SparkPeople Member and Certified Running Coach

Nancy Howard has a degree in nursing. Her mission is to help others learn the process of living a healthy lifestyle and to let them know it is never too late to start. An avid runner, Nancy has competed in more than 100 road races since 2006, including 12 half marathons and Hood to Coast Relay--the largest in North America. She has lost 80 pounds--and kept it off--since joining SparkPeople in 2005. In 2009, she achieved two amazing goals: She became a Runners Club of America Certified Running Coach and ran the Chicago Marathon. She wants to inspire the world and let everyone know you donít have to be an Olympian to run.

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16 Plank Exercises for a Stronger Core

The plank, according to many experts, is one of best exercises to help strengthen our core muscles, which are key in supporting the back and abdomen. And because there are many different variations in performing this exercise, they also help strengthen our hips and pelvic floor, as well as our shoulders, arms and upper body.

A strong core has been known to help provide better stability and better posture, as well as making us better and more efficient walkers and runners. In addition, a strong core helps us to perform everyday activities with a little more ease. The plank has also been shown to help relieve back pain. 

Posted 1/22/2018  12:00:00 AM By:   : 102 comments   272,722 views

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6 Fun-Filled Hula Hoop Exercises for Better Fitness

In 1958 WHAM-O introduced the world to a new toy after Arthur Melin and Richard Knerr observed children in Australia playing with bamboo hoops in their exercise class. Upon their return to the States, they took what they had seen and invented the plastic hoop, what we now know as the Hula Hoop. What started out as a fad in the late 1950's for kids has now turned into a fitness frenzy 53 years later. And if you don't believe swirling your hips can burn calories and tone your body, think again.

Researchers at the Exercise and Health Program at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse led by Jordan Holthusen, M.S. and John Porcari, Ph.D. conducted a study of 16 advanced to intermediate female hoopers. To their amazement, hula hooping expended similar calorie rates and raised heart rates similar to cardio kickboxing, step aerobics and boot camp classes. Although the researchers state that more studies need to be done to determine what the long-term fitness benefits to hooping will bring, one thing is for certain, when we have fun doing an activity we are more likely to participate in it. I always say something always trumps nothing, especially when it comes to exercise.

Posted 8/1/2017  12:00:00 PM By:   : 156 comments   211,174 views

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Do You Know What Your Exercise Personality Is?

Up until seven years ago when I discovered my passion for running, I, like many of you, found myself doing all that I could to meet my calories burn goal by the end of the week.  When I first began my journey to healthy living, getting on the elliptical for just 10 minutes at a time was a challenge. But over time I no longer had the motivation to get on it each morning to log-in my 60 minutes of activity. The elliptical was no longer a challenge for me. I began to despise my workouts even though I knew of the benefits. I needed something new to change up my exercise routine.

Having vowed I would never give up my quest for healthy living, I joined a gym not too far from my home. In the beginning it was so much fun. I was exposed to so many new and exciting things; everything from new cardio equipment, to weight machines, free weights, even spinning, yoga and Pilates classes. I was like a kid in a candy store. Every day allowed me the opportunity to try something new. But even with all the exposure to new things, I soon found my motivation waning after a few short months. I started viewing exercise as a punishment.

This is when  I decided to give running a try. I love being outside and I love a good challenge. I love competing against myself. Running fits all the criteria that best suits my personality which is why I believe I am still running after all these years.

Posted 6/21/2013  6:00:00 AM By:   : 68 comments   78,682 views

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6 Kettlebell Workout Routines

Just like fashion trends come and go, same can be said about workout trends. Hundreds of years ago Russian bodybuilders were using cannonball-like equipment for strength training. Little did they know then that their workouts would be turned into classes in gyms across the globe 300 years later. The reason kettlebell workouts are so popular is they provide strength training, cardio, balance and flexibility all in one short workout.

According to the American Council on Exercise, one 20-minute kettlebell workout burns up to 400 calories. This is the same calorie burn as running at a six-minute mile pace for 20 minutes! 

Posted 5/27/2013  6:00:00 AM By:   : 124 comments   594,654 views

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What is Your True Size?

I don’t know about you, but for the past several years clothes shopping has become more of a headache than the nice enjoyable activity it once was. Sadly, for me the fun is long gone and is replaced with countless hours of frustrations. There was once a time I could go into any store, pick something right off the rack, make a purchase and go home. But not today. That would be too easy.

Like a hunter searching for his prey, I head out early in the morning just as the stores are opening while I still have the energy for what I presume to be a day long mission. After trying pants after pants, hour after hour, store after store, I find myself literally worn out heading home more times than not dejected and empty handed.

While the styles and trends do count for many of my frustrations--I am not a BIG fan of the low rise trend--just finding a size has become a chore. In one store I can easily be a size 4, in another a size 6, and yet another I could wear a size 8. And let’s not even talk about online purchases without knowing beforehand my size in a store. Why is that?

Well the answer lies within a sales tactic that clothing manufacturers discreetly call vanity sizing.

Posted 5/24/2013  12:00:00 PM By:   : 797 comments   102,811 views

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8 Amazing Exercises for the TRX

If you haven't been in a gym recently you may be surprised to see trainers and fitness enthusiasts incorporating many new gadgets into their workout routines to help keep their training fresh and challenging. Having covered kettlebells, BOSU trainers and Body Bar workouts in previous Fitness Round-up blogs, now seemed an opportune time to introduce the TRX Suspension System.

Posted 5/10/2013  6:00:00 PM By:   : 75 comments   367,987 views

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10 Tips for Running with Your Dog

As a runner it's nice to have a partner to run with, regardless if that partner runs on two legs or four legs. A dog can make a great running partner, not only can they help keep us motivated to run, but they can also provide us with a sense of security and companionship especially for those of us who must run in remote areas.

But before you get too eager to put a leash on your four-legged friend, there are a few tips to consider prior to taking your first step out the door with your running buddy.

1. Get medical clearance from your dog's vet

Just like we need to get medical clearance for exercise, same is true for our pets. This is especially necessary if your pet has led a fairly sedentary lifestyle. While your dog may spend hours running around the backyard, it is not quite the same as running five, three or even one mile. 

2. Know which breeds are best for running

Knowing which breeds are best suited for running can help determine if Fido is going to make a great running partner or best left hanging out in the backyard. There are certain breeds where running may actually be detrimental to your dog's well-being. Some breeds, such as the Border Collie are more prone to hip dysplasia issues which can be aggravated from running while other breeds, such as the Pug and Bulldog are more prone to respiratory and overheating issues. Runner's World has compiled a list of dog breeds and the distance each breed can safely run. But remember your dog's vet is the best source of advice as to whether your best friend can run or not.

Posted 4/19/2013  6:00:00 AM By:   : 121 comments   427,171 views

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Mastering the Art of Imperfection: How I Am Learning to Let Go of My Perfectionism

I was born a perfectionist and it is something I have fought with for the better part of my life. I believe my need to be perfect has kept me from going out and truly embracing everything that life has to offer. I have often wondered why I expected more from myself than I would ever expect from my friends and family. For me, anything short of what I deemed was perfect was like a Scarlet Letter I wore for everyone else to see.

A few months ago I was watching an interesting documentary on the masterpiece painters. They told the tales of how it took some of the painters years and years of painting and repainting a particular portrait or landscape before they felt all was just right--and even then it may not have been right for them. What surprised me was the sheer beauty of their work and yet these great painters were, many times, never satisfied as they always saw the flaws in their own work when no one else could.

That is precisely what I found true with myself-- my need to be perfect was keeping me from ever accomplishing anything I wanted out of life. I would set the bar so high that the minute I fell flat on my face I did what so many others did and that was to give up. Giving up was so much easier than forgiving myself for not being perfect and moving on.

Posted 3/22/2013  12:00:00 PM By:   : 279 comments   60,669 views

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8 Hip Flexor Stretches and Exercises for Healthy Hips

The hip flexors are the group of muscles that allow you to lift your knees toward your chest and bend forward from the hips.  What is collectively referred to as the hip flexors is actually a group of muscles that includes the iliopsoas, the thigh muscles (rectus femoris, Sartorius and tensor fasciae latae), and the inner thigh muscles (adductor longus and brevis, pectineus and gracilis).
Tight hip flexors are a common problem among those of us who spend a lot of the day sitting at a desk.  When you spend a lot of time in a seated position, the hip flexors remain in a shortened position. Over time, the shortened muscles become “tight," which leads to its own set of problems.
Tight hip flexors can result in lower back pain, hip pain and injury.  A lot of strain is put on those muscles during activities that involve sprinting and kicking.  For example, runners are more prone to hip flexor injuries because of the small, repetitive movement during running.   But even if you’re not an athlete, hip flexor injuries can occur during everyday activities (for instance, slipping and falling or running to catch a bus).  When those tight muscles are suddenly stretched beyond what they are accustomed to, you might also experience pain in the upper groin region, typically where the hip meets the pelvis.   
Simple hip-strengthening and stretching exercises can help keep these muscles from becoming tight, therefore decreasing your risk of injury and discomfort.  Try these stretches daily and incorporate a few of the strength exercises into your routine 2-3 times per week.

Posted 3/15/2013  6:00:00 AM By:   : 153 comments   2,922,468 views

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10 Tips to Stay on Track When Life Gets Tough

Last week I wrote about the trials of moving my 90 year old father-in-law from independent living, to a hospital to rehab and finally to his new home an assisted living facility not too far from where I live. It has been a roller-coaster of emotions and decisions and it can be tough to not feel as though the whole world is caving in around you. But as with every obstacle in life, when we face them head on, we usually come out stronger than we did before we were hit with them.

It's tough when you are being pulled in a million different directions and what seems like little time to get everything done. When one is working against the clock, this can only exacerbate the stress levels, which is why routine is such an important part of my life. Unfortunately, decisions have to be made and they don't always align with my schedule, but I have come up with some tips to keep me on board until I weather the storm.

Posted 5/15/2012  10:00:00 AM By:   : 102 comments   58,711 views

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The Stress of Managing Aging Parents

Two years ago I lost my mother-in-law to liver cancer. From diagnosis to her passing we had less than 8 weeks to prepare for her death. It has been a very trying two years as my husband and I have spent countless hours teaching my father-in-law to carry on without her. My in-laws had a very traditional marriage.She took care of everything in the home--laundry, cooking, bills, appointments, you name it, she did it. But her passing forced us all to change. My father-in-law had to learn to do what she had done for him for well over 65 years.

This past Easter my father-in-law fell at home and fractured his greater tuberosity-the bone at the top of your arm. The break was so severe that if I had done the same thing it would have required surgery. However, because my father-in-law takes Coumadin (often referred to as a blood thinner) and his age (90), complications from surgery far outweighed the time it will take to allow the bone to heal naturally on its own.

Let me tell you, this has taken us on a fast a furious ride. He was admitted to the hospital for a few nights before being transferred to a rehab facility late last week. The social worker we have been working with told us because of this injury and a history of two previous falls, he should not live alone. We now have to take the next step into moving him into an assisted living facility. And we are learning so much.

Posted 5/8/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 120 comments   46,239 views

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Don't Tell Me I Can't

It's often said that winning isn't what defines us, but having the courage to push ourselves past the obstacles in our life that does. And Alison Delgado will be doing just that when she participates in the 2012 Flying Pig Marathon this coming Sunday in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Alison's story is featured in the June 2012 issue of Runner's World and chronicles her amazing journey from winning the 2005 Flying Pig Marathon to overcoming a traumatic head injury she suffered in a cycling accident back in October 2010 to finding herself toeing the starting line at the event she claimed to fame just seven years earlier. This weekend Alison, along with runners from across the country, will take part in the 2012 Flying Pig Marathon, her first marathon since that eventful day just 18 month earlier.

According to the article, Alison was allowed to return to running in March of 2011 and she has not stopped since. Putting in the same effort and diligence to her training that she did when she ran her first marathon in 2005 she will go show Cincinnati and the rest of the world that obstacles do not have to take us off course in our lives.

Posted 5/1/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 71 comments   33,975 views

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Think FAST When It Comes to Stroke Awareness

In October 2008 I was watching the World Series when I suddenly noticed the left side of my face becoming numb. At first I thought it was due to a new moisturizer I started using a few weeks earlier. I did not mention anything to my husband when it started, however as bedtime loomed, I remember thinking something wasn't right. The numbness became more severe, as if I had just come home from the dentist after having Novocain injected into my gums.

As a Registered Nurse I felt I was too young to have a stroke, after all just a few short weeks earlier I was given a clean bill of health by my physician. I had even completed a 12 mile run the day before in preparation for my second half-marathon. But something didn't seem right, so I awakened my husband and off to the hospital we went. They immediately took me back and did a thorough evaluation of my status. I was asked to smile, hold my arms out in front of me and lastly I was asked to repeat a sentence that the nurse told me.

Thankfully I passed all the initial criteria. I was scheduled for a CAT Scan, MRI, as well as an overnight stay in the hospital. The next morning I received a visit from a cardiologist and neurologist. It was believed that the numbness was not caused from a stroke, but was a migraine aura, one that I have never experienced before prior to the onset of the headache. I am grateful that my healthy lifestyle is helping lower my risk of stroke, but it is not a safety net either.

Posted 4/24/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 30 comments   23,810 views

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Would You Consider Weight Loss Surgery to Lose Just 20 Pounds?

Last week I spent time in the hospital with my father-in-law after he had fallen on Easter and had to be admitted due to a fractured arm which for many of us would have required surgery but because of his age and surgical risk, his orthopedic surgeon stated that all we could do is allow time to let it heal on its own. Sitting with my father-in-law allowed me some time to catch up on some long overdue reading. While I do enjoy reading all I can about health and fitness, especially running, I do enjoy reading for pleasure as well. And as luck would have it the new addition of Glamour magazine was at my beck and call.

As I skimmed through the May issue of Glamour I was intrigued by the article titled, The Shocking New Surgery to Lose Just 25 Pounds. While many of us have heard of gastric bypass and lap-band procedures for those looking to lose a good amount of weight, I have never heard of such a surgery for those wanting/needing to lose less than 100 pounds. The POSE (Primary Obesity Surgery, Endoluminal) procedure, according to their website, is aimed at those individuals looking to lose between 20 and 70 pounds.

Posted 4/17/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 235 comments   99,012 views

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5 Common Fears of Competing in Your First Race

Later this month I will celebrate sixth anniversary of toeing the starting line of my first 5K race. Amazingly after all these years and well over 120 races under my belt, I still remember the fear I was feeling that cold March morning lining up with other runners who seemed to know exactly what they were doing. They stood behind the starting line jumping and doing some light upper body stretches as I just stood and watched, praying that I was ready to run 3.1 miles.

I spent well over eight weeks preparing for this event and yet I still felt I was not ready. I was secretly hoping the race would be canceled due to some weather event, which is not uncommon for Texas in spring, but that morning it was a nice sunny, crisp spring morning in downtown Dallas. As odd as it may seem, I still remember that day as if it were yesterday. I remember what I was wearing and more importantly how I was feeling--I was so nervous I don't remember if I even slept the night before.

Fast forward to today and I must admit I still get nervous from time to time when I make my way to starting line. To hear the race announcer call the runners to their mark, it's as though you can feel the tension build amongst the runners with each step.

Posted 4/10/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 69 comments   42,396 views

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