Monday, April 25, 2016

For Emilie, Wherever I May Find Her (Selling Fragrances)

I'm going to take a small departure from my wellness posts and point out a new small business that Emilie has started. Scintellescents ("sin-tell-essence") Body & Boutique offers brand-name fragrances for bargain prices. On the surface, this seems simple enough, but I want to provide some insight.

Emilie has not just slapped a name on some "get rich quick scheme"...far from it. She has deeply reflected on what she is passionate about, conducted thorough market analysis, developed a solid business plan, and proceeded with growing her business sensibly, all the while keeping to her ethical outlook. Now that the business has become established and sales are coming in, she has decided to donate funds from the company to charitable organizations to give back to the community!

The first of these is Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia, a non-profit organization working towards a Nova Scotia where everyone has a safe and decent place to live. To date they have built 49 homes throughout the province to help low income working families achieve the goal of successful homeownership. From April 15th to May 15th, Scintellescents will be donating 10% of all profits to Habitat for Humanity.

The second is Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, who aspires to a world in which individuals are empowered and mobilized to share responsibility in creating communities free from sexualized violence and abuse. They provide a leadership role in raising awareness, supporting those who have experienced sexualized violence, holding sexual perpetrators accountable, and influencing social and systemic change. Scintellescents has taken $2.00 from each sale in the hopes of raising $50.00 by the end of April...and has reached $38.00 already!

Looking forward, May is Mental Health Awareness month. Readers of my blog will be no strangers to my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and more recent clinical depression. I'm passionate about mental health, and I encounter it daily in my role as a college faculty member. There is an organization in Halifax called Laing House, peer support for youth living with mental illness, where members can embrace their unique gifts and find their way in a caring and supportive environment. Their youth are ages 16-29 and have a diagnosis of mood disorder, psychosis, and/or anxiety disorder.

Emilie has decided to donate $100.00 to Laing House in May if she can obtain 500 "Likes" on Scintellescent's Facebook page, or 500 followers on either the company's Twitter feed or Instagram page!

Finally, she has somehow managed to find time to start blogging! She has a Blogger site to provide company news and do reviews of the perfumes she is selling to allow her customers to make informed decisions. A link to the site is featured at the top of this page in the Featured Blog sidebar.

I've mentioned it before, and at the risk of sliding into effusive babbling, I am so immensely proud of Emilie. She has taken on a Business Administration diploma, maintains a full-time position in food service, and now the challenges of starting and maintaining a small business...not to mention one that is maintaining ethical and sustainable business practices! She works tirelessly, day and night, and does so with good humour and kindness. She has been an amazing friend and confidante, a true soulmate, and a gentle reminder that there is goodness in the world. She is naturally intelligent, creative, caring, and beautiful, inside and out. I am incredibly blessed to have her in my life, and I love her very, very much.

Please take a moment to look at her company and pass it on to friends or family you think might be interested in fragrances. If she doesn't have it in stock, she can track it down for you, and has found rare and out-of-stock perfumes for customers with a skill I can only label "gifted".

I'll let her do the rest of the introductions...she knows her stuff.

Talk soon.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Battle of the Five Bellies

The last of my three part "this is my workout" series, with apologies to Peter Jackson for satirizing the titles of his Hobbit trilogy, it's just come to my attention that each of the last two comprised sets of exactly nine exercises..."Nine Exercises for Mortal Men Doomed to Die [of Exhaustion]"? I go too far. Please check out An Unexpected Stability and The Desolation of Strength if you'd like to read the lead up to this post.

Tiring as it can be, I really enjoy a good brisk walk or hike, in nature, on the sidewalk, or on a treadmill in a gym. There is something about the steady rhythmic beat of footfalls that has always appealed to me. In contrast, mostly because of my weight, I find "jogging" tedious and painful. I'll revisit that again when my weight is down to a more portable figure.

After my core and strength workouts, I love hitting the treadmill for a solid cardio workout for two reasons: one, I get to walk, and two, I get to see the lovely Emilie, my partner, voice of reason, and cheerleader in this fitness journey. It makes me smile every time I head to over to those moving platforms.

I began simply walking at a pace for 30 minutes or so, and soon realized the benefit of using the various fitness programs. The appropriately named "Fat Burner" is my favourite, and my go-to for cardio.

At its most basic, the Fat Burner program is an analog of climbing a series of hills, at varying speeds of walking or running.

Initially, I am asked for my age (43), the number of minutes I'd like to exercise for (30, generally), and my weight (currently hovering around 370 lbs.).

I am also asked for the intensity of the workout I'd like. This is where my finger slows as I ponder the level of torture I would like to inflict on myself in the next half-hour. There are (reportedly) ten levels. I currently use 4 (the maximum speed is 4.0 mph and elevation is 3.5 degrees incline) or 5 (4.5 mph and 3.5 degrees). I recall in my best recent shape, I had "achieved" level 6 (5.0 mph and 4.0 degrees), and hoping to be there soon.

You probably have the idea by now: the treadmill begins running at a relatively slow speed (2.5-3.0 mph) at no incline, and then incrementally increases the incline, then the speed, then the incline again at a lower speed, then increases the speed. At the peak, you are either walking very briskly or running slowly at a modest incline. Afterwards, the intensity subsides...for a time. Surprise! You are slowly brought back to the peak speed and/or incline before a gradual cool off period.

This variance in intensity is the magic of the Fat Burner program...not unlike P90X or other high intensity interval training (HIIT) methods, your body is caught off-guard with the changes in routine and never given a chance to slide into complacency. All of that aside, the program makes me sweat like a madman, and that, along with carefully pushing your heart rate, is ultimately the point of cardio. On that note: always carry a water bottle of some kind to keep you hydrated.

This brings me to the end of this series and the One Exercise to Rule Them All (sorry). I hope these have been informative...if you have any questions, please post them as comments, and I'll do my best to answer them.

Until next time, keep fit!

The Desolation of Strength

In the second of three posts outlining my workout routine, I'm going to finish with last of the non-cardio exercises. If you haven't read An Unexpected Stability yet, I'd encourage you to start there.

These exercises, while including some core-strengthening movements, act for me primarily as an upper-body strength routine.

1. Upper Body Crunches

This is it: the classic crunch. I lay flat on my back on a workout mat with my knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Then, I use my stomach muscles to pull me up as far as they can, and return to start. Sometimes I put my hands behind my neck for support or sometimes crossing them on my chest. The important caution here is not to pull on your neck or back of your strains the muscles. Let your abdomen do the work.

I keep increasing these by increments of ten. I'm up to 100 now.

2. Leg Lifts

Lowering my legs from the crunch, I put my arms to the side or leave them behind my head. I lift both legs together up to a vertical position and return them to just (an inch or so) above the ground. An important consideration is to ensure the movement is slow and controlled. You're looking for strain in your lower abdomen.

I increase these in increments of five. I'm currently doing 20 repetitions.

3. Machine Incline Chest Press

This begins the section relying on weight machines I am fortunate to have access to at the gym at my workplace (more on this later). Laying back against the bench, I simply lift the bar of the machine in a barbell sort of motion.

My typical set right now is 15-20 repetitions at 100 pounds.

4. Machine Fly

Next, a forward fly movement, strengthening the pectorals. The machine I use has several settings for the starting angle of the machine's arms. I bring the arms forward in a slow and controlled movement.

A set for me is 20 repetitions at 100 pounds, with the angle set at 90 degrees (straight out to the sides).

5. Machine Reverse Fly

On the same machine as the previous exercise, I change the angle to 0 degrees (directly in front of me), and sit facing the machine. I grasp the handles and pull the arms back to my outstretched sides. Again, slow and controlled for best form.

I leave the machine at 100 pounds and complete 20 repetitions. I have a strong back and find this easy so sometimes throw in a few extra.

6. Machine Tricep Pull-Downs

Another mechanically simple exercise, I stand squarely towards the machine and grasp the horizontal bar, and slowly pull it down to the full extension of my arms. A slow and controlled return brings it back to start.

Once again, I have the machine set at 100 pounds and complete 20 repetitions currently.

7. Machine Bicep Curl

I'm debating whether I need to keep including the word "machine". As this is the last one, I'll save that for another time.

On the same machine as the tricep pull-down, and in the same position, I grasp the lower horizontal bar, bring it to a position at the lower extension of my arms, and curl it up towards my chest. A slow and controlled lowering brings it back to the start position.

I have the machine set at 100 pounds and complete 15-20 repetitions at the present time.

8. Incline Sit-Up

Walking away from the weights and machines, I use an incline sit-up bench set at the lowest angle and perform 10 sit-ups, being cautious of my form and leaving my arms in front of me to prevent pulling on my neck.

9. One Arm Dumbell Bent-Over Row

The final exercise brings me back to the weights. I grab one weight, kneel on a bench with one knee, placing the opposite foot on the ground to the side, and placing the hand matching the bent knee on the bench. The other hand with the weight is brought from fully extended below me to beside my body in a "rowing" motion.

I complete ten lifts with each arm, reversing position on the bench for the second set.

This is generally my full set, but I throw some variety in from time to time. I might use the rowing machine for leg work, change the incline to a full chest or shoulder press, or do some more work with the free weights...wherever my mood takes me.

On the topic of gym equipment. I am fortunate to have access to a free gym at the college where I work. Obviously I couldn't perform the machine workouts without that benefit or a gym membership. If I were unable to, I would still attempt to perform strength exercises at home. There is a lot of support lately for "body weight exercises", and performed correctly, our bodies can provide the perfect natural tool for working out. If I had no equipment and little time in the day, I would perform three key movements: push-ups, bodyweight squats, and abdominal crunches.

Next, our finale: on to the treadmill for a Battle of Five Bellies!

An Unexpected Stability

Finally, and in response to several requests I've received through social media, I'm sharing my workout routine.

I've promised this blog post for a while. Taking a cue from Peter Jackson, I've decided to split it into three separate posts. This one will focus on my "Swiss Ball" (stability ball) routine, and the next (The Desolation of Strength) will be my strength routine, and the third (Battle of the Five Bellies) will involve my cardio routine on the treadmill (as I've already spoken about walking).

This will be a bit longish, and feature lots of pictures (kind of like a certain movie series...rhymes Getting off track...I'll cut this short).

THE BIG DISCLAIMER: I am not a health, nutritional, or fitness professional. These exercises have been given to me by professionals, whose demonstration, instruction, and advice I have followed. I would encourage you to have an experienced pro go over a routine that works for you. This is simply an accounting of what works for me.

I start by doing some very important stretching exercises. Rather than go into each of them here, I'll link to a Self Magazine article that does a better job of explaining a potential routine than I. While I'm talking about it, I'll link to another article from Shape Magazine detailing the all-important post-exercise stretching routine. Following that:

1. Stability Ball Squat with Bicep Curl

I select a set of free weights to use (I'm currently using 20 lbs.), place the stability ball behind my lower back against the wall, and do a squat. While performing the squat, I curl the weights upward.

I do this currently for 20 repetitions.

2. Lunge Lateral Raise

It was challenging finding an instructional picture of this exercise. This is close, but picture the stability ball behind my back as in the previous exercise. I lift the free weights used previously straight up from the sides while performing a lunge.

I am currently doing 10 repetitions with each leg.

3. Stability Ball Chest Fly

I let the stability ball drop to the floor and roll it to an open area on the floor while still carrying the weights. I sit on the ball and roll forward so I am laying with the ball under my shoulder, knees bent.

I then perform a chest fly, bringing the weights from outstretched arms beside me to above me.

I repeat this motion 20 times.

4. Stability Ball with Tricep Extension

Without leaving the laying-down position on the stability ball, I move from my last chest fly lift into a tricep extension, bringing the weights down directly towards the side of my head, and returning to the upright position.

Another 20 repetitions.

5. Shoulder Press on Stability Ball

The last exercise with the weights, I also find this the most challenging considering the previous arm movements.

I roll back up to a sitting position on the ball. This took some practice, and I landed hard on my rear end a couple of times before I got it. I recommend caution if you're trying this one.

Once upright, it is a simple shoulder press. Lift the weights above your head as shown. I can manage 10-12 or 20 with a short rest.

6. Jackknife on Stability Ball

Getting off the ball and putting the weights down, I lay on the ball, face down, and roll forward until I am in a push-up position, shins supported by the ball. The motion of this exercise is in pulling my legs forward underneath me and returning to start. 20 repetitions.

7. Stability Plank

Ah, the dreaded plank. By the time I roll back from the jackknife, I am not looking forward to facing gravity again. I perform the plank, arms bent and forearms supported by the ball and back straight for as long as possible. I'm up to 20 shaking seconds so far.

8. Stability Ball Hamstring Drag

Following the plank, I reverse positions, lie on my back and put the ball under my lower calves. I lift my pelvis to form as straight a line as possible, and then complete the motions by pulling the ball towards me with my legs until my feet are on the ball.

20 repetitions currently.

9. Lying Glutel Push-Up

The final exercise begins in the same position as the hamstring drag, and has me simply lift my pelvis off the floor, forming as straight a line as possible, and returning to the floor.

Once again, 20 repetitions at the present time. I usually follow this with a victory lift of the ball with my feet, catching it with my hands and placing it above my head. It's the little things.

If you're still with me, 1) thank you, and 2) you might want to know "why these exercises"?

As it was explained to me, this set of core strengthening exercises have the ability to be made more (or less) challenging as you progress. Simply changing the weights in the first five exercises and increasing repetitions provides a great deal of variety. Beyond that: placing your feet closer or further apart varies the strain on your core muscles. The last four exercises could be done with or on one leg or at a greater angle, and so on.

Why complete these on the stability ball at all? The squats and lunges could be done freely, and the remainder with a bench. The magic of the ball is to challenge your core muscles to be brought into play to help stabilize yourself. Your abdomen is getting a workout just maintaining posture while completing the movements. I can testify that this strengthening not only occurs, but is beneficial to almost every other exercise activity you perform. Your core supports the rest of you!

A final note on the use of a stability ball: the size of the ball you use is important. Being just over six feet tall, I need a large (75 cm) ball. One site recommends a 65 cm ball if you are between 5'4" and 5"11" and 55 cm below that to 4'11". As a baseline, you should be able to sit on the ball and use it as a chair, legs parallel to the floor.

Up next: strength!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Pain in the Butt

I have a smoking problem.

This might come as a surprise to some of my friends reading this, while others have known for a while. I've smoked on and off (sometimes for months or years) since I was 14 years old. In my twenties, some people identified me in photos as "the guy with a cigarette or cigar hanging out of his mouth". I've even dabbled in the pipe several times.

Here's the thing: I've never been a heavy smoker...a pack of 25 cigarettes would last me two or three days...I have never been a pack-a-day smoker.

As to the addiction itself, I don't have a propensity for addictive behaviour. I have (and can) drink alcohol steadily for days and days, and then not touch a drop for months. I've never been addicted to recreational drugs. I've already spoken at length about emotional eating...I suppose that misplaced reward system would fall into the category of an addiction. Nothing else comes to, reading, gaming...temporary obsessions perhaps, but nothing close to tobacco. Having been clear for two years, I found myself having two proffered cigarettes at a party and then buying myself a pack before the end of the night.

In a manner of self-reflection, I realized something (with the help of the wonderful Stephen Fry and his The Fry Chronicles autobiography - I highly recommend the audio book): I like to smoke. In his words:

"I have mentioned Sherlock Holmes, but the fact is that almost all my heroes were not just figures who happened to smoke, but more than that, active, proud and positive smokers. They didn’t just smoke in the world, they smoked at the world."

So, a class-A addiction combined with a desire for the experience of smoking leads me to a nearly irresistible draw to engaging in the act of lighting up.

I know all the negative side effects: the smell, the needless cost, reduced lung capacity, and host of medical problems stemming from their consumption. I've seen family members and friends hurt by the effects of smoking. One of the primary risk factors for congestive heart failure is smoking, and I've had a heart attack! I offer these revelations not as a defense or excuse, but rather an admission of just how terrible I know the act is.

Well, Emilie and I have made a commitment to finally quit. For good. Our encouragement of each other throughout our lifestyle changes and fitness regimen has been successful, and we know we can beat this.

Not unlike unhealthy eating, it simply comes down to making the choice each day to not put bad things in our bodies. I've tried patches, gum, self-help methods, and so on throughout my life, but only one thing has worked: sheer willpower. If I don't want to stop smoking, none of those methods is going to help me in the long run. At some point, the desire to return to it will overcome my resistance to temptation. What I have to do is convince myself I don't want to smoke, and make the act of smoking less important in my life.

My preparation for the same places smoking in the same realm as the Paleo diet: I don't want to put processed, inflammatory foods, or harmful chemicals in my body, so why ingest smoke?

Makes perfect sense to me.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Bodies, Rest & Emotion

Emilie and I took a rest day today. I initially had some feelings of guilt about doing so, but realized not only did my body need a rest (in addition to yesterday's gym session, I also fell down a short flight of icy stairs...a scrape on an elbow and my pride are all that were damaged in the long term, thankfully), but the break also helped my mental state. I was able to get caught up on marking at work, had some student meetings, and met briefly with our Registrar, who also happen to be one of my favourite people.

In speaking to him, I provided a summary of my life over the past few years, to which I received an incredulous look and the supportive comment "after that, I think I need to go lie down". The conversation served to remind me that it has been a tiring time, and taking those breaks...mindful time for crucial to healing the mind as well as the body. I've enjoyed the day with some good (mostly) Paleo food, well under my caloric count, good coffee and conversation with friends, and of course, time with the amazing Emilie. As I write this, I once again remind myself how lucky I am.

I also had a chance to update my music playlist for working out. I've researched into music with proper beats-per-minute for certain types of exercise, most inspirational music for working out, types of music and the effect on physiology. At the end of the day, I've discovered that personally, I need music that simply make me feel good and energizes me. I think most people know those tracks that wind them up and get the blood pumping. I stopped worrying about statistics and focused on my emotional state. When I'm working hard, when I need a lift and want to resist quitting, what was going to drive me further, and help me say "I got this"?

A small sampling of my playlist, in no particular order:
It's all over the place, but you get the idea. I have other playlists of pounding classical tunes and others consisting of audio books for the longer walks. Music, at least for me, evokes a strong emotional response and this type of music seems to invigorate me and helps drive me to go further.

How do I get this music in my ear? I've graduated from ear buds on an iPod to the same connected to a wrist-mounted iPod Nano that doubled as a watch, and finally cut the cord by purchasing a set of Bluetooth earbuds. I will never turn back. The freedom of movement afforded by this wireless device prevents the inevitable tangling or pulling them out of my ear that comes with vigorous workouts. I wanted to go with quality, something that would stand up to motion and sweat, and would be easy to charge and connect.

The set I got were the Plantronics Backbeat Go 2. These stay in my ears no matter my activity level, resist sweat and moisture, and connect to charge using a common Micro USB connector. It even comes with a case that acts as a recharge battery. They have a little over four hours of listening time per charge, and controls on the cord allow you to change tracks, take phone calls, and activate voice controlled smartphone features. For anyone interested, they can be found at BestBuy or the Apple Store, as well as online.

Well, back to enjoying my rest day. Recharged and back to the gym tomorrow!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

That App is So Mondo, Dude!

I've just completed my third day in a row with Emilie at the gym, and I'm back into a routine with both diet and exercise. It's no nice to have a partner at the gym: we can encourage each other, watch each other (she spotted for me today during a particularly heavy lift, for instance), and to engage in the shared playful complaints of soreness afterwards. Twice I haven't felt like going (always the excuses), but Emilie's gentle encouragement got me there and I felt so much better for having gone, both physically and from an emotional standpoint. Since she will probably read this at some point: publicly - thank you.

Numbers are just that, but I've lost 15 pounds so far (if the ticker on the right of my blog is working, it should indicate the same). This is diet and exercise, and more than a little water weight since I started tracking on February 25th of this year. As I look at the calendar, that's a little shy of two weeks. Not too shabby. More importantly, I'm starting to feel good again...a little looseness to the clothes, a bit more energy. Now comes the challenge of keeping at it. Emilie and I have committed to each other five days a week at the gym. As she says: we got this.

So, let's pick up this blog where we left off. Ex Vivo Smart, on May 31st of 2015 ended my short series on some of the tech I use. I spoke about the MyFitness Pal app and the Vivo Smart, which I happy to say are being used again. I've looked around and still found nothing better for me for the purpose for which they are intended: a step and sleep tracker and an app that makes me think about the food I'm putting in my mouth. Good news: according to Garmin Connect, I've earned the "2 Million Total Steps" and "Double Goals" (double my step goal in one day) badges.

I ended that post with the words: "My next entry in this series will be on the sports tracker I use on my phone, and I might delve into music a bit."

Let me start with the Endomondo Sports Tracker. I'm back in Apple land with an iPhone 5S, however I have used both MyFitness Pal and Endomondo on my Samsung Note II as well.
The website does a great job of explaining the app better than I can (scroll down the main page). I would recommend watching the video linked there or directly on YouTube here.

At its basic level for me, Endomondo tracks my walking with GPS, giving me steps and distance on a map. It's a nice way to self-encourage by seeing where you walked, and then planning how you can take a different/more scenic/more challenging route. It also keeps track of statistics like duration, distance, average and maximum speeds, calories burned, hydration, minimum and maximum altitudes, and total ascent and decent. Here's a screen capture of a longer walk I took last year.

The app tells you to "start", and then gives you updates as you reach distance goals. Each "lap", you are told how your time was compared to previous laps on the same walk.If you have personal goals set, you also get auditory encouragement when you meet them.

The app, as with all of those I use, is entirely free, but has premium features that can be unlocked for a monthly or yearly subscription. I'll personally hold off on those until my fitness regimen requires more stringent control (preparing for a marathon, for instance).

Along with MyFitness Pal and the Garmin Connect app (connected to my VivoSmart, this is the last of the triumvirate that help me stay on track.

My next post is going to look at music and headphones.Until then, keep healthy!