Wednesday, September 12, 2012
As I was writing this, an old song came to mind: ďThere is something strange, in the neighborhoodÖĒ But donít rush to call the Ghostbusters! The change isnít frightening at all. On the contrary, itís quite promising!
Our neighborhood is a typical city one. The apartment building we live in is situated right next to a busy street, so our life has a constant soundtrack of various traffic noises. A few evenings ago, the sanity-threatening symphony of car honks, roaring engines and sirens suddenly stopped. And I donít mean it stopped for a minute or two which would be normal but it had stopped for quite a while, so that the silence could reach not only our ears but our brains, as well. We rushed to the balcony to discover the source of this newly-acquired and so ear-and-mind-soothing silence. And we stared in amazement! The cars had vanished! The road was full of bicycles!
We had seen them before. People who like bikes, get organized through Facebook and go on evening rides around the city, while having fun and motivating others to use bikes at the same time. We used to see groups of 20 or 30 people. But this time, there were hundreds of them! People of all ages, mothers with toddlers in separate seats, couples, families with children, teenagers. All those people getting fitness-conscious and environment-conscious at the same time! What a nice surprise!
My girls were thrilled! They stared with eyes wide-open to the sparkling bicycle lights and the illuminating wheels in the darkness. And when my elder daughter spoke, I couldnít believe my ears: ďMom, I know what I want for my birthday: I want you and dad to buy bicycles, so we can do this together!...!!!
(Momís ear-to-ear smile glittering with pride: My children are fitness-motivated!)
Unfortunately, bikes are expensive and not affordable at the moment. But thatís probably the only bad thing I can think of. Letís see the facts on cycling:
- On a bicycle you can have your cake and eat it. Simply because a moderate half-hour commute will burn eight calories a minute, equivalent to 11kg of fat in a year! So, cycling burns an average of 480 calories per hour! Not bad for a seated activity, is it?
- An adult cyclist typically has a level of fitness equivalent to someone 10 years younger and a life expectancy two years above the average. No wonder countries with the highest levels of cycling and walking generally have the lowest obesity rates. Feel younger, look younger and actually live longer!
- On a bicycle you use a motor and you can improve its strength and efficiency - and even its working life - the more you cycle! Which motor? Your heart, of course!
- Using a bicycle means caring for our big home, the planet! Bicycle traffic in Copenhagen prevents 90,000 tons of CO2 from being emitted annually!
- You can park about 15 bicycles in the same space that one car takes. No more parking tickets!
- A bicycle can really shrink your car vehicle maintenance expenses. Maintaining a bike annually costs twenty times less than maintaining and riding a car. Oh, and rising gas prices? On a bicycle you can travel up to 1037 km on the energy equivalent to a single liter of petrol! Because you simply use up fewer watts of energy than a car consumes just to power its lighting system for the same distance.
-The bicycle is the most efficient vehicle ever devised; a human on a bicycle is more efficient (in calories expended per kilo and per kilometer) than a train, truck, airplane, boat, car, motorcycle or jet pack. In simple words, it can - theoretically, of course - take you further than any other vehicle without pit-stops!
To sum up all benefits:
Unfortunately, not all cities are cyclist-friendly, and as a result, many accidents Ė some serious ones Ė increase the risks of riding a bicycle in a city. If we add the driversí carelessness to the lack of cycling lanes Ė many drivers are not properly educated on how a cyclist should be treated on the road Ė the dangers involved rise significantly. And thatís the second bad thing I can think of, but thatís as far as it gets.
But things are changing and thatís such a promising fact. I really hope I managed to make you think about it. Even for seconds. Toy with the idea of a change in your means of transportation. Become a kid again. And enjoy the best of both worlds at the same time. If not, if you really canít imagine yourself without a car, itís ok. Just think twice the next time youíll find yourself next to a cyclist on the road. Theyíre going somewhere Ė like you do Ė but in a way which protects our planet, the home we all live in. They deserve their safety. And we all deserve chances to live better in a healthier planet, donít you think so?
For more interesting facts on bicycles, check out these sites:
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
This blog is about ďtimeĒ.
And itís about time we saw this fitness factor in its real dimensions.
And cross it off the list of excuses once and for all.
And Iím talking to you, the person who claims thereís no free time in your daily schedule for exercise. Youíre too busy with work, family, errands and you just canít find the time for a quick workout. Well, Iím sorry, your excuse is about to get self-destroyed!
Every creature on this planet is given exactly 24 hours daily. So, unless you live in a parallel universe where an ugly, torturing, time-eating monster is making your life difficult, you have the same amount of time as every other businessman, businesswoman, working parent, student, the list of busy people goes on. You need 20 minutes of your day to start a workout routine. Thatís 1.4% of your daily time. And you need to repeat it 4 times a week which is 0.8% of your weekly time! So, youíre so busy you actually canít devote less than one hundredth of your week in order to improve your health and the quality of your life? Are you trying to fool everyone around here or just yourself?
I know what youíre going to say. I donít know, I have no right to talk, Iím a stay-at-home-mom, what do I know about busy schedules? I have lots of time to kill, Iíve been ďaccusedĒ of that before. And youíre probably right. I have much more free time than you. But does this mean that you donít have any? At all?
Donít you ever watch TV? Donít you log in to Facebook or Sparkpeople? Donít you read the newsí headlines? Donít you check e-mails? Donít you ever read a book or a magazine? Donít you talk on the phone with a friend? Whether you do one or all of the above, you certainly can trade 20 minutes of these activities for a healthier, stronger and fitter version of yourself, canít you?
One of two things are happening. Either you donít like physical activity and youíre just using this answer every time the subject comes up, or you have let this false belief - that exercise needs lots of time - keep you away from all the benefits that working out has to offer. If you belong to the first category, you should research your options once again. There are unlimited ways to put exercise in your life and maybe youíll stop wanting to use the ďtime-excuseĒ if you find something that suits you.
If youíve been led to a misunderstanding about time and exercise, and youíve comfortably used it to avoid any fitness activities, itís time to reconsider.
Your excuse is not valid anymore.
You can find a new one.
Or stop needing one.
Monday, August 27, 2012
I still remember myself running in high school.
And when the pictures come back to me I feel out of breath like I felt back then. As much as no other kid in school. And I still see myself being the slowest than any other kid and crossing the finish line last after everyone else had already cooled down. When I finished high school I was particularly happy that the physical education classes were a thing of my past!
Ever since then I never tried running for exercise again. And when I had to run for a reason, it always felt awful.
Watching sports that involved running, on the other hand, has always been my absolute favorite! Track running, marathons, sprints, hurdles, relays, you name it, I love, love, love watching! But I always believed that running is only for them. For athletes!
When I joined Sparkpeople and I met some of my best Sparkfriends who were experienced runners, I realized I was wrong all this time. Running is for anyone who has legs and a healthy heart. My heart has been playing games with me ever since I was 20 years old. Thatís when those sudden, fast, heart-fluttering feelings started. But thereís nothing wrong with it. At least thatís what doctors have told me after many thorough exams for years. Itís just how my heart reacts to stress, physical or mental and itís not at all dangerous. Yet, it happens, itís frightening and it gives me another reason to be scared to run fast.
At the start of my fitness attempts while being a Sparkpeople member, I tried running on the treadmill once. It was so weird. I felt I would trip over and fall all the time! I thought it would take seconds for me to land with my face down like those funny compilation videos we watch on the internet Ė I never laugh with these by the way, I always feel sorry for them.
All of the above sum up my inner fears for running Ė for those of my Sparkfriends who were curious what Iím scared of. But this summer I was determined. I would go for my first run outside.
I hope you all runners out there wonít think Iím stupid that I chose the oddest circumstances to do so! High altitude, mountain village (either uphill or downhill Ė no straight road!) and on a humid day! Well, I needed inspirational scenery and that was the only choice I had. I put on my new HRM and I set off.
I chose downhill Ė the other way seemed scary. The beginning of the road was a bit steep so I walked to warm up and once it got a bit smoother I started running. It was late in the afternoon, the sun had begun to set behind the mountains and you could actually ďseeĒ the humidity around the sun rays escaping through the sparse clouds. It felt great! I had no music with me and all I could hear was the sounds of nature. It was just me, the mountains and their beauty. Exactly as I wanted it to be.
I ran for about 2 km. The HRM reading reached 180 at some point but I didnít feel as much out of breath as I expected to. On my way back I chose to walk.
The next day I could feel the downhill road taking its revenge on my shins. But I really didnít mind. I knew that if I had gone uphill instead, I would have been disappointed and maybe too frustrated to want to go running again.
Back to the city my options are limited to say the least. My neighborhood is not runner-friendly, I have to get two different buses to go to the closest park and all the track fields around are not open to public. But, at least Iíve got a treadmill. Itís not my favorite option but, for now, it'll do - as long as I manage not to fall! I just finished my first week of the 5K training. The plan is to finish it by November when the Athens classic marathon is scheduled and Iíd really like to take part in the 5K race of the day. I have so many things to learn and I keep reading all my friendsí race blogs trying to find all the required motivation. I have to thank you all for the feedback and the invaluable support youíre giving me.
Iím trying to discover the runner deep inside me.
And in case she doesnít exist, Iím going to have to create her!
Friday, August 24, 2012
Iím sure most of you can recall the following situation from some time in your past.
Youíve just come back from summer vacation. You had a great time! You went out, you had fun with friends or your family, and your good time involved lots of food and lots of drinks maybe. You tried some new desserts that you couldnít resist, you overindulged in your favorite ice cream flavors and of course you couldnít say ďnoĒ to one or two or more cocktails whenever you were in that beach bar. The past few days youíve started to feel your clothes becoming a little tight on you and you know you must have gained some weight. ďWell, itís just a couple of pounds,Ē you think. ďIíll get rid of them in no time.Ē And you approach your scale to prove that your estimates are right. But once you get on it, your smile disappears and panic sets in. And unfortunately, thereís nothing wrong with the scaleÖ
There are many similar incidents in my adult life timeline. And not only after summer vacation. After Christmas, after Easter, after stressful periods at work. But this summer it was different. I wanted to prove to myself that I had learned my lesson. And I was determined not to relive the above experience especially after having almost reached my goal weight. A little less than three weeks was a long time away from home and I could easily get derailed. So, I made up a strategic plan that could help me enjoy my vacation but at the same time avoid a bad ďreunionĒ with the scale!
First, I created the right mindset. Just before I leave, I joined the ďAt Goal & MaintainingĒ team. ďYouíre a maintainer now,Ē I said to myself. ďYou just canít come back and have to start all over again. What will your new teammates think of you? Is this the motivation you want to share?Ē I kept the words in my mind and moved on.
Those were my eating strategies:
- I stopped tracking completely. This is not my idea of vacation. After all, I had no internet connection where I was and actually writing down everything would be difficult.
- Healthy breakfast was a must. No matter what had happened at dinner the night before, the day had to have a healthy start. But temptations were all around. My husband and kids would enjoy various things for breakfast, from bacon and eggs to muffins and delicious pies. So, for only two mornings I allowed myself to have a big chocolate-filled croissant. Thatís the only thing I craved. No deprivation and damage kept to the minimum.
- At lunch, I followed the quartersí rule. If my plate was divided in quarters, two of them had to be vegetables, one protein and one carbs. With my fatherís organic vegetable garden, that was really easy to follow. Fresh vegetables available all the time!
- Dinner was the hardest part. We ate out with friends many times and their choices were far from healthy. But I always tried to choose the ďleast unhealthyĒ. And limit alcohol to a glass of beer or two glasses of wine.
- Snacks were always fruit, as many of them as I wanted. It helped with my sweet tooth cravings and with the occasional boredom bingeing.
- There were a few days when I just couldnít follow any plan and would eat all the wrong things. Itís ok, it happened. I never allowed myself to do that for a second day in a row. Even if I ended up doing it every other day Ė which I didnít Ė half the days would be healthy eating so my odds of maintaining would be 50-50. Well, better than zero, right?
- I continued tracking. I used the ďCardio TrainerĒ app on my phone which uses GPS and I could track my hikes in the forest.
- For cardio, I planned to use every opportunity I had. Swimming while I was close to the sea, hiking while I was in the mountains.
- For strength, I knew I wouldnít have any equipment available. So, before I left home, I created two 45-minute schedules of strength exercises based on body resistance like squats, lunges, pushups, crunches, etc. I hadnít imagined how difficult they would be at high altitude!
- I grabbed every opportunity I had for exercise. I took my kids horseback riding and I tried it, too. I went on hikes in the forest whenever I could andÖ I went for my first run (blog coming soon)!!!
Everything worked out as it should have. When I came back, my scale greeted me with the same number I had left it. Post-vacation scale crisis successfully averted!
I shared my strategies with you in order to help anyone whoís going on vacation and is nervous about ruining their weight loss journey. Some tips may work for you and some may not. But they can give you ideas for your own strategies. All these things may sound stressful to some of you, but believe me they werenít. After having been used to a certain type of healthy living for a period of time, some things just come naturally. You just have to remind yourself all the time of how far youíve come and of whatís more important to you. And I guess thatís a rule of maintenance in general. Priorities!
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
I was never the summer type. I donít like heat, I can only stand sweat if itís the product of a good workout and until recently the word swimsuit sounded like torture to my ears. Summer vacation was something I looked forward to only if it involved visiting new places, doing new things and going sightseeing. ďNewĒ was my synonym for summer vacation.
This year I visited no new places and I saw no new sights I had never seen before. My summer vacation was spent in places Iíve been many times in the past and there were actually no new things to see. Yet, I had one of the most relaxing and enjoyable vacation Iíve had in years. There were many reasons for this. One of them was that my children are no babies anymore and I didnít have to run around them all the time fearing that they would do something reckless or dangerous and they would hurt themselves. I could do ďgrown-up thingsĒ Ė thatís what my daughters call them Ė with my children and that was really fun. We actually spent lots of time lying on the beach, sun tanning, reading our books Ė at last, we can all read now! Ė listening to music, playing and having fun!
Another reason was the lack of swimsuit-season-panic! Every year I would dread the time I would have to walk on the beach wearing a swimsuit. I would spend my whole summer thinking ďCome September, I have to do something about my weight. I have to stop eating!Ē And my overwhelming feelings of disappointment would only cause me to eat more and more. This year I just had to maintain and check myself once more on whether I had actually made a lifestyle change. It seems I had! Iíll make sure to write a blog soon about my maintaining strategies.
Our vacation started by the sea. We visited a small seaside village on Evia island and stayed there for four days. What we actually did was staying on the beach all day. We just walked from the hotel room to the beach and back, nothing else! The weather was more than perfect and the Aegean sea was just calm andÖ perfect.
Thatís where we spent our days.
I tried to experiment with my camera attempting to take a picture that would look like oil painting using some settings I had read about. I donít know if I succeeded but I really like this picture. Itís like summer memories. Colorful and fading at the same time.
Thatís the view from our hotel room at dusk.
Full moon! The view of the moonlight on the sea surface was stunning! Unfortunately I didnít have an appropriate lens for that but I did my best with what I had.
Then we moved up to my favorite place in the world. My mountain village. I have never actually lived there but I spent there all my summers as a kid and a teenager.
We stayed with my parents for two weeks. We met friends, we went hiking in the forest, horse-riding and even river-fishing! Ė this one was just for fun, we didnít actually catch anything!
We also visited Meteora again. For the children it was the first time. Meteora is a combination of huge rocks located right in the middle of country land near the town of Kalambaka. On them, there is a big complex of monasteries whose building started in the 14th century. If you ever come to Greece, donít miss them!
Can you make out the huge net standing on top of the tower? This was used to take monks up and down back then!
Unfortunately, my camera battery deceived me on this day. Even though it looked full, it died when we got in the first monastery. Argh!!!
Thatís the view from above.
I wish I could live so close to nature. It was very difficult for me to leave and come back to the city. I would wake up every morning by the sound of birds at my window and the first thing I saw was this:
Itís the view from my bedroom window.
I just didnít want to leave this and go back to alarm clocks, traffic noises and tall, ugly buildings.
ButÖ all good things come to an end. The good thing is that memories stay in our hearts forever. And they become our safe harbor when things get tough. We just sail into it, let the pictures, the sounds and the smells fill our mind and we make it through everything.
I wish you all have a small, golden treasure chest in your heart filled with this summerís memories.
Thank you so much for reading.
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