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I read a great article in Runner’s World this week on yet another reason why consistent exercise (especially through the holiday indulgence) is a good thing. The short piece summarized recent findings published in the Journal of Physiology about those who took in excess amounts of calories (50% more) and did no exercise, and those who took in even more extra calories (75% more) but also added 45 minutes of running a day.  This sort of caloric surplus is bound to lead to weight gain!  But the study showed that the bodies of those who ran every day were better able to deal with the surfeit of food than those who didn’t.  So a daily stint of exercise, as we’ve been championing this month, really does have its benefits. 

This month Runner’s World has also been advocating a Holiday Running Streak – encouraging their readers to run at least 1 mile a day between Thanksgiving and New Years. Their thinking is that it’s so easy to fall off the bandwagon this month that if you just commit to 1 mile (less than 10 or 15 minutes) a day, once you get going you might want to go a little further. Anyways, I think this is a great idea and I wish I had seen it sooner!  

But like anything, it’s never too late to start.  With 12 days left between now and January 1st, 2014 – why not give it a try? And like most things in the world these days – there’s an App to keep you on track!  Runkeeper, available on Apple iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7, is a great, free (you can also pay for various upgraded features) GPS based fitness activity tracker that lets you track your mileage, pacing, timing, etc… all while keeping your music going in the background and giving you audio cues along the way.  

There are a lot of little extras in Runkeeper that I think are really cool. For example, there are some free built in training guides that take you through 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon training regiments for all different levels – i.e., anything from a beginner to a sub 3:30 marathon time.  And if running just isn’t your thing, Runkeeper has also developed that functionality to track a whole range of activities – including cycling, skilling, and skating. Finally, for those looking for a more integrated solution, Runkeeper can also be synced to MyFitnessPal for an integrated solution that lets you track what you eat and the calories you burn exercising.  (Dietitian Drive featured MyFitnessPal as one of the top 3 free apps for tracking holiday bites earlier this month).

So with a few days left until Christmas, and just under 2 weeks until the New Year, there’s still time to either get back on the fitness wagon or keep sticking to your routine. Start with a mile a day, and see where else it takes you!
 
"It is the Friday right before Christmas and I bet you have a whirlwind of parties and happy hours to still go to. Every event may seem like an excuse to splurge, but the consequence just might be the worst kind of post-party affliction: a food hangover.  The best cure for a food hangover it to prevent the over indulgences in the first place."  Check out Dietitian Drive's holiday tips & tricks to enjoy everything in moderation: December 20th… Holiday Party Tips!
 
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If you’ve been following the advent calendar you’ll know that today’s post was supposed to be about yoga – probably some sort of encouragement and reminder of yoga’s mind-body benefits. While it’s true that over time yoga clears your mind, reduces stress, and tones and strengthens muscles, with Christmas fast approaching and my flight to Florida days away (i.e., days away from wearing a swim suit) I’ve been trying to step it up with my calorie burning cardio training. So rather than the yoga studio, I’ve spent some QT inside the spin studio, running (trudging) through the snow, and doing Tabata.

If you’re not familiar with Tabata, it’s an exercise concept that originated in Japan where researchers conducted studies on those performing moderate intensity workouts and those who engaged in high intensity workouts.  I’ll spare you the full academic details, but in short, individuals in the high intensity group – who performed an exercise at maximal intensity for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest for a total of 8 reps – showed superior aerobic and anaerobic results. And hence the concept of Tabata has taken off.

I’ve been taking Tabata classes on and off for the last few years and love them for a number of reasons.

1.       Time – Tabata is majorly time efficient.  I can get a good sweat on in less than 45 minutes. One tabata consists of 8 intervals of very high intensity exercise for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds to rest. If you do the math, this comes out to 4 minutes. If you do 8 tabatas, you can get in a fantastic workout with just 32 minutes of total exercise time. Factoring in warm up, cool down, and a short break between tabatas you can be in and out of the gym in about 45 minutes.

2.       Fitness Level – since doing tabata I’ve seen a notable improvement in my overall fitness level. Even though I’m running less than I used to, my running pace has improved significantly. Tabata (and high intensity interval training in general) has made me fitter, leaner, and stronger – which has benefits that no doubt carry through to other forms of exercise (running, biking, swimming, tennis, etc..). It’s also said to keep your metabolism high both during and after your workout, which is a great bonus!

3.       It’s Fun! – Doing short interval bursts of activity is actually fun.  Anyone can do anything for 20 seconds, and really that’s all Tabata is. And there’s a lot of variation that can be built into a tabta routine.  It definitely beats a long, boring 32 minute slog on the treadmill any day.

If you’re worried about how to time yourself during tabata rounds, don’t worry – there’s an app (quite a few, actually) for that!  Just browse through the app store and you’ll see free and premium versions (I’ve opted for the free one).

So this week, I encourage you to try and fit in a Tabata routine, or some variation thereof of high intensity interval training.  There are lots of suggested Tabata routines available online, but here’s one I’ve created for myself:

After a quick warm up, do 20 seconds of exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest in sets of 8. In between exercise set, take a 1-2 minute break as needed. Finish with light stretching to cool down. 

1.       Jumping jacks
2.       Forward lunge / bicep curls
3.       Mountain climbers
4.       Tricep dips
5.       Squat press
6.       Speed skaters
7.       Sit ups
8.       Push ups
 
Kerri is up to some awesome things at Dietitian Drive. Check out her latest Heirloom Recipe ideas and all that she's up to at the WellnessCampaign in today's Healthy Holiday Advent post:

December 18th… Heirloom Recipe, WellnessCampaign.org Crockpot Soup
 
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The snow won’t stop falling in Boston this week, pretty much ensuring it will be a white Christmas across much of New England.  With the white stuff on the ground, I know firsthand exercise can get difficult. The thought of trudging through the snow to the gym, or trying to go for an outdoor run requires an extra ounce (or two or three) of effort.

But the good news is that winter is the perfect time of year to break out of your old exercise routine and try something new. The novelty of a new activity is a great way to keep fitness fun and stay motivated. And fortunately for us on the east coast, we are only a short walk, drive, or T ride away from some fresh winter activities. 

Skiing or snowboarding are obvious good choices and are certainly great ways to burn calories fast. But if you’re like me and are terrified of the slopes or equally not keen on spending a lot of money (and time) on the mountain, there are a lot of fun alternatives.  

Ice skating is one of my favorites!  As a kid growing up in Michigan some of the best times I had were at the weekend family skate at my school’s indoor rink, and every year I looked forward to getting that new pair of figure skates. Back then I loved whizzing around the rink, taking breaks to watch the zamboni clean the ice, and of course the hot chocolate that comes at the end of a session. While I’m a little more timid on the ice these days, I still love all those things about skating.  What’s more, I now appreciate the calorie burning benefits of gliding around the rink.  Skating gives your leg muscles—especially your quads and glutes—a great workout, and at the same time (given the balance required not to fall flat on your face!) it helps improve core strength. 

So before the end of the healthy advent season, or even into the New Year, why not find a friend or take your kids, young nieces, nephews or cousins, out to the rink for a few spins around the ice. It’s sure to beat the winter blues, burn some calories, and bring some extra delight to the holidays. 

 
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If you're anything like me, you have a sweet tooth. I love it all -- chocolate, ice cream, cookies... you name it, I can't resist! During this time of year, temptation is at an all time high.  Luckily Kerri has a lot of great easy recipe ideas for how to satisfy your sweet tooth, all while cutting back on sugar and calories.  

Be sure to check out her post at Dietitian Drive here:

December 16th: Sweet Tooth Alternatives

 
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Sometimes even the most well intentioned plans go awry. And indeed that’s what happened today.  This morning we were supposed to run the annual Somervile Jingle Bell road race in Davis Square – a fun 5K complete with Santa and his Elves running alongside.  But as you may have heard (or experienced firsthand), Boston turned into a winter wonderland last night getting dumped on with snow and ice, and the race was canceled (rescheduled for next Sunday).

Momentarily disappointed, we did the only thing we could last night – we indulged in good food, drank good wine and cocktails, and went dancing!  And to top it off, we attended the annual Toys For Joys gala with a few dear friends. If you haven’t heard of it, Toys For Joys is a great Boston area non-profit dedicated to providing toys for underprivileged children during the holiday season.  A small cash donation plus three unwrapped children’s presents was all we needed to attend the Holiday Gift Gala.

As noted in prior posts, allowing some indulgence every now and again this month is a good thing. Knowing that the race had been canceled this morning, we let ourselves splurge last night (and into the early morning hours) on tasty food, drink, and gala festivities.  While we did dance some it off, tomorrow is the start of a new week and time for us to get back on track with our healthy holiday advent. 

But frankly we must admit, given the fun we had last night, we aren't too disappointed that the race was canceled today!

 
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On Thursday I gave some tips on how to stay warm on a winter run… dress in layers, cover your extremities, and wear the right fabrics.  Well today about 700 Bostonians (me definitely excluded) threw that advice out the window, and ran a 1 mile race through the Back Bay wearing nothing but Speedos, bikinis, and Santa hats! Yup, you guessed it.  Today was the 14th annual SSRun, or Santa Speedo Run.  And since 2000 this group of crazy runners have not only been getting in their daily exercise (and maybe a few adult beverages to go along), but they have also been raising money for a variety of local children charities. This year and last they have been supporting the Play Ball Foundation, which creates and expands team sports opportunities for middle school students.

While I took a pass on the this year’s SSRun (and passed in prior years, and will pass in future years!), events such as these are not only a great way to train for a fun event, but also allow you to give back to your charity of choice.  Many years ago, I trained with Team in Training for my first Olympic distance triathlon, and in more recent years, I have pledged money for the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition in exchange for entry into a two Boston Marathons. 

Signing up for programs like these are great ways to stay motivated and stick to an exercise routine.  Most offer weekly group training events – such as long runs, bikes, or even swims. They also come with training plans, which provide a road map for your daily and weekly exercise goals to be sure you are ready for the big race. Finally, for those new to a city or just looking to meet fresh faces, charity race teams are a great way to get to know an awesome group of like minded people all looking to stay in shape and support a great cause.

While it’s hard for me to say which charity race group is right for you, if you’re looking to train for your first 1/2 marathon, full marathon, triathlon, century ride, or iron man, chances are there’s a race team near you that will help you through it, in exchange for pledging various amounts of money to charity. I personally enjoyed my experience with Team in Training and know many people who can say the same thing, so that could be a great place for you to start.   Why not use this holiday season as a way to kick start your training... doing well for your body and doing good for a local charity. 

 
We are closing in on the half way point of the holiday month.  Kerri has some great tips on how to watch what you nibble on at all the holiday gatherings, work parties, cookie swaps, and happy hours these next few weeks. Check out her blog post here: 

December 13… Track those Holiday Bites!
 
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‘Tis the season for Holiday Strolls!  This past week alone there have been, or will be, holiday strolls across many of Boston’s different neighborhoods.  Starting with the North End last Friday night, the South End on Wednesday, Beacon Hill on Thursday night, Newton Highlands and Fort Point on Friday night, and the Newbury Street stroll on Saturday afternoon, there are a lot of options for getting in both a brisk walk and some holiday shopping, all while supporting local businesses. Talk about multi-tasking!

The even better news is that walking is one of the easiest forms of exercises you can do to improve your health and well being, and it doesn't really feel like exercise.  It’s been shown that a good, brisk walk improves cardiovascular health and helps maintain weight, at the same time providing numerous mental health and stress relief benefits. As noted in prior posts, taking 10,000 steps a day has been recommended as the magic number in terms of just how much walking one should aim for per day. But with frigid temperatures finding their way to almost every one of the 50 states this week (see below), it’s easy to make excuses for skipping out on this year’s stroll, or even your daily walk/run. 

Luckily, there are some tricks to not let the cold get the best of you.  Here are a few that work for me:
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1.       Layer, layer, and more layers: How you dress for the elements can make or break your winter walk or run.  But this doesn't mean you have to wear all the clothes you can possibly find.  In fact, too much can leave you sweaty and uncomfortable (i.e., one hot mess). The trick is to wear several thin layers of clothing that trap the warm air in between layers. Start with a wicking base layer and then add a middle layer that has some insulation – fleece, for example.  On very cold days, the outer layer should ideally be some sort of water/wind proof jacket.  As for keeping your legs warm, I love fleece lined tights/pants – which can be found at most athletic apparel stores this time of year.

2.       Mind the extremities:  I’ve heard that you can lose 10% of your heat from your head, so it’s imperative that you keep your head and ears covered while strolling about.  A fleece hat, 180s earmuffs, or an ear band are a few of my favorites.  You can lose a lot of heat through your hands as well, so it’s important to keep them covered with gloves that wick away moisture. And if it’s extremely cold, mittens are probably your best bet. Also, don’t forget your feet!  A friend clued me into Smart Wool socks a few years ago, and I haven’t looked back.

3.       Wear the right fabrics: It’s also important to avoid wearing cotton because it doesn’t wick away the moisture and instead soaks up your sweat, which quickly makes you cold. Keep an eye out for fabrics that wick moisture such as polypropylene, capilene, and some wool/synthetic blends.  

While it’s easy to lose momentum this month, festive holiday strolls are a great way to stay motivated.  Rather than do your Christmas shopping on your couch staring at a website, why not bundle up and head out for a festive walk about around your neighborhood?  But be sure to be safe in the cold, and of course stay hydrated!