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Marathon runner beats the odds to survive car crash and run again

In the blink of an eye Leaha MacDonald’s running days were over. Instead of training for her next marathon she was lying in a hospital bed fighting for her life.

On September 16, 20ll, MacDonald was walking her bike across the street and was struck by an SUV. What came next for MacDonald was an incredible journey to not only beat the odds in surviving the collision, which threw her 50 feet, but to walk and, amazingly, run again.

On August 25 the Calgary resident will be lacing up her shoes with two friends to run the Edmonton marathon – just two years after that fateful day.  MacDonald started running again four months ago and is looking forward to participating in the marathon on Sunday. Her goal is to run it in seven hours – to complete the distance. Her best time is 4:11.

In a recent phone interview from her family home in Ontario, MacDonald and her mother, Mariann, shared with me details of her miraculous recovery and her passion for running. “I was on my way home after a work event – a team building session, and it was 4:30 pm. I was walking my bike across the street. If I didn’t wear a helmet I would have been dead. The helmet saved me,” MacDonald, with a positive, confident delivery, says. “Also, the doctors said I was in good shape, which helped.”

MacDonald was in a coma for two months. She sustained a severe brain injury and hip fractures. After three weeks in a coma doctors informed her family there was little hope of recovery and were recommending palliative care. MacDonald says: “They told my family there was only a two per cent chance of recovery and they thought I would live in a (care) home the rest of my life.”

Her mother adds, “She still has a long, long way to go yet, she is struggling with memory and problems with balance. She was paralyzed in the right leg and right arm and only started running recently. She is seeing a speech therapist and a physiotherapist. The doctors are surprised of her recovery.”

MacDonald explains, “I had to learn to breathe, eat, swallow, talk and sit again.” She spent three months in hospital in Calgary and then went home to Toronto to spend six weeks in rehab for brain injuries, which followed another six weeks at the brain injury rehab clinic. She then began to learn to walk.

She says, “Oh my God, as soon as I walked I told my physiotherapist I wanted to run.”

With six marathons and three half irons under her belt, this marathoner was determined to run again. She says, “I am a hugely stubborn person and almost two years after the accident, here I am running in my first official full marathon.”

In yesterday’s Edmonton Marathon MacDonald completed the distance in eight hours. She says via e-mail, “I thought I’d let you know that I finished today! I was super slow, 8 hours and I am very tired. But I did it!!”

Leaha MacDonald learned again to breathe, swallow, walk and will now run.  She is a symbol of perseverance and in my opinion is a true Canadian hero.

 

Change up your cardio with interval training

I saw this on a card from a gag shop: two hamsters standing in front of wheel. One hamster is saying, “First I do one hour of cardio then I do two hours of cardio then I do one hour of cardio…”. Funny, isn’t it? There’s truth to it. So many people put in time at the gym working up a sweat, eyes glued to the calorie counter, desperately hoping that their hour of cardio is over sooner rather than later.

In the first column I wrote for Women’s Post, I put forth the idea that doing more weight training and less cardio would help women reach their typical goals (fat loss) quicker and reduce stress on their bodies comparatively. Despite favouring weight training, I still think that it’s important to train your heart. However, I think that you can do it in far less time than the typical hour of low-intensity cardio and you can do in a way that gives you a hormonal boost which will trigger fat loss.

What I’m hinting at here is interval or “burst” training. It takes no time at all to do but it sure is ugly. If you’re unfamiliar with it, interval training is alternating short bursts of intense cardio (one minute or less typically) with recovery periods of approximately equal length. Interval training is short on time and high on intensity. For example, after an adequate warm-up, you might sprint for one minute and walk for one minute (local tracks are a perfect spot for this) and repeat five times or so. An interval workout can be as short as 10 minutes. It tends to be less popular among gym-going people because the effort level is decidedly uncomfortable. Most people would rather cruise on an elliptical for an hour than endure 10 minutes of all-out effort. That’s a shame because the effects are totally different.

Firstly, interval training conditions the cardiovascular system much more effectively because it presents a legitimate challenge to the heart and lungs that requires them to adapt. When you’re cruising on the elliptical, you’re not demanding much of your body so none of your tissues are required to change for the better. Secondly, interval training prompts a cascade of hormones that give you a metabolic edge. Among them is growth hormone which is known to help the body burn fat and build muscle. Moreover, because interval workouts are so short they don’t let the body get to the point of releasing cortisol, the major stress (and fat-packing) hormone, which can happen during longer bouts of cardio.

I suggest that you give interval training a go, provided you slowly build up your intensity level so that your body can handle maximum effort. You’ll see better results in a shorter period of time. But don’t expect to look pretty doing it.

Embrace your destiny

If you’re feeling unmotivated, stuck or just unhappy about where you are in life, maybe a life coach is what you need. Embrace Your Destiny, founded by certified life coach Sandra Dawes, is a service that works to empower people to live the life they have always wanted.

Following a practice that is similar to the popular book The Secret, Dawes works to shift your mindset in order to gain a fulfilling life. She speaks about visions manifesting into reality and the benefits of simply posting positive affirmations around your home to inspire you and your mind. Starting with a helpful (complimentary) discover session, you can learn to “ uncover your greatness and live the life you’ve always imagined.”

It is certainly a fascinating concept; with 9-5 work days it may be difficult to find time to pursue your true passion(s) in life. Speaking as a student, it gets overwhelming to juggle everything life has to offer. Perhaps you are nervous to declare how badly you want “it”, whatever it may be in your life: a promising relationship, a new career or a new start in life. Through one-on-one coaching sessions, group sessions and workshops, Dawes can help. If you’re not ready to do it alone, or just want an extra supporter, Embrace Your Destiny may be the perfect place to start.

Besides, who wouldn’t want to have their own personal cheerleader?

Detoxify your body

This spring, I have decided to try a detox from May 13th to May 22nd. Not a vegetarian or vegan and always on the go, I look forward to cutting out some meat from my diet, but I think I will have the hardest time letting go of cheese.

Prior to my first detox, I was able to talk to a Certified and Registered Nutritionist (CNP, RNCP) who is overseeing the first BarreNourish Detox at Barreworks. At the moment they have just under 20 people who have signed up, but are expecting 10-20 more people.

“It is all online-based, other than picking up the detox kit, and the teleseminars are live and recorded for convenience,” she explains. “I kept the Barreworks client in mind. It isn’t too extreme and I don’t restrict on calories. They’re energizing foods with a restriction of foods that drain energy and all processed foods. There is an emphasis on the reset button. It’s about resetting your habits. There is cooking and buying healthy ingredients while thinking ahead on meal planning. “
They also decided not limit portion sizes. “Restricting portion sizes and calories is exhausting on a person’s body. I did a survey ahead of time and there was a concern that they would not being able to exercise,” she says.

In addition, she added substitutes for common food allergies. “Most are taken out including wheat and dairy, but nuts in a lot of meals. Ninety percent could be replaced with seeds. There are recommended suggestions and you can choose other meals. There are 15-16 recipes and I have provided 25. You can substitute for another recipe.”

Although this is a mild detox and all whole-food based, it is not without side effects. The largest is cravings as well as headaches, fatigue, bloating and skin eruptions that last a day. In order to prevent them, participants can use a dry brush, drink more water, go to an infrared sauna and exercise to increase the elimination.

The most common cravings include caffeine, sugar, wheat and meat, although meat is not usually a strong craving. “Healthy snacks, especially deliciously sweet dates and raw white chocolate, are good for sugar. It is important to increase portion sizes and eat enough to decrease cravings,” she says. “It is hardest during the first three to four days and then you feel amazing.”

My nutritionist assures me that there are numerous benefits. They include weight loss, clear skin and increased energy. You will be more focused and creative.

Join me as I go through the BarreNourish 10-Day Detox.  Visit again soon to hear about my experiences as I go through the detox process.

Big Girl In A Skinny World

As a woman who has struggled with weight loss for 32 years, I know what being emotionally tied to your weight and size is all about. I know what it’s like to be out of breath after one or two flights of stairs or to be judged based on your looks. I also know what it’s like to be desperate for a change.

I grew up on my mother’s delicious and famous Georgian food. The food was endless and always high in calories. Wasting was not a word that was allowed in our vocabulary and we were constantly urged to “eat, eat.” Weight has always been a struggle for me, not only because I am a food-a-holic, but because I also happen to suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). One complication of PCOS is an imbalance in blood-sugar levels, which happens to also be a major factor in weight gain, weight fluctuation and difficulty losing weight.

As an adult, at 5’1 and 215 pounds, I qualified as obese. I was ashamed of my size and my habits. I tried to hide the fear I had of what my future would be like if I didn’t change my ways. Growing up, I was always the plump girl with the great personality, but for once I wanted how I looked on the outside to reflect the beautiful woman I was on the inside.

Eventually I realized that if I didn’t look out for my own health, no one would.

I tried a countless number of weight loss programs and exercise programs, and consulted several dieticians – nothing lasted. It was frustrating wanting something so badly, but constantly feeling like your best wasn’t good enough.

Weight loss is difficult. It’s not just about changing your diet but about changing your lifestyle. It’s many calculated decisions throughout the day for your whole life.

About a year ago, I started working as the clinic manager at a physiotherapy clinic. We were holding our first open house, working hard to put it together and promote it. All the practitioners were there to answer questions and offer free consultations, and I was there greeting potential clients and offering them additional information. It was a success and we were thrilled. Then I found out that during the open house one of the patrons had approached the owner to tell him that because I was overweight, I was a bad representation of the clinic. He suggested that perhaps my position shouldn’t be as public.

I was devastated. I was angry that he would dare to judge me without knowing anything about my skills and capabilities. On the other hand, what kind of an example was I setting for our patients when I hadn’t been successful with my own weight loss? As much as it hurt, I knew this stranger had a point and I made a promise to myself that this was the year I was going to take control of my weight. I started by meeting with a naturopathic doctor so that she could do a full assessment and set up a treatment plan for me.

I wanted to be healthier, but I also wanted to be a role model and to prove to myself that I could achieve my goals. With the help of my doctor I was able to lose 60 pounds, tackle my food sensitivities, increase my endurance, and reduce my BMI by more than 15%.

Today, seven months later, I weigh 158 pounds and am 13 pounds away from my goal weight. I work out five times a week. My friends tell me that I seem at peace with myself and at ease with my body. They say that my outside finally matches what my inside always was.

HEALTH: Counting calories out (Part 1)

I remember loving math back in high school. It was so satisfying to solve a math problem: all the numbers in agreement with nothing left to account for. It was so tidy. When I first heard “1 pound of fat equals 3,500 calories,” I had that same feeling. If I wanted to lose weight I could simply track all the calories I ate versus the calories I burned and make sure I made a 3,500 deficit over a week or so. I loved to exercise so I thought it would be a breeze. How wrong I was.

Current science is putting the final nail in the coffin of what we can now call the “3,500 calorie myth”. As it turns out, losing weight is much more complex than eating less and exercising more. I learned this the hard way during my university days when I was surviving on tofu salads and living at the gym. There is a laundry list of reasons; I’m going to briefly go over couple of major ones.

Looking only at the number of calories ignores the types of calories you’re taking in. Fat, protein and carbohydrate have very different effects on your hormones and metabolism. Fat and protein raise your insulin levels only minimally; large amounts of carbohydrate cause it to skyrocket. This is problematic because insulin is a hormone that tells your body to store fat rather than burn it. Eating a diet that’s low in calories but high in carbohydrates could lead to a conspicuous lack of weight loss… or weight gain. It’s tricky because many seemingly healthy foods are heavy in carbohydrates: breads (even whole grain), rice (even brown) and potatoes (even if they’re not in the form of french fries).

Protein also has much more of a thermogenic effect on your body. That means it requires extra energy to digest it and that energy is lost as heat. A gram of protein has about 4 calories; however, not all 4 calories “count”. Neither fat nor carbohydrate have this effect which is part of the reason why a diet that’s rich in protein is typically more successful in weight loss.

To be clear, these are only a couple of reasons – roughly sketched out – that should plant a serious seed of doubt in the minds of calorie counters. I’m not saying that calories don’t matter at all but I think that their importance is definitely secondary to the kinds of calories you eat. Next month I’ll look at how exercising more doesn’t necessarily lead to weight loss.

What do you think? Is sticking to a low-calories diet necessary for weight loss? Leave your comments below!

Living by the 80/20 rule

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that so much of life these days is about “more “: do more, live more, work more, be even more than what everyone expects. One hundred percent is not quite enough.

I have seen this, too, in how some people approach their diet, or in how they think they need to be approaching changes toward a healthier lifestyle. There is merit in being able to embrace a lifestyle concept entirely and live by it with full force but it is a rare individual who can go cold turkey from old habits. It can be quite stressful to do a complete overhaul; rebound binges may occur and guilt becomes yet another emotional hurdle to overcome. It can also be socially restrictive, preventing someone from being able to enjoy an evening out at a restaurant or at a friend’s house for dinner.

I like to support the 80/20 rule of living, especially when it comes to diet. The idea is that most of the time (this can be anywhere from 80% to 95% for a given period of time), I eat very nutrient-dense, clean food such as organic produce, cold-water fish that is simply prepared, and creative vegan meals. For a meat-eater this may also include organically-raised chicken or grass-fed beef. I stay hydrated with filtered water or herbal teas—my current favourite is Tulsi/Holy Basil. I can honestly say that I really enjoy eating this way and I certainly feel better for it. Over years of steady transition from what is the Standard (North) American Diet, my palate has adapted so that these foods are what I crave most.

The other 5-20% of the time, I am able to enjoy some of life’s indulgences. Here’s my confession:  the neighbourhood bakery makes really delicious, sinful brownies so I treat myself to one every month or so. I relish times spent with friends over some wine and a meal that they have lovingly prepared. There are also those nights, usually once a week, when neither my husband nor I are in the mood to prepare a meal so a local restaurant serves up a nice break from cooking.

The catch of course is being honest with yourself about on which side of the dividing line your choices lie. Is your 80/20 more of a 60/40 right now? That’s okay. As long as you know what your goals are and what your true starting point is, you can get to 80/20 by making small, steady changes over time. Then you CAN have your small piece of cake and eat it too.

 

 

 

 

Getting fit by shaking my booty

I am not athletic, but I am trying to branch out. So I decided to try a fitness class and found myself at the Danforth Booty Camp Fitness.

“Working out should never be boring,” states Susan Chung, an Elite Drill Instructor at the fitness centre. Her workout approach is to have fun. “Without fun, there is no motivation or drive to keep moving.”

“For the most part, it’s all about having fun at camp and working towards similar fitness goals.  The recruits love getting their kick-booty sessions – a mix of cardio, high or low intensity muscle conditioning work with options for all levels of fitness, and HIIT (high intensity interval training). We get our sweat on,” says Chung.

Chung started the class with a light jog. I struggled with the rock climbing leg movement. They did leg lunges, which I really enjoyed, followed by burpies, which are sort of similar to jumping. In addition, we did the traditional sit ups, crunches and push-ups. The class also did Booty Camp Wars, which was really fun, and a series of leg exercises followed by ‘The Britney’, a leg and arm movement which is very hard to describe. Chung ended with some stretching to ease the muscle tension.

Chung was searching the Internet one day and was attracted to the website with the pink colours. “I thought that having an all women’s boot camp around the city was incredibly empowering. I’ve never seen that before,” she says. “To share the love of fitness and to share it with so many amazing women each day is gratifying. I am blessed.”

Overall, I found the class to be very supportive and personal. If you were slacking or doing something wrong, Chung or a peer would correct you, which was nice and a motivator. The workout itself was fun but intense and there were water breaks. Chung is also very flexible with the class times for her recruits.

One of the perks includes a healthy cookbook called Eat Right Made Simple, which the recruits adore. Kennedy has a blog with delicious recipes on her website, and she shares them on a weekly basis via social media. I tried the Banana Mousse, Barbecue Chicken, and Sunshine Rice, all of which were simple, tasty and guilt-free.

If you’re looking for a medium to high intensity workout with supportive women and a cookbook, Booty Camp Fitness may be right for you.

Menu planning when dealing with food allergies

As someone who has had food allergies most of my life, I know too well how difficult it can be to plan nutritious, tasty meals. If you are like me, and have to avoid an array of foods, it can be overwhelming at times.

My first rule of thumb is to clean out your pantry and fridge. Get rid of the items that you can no longer eat, so you won’t be tempted. If you are part of a family and they can still eat these items then you are going to have to be pretty strong in your resolve. For me, it just wasn’t worth cheating as it made me feel to unwell.

It may take you a while to enjoy some of your new foods, as your taste buds have been accustomed to the same foods for years, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

The first thing to realize is that it is about what you can eat, not what you cannot eat. Perhaps dedicate a shelf or a cupboard just for you, filled with all the foods that you can eat.

Next, figure out what your favourite foods are that you can eat. Have them on hand, so you don’t feel deprived with you new diet.

Visit a health food store and ask them about all the allergy-free items that they offer. You will be amazed at how many foods you can eat.

Purchase a cookbook that contains recipes that you can enjoy.

Many big bulk stores are featuring allergy-free items like gluten-free grains and pastas at a much lower cost than health food stores, so you may want to check them out as well. Try the healthy natural food aisle at your local grocery store for allergy-free options.

Once you start to eat foods that agree with your body, you will notice how much better you feel physically and emotionally, and this will then encourage you to continue on with your healthy eating regime.

Remember that pre-packaged allergy free foods usually contain a lot of sugar and do not have a lot of nutrients in them, so if you can start to make more of your meals and treats from scratch, it will benefit you in the long run.

Many people say to me that they don’t have time to cook, but they soon realize if they give up one television program and get into the kitchen they can whip up a soup and a couple dozen muffins to freeze for the coming work week.

It’s important to have food in your freezer for those busy evenings or when you are on the run.

Making smoothies is another fast option for quick mornings or evening snacks. Try to have lots of fresh produce in your fridge, so at a moment’s notice you can whip up a shake or smoothie for yourself. Frozen fruit is great to keep in your freezer and avocados are indispensible to me and I always have at least seven or eight in my house for veggie shakes.

My daily vegetable shake base is a mixture of celery, cucumber, spinach, avocado, cilantro, water, sea salt, and lemon juice. Sometimes I will add a tomato or a small green onion. Blend and you have a salad in a glass, full of nutrients.

My favourite mid day smoothie is a simple, nutritious mixture of unsweetened So Delicious Coconut Milk, a banana, and hempseed.

 

For more allergy -free recipes and healthy ideas, please visit my website.

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.