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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An Amazing SparkPeople Weekend Extravaganza

Last year I had the honor of traveling to Pittsburgh to participate in the 11th Annual Just a Short Run event in a suburb just outside of the city. This SparkPeople tradition was started two years earlier when Bob (BobbyD31) and Anne (MIAMIA7) Dawson invited SparkFriends from the Pennsylvania and Ohio area to run/walk in this fabulous event which offers a 5K, 8.1 miler, half-marathon and a 30K--a distance for every runner and walker alike. It was such a success that year, the team decided to make this an annual event. This is the 3rd year now and with each passing year more and more SparkPeople members have made the pilgramage to Pittsburgh to share in a weekend of pure SparkFun!

Talking with Bob on Friday night at the dinner our magnificent SparkPeople members put together, it was evident that this has become more than just a meet-up, it has become a tradition. Growing from 12 participants in 2010 to over 60 plus members this year it is one event I will not miss. With over 13 states and 5 provinces in Canada represented, it has grown from a homegrown tradition, to one that embodies the true SparkSpirit of friendship, support and living our lives as an adventure.

Posted 4/3/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 61 comments   18,881 views

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Living My Life as an Adventure

On March 18th I had the honor and privilege to run the New York Road Runners New York City Half-Marathon along with 15,000 other runners from across the globe.  The elite field consisted of United States Olympic hopefuls, Meb Keflezighi, Desiree Davila, Kara Goucher and Dathan Ritzenhein, in addition to some of the world's best runners including New Zealand's Kim Smith, Kenya's Caroline Rotich winner of last year's NYRR NYC Half, as well as Kenya’s Peter Kirui and 2011 ING NYC Marathon winner Ethiopia’s Firehiwot Dado.

It was truly one of those life defining moments to run through Central Park, down 7th Avenue, to 42nd Street and down the West Side Highway, along the Hudson River before crossing the finish line at the South Street Seaport with thousands of spectators lining the course and cheering the runners on stride for stride.

Posted 3/27/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 30 comments   23,081 views

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5 Lessons Therapy Has Taught Me

This was a topic that I have been considering blogging about for quite some time now, but was too embarrassed as to what others would think about me. After all I spend a large portion of my day helping and advising others, so why on Earth could I not figure out how to help myself? 
The term therapy is not always welcomed with enthusiasm and open arms for many people. Many times it is equated to those whose lives are out of control. In fact I must confess when someone told me he/she was in therapy it caused me to ponder what was so horrible in that person's life to have them seek advice from someone else. Why couldn't his/her family help them out?

Well,  that all changed when I found myself in this quandary after experiencing the loss of my mother-in-law and a family issue that could not be resolved by normal conversation and intervention. Regardless of how much effort I was making, I could not change the situation. I had reached the point in my life that I needed help. Just like I need a doctor to manage my high blood pressure, I needed someone to help me manage the fears, anxieties and concerns of a situation that was truly out of my control.

When I made the appointment for my first visit I was quite nervous as to what even the therapist would think of me. I felt like I did the first time I walked into the gym when I was overweight and could barely walk on the treadmill for more than a few minutes at a time. What would people think of me? Would they think I was a messed up middle-aged lady struggling to cope with life? Would they think I was on the verge of a breakdown?

Posted 3/20/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 53 comments   23,068 views

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Maybe It's Time to Change

In a few short days I will be traveling to the Big Apple (AKA New York City) to run in the NYC Half Marathon. When I took up running six years ago I had no clue where this journey would take me. It was and has always been a dream of mine to run the streets of New York City. And I am truly blessed to have this opportunity to lace up my running shoes, sport my running attire and fulfill my dream of running around  Central Park, down 7th Avenue, pass Times Square, then along the West Side Highway until I reach the finish line at the South Street Seaport.

In my two years of destination runs, this will be the first run that I will be running without my fellow SparkRunners. When this journey of destination runs began in New Orleans in February 2010 with over twenty SparkPeople members, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the incredible opportunity this would give me. To have the honor to meet other SparkPeople runners from across the country--from Seattle, to Chicago, to Pittsburgh, to Portland, to San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, even Victoria, British Columbia, is truly a blessing. This will be the first time in a very long time I will be lining up on the start line without my fellow runners to meet me at the finish line.  

In preparation for my training runs,  I asked my fellow runners to share with me their favorite running tunes so that I could make a play list to train with. While I will not be racing with music in New York, I do find training with music helps me get past the tough times when I just don't have it in me to take on that hill or that next mile.

Posted 3/13/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 67 comments   26,423 views

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Is Weight Loss Contagious?

When you hear the word contagious does this conjure up thoughts of illnesses such as the flu or strep throat? You know the diseases that are spread by bodily contact with those around you. BUT have you ever thought your weight may also be associated with those we relate to on a daily basis whether in person or via a social network site such as SparkPeople.

In a study published in the July 2007 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers noted that the friends we associate with, whether far away or those who live close by, have a huge influence on our weight. The study reported that there was a 57 percent chance of one becoming obese if one of the friends became obese. This rate rose to a whopping 71 percent if the friend was of the same gender, regardless of where that friend lived-- whether she/he lived across the country or right next door.

Posted 3/6/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 39 comments   27,881 views

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Finding Your Perfect Size

Having spent many years hating the thought of going into a mall only to scour the racks for hours in quest of the perfect outfit, I just knew once I lost the weight I would join the ranks of those loving to spend a Saturday afternoon with their girlfriends taking in some nice retail therapy. However, that has not been quite the case.

One of the most frustrating aspects to shopping for me is going into a store and having no clue what size I wear. Because there is no standard size for clothing, I literally have to take two or three different sizes into the fitting room with me to try on. I can wear anything from a size 4 to a size 10 and in some cases a 12. There was once a time that I knew my size, but that is not the case anymore. It all comes down to trial and error. This includes every article of clothing from my running gear to casual wear to evening wear. It has become such a chore to go shopping that once I find the so-called 'perfect' pair of jeans I buy in bulk just so that I can avoid the trials of having to try on hundreds of different styles to find yet again the 'perfect' pair.

Posted 2/28/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 86 comments   20,536 views

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You Have a Purpose in This World

You may be asking yourself what my journey of finding one hundred dollars has to do with your own journey to becoming the healthy individual you are meant to be. But I do believe there are lessons to be learned in any situation we find ourselves in and this is my story.

As with any journey we embark on, it always has a starting point. Sometimes it is a journey that we plan for and sometimes it is one that just happens to us spontaneously. But regardless as to how your own journey began, whether you embarked on it for health reasons or just plain tiredness of being overweight and unfit, no one is guaranteed a ride without obstacles.

First, I would like to give you a little background on my journey to $100. It all began on a hot August summer morning back in 2007. I had gone out for a run with my running coach and fellow runners when I saw a tarnished penny in the road. Never being one to walk, or for that matter, run away from any coins, I quickly backtracked to where the small penny was, picked it up and put it in my pocket. Everyone, including my coach laughed at me as I raced to catch up with them. But in my defense, I told them I was going to go home, put that penny in a jar and see how long it would take me to reach $100. I was going to show them that every coin no matter how big or how small matters . From that point on every coin that I found on my life's journey found its rightful place right  alongside my very first coin.

It took quite a while for my jar of coins to show some substance, but over time I slowly filled up one jar before I had to move up to the next size just three short years later. Each coin had a purpose, just like each one of us has a purpose in life. Each coin, each bill that I found has value, jus like each of us has value. Each of us has a purpose. It does not matter your size or weight you are today or in the future, just know that you matter--you have value.

On Sunday, February 19th I was about a third of the way into my 10 mile run, when I reached a pinnacle in my journey that started over 4 1/2 years earlier. I knew that I was getting close even before I took my first step that day, but I never went out for a run expecting that today would be the day. I would accept whatever came my way. This day was unlike many of my other running days. I generally do not run on Sundays, but because of the rain the day before I had to run my long run that day. Ironically of all days, I chose to run down a road that I have never gone down before. I am not too sure why I chose that route, except that I was looking for a change of scenery.  It felt right. Just as I was heading out of the cul-de-sac I glanced about 10 feet in front of me, and there I spotted three pennies waiting to be picked up. These three pennies, along with the four I had found in the earlier part of my run allowed me to reach that $100 mark. 

Posted 2/21/2012  6:00:00 PM By:   : 71 comments   23,203 views

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Confession: I Still Struggle with the First 10 Minutes

"Viewing exercise as a tool for living the life you want is far more motivating than thinking of it as a means to an end." ~ Coach Nicole

If you look at my SparkPage, it is filled with quotes--quotes that I find motivating and inspiring, especially when life can be a tad too overwhelming for me to find the inspiration within myself to get up and move. These wise words allow me to connect with where I am right now in my life and apply them to where I hope to be in the future.

Having just celebrated my 7th anniversary of reclaiming a life of health and fitness, I must confess that after all these years of working out consistently at least five days a week, I still struggle with motivating myself to get up and out the door, whether that is for a run or going to the gym.

Don't get me wrong there are those days I am eager to don my running attire to head outside or to go to the gym, but when my motivation begins to wane, breaking that barrier of resistance is TOUGH. I have to remind myself that this journey is one I will need to be on for the rest of my life. Just ten minutes is all it takes--10 minutes or 600 seconds--to keep me moving in the right direction.  

A few weeks ago when I was scheduled to go out for long run of 9 miles, I was doing everything in my power to find something to keep my mind occupied and away from running. I did not feel like running, but I knew if I did not get out that day, I was going to have to run the next day when I had a lot more on my plate. I really had no excuse. It was a nice sunny Saturday afternoon with unseasonably warm temps for January. There really was no excuse I could come up with not to go, but I first had to convince my brain otherwise.

Posted 2/14/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 57 comments   23,036 views

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Gardening May Help Prevent Falls in the Elderly

For young people falling doesn't carry the same risks that it does for those twice, even three times the age of their younger counterparts. The risk of falling does increase with age. It has been reported that accidental falls are the leading cause of hospitalizations outside of illness in individuals over the age of 65.

According to a January 2003 report in the New Journal of Medicine "more than one-third of people over the age of 65 experienced at least one fall and in half such cases the falls are recurrent."

Falls carry a huge risk for the those who are older. Hip fractures, fractures of other bones and head injuries often lead to hospitalization and in some cases death. According to the National Council on Aging, falls result in over 2 million visits to the emergency room each year with 550,000 hospital admissions and sadly 18,000 deaths.

With the large number of hospital visits each year due to falling, it would seem like falling is a natural consequence to aging, but it isn't. Poor eyesight and hearing, along with poor balance and lack of physical activity as well as taking certain medications have been associated with the increase risk of falling. Factor in environmental issues, such as throw rugs and electrical cords and it is just a matter of time before one ends up in the emergency room.

Posted 1/31/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 39 comments   23,707 views

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21 Benefits of Healthy Living

I recently came across a quote that read, "Healthy living is a life sentence, you will never be pararoled or pardoned."  What I love about this quote is that healthy living is a way of living. It is not something that can be measured by a number on the scale. It is the actions we take every day that allow us to leave the diet mentality behind.

Having worked for SparkPeople for over three years now, I have seen many common concerns on the message boards. One of the most common themes is the fear that when a member starts integrating healththy habits into his/her life and the the results aren't as quick as they should be, the member is convinced something is wrong. The member is either eating too much, not exercising enough or for many, they are convinced the program does not work. For many long term dieters, like myself, we are convinced that we may have even permanently destroyed our metabolsim (which is not the case).

I am here to put the record straight that with time and patience the changes will happen, but you must utilize the tools in order to see the success. These changes can take as long as six to eight weeks to show up on the scale, but when a member doesn't get the results he/she expects to see on the scale, the fear is that they must be doing something wrong.

This journey isn't a sprint to see how quickly you can get the weight off only to go back to your unhealthy ways. I view this healthy living journey much like I do my training for an event. I can't slack on my training if I expect to reach my goal. I can't expect to go from the couch to a marathon without going through days, weeks and months of training. Just like adaptation to exercise takes time, so does weight loss.

Midway through my weight loss journey, I went through a very long nine month plateau where no matter how hard I felt I was doing everything right, that doggone number on the scale would not move. At the time I was working with a running coach/trainer who insisted that I throw the scale away. I reluctantly gave my scale away. Now I am not saying that is what YOU should do, but my coach could tell I was putting too much emphasis on the scale and not on all the changes that were happening within my body.

One of my assignments was to compile a list of changes that were happening to my body that had nothing to do with the scale. Almost five years later I still have that list and add to it as I come across the new research as to how healthy living can impact our life, even if the scale is not moving.

Posted 1/24/2012  6:00:00 PM By:   : 130 comments   159,364 views

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It Seems Size Really Does Matter

Over the past 50 years the average dinner plate has increased from 9 inches in diameter to between 11 and 12 inches. A two to three inch increase may not seem like a big deal until you understand that increasing the plate size ever so slightly allows for an extra 50% surface area to fill-up. Couple this with the greater convenience of food and it isn't surprising that our waistbands are expending right along with the size of our plates.

Portion distortion is just one of the many factors that may be responsible for the growing obesity epidemic across the globe.  With the increase in portion sizes from restaurants and fast food eateries even to the portions we serve at home, we have become a nation of gluttony.
How many of us truly knew how much we were eating prior to joining SparkPeople? It's so easy to fill up our plate and not give too much thought as to the amount of food we planned to consume. If you are like me, I am an honorary member of the Clean Plate Club. In other words I find great comfort in cleaning my plate with every meal. This is a habit I have been trying to break for some time now.

Posted 1/10/2012  6:00:00 PM By:   : 56 comments   24,425 views

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Stuck in a Rut: 3 Ways to Break Free

There is something about routine--it helps us get through life with all its twist and turns and ups and down. It's what we know. It's comforting. It's what takes the thinking process out of the equation.

But when does a routine become a rut? You know that place where you find yourself stuck in place feeling as though you are just spinning your wheels. Not moving forward, not moving backward.

I recently read  an article about change and transformation and the measures to take in order to keep us moving in the direction to complete our metamorphosis. Just like the larva cannot turn into a beautiful butterfly without going through countless changes, same is true for us. We have to keep changing in order to grow-- in order to transform ourselves into the person we are meant to be.

If we elect not to change, over time we may find ourselves stuck in a rut, the place where we lose our passion, enthusiasm and zest for life. When we find the struggle of our situation easier to deal with than trying to make the changes. While changes can lead to anxiety and uncertainty, not taking the leap can keep us stuck.  I know the daunting task that it takes to lose a lot of weight, while getting fit and healthy, BUT TRUST ME when I say the rewards for doing so can be so GREAT--we just have to have the courage to get out of our rut and our comfort zone.

Posted 1/3/2012  10:00:00 AM By:   : 26 comments   26,414 views

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Confession: I Eat the Same Thing for Breakfast Every Day

For the past six years I have eaten the same foods for breakfast almost every day of the week. These foods include Quaker Weight Control Maple Brown Sugar Oatmeal, one tablespoon chopped walnuts, half a banana (or fresh blueberries in season), four ounces of tart cherry juice (I added this to my breakfast meal in July 2009) with one, maybe two cups of black coffee. This has been my go to breakfast for so long now that I no longer have to think what I will have, I just go the pantry grab the packet of oatmeal, heat the water, add the walnuts and fruit and I am good to go.

While some may find that this is too many calories for breakfast or too many carbohydrates, as a runner, this has become my ideal breakfast as it helps fuel my long runs. The added fiber from the oatmeal and fruit along with the healthy fat from the walnuts provide me with greater satiety so that I stay fuller longer.  

We all know the importance of eating a variety of foods to ensure our bodies receive the proper nutrients to heal, recover, fight off disease and help with our energy levels. But according to studies, too much variety main be responsible for our weight gain.

There have been several studies alluding to the fact that too much variety in our food choices can actually lead to weight gain. The most recent study published earlier this summer in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that "women who ate macaroni and cheese every day for a week were taking in 100 fewer calories each day than normal by the week's end." The reason could be that the lack of variety caused the women to be less interested in the food they were eating so that they ate fewer calories.

Posted 12/27/2011  10:00:00 AM By:   : 144 comments   37,359 views

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Create Your Moment

Blogging has been a part of my job for well over three years now and while some blogs come quite easily, there are times when I struggle to come up with a topic that I think many of our readers can relate to. And as crazy as it sounds, hearing just a phrase or reading a quote can send my mind racing as to how I can relate it to my life.

That is precisely what happened a few days ago. It was a cold day here in Dallas and I had just finished a short 4 mile run when I needed something to warm me up. I went into my pantry and grabbed a package of hot chocolate. I glanced at the quote on the package and it read, "Create Your Moment." The minute I read the quote I knew this was going to be a blog, after all life is really all about moments we create every day. It's not a single event that defines who we are, but many moments strung together that will.

Posted 12/20/2011  2:00:00 PM By:   : 53 comments   17,943 views

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Coach Nancy's 6 Keys to Weight Loss Maintenance

I was one of those people who spent over half my life dieting. Depending on what was going on in my life I was either 'on' a diet or 'off' a diet. Sadly dieting was a way of life for me. But that all changed on February 9, 2005, the day I began my final journey to a healthier me. I was determined to make this a lifestyle and not just a quick means to get the weight off only to find myself back to square one in just a few short months.

I often said that losing weight was the easy part for me as I had done so a number of times in the past and had become quite the expert of famine, soon followed by feasting once I reached my weight loss destination. However when it came to keeping the weight off, that was the bigger of the two challenges and one that I failed at for well over 30 years. I used to tell my girlfriends that when it came to losing weight I was the Queen of Weight Loss, but the Joker in Weight Maintenance.

In the past once I reached my goal weight it did not take me long to return to my old ways. It was amazing how quickly I fell back so easily to my old ways. In my frustration I would throw in the towel only to vow to do it the 'right' way the next time. I may be a slow learner, but one thing I can say, I vowed to never give up my quest to conquer the diet beast. For me taking the focus off my weight and placing it on my health was the catalyst that changed my whole perspective. I had to realize that my weight alone did not determine my health or fitness, nor did it measure my self-worth. So by giving up the power the scale held over me for more than half my life I was finally able to break away from the constraints of living by a number.

Posted 11/29/2011  6:00:00 PM By:   : 61 comments   28,779 views

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