness/general
The women pictured above are undoubtedly both strong, but Melanie Roach is far more powerful than a bodybuilder. Bodybuilders focus on building up a large amount of muscle fibers by focusing on muscle hypertrophy training. Muscle hypertrophy is built by lifting 8-12 repetitions to failure, usually performing 3 or more sets per muscle group. Of course, developing muscle hypertrophy has its place, and really does build some nice muscle definition. However, power is built by focusing on explosive movements that highly engage the motor units. A power lifter trains to lift very heavy weights by lifting anywhere from 1-7 reps to failure, with several minutes of rest between the sets. The strength ultimately comes from the nervous system and developing the connections between the muscles and nerves to lift far more than one's body weight. Heavy weights recruit far more motor units than light weights, which is why it is so important to lift a truly challenging weight when strength training.
Image from http://www.squidoo.com/learningrxkennesaw?
Rather than saying brains are worth more than brawn, I would say brains make brawn. Imagery is a powerful tool in building strength because the nervous system will be more engaged during the workout. What has to happen before an action happens? It has to start in the brain, whether it is consciously pictured or not. Actively imagining the movement will create more power by engaging more motor units. When I've helped people develop a strength training program, I show them pictures of the muscles being worked so they can have a clear picture of the muscle they are working on. I also explain the opposing (antagonist) muscles so that both the positive and negative movements in an exercise can be thoroughly worked. A lot of the work in performing any exercise is consciously engaging in the exercise and not just trying to breeze through it. "Mind over matter" really can work in our favor in strength training and producing the desired results.
Beautiful image of of neuromuscular junctions in action. The pink areas are the nerve endings where they are connecting to muscle fibers, where acetylcholine is released. The bright blue strands are the nerve fibers. Image from http://jimrn.tumblr.com/post/911072132/at-
The best results from strength training come from working smarter, not harder, in a very literal sense. I will be posting blogs about specific strength training methods in the future and the training goals that different methods accomplish, but I think it helps to understand the basics of neural adaptations. The principles of neural adaptations are similar for aerobic exercise, too, and I will blog about aerobic exercise and the interplay between and aerobic and strength training at some point. Neural adaptations from exercise encompasses a huge area of study, and as it was my main focus in studying kinesiology (namely, the ultimate effects on behavior and mental health), I will probably talk about it a lot.
Now, go get "nervous" about strength training and lift some heavy weights!
"Sensation and volition, so far as they are connected with corporeal motions, are functions of the brain alone...the will operating in the brain only, by a motion begun there, and propagated along the nerves, produces the contraction of the muscles."
-Dr. William Cullen
Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (Eds.). (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. (3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Wilmore, J. H., Costill, D. L., & Kenney, W. L. (2008). Physiology of sport and exercise. (4th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and practice of strength training. (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
“Begin to see yourself as a soul with a body rather than a body with a soul.”
Today is my "official" 1 Year SparkVersary! I had joined SparkPeople in June, 2009, but wasn't very active until last year. I started exploring the site more last summer, and then on August 21st, 2010, I signed my pledge card and vowed to do my best every day. I started with very small changes, and had a goal of simply logging in every day (unfortunately, my log-in streak was broken in November, but I am now at 250-something days). I gradually became more active on SparkPeople and started making an effort to at least track my fitness minutes. Then I started tracking my food, even though I was over my calorie range on most days. Then I started to set other goals, such as getting 7 hours of sleep each day, cleaning for at least 15 minutes every day, and journaling.
Being active on SparkPeople has gone well beyond weight loss. I did start to follow the SparkDiet in January, doing my best to stay within my calorie range every day and focus on clean eating. As I started to lose some weight, I got some relief from my knee pain, and was able to up my exercise quite a bit. I am now back to a high-intensity program, and it feels great to be able to feel more fit again. My exercise program is focused around kickboxing, cycling, and weightlifting, and also includes walking, swimming, Pilates, kettlebells, yoga, and dance (bellydance and Zumba). I am trying to use my education in kinesiology to design and follow a program to build muscle and support fat loss--so far, so good.
The improvement in my quality of life since focusing on changing my life holistically has gone beyond anything I could have hoped for. I joined hoping to lose some weight. Every area of my life has improved because of SparkPeople: fitness, nutrition, finances, attitude, the people I choose to spend time with... there isn't a part of my life that has not been improved by this journey. Since pledging to be active on SparkPeople on August 21st, 2010, I have:
Lost 37 pounds.
Lost 16.5 inches total from my body.
Gained a bunch of SparkFriends!
Gotten my home loan out of default.
Better budgeting skills.
Improved cleaning and organization in my home.
Returned to kickboxing.
Picked up my saxophone again and started taking lessons.
Kicked toxic people to the curb.
Started taking active steps towards getting into a career I really want.
All of these things are at least in part thanks to being active on SparkPeople. I really did start with baby steps and built up over several months. I am so grateful to have SparkPeople in my life and to improve both my physical and mental health thanks to the resources available.
I am also SO GLAD that I have been taken measurements and pictures since starting to lose weight. I love the concrete proof of my progress. Now I wish I had "staged" some more flattering progress pics, but they are what they are, and they show the progress I've made so far. Can't wait to reflect on these after I've lost more than 100 pounds!
"Before" (taken in February 2011)
Progress pics August 2011 (approximately 35 pounds down)--those back fat rolls are shrinking, and they should be gone soon!
I want to say a giant "Thank You!" to all of my SparkFriends--I would be nowhere without your love and support! Thank you for celebrating with me today and every day! You inspire me every single day with your successes, your humor, and overcoming adversities with grace. I can't wait to continue to watch the changes we make.
"Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.
But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart's knowledge.
You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.
You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.
And it is well that you should.
The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;
and the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.
But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;
And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless."
-Khalil Gibran's "The Prophet" (On Self-Knowledge)
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