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What happened when I cycled to work

Now that the weather is warming up (with small bursts of snow-filled fury), I decided to pull my bike out of the cobwebs of storage and starting cycling to work.

The first step was to plan a safe bike route so that I would have as little interaction with vehicles on the road as possible. Luckily, I found a cyclist’s dream: a nice cruise along the waterfront trail and then north on Sherbourne to Bloor. The route is about 20 km and would take me about 40 minutes each way. Sherbourne has a well-placed bike path and it appeared to be the perfect journey.

I checked over the tires and brakes before setting off and made sure to wear spring appropriate weather gear. I wore harem pants, and a tank — what I hoped would be appropriate for work and comfortable enough for my commute. I started my ride and all seemed well. The waterfront trail was relaxing and not as packed with bikes as it always is in the summer. This route is quite flat and, besides a windy portion at Ontario Place, it is a nice ride into downtown. It also feels satisfying cruising past all of the vehicles stuck in traffic on lakeshore while taking the environmentally-friendly and healthier commute option.

All was well until I reached Sherbourne St. The bike path itself is well-engineered and cyclists can only travel one direction on either side of the road. This limits collisions with other cyclists. The lifted curb keeps motorists from entering the bike lane and cyclists are safer. I believe lifted curbs on bike lanes are a must-have and a relatively inexpensive solution to sharing the road.

Going up Sherbourne, the treats I had consumed in my winter hibernation caught up with me. I began huffing and puffing as I slowly ascended the street and my legs began to ache. Soon, I was in fiery pain and I decided to disembark at Carlton St. I walked my bike for a few blocks, shamefully hanging my head as other cyclists whizzed by as if they were going for a casual uphill stroll. I rode on to my destination after a break and was proud I had succeeded, even if it was a struggle.

On my ride back, I rode downhill as if cruising on a cloud. It was almost worth the struggle on the ascent, although my aching knees would disagree. Then the weather hit and it began to snow when I got to the waterfront. The wind nearly blew me off my bike and I slowly made it across downtown to my destination. My spring gear was not sufficient for this change in the weather.

Though my first journey to work on my bike had its tribulations and moments of difficulty, I look forward to continuing my cycling adventures. A few tips from my first day: always stretch prior to biking a long distance and bring weather protectant clothing in case of a spring blizzard. Eventually, I hope the huffing and puffing will stop and I will cycle blissfully to and from the office.

Put away your child’s electronics for spring break

As Spring Break begins, many kids will be at home looking for fun things to do. Unfortunately, this also means many children will be spending their days on the computer or watching TV.

Watching children play together is becoming mildly terrifying. The imaginative games of my childhood seem to be replaced with bonding over video games. Teenagers are glued to their phones, often preferring to text or snapchat instead of going out to the mall with friends. This lack of real life interaction is causing more depression in teens and less connectivity between families. This is dangerous for our society.

Because children are often on electronics, their face-to-face interactions with other kids and adults are reportedly decreasing.  Many kids are also overstimulated by electronics and increased Attention Deficit Disorder is becoming prevalent in young Canadians. Parents that avoid dealing with their kids and stick them in front of the leap pad are enriching the addiction causing exercise rates and outdoor play to plummet.

A 2014 study by the University of California showed children with high access to electronics were unable to accurately recognize non-verbal body language as effectively as children with more limited use of technology. The research compared a group of 51 children that were at a summer camp for five days without technology to a control group of children that had access to technology during the same time. Both groups were tested at the conclusion of the camp and the study concluded that children who had no access to technology for the week were able to recognize body language cues 50 per cent better than children in the control group.

Children in North America over the age of eight spend over seven and a half hours a day looking at a screen. The study also reported teenagers ages 12 to 17 use phones to text message more than face-to-face socializing.

Overstimulation is also becoming more prevalent in kids and youth, according to a study put out by the public school board of British Columbia, with one in 20 children suffering from Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Over-stimulation to technology in infants can cause SPD and often leads to ADHD, as well as anxiety due to interrupted development of processing abilities in the prefrontal cortex at a young age.

A report card released in 2015 by the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Health Institute calculates startling statistics concerning children and physical exercise in Canada. Seventy per cent of children ages three to four are getting the recommended 180 minutes of daily activity compared to children ages five to 11, with only 14 per cent of children getting 60 minutes of daily exercise. Only five per cent of teenagers ages 12 to 17 meet the guidelines.

This spring break, get your kids outside to play and have fun! By putting the electronics away and inspiring children and youth to play outside, you can kickstart a better lifestyle that involves less technology. A few ideas include going on a hike as family, playing a game of basketball, or going for a bike ride. I challenge you to actually bond with your family — even if it seems forced to begin with — just to see how your child reacts to the non-screen-related activities. Putting away the computer for a week may just be what you all need!

Essential gear for a great workout

With spring hopefully on its way, working out at the gym is a good way to wake the body up and prepare for the summer season. Here are some essential items needed to ensure that your workout is a success.

Sports bra

1.Supportive Sports Bra

A supportive sports bra is a must when you are working out in the gym. It is important to keep the ladies in check, and a quality sports bra increases comfort while exercising. When buying, avoid compression sports bras. They flatten the tissues in the breast and can cause pain during a work-out. They also provide little support for the breasts and decrease elasticity. Instead, look for a sports bra with cups and additional side panels for support. Adjustable straps help to customize the sports bra to each individual, and reduce bounce as well. Supportive sports bras start at $40, and are an affordable purchase for a better work-out.

By Dirk Knight
By Dirk Knight

2. Light-weight runners

Have you ever experienced being at the gym and suddenly you hear somebody stomping on the treadmill like they are a herd of angry horses? That is because they do not have a light-weight runners. Heavy shoes make a work-out more difficult especially in the cardio portion of a work-out routine. Having a more aerodynamic shoe can help increase performance at the gym. The Nike Air Zeus Pegasus 32 is a good example of a 2016 light-weight running shoe and runs at $110. Of course, other comparable options are available.

water bottle

5.BPA-free Water Bottle

A BPA-free water bottle is vital for a workout, enhancing performance and avoiding dehydration. Every 2 per cent of body weight lost in fluid decreases athletic performance by 25 per cent according to Human Kinetics. Drinking water will allow you  a more fulfilling exercise routine. Make sure your water bottle is BPA-free. Add ice to cool the water for a refreshing drink during and after workout. Also include some snacks such as trail mix or a clif bar for a post-workout snack.

By Fe Ilya
By Fe Ilya

4. Earphones that stay in

Listening to music while working out will help increase motivation and keep you focused at the gym. It can be really frustrating if your earphones are constantly falling out and you have to stop your workout in order to put them back in. Instead, find some great buds that will stay in and give you the musical motivation needed to succeed. Philips Earhook headphones are a good option. The earphones hook over the ears, anchors them down and keeps them stay in place while exercising. Buying earphones with an adjustable cord helps them stay in.

By Abi Porter
By Abi Porter

5. Facial wipes for post-workout

The sweatier the better after a great workout. Yet if you have sweat dripping down your face, how can you leave the gym looking like you just ran a marathon? Facial wipes solve the problem and are also refreshing after spiking your body temperature on the treadmill. Portable facial wipes are a quick way to get rid of sweat. An additional benefit is wipes help to alleviate potential acne which can be caused by sweating profusely.

With these workout essentials, it will make your gym workout much more enjoyable. Being prepared will make your exercise routine flawless.  Furthermore, you’ll soon be on your way to fitting into that short summer dress tucked away in your closet.

How NOT to hate running: Hill Training 101

I used to avoid hills like the plague. My legs turned to rubber while gasping like a fish out of water to the summit of what could only be described as Mount Everest II. It was far from an enjoyable experience but as I got used to running hills I began to appreciate what they were doing for my body. I developed stronger legs and became a stronger runner. Now, I run for the hills and enjoy it. Everest II, it turned out, was just about 600 meters long and not really that steep.

In a recent email interview with Dr. Jack Scaff, the Honolulu resident known as “The Father of Running” in Hawaii, he shared his expertise on hill training. In his book, Your First Marathon, the Last Chapter in Long Distance Running, hill training is covered extensively.

“Hill running is good strength training; however, it tends to be anaerobic,” Dr. Scaff said, “When one approaches a hill, run perpendicular to the horizon, shorten their stride and come off the backside of the hill or downhill using the same type of stride ―short steps going up the hill, the same short steps coming down, longer strides on the flat and no pounding at any time. While going up hill also remain upright and lean as little as possible into a hill. Swing your arms parallel to your body and not cross.”

He further comments, “Running downhill is a paradox since all the muscle can do is contract. As you run downhill, the muscle must relax at the same time while it is trying to contract. And of course this decreases recruitment as well as subjects the muscle to a greater potential for injury. There is another style of downhill running known as out-of-control or windmill running (which is what the arms look like) in which the individual runs downhill with terribly long strides, simply following through with longer and longer strides while going faster and faster. It’s effective but difficult to stop, dangerous and road rash is a certainty.”

More Tips:

1. How to run a hill: head up, pump your arms, lean slightly forward and run about 80% effort and jog or walk on the way down. Repeat six to 10 times.

2. Pick a hill suitable for your training. For average runners choose a hill that is about 90 seconds long.

Follow Christine on Twitter at @christineruns.

Follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.

How to fit fitness into your schedule

by Deborah Lowther

At the top of almost every parents’ priority-list is making sure their kids eat well, stay healthy, and keep active. But what about mom? We may think we are doing enough by eating healthier foods and popping a daily vitamin, but exercising is really the key to better health. Unfortunately, it is typically the first item to be dropped from our long list of things to do.

The people who are successful at fitting in fitness every week have a secret. They know the trick to squeeze exercise time into their busy schedules at work and hectic days at home with kids.

They schedule it. It’s as simple as that. The only way exercise will become a part of my day is to schedule it and make it important. Those who say they don’t have time to exercise are really saying that it is not a priority.

I was raised in an active family and have always understood the importance of a healthy lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean it has always been easy to fit in. As if work and kids are not enough, there are also the physical obstacles like a knee surgery and three pregnancies that can prevent staying active.  But you simply start again when you are able.

Once the kids were born, I became more determined to make exercise a priority in order to lose the baby weight. I decided to take up half marathons. I’d always been a casual runner, but this new goal gave me the push I needed.

My three proudest achievements are crossing the half-marathon finish line in three different cities with my husband and each of our daughters in a jogging stroller when they were just 8-months old.

I did whatever I had to in order to get in those runs. I started with a three km run/walk until I could run without stopping. I then added five minutes every weekend. Within a few months I was running for two hours and ready to try my first half marathon with our first child.

Twelve months later I had my second child and this time it was trickier to get out running as I am not a double stroller kind of gal. Determination paid off and eight months later my husband and I crossed the finish line at the Ottawa half-marathon with our second daughter.

When we had baby number three I wondered when I would ever run again. I got up early, I ran in the cold, I ran when I was tired, and I ran when I would have rather sat and had breakfast with my family. I ran to soccer games, hired babysitters, and took my babies to the local YMCA and put them in programs so I could run. Sure enough, eight months later we crossed the finish line in Quebec – with our best time yet!

Today, my daughters are five, seven, and nine and have already done their first triathlon and two family 5km runs – we are a truly an active family.

Choose something active that you enjoy and then make fitness an important item on your to do list, schedule time in your week, commit to it, do it with the family; make it your priority and it will happen!

How do you fit in exercise?

6 tips to fuel your run

by Vanessa Perrone

If your goal is to keep fit or set a new personal record, the proper pre-run nourishment can set the pace for success. Below you’ll find some fundamental fueling tips to consider before heading out to hit the pavement.

1. Fill up the tank

Expecting your body to run on empty will most likely result in sluggish performance. Instead, fueling up on the proper foods at the proper time will provide your body with energy, a sense of fullness, and sustained blood sugar over the duration of your training.

2. Think carbohydrates

As the body’s preferred source of energy, runners primarily rely on carbs to fuel their muscles. Stocking your diet with a variety of whole foods such as quinoa, rice, pasta, fruits and vegetables are key for maintaining carb stores that will supply the body with energy during long runs.

3. Timing is key 

For most, three to four hours is sufficient time for a regular meal to settle before a run. But if you plan to work up a sweat at a higher intensity, extra time might be necessary. In either case, avoid high-fat or high-protein meals pre exercise. Steer clear of fried foods, heavy meats or rich sauces, as they exit the stomach at a slower pace and can be detrimental to performance.

As your run approaches, your meal should be lighter, should consist of quickly digested carbs and of a small amount of protein — if you can stomach it.

Here are some tested pre-run snacks:

  • oatmeal
  • slice of toast and fruit preserves
  • rice cakes topped with nut butter
  • trail mix (dried fruit & nuts)
  • banana
  • piece of fruit
  • small smoothie

4. Keep it familiar

Although broadening of culinary horizons is normally encouraged, avoid any unfamiliar eats on training day. Stick to trusted foods that will provide you with energy rather than discomfort.

5. Stay hydrated

Aim to guzzle three to four glasses of water within the hours before your workout to ensure optimal hydration on the run.

6. Trial and error

Pre-exercise fuel should be tailored to individual tolerance. To find that perfect balance, you must stay attentive to your performance. Why not journal your pre-run meals along with your running log? This is a sure way to establish which foods work best for you and will help propel you towards your goal.

Follow Vanessa on Twitter at @VanPerrone.

Follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.

Should you hit the gym or work out at home?

by Nicole Duquette 

Exercise for me, like many others, is not a joyful activity, but a trying necessity. It has taken many years for my relationship with exercise to be as painless as it is now, and I still get tripped up sometimes.
After many experiences working out at gyms and at home I greatly prefer at home workouts; although, I have also seen the benefits of a formal gym environment.

The main reason I prefer working out at home is because I am not a fan of group sweating. If I am going to be huffing and puffing, sweating profusely, and contorting my face into strained grimaces it is not something other people need to witness. Another reason I like working out at home better than the gym is that it requires less effort. Given my lack of love for exercise I am not exactly willing to go out of my way to wake up early, pack a bag, and drive to the gym before starting to workout. At home, I can workout whenever I have the time or motivation. No planning required.

However, other people are one thing that can be considered an advantage of going to the gym. The gym provides a social aspect that working out at home doesn’t. Going to the gym with others is a good way to spend time with friends or to make new friends by attending classes or chatting in the dressing rooms.

I recently gave up my gym membership in favour of working out at home because I simply couldn’t justify the cost ($50 plus a month). While the cost of gym memberships is a common deterrent it is no excuse for not exercising. There is some very costly home fitness equipment out there, but it isn’t necessary. It is possible to do an effective workout at home using inexpensive equipment. Don’t have dumbbells? Try water bottles filled with water or sand – experiment to get the weight right. Don’t have a treadmill? Head outside. Already have a video gaming system? Try a fitness game. Also, look into getting a stability ball or resistance band as they are less than $20 and can amp up any workout.

One thing that is worth the cost of a gym membership is the professional fitness trainers. People who haven’t worked out much in the past would benefit greatly from talking to a professional before getting started at home. Short term personal training doesn’t cost as much as long term gym memberships. A personal trainer can develop an individualized fitness program for you, and demonstrate proper exercise techniques to avoid injury.

My running-shoe shod feet may be firmly planted shoulder-width apart at home right now, but I know one of the many benefits of gym exercise will draw me back, sometime in the future. For now, though, I will enjoy the relaxed environment of my at home gym and the privacy of my own shower.

Put a spring in your step

It seems spring has finally sprung. People are on the move, and more than eager to get back on track with outdoor activities and workout programs.

Still, many are still experiencing a touch of the winter blues. No matter how anxious, it’s not easy to switch gears from often lazy winter indoor activities and exercise routines.

No matter what your outdoor sport may be, starting slowly, rebuilding strength and endurance can save you from (or prevent) an early seasonal injury that can ruin a summer of fun and physical activity. For runners, who may have not kept up steady workouts over the winter as avidly as hoped, the progression of walking to jogging to running might be a route to consider. Remember, pre-run warm-up and post cool-down stretches to prevent injury, and to ensure a safe reentry into steady outdoor workout routines. Getting into a regular schedule, without pushing it, keeps you consistent and on track, without pushing your body too much, and can leave you wanting more…and that’s a sure sign you’re ‘back in the saddle.’

No matter how far you go, remember to take and drink water. You might feel the outing is not long enough to need it, but who knows: on a nice day, you may walk a little longer, or stop in a park. Water is always needed for strength, endurance and focus. If you love to cycle but hate the stationary bike, you may not have kept your legs as strong as they could be for riding outside. Getting back to the streets can test balance going over uneven pavement, stones and twigs. Early spring can bring a lot of rain. Wet streets are harder to stop on and can be a challenge for the best of riders at any time.

As important as anything, drivers aren’t as used to seeing as many bikers on the road and need to readjust their eyes and attitudes to the outdoor athletes of summer. Rain and wet roads are harder to navigate for them too. Some drivers don’t feel comfortable around bikers. Proper protection and rider safety is a priority.

Getting back in tune with your body is important too. Massage and reflexology are just two healthy, preparation and injury preventing approaches en route to getting back in touch with the body/mind connection.

And besides, they feel great.

Marathon running? Ever heard of Philippides?

The inspiration for the marathon was a man named Philippides.  According to Greek myth, Philippides ran from the battlefield at Marathon all the way to Athens to announce Greece’s victory over Persia. He ran roughly 26 miles as fast as his legs could carry him – an amazing athletic achievement.

No one seems to remember though what happened next to Philippides: he collapsed and died on the spot.

Training for a marathon is an increasingly popular activity these days. For a lot of folks the marathon represents the absolute pinnacle of fitness. “If I can run a marathon,” the thinking goes, “then I’ll really be in shape.” Chances are you’ll wind up in some shape, it just might not be good shape.

I think that the volume that training for a marathon requires is far too much for the majority of us and leads to unnecessary wear and tear on the joints. There’s a certain point at which the exercise that we do ceases to be beneficial and actually becomes harmful. Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize this point because exercise is promoted as being good for us; so logically more of it must be better. Not so. Exercising too much can raise levels of stress hormones causing our bodies to break down muscle and store fat. Just take a look at a marathoner. Most don’t look at all like pictures of health; they look like they’re wasting away to me.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that running can be great for fitness. But there’s a sweet spot where we can get most of the benefit while avoiding much of the harm. (It varies from individual to individual.) Perhaps running briskly for 20 minutes doesn’t gives us the same bragging rights that running a marathon does, but it might do us better at the end of the day.