Product Review: The FitBit Charge 2

(Disclaimer:  I have Amazon affiliate ads for FitBit products on this site.  If you purchase a FitBit after clicking on one of those ads, I will receive a small referral fee at no cost to you.  These ads help to support my site).

I've been wearing my FitBit Charge 2 for a little over a year now, so I've had a good opportunity to become acquainted with the features, benefits and drawbacks.

Chances are, you either currently wear a fitness tracker, or you know someone who does.  If you are still trying to determine if you want to purchase a fitness tracker, or if you are planning to replace or upgrade, then you may find this review helpful.

 

My husband decided to buy a FitBit for me when I first started walking purposefully last summer.  We went to Kohls to take a look at what they had, and I tried on the various versions.  I compared the features of each.  I liked the size and feel of the Alta, but it didn't offer all the features of the Charge 2.  The FitBit Blaze had lots of cool features but was big and heavy - a bit too manly for me and more than I wanted to spend.  The Charge 2 was, as Goldilocks says, "Just Right."  A nice fit and size, a choice of band colors (although not as many as I would like), the features were what I was looking for - steps, exercise, sleep, clock, reminders, alarm, heartrate - and the price was reasonable.  I went home with the Charge 2 and set it up.

From the minute I put it on, I have liked it.  It's not too big or heavy.  I like that it tracks my steps and keeps up with my heart rate.  I've appreciated the insights into my sleep (it reminds me when I should go to bed).  The tracker can be set to buzz on your wrist as an alarm.  The buzz seems to have lost some power since I first purchased the tracker, but it is sufficient.

The tracker syncs wirelessly with your smart phone or when you charge it.  It comes with a dongle that fits into a USB slot on your computer for charging and syncing. 

Once you have set up your tracker, you can choose other items to track on your dashboard such as food and water tracking, weight, sleep, and FitBit has recently added female health tracking and trends.  You can also participate in FitBit challenges.

Fitbit Screen.PNG

Speaking of challenges, many sites now offer syncing with your FitBit data if you so choose.  Sites like MyFitnessPal and Yes.Fit allow you to set up an interface so that they can import the data tracked by your FitBit.  Some employer wellness programs can also sync your FitBit data.  This is a nicely convenient option if you enjoy participating in challenges or programs that track your steps or your caloric intake.  (Note that you always have the option to choose whether or not you want to share your FitBit data) with these apps.  

The accessory band (sold separately, six colors available) is removable and replaceable.  I found that I had to replace my band within the first month, as the material in the original band was irritating to my skin.  I found a metallic magnetic band at WalMart for less than $20, but many options are available. 

The battery life for my FitBit is quite long - usually 5-7 days in between charges, and this number has remained steady over the past year.

Overall, I have been quite happy with my Charge 2.  The tracker has definitely helped to motivate me and to keep me aware of how much I have walked, my level of effort, and my sleep patterns.  I've enjoyed syncing it with apps like Yes.Fit for even more motivation.  It is lightweight, easy to wear, and water resistant, with a long battery life.  FitBit now has eight fitness trackers available, including a clip-type tracker for people who can't wear a wrist tracker.  Even if the Charge 2 isn't what you are looking for, one of the other styles may be.

Do you use a fitness tracker?  Has a tracker helped you to improve your fitness?  Let me know in the comments what you use, and maybe I will be able to review your tracker in the future.

 

 

Healthy Turkey and Cauliflower Rice Taco Salad

I do love a good taco salad, and this version has all the ingredients you need for a healthy dose of vegetables and fruits, lean protein, and heart-healthy fat, all in a low-carb dish that is delicious.  As always, adjust seasonings to suit your taste, and limit salt if you are on a low-sodium diet.

Ingredients:

1 lb ground turkey

1 onion

1 tbsp minced garlic (more if you like)

2 sweet peppers

2 jalapeno peppers (optional if you like a little heat)

1 bag frozen riced cauliflower, or 1 head of fresh cauliflower grated finely

3/4 cup frozen corn

1 tsp cumin

1-2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 tbsp chili powder

1 tsp smoked paprika

salad greens

sour cream (optional)

grated cheddar cheese (optional)

cilantro, chopped  (optional)

Salsa (optional)

Diced tomatos (optional)

Sliced avocado (optional)

1 tbsp olive or avocado oil

Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Chop onion and peppers and saute in oil  on medium high heat until soft.  Add garlic and seasonings.  Add turkey and cook until browned, breaking up the meat until crumbly, 4-5 minutes.  Add the cauliflower and saute until cooked through, approximately 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the corn and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

To serve, place the salad greens on a plate.  Spoon over the turkey mixture.  Top as desired with salsa, diced tomatos, grated cheese, cilantro, sliced avocado, and sour cream.

You're Not Eating Enough Vegetables and Fruit

You're not eating enough fruits and vegetables.png

According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, women over 31 years old should consume 1-1/2 cups of fruit a day.  Women between the ages of 31 - 50 should eat at least 2-1/2 cups of vegetables a day and women ages 51 and over should eat 2 cups of vegetables a day.  If you are more than moderately active, you can consume even more.  But unless you are a vegetarian or eating a primarily plant-based diet, you are probably not eating enough vegetables or fruit.

A study conducted during 2007 and 2010 found that half of the total U.S. population consumed less than 1 cup of fruit and less than 1.5 cups of vegetables daily; 76% did not meet fruit intake recommendations, and 87% did not meet vegetable intake recommendations.

In 2015, the CDC reports, less than 13% of adults overall consumed the recommended amount of fruit and less than 10% consumed the recommended amount of vegetables. 

Most of us know that we need to eat vegetables and fruit to be healthy.  We know that eating more vegetables and fruits can help us to lose weight, improve our heart health, and prevent chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and some cancers.  We know that vegetables and fruits are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are good for us. 

So why aren't we eating our fruits and vegetables?  Here are some of the most common reasons I gleaned from an informal survey of women over 50:

1.  We believe that vegetables and fruits are expensive.  Women and families living on a fixed income may not have enough to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables as opposed to cheaper processed foods with lower nutritional value.

2.  We are living busy lives and we believe that we don't have time to prepare them.  Women working full time jobs and caring for families believe they don't have the time, energy, or motivation to prepare a full meal that includes fruits and vegetables.

3.  We prefer food that is convenient, quick, and easy.  We want foods we can grab and go or eat on the run, and we think that fruits and vegetables aren't as convenient, quick and easy and processed or fast foods.

4.  We believe we don't like the taste or we don't know how to prepare vegetables and fruits.  We have preconceived notions about whether we will like certain fruits and vegetables, often based on what we ate as a child.

5.  We don't want to be wasteful.  If we buy fresh fruits or vegetables and don't use them, they will go bad and we will just have to throw them out.

6.  We don't sit down to meals anymore and so we don't prepare full course meals.  Because of our busy lives and need to eat "on the go", we often lack the structure and pre-planning to prepare real food that we sit down with our families to eat.

7.  We live in food deserts where fresh fruits and vegetables simply aren't readily available.  Whether it is in downtown areas in big cities or small out of the way rural towns and villages, many women live in areas where a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (or even canned or frozen fruits and vegetables) just isn't available.  They would like to eat healthier but their options are limited.

8.  We believe we are eating healthy, even when we're not.  We often think that the food choices we make are healthy, but either our portion sizes are too large or we are choosing unhealthy dietary options (or too much of unhealthy dietary options).  We have a disconnect between what we believe we are eating and what we are actually consuming.

9.  Chronic illness may limit what we are able to eat.  Some women feel they have to limit fruit or vegetable intake because of illnesses such as diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome.

Eating enough fruits and vegetables each day requires effort and mindfulness and a desire to improve our health.  We have to be intentional about making sure we eat them in the first place.  We have to learn how to prepare them so that they are tasty and appealing.  We have to set aside the time and plan ahead.  We have to work out our budget so that we can afford healthy foods or we may have to locate a source of fruits and vegetables.  We may have to work with a physician or nutritionist to determine what we can eat and how much.  

Do you eat enough fruits and vegetables each day?  If not, why not?  Are you interested in learning how to improve your consumption of fruits and vegetables to improve your health?  

How to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables.png
The Bunny Trail Virtual Challenge.jpg

Coming Soon:

 

 

The Bunny Trail Virtual Challenge

 

In this 30-level challenge, you will learn why it is important to include fruits and vegetables in your daily diet, and how to eat more fruits and vegetables every day.  This challenge is easy and fun, packed with daily lessons, mini-challenges, and quizzes.  

<

I Know I Need to Exercise But....

I Know I Need to Exercise But....png

Recently, I was in a Facebook group where the question was asked "Why don't you exercise?"  Here is a list of reasons that were given.  Do they resonate with you?  I know a lot of the reasons resonate with me.  Let's just be honest here:  we all have our excuses if we don't really want to do something.

find a way.jpg

But I also know that I can't afford to let my excuses get in the way of my health.  So along with the list of excuses below, I will also offer some ways to overcome each excuse.  

1.  I don't make exercise a priority.  I put this excuse at the very top of the list because from this excuse all others come.  And let's unpack this excuse.  Is it really "exercise" that isn't the priority, or is it yourself?  Are you putting everything else ahead of your own health and wellbeing?  That's one possibility.  Another possibility is that you are letting other people make your priorities for you.  To some extent, that's expected.  Your boss determines the hours you will work.  Your family has needs.  And maybe you have just never listed out exactly what your priorities should be and in what order.  If not, that would be a good "exercise" to engage in.  If this is your excuse, spend some time thinking out why that is the case.  If you need a good reason to put yourself at the top of your priority list, read my blog post The Guilt Gremlin.

2.  I don't have the time.  We are all so busy that it's easy to just throw up our hands and say, "I don't have the time."  But as Tony Robbins has famously said, "If you don't have 10 minutes, you don't have a life."  Did you know you can squeeze a thorough body weight exercise into 7 minutes?  The fact is, we don't have the time, so we have to make the time, just as we do with anything else we have to do.  Try scheduling your exercise time into your calendar as if it were a meeting or an appointment you have to keep.  And check out my list of 21 Ways to Make Time for Fitness in Your Daily Routine.

3.  I don't have the motivation.  If you aren't motivated to exercise, perhaps you don't have a strong enough "Why".  If you don't have a strong "why" for what you want to do, your motivation will quickly fizzle out.  A simple exercise to help you find your why is to ask yourself a series of questions.  You could start with "Why should I exercise?"  You will likely come up with a general answer like "So I can lose weight."  Don't stop with that answer!  Ask yourself why that answer would be important to you.  With each new answer, ask the question again:  Why is that important?  Why is that important?  Eventually, you will reach a deeply meaningful purpose.  Once you have it, write it down, put it where you will see it every day, and spend a few minutes focusing on that purpose.

I hated every minute of training, but I said, _Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion._ Muhammad Ali.png

4.  I just don't like to exercise.  Even the great Muhammad Ali did not like to train, but because he wanted to achieve his goals, he did it anyway.  If this is your excuse, try doing things that don't feel like exercise.  Maybe an aerobics class isn't your thing, but you love to dance.  Or you don't want to lift weights, but you would be fine with lugging bags of compost into your garden.  The point is to do something physical that gets your body moving.

5.  My children/grandchildren interrupt me.  The excuse of young moms and young grandmoms everywhere.  Guess what?  Kids LOVE to exercise.  They love to jump around, dance, lift things, hop, skip, and roll around on the floor.  Try involving them in your exercise - chances are, they will adore being your exercise partners.

6.  I'm too fat.  This one makes me sad, because not only does it have a feeling of shame, but of defeat as well.  A sort of "it's too late for me" and "I'm embarrassed about my body."  Please don't ever feel ashamed of your body, and please don't ever feel that it is too late for you to improve your health.  It's not!  I try to get myself, and you, to improve our health because I want all of us to live longer, healthier lives - doing the things we want to do and that bring us joy and that make us feel good about ourselves.  But we are not just our bodies.  We are our minds and souls as well.  Believe that you are beautiful, because you are.  And believe that you are worth it, because you are!  Don't fall into the limiting belief that you can't improve your health.  Believe that you can, and you will make it happen.

7.  I'm too lazy.  For this excuse, first distinguish between whether you just need some downtime to relax or if laziness has become a habit.  If it is the latter, setting small baby step goals with a very specific plan can help you to break your laziness habit and make progress on your goals.  For example, if your habit is to come home from work and flop onto the couch, try setting a baby step goal to walk for 10 minutes first.  Create a "When-Then" statement:  When I first get home from work (get up in the morning, leave my office for lunch break), I will put on my gym shoes and walk for 10 minutes.  Experts have shown that creating small, achievable goals with small behavioral changes can lead to establishing long-lasting healthy habits.

8.  I don't have the energy.  I feel you.  I'm often so wiped out when I get home from work that even the thought of taking a walk seems overwhelming.  And when I wake up in the morning, some days it's just so hard to get out of bed!  When do you have the most energy?  That would be a good time to get in your exercise.  But what if that time is during your work hours?  Then you will have to develop a certain amount of discipline.  Consider again the time of day outside of your workday when you feel most energetic.  Schedule your workout time during that time frame.  By actually adding your workout time onto your schedule or calendar, you are making a commitment to yourself.  To increase your energy and make your workout more fun, play upbeat music or bring a partner.  The good thing about exercising is that it will help to increase your energy!

9.  I have too much pain/arthritis or my health conditions are stopping me.  This is a reason that you should discuss with your doctor.  Many chronic health conditions actually benefit from exercise.  For example, joint pain may decrease with weight loss and strength training.  Many heart conditions benefit from exercise that strengthens the cardiovascular system.  Your health condition may not allow for certain types of exercise, but perhaps other forms such as biking, swimming, or yoga would be just the ticket.  Have a discussion with your physician about what types of exercise you should avoid and what you can do given your condition.  You may also wish to consult with a physical therapist or a fitness trainer who specializes in working with people with chronic health conditions to help you create your own adaptive exercise plan.

10.  I can't get to the gym or I can't afford a gym.  I have good news for you - you don't need a gym to exercise.  One of the very best exercises - walking - is completely free, and you can do it whenever you can fit it in to your day.  You don't even have to do it all at once.  All those old calisthenic exercises you learned in gym class - jumping jacks, squats, push ups, sit ups, etc. - don't need a gym, and they use your own body weight to help you build strength.  And there are bazillions of free workout videos on YouTube.  Invest in some cheap weights from a sporting goods store, and you are set.

11.  I'm too tired.  See excuse number 8!  And if you really are too tired, consider your sleep schedule.  Can you go to bed earlier?  Are you burning the candle at both ends between work and family life?  Remember that you need to put yourself as a priority, and that includes your health and your sleep.

12.  I talk myself out of it.  Mel Robbins' 5 Second Rule will help you out with this one.  The trick is to not give your brain time to talk you out of doing what you know you need to do.  Count backwards from 5 to 1, and then just do it.

13.  I feel anxiety at the gym.  I really relate to this one.  Once again, you don't need a gym to exercise.  You can get a good workout in without having to go to the gym and feel like a total dork around all the young, highly fit, muscular young folks.  But if you decide that you are ready for a gym, or want to take advantage of the amenities a gym offers, it will help to remember that everyone felt anxious the first few times they went.  You're not alone.  Whenever we are trying something that is new to us or out of our comfort zone, we feel anxiety.  You can change your language around this feeling, by describing it to yourself as excitement to try something new or learn new skills.  You can check reviews to find a gym that is friendly to beginners or a gym that caters to women, such as Curves.  You may also wish to work with a personal trainer who can help you learn to use proper form and effort while exercising and using the equipment.

14.  I feel guilt about taking time away from other responsibilities.  I think this is one of the hardest excuses to answer for women.  We have so many other responsibilities and they are all crying out for us (sometimes literally!)  Squeezing time in for ourselves seems so selfish.  But if we don't take the time to take care of ourselves, we won't be there to take care of our other responsibilities.  And we may need to consider if we really need to own all those responsibilities.  Some of them can most likely be delegated, or even dropped.  Think carefully about everything that you are doing, and prioritize what you really need to be doing - and top of that list should be taking care of yourself.

15.  I sabotage myself.  A couple of ways that we sabotage ourselves are through words and through actions.  When we sabotage through words, we tell ourselves we can't do things.  We establish a mindset that is disempowering.  Learn how you can change your mindset to empower you.  When we sabotage through actions, we fail to create a plan that includes how we will overcome roadblocks - both environmental and those we throw up ourselves.   List the ways in which you might find yourself sabotaging yourself - and then create a plan with action steps you will take to overcome your self sabotage.  

If I wait for the perfect conditions, I will never get anything done.

16.  The weather is too hot or too cold.  One thing I know for sure:  If I wait for the perfect conditions, I will never get out and exercise. If you plan to exercise out of doors, dress for the weather.  If you plan to exercise indoors, the weather won't matter unless you have to drive to a gym.  But as we have learned, you don't need a gym to exercise.  If the weather is truly just too hot or cold, plan for 7 minutes of exercise in your home.

17.  I don't have a plan.  It's hard to be successful when you don't have a plan.  I can help you with that!  Download my free workbook which will take you step-by-step through creating your own plan to improve your health.  

8.  I procrastinate.  Procrastination is a way of avoiding things we think are going to be painful or uncomfortable in favor of things that are easy or fun.  It's all too easy to distract ourselves from what we need to do.  Email needs checking, tv needs watching, books need reading.  Bodies need exercising.  (See what I did there?)  If procrastination is your bugaboo, work out first thing in the day before you do anything else.  Use the 5-second rule to help you get started.

19.  I don't have the discipline.  The secret to developing self discipline is through habits.  Establishing one small habit and then building on it over time is a way to successfully build the discipline to accomplish your goals.  For example, most of us have the self discipline to brush our teeth each day.  We established this small habit as children, and we continue the habit into adulthood.  But you don't have to be a child to establish a good habit.  We are always establishing or engaging in habits.  We just need to make sure they are habits that are good for us.  Pick one small healthy habit change that you feel confident you can stick to every day.  Your habit could be as small as a 5 minute walk or 10 daily squats or a 20 second plank, or something even smaller and simpler.  Once you can successfully participate in this habit every day over a period of time, say a week, then build on that habit by adding on another small healthy habit.  Once you begin building these small habits, you will find that this self-discipline will spill over into other areas of your life as well.  For more on why we create the habits we do, and how we can create good habits, I recommend reading The Power of Habit.

www.YesICanHealth.com.png

20.  I'm afraid of how I will look if I lose weight.  This is a natural fear.  You are used to having a certain body image.  If you lose weight, particularly a great amount of weight, you may worry about loose skin or clothes that no longer fit, or just looking different.  But don't let these fears scare you away from the health benefits of regular exercise and fitness.  Whether you lose weight or not, improving your fitness through regular exercise will have significant benefits for your health and wellbeing.

21.  I don't have any accountability.  Do you have a friend or significant other who can provide you with accountability?  There are also online groups (including the free YesICanHealth Facebook Group)where you can post your daily results.  

22.  I don't like how exercise makes me feel.  I know - heart racing, out of breath, sweaty, muscles aching.  Try using more empowering language instead.  Exercise makes me feel "Strong, proud, energetic, fierce, vibrant..."  Once you begin to get a taste for the sense of accomplishment when you complete your fitness routine, you may even like how exercise makes you feel.

23.  My significant other, family, or friend doesn't support me or sabotages me.  Did you know that a survey found that 24,000 overweight women reported that losing weight created problems in their relationships that gaining the weight back would have resolved?  If the sabotage is unconscious (because the saboteur feels guilty that he or she is not exercising or misses the way things used to be), trying having a heart-to-heart conversation or write a letter in which you state specifically what you need in the way of support and ask for their help.  On the other hand, if the sabotage is deliberate, you may need to either avoid that friend or family member, find a support group to help you deal with the sabotage, or consider counseling if it is your significant other.

24.  I would rather watch tv, read a book, play a computer game, etc.  This excuse goes back to the first excuse of priorities.  And it also involves inertia - an object at rest wants to stay at rest unless something acts upon it to make it move.  Who hasn't plopped themselves down on the couch to catch an episode of their favorite show on Netflix and then binge-watched for hours.  But if you have set exercise as a priority, then you can use your show or game or book as a reward for a job well done - but only after you complete your exercise for the day.

25.  I'm too out of shape.  You won't get in shape by not exercising, so start where you are and do what you can.  

BeachVibes! (1).png

 

Do you have some tips for beating the excuses for not exercising?

What's Your Excuse_.png

Sharing is Caring - Share this article!

 

Fast and Easy Vegetable Soup

Sometimes, there is just nothing more comforting and nourishing than a bowl of soup.  Vegetable soup is a fantastic way to increase the amount of vegetables you eat, and you can use fresh, canned, or frozen vegetables to take advantage of seasonal produce or what you have stored.

Here is a simple recipe for vegetable soup that uses a mix of canned and frozen produce, but feel free to substitute fresh produce if you have it available:

Ingredients:

  • Organic vegetable broth
  • 1 can diced organic tomatos
  • 1 bag of organic frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

In large saucepan, heat the olive oil and saute the onion, celery and garlic until soft.  Add seasonings, broth, tomatos, and vegetables.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat to simmer until vegetables are soft and heated through - about 20 minutes.

Vegetable Soup.png

Researchers Found a Problem with the Research Supporting the Mediterranean Diet - What Does This Mean For You?

Mediterranean Diet.png

You may have seen articles in the news this week that a major study supporting the Mediterranean Diet has been retracted.  And you may have questions about what this means and whether or not you should consider following the Mediterranean Diet.

First of all, let's start with a little background.

Over 50 years ago, a research study by Ancel Keys, PhD, the Seven Countries Study, found that middle-aged men living in the Mediterranean region of the world, specifically the island of Crete, experienced lower cardiovascular disease rates than middle-aged men in other parts of the world.  This outcomes was attributed to their diet - specifically a traditional diet comprised of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and fish.

Subsequent studies found that people in the Mediterranean region following this diet experienced an array of health benefits, including increased lifespan, less obesity, lower cholesterol, lower rates of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, improved brain function and lower rates of Alzheimer's disease.

In 2013, results from a landmark study called the PREDIMED trial were published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.  This large multi-site trial was touted as a randomized study comparing the Mediterranean Diet against the low-fat diet promoted by the American Heart Association.  The results were impressive:  A Mediterranean diet that included nuts reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 30% and risk of stroke by 49% when compared to the American Heart Association low-fat diet.

This week, the researchers acknowledged that there were serious problems with their methodology in the PREDIMED study - specifically, not all of the supposedly randomized participants were, in fact, separated into groups randomly.  The researchers re-analyzed their results, retracted the original study, and replaced the study with the new results - which came to the same conclusion as the original study.

In other words, even though the original study design was flawed, once the data were corrected to account for the flaws, the results were the same.  The Mediterranean Diet does lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.  In addition to all the benefits noted in other studies of the diet.

So, if you follow, or are considering following, the Mediterranean Diet as your way of eating, should you throw it out?  Absolutely not!

The Mediterranean Diet with its emphasis on plant-based, locally sourced, whole and natural foods remains a very healthy way of eating with many health benefits. 

The Mediterranean Diet with its emphasis on plant-based, locally sourced, whole and natural foods remains a very healthy way of eating with many health benefits.  When you are eating the Mediterranean way, your diet will focus on a variety of fruits and vegetables, legumes, lean protein, nuts, healthy fats, and whole grains, all in moderation, and washed down with a bit of red wine if you so choose.  It is a diet that is loaded with the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants your body needs, with little of the highly processed, low-nutrition foods so common in the standard American diet.  And it is a way of eating that is reasonably easy to follow, filled as it is with a tasty variety of mostly easy to find foods.  So eat up with a clear conscience - and don't forget the red wine! 

 

How To Choose a Gym That Is Right For You

Choose a Gym That Is Right For YOu.png

You've made the decision to find a gym to help you with your fitness goals.  How do you choose a gym that is right for you?

This can be a confusing question when you are just starting out because you don't yet know what you need and you probably feel at least a little uncomfortable if you haven't gone to a gym in a long time, if ever.  I'm right there with you, girlfriend!  I'm in the process of choosing a gym right now because I have come to the realization that in order to move forward in my fitness journey, I need the accountability, equipment, and personal trainers that a gym provides.

So here are some criteria for choosing a gym that is right for you.

Location:

Let's start with location.  If you are in an urban area, you probably have several choices close to you.  If you are in a rural area or a small town, as I am, your choices will be much more limited.  You may have to drive a longer distance, perhaps on your way to work or school, to find a suitable gym.  How far are you willing to travel for just the right environment?  If you have to drive very far, you may decide the effort is not worth it and give up, so try to find a gym as close to your home or route to work as possible.

Hours:

You will want to try to find a gym that offers very flexible hours.  Many gyms now offer 24/7 hours, but is there a qualified, trained person on site at all times?  If you need very early or very late hours, this may be a requirement for you, but if you are more flexible in your time available, you will have more choices.  Gyms may only offer certain classes at certain hours as well, so if you really want to do a pilates class, make sure the gym you choose has the classes at a time you can attend.

Personal Trainers:

If it has been a long time since you have been to a gym or used exercise equipment, having a personal trainer to help you out the first few times at the gym will be immensely helpful to you for many reasons.  A trainer can help you assess your fitness level, what types of exercise will be most beneficial to you, how to properly use the equipment, how to use good form so that you don't injure yourself, and can provide you with a solid boost of confidence.  If you continue to use the services of a personal trainer, you will also have someone to hold you accountable and kick your butt to the next level when you are ready, which is tremendously important in helping to reach your goals.

Personal Trainer at Gym.jpg

Trainers should be certified, courteous, and ready to help you learn.  

Equipment:

A gym should have a good assortment of cardio and strength training equipment, and should have personnel available who can help you to properly use the equipment and answer your questions.  

Environment

Are you comfortable training in a co-ed environment, or would you prefer to train in a women's only environment.  Some gyms offer times that are female only, so ask if this is important to you. 

What kind of vibe do you get from the members?  Are the members primarily buff younger people who laugh at anyone who isn't at their level of fitness, or does the gym offer a judgment free zone where all people at all levels of fitness, especially beginners, can feel comfortable?  

The environment should be clean and neat, trash should be kept emptied and equipment should be in good working order.  Check the bathrooms for cleanliness, especially around toilets and showers.  Towels should be fresh, and hand cleanser should be available.

Also be aware of the music and lighting, the space available, and whether the gym is too hot, too cool, or just right.

Classes

Are you only interested in using solo equipment, or do you want to participate in classes?  Are you classes you want offered at times that are convenient for you?  Does the gym offer the types of classes you are interested in, and do the instructors encourage beginners?  Are the instructors knowledgeable and enthusiastic?  Does the gym charge extra for group classes, and if so, how much?

Gym Fitness Class.jpg

Amenities:

Most gyms provide showers.  Some provide saunas, hot tubs, swimming pools, massage chairs, sports drink bars, masseuses, and spa services.  It is up to you how many additional services you are willing to pay for.

Membership Fees

Some gyms will require you to sign up for a contract, while others will let you go month to month.  Make sure you know what you are signing up for!  Read the contract or terms of service carefully so you will fully understand your obligations, particularly if you decide to cancel your membership.  Life happens, or you may just decide that another gym would be a better fit for you.  Gyms may also require you to pay a one-time or an annual fee, as well as a fee for an access pass.  Get a list of all the fees upfront and know what you will be charged monthly.  Ask for any discounts that might be available.

Before you join a gym, schedule a tour.  Many gyms will allow a free day pass or a low cost month pass to try out the gym.  If you sign up for a low-cost month pass, find out if you will be obligated to pay a monthly membership at the end of the month or how to cancel if the gym doesn't suit you.  Go prepared with a list of questions, and spend time talking with the staff and other customers.  If you don't feel comfortable on your tour, or if you feel pressured by the staff, wait to sign on the dotted line until you've had time to consider your decision.  After all, joining a gym can be a large financial commitment.

Check reviews as well.  You will want to see what other people have to say about the gym before making your choice.

Book Review: Women Fit at Fifty: A Guide for Living Long by Mary Kathryn Macklin, MSN

Mary Kathryn Macklin, MSN, is a cardiac nurse practitioner who works daily with people who are at high risk for heart disease.  Many of her patients have been inactive and sedentary for years, are overweight, short of breath, and deconditioned.  Many have been told they need to do more to stay healthy, but they don't know where to start.  Ms. Macklin wrote this book to  help women in their fifties or nearing their fifties take simple steps to remain, or to become, healthier.

Ms. Macklin starts with a chapter on mindset, excuses and procrastination.  I think that perhaps the most common limiting belief that we have is that we are "too old" to start now, that it's too late to reverse years of unhealthy habits.  In this first chapter, Ms. Macklin encourages us to think about what our excuses are, confront the fears and excuses that cause us to procrastinate taking steps to improve our health, and develop strategies for overcoming our excuses and fears.  With this chapter, she helps us set the stage for success in developing new healthy habits.  

Ms. Macklin goes on to provide an overview of the scientific research supporting the health benefits of exercise in older adults, and in the next few chapters, she talks about heart health and blood pressure, weight, diabetes, arthritis, diet, and fibromyalgia.  Throughout these chapters, she weaves the stories of patients she has worked with over the years.  

This book does not actually lay out a step by step strategy for diet or exercise, but it does provide a good foundation for understanding why diet and exercise is so important for women in midlife, and how diet and exercise impacts our overall health and wellbeing.  She helps us to understand the reasons we need to take steps to better health, and how we can get started.  She lays our excuses out in front of us, and knocks them down, one by one.  

The book is short at 120 pages and easily readable in an afternoon.  Ms. Macklin writes with the knowledgeable warmth of many years of experience caring for patients in midlife who need both a supportive, empathetic coach and a gentle kick in the butt to get started.  If you are just starting your journey toward health in midlife, or if you are struggling with excuses and procrastination, this book will ease you into believing that it is not too late for you to develop healthy habits.  

Protect Your Skin This Summer

Protect Your Skin This Summer.png

When I was growing up, and most likely, when you were growing up if you are in midlife, a sleek, bronzed skin in the summer months was seen as the ultimate in health, athleticism, vitality and beauty.  We scooted out our doors just as soon as the spring sun allowed, wearing the skimpiest bikini our moms would tolerate, and covered our bodies in coconut scented oils guaranteed to soak in every last golden ray of sunshine.  Several hours later, we would come in from the heat, and those of us who are fair-skinned would sport a bright red burn for a few days.  But that was the price we willingly paid for that glorious, beautiful tan.  We neither knew about, nor would we have cared about, SPF (sun protection factor).   And once tanning beds were invented, we could sport a "healthy" tan all year long.

My, how times have changed.  

There is no such thing as a safe tan

Now that we are older, we are hopefully wiser about the dangers of tanning.  We now know that exposure to UV rays can lead to premature aging, wrinkles, leathery skin, age spots, and, dangerously, immune system suppression and skin cancers. 

The American Academy of Dermatologists states that there is no such thing as a safe tan.  Tanning is actually a symptom of skin damage.  As UV rays from the sun or a tanning bed hit the body, the skin cells produce melanin to try to protect themselves from further damage.  That's what causes the tan. 

You might think that if you don't get out in the sun or use a tanning bed a lot, that you won't be at risk.  But over time, the damage from UV rays adds up.  That's because the sun protection factor (SPF) from the melanin in the cells is only 2 to 4.  We need at least an SPF of 15, and better yet, an SPF of 30 or more, to adequately protect the skin against damage from UV radiation.

Healthy skin has healthy collage and elastin fibers which make it look full and smooth.  As the damage from tanning adds up, leathery, wrinkled skin and dark spots develop because the UV rays break down the skin's collagen and elastin fibers.

There are two types of UV radiation that reach the earth.  UVA rays cause skin cell aging, damage DNA, and can lead to skin cancer.  Tanning beds produce more UVA than UVB.  UVB rays are most likely to cause sunburn, and are also thought to be the cause of most skin cancers in the United States.  Many women by midlife have been exposed to both types of radiation.

While it is too late to reverse the effects of our teenage and young adult lack of care for our skin, we can do better in the summers ahead.

You can enjoy the warm, sunny weather of spring and summer and still protect your skin with some simple tips.  

First, keep in mind when and where you are most likely to be exposed to UV radiation.  UV rays are strongest between 10 AM and 4 PM, in the spring and summer months, closer to the equator, and at higher elevations.  UV rays can penetrate clouds, so just because it is a cloudy day, you are not protected from UV exposure.  UV rays can also bounce off surfaces such as glass, water, pavement, and grass.  This is why you are more likely to get sunburned in a swimming pool.

If you are going to be outside on a sunny day, take steps to protect your skin.  Before going out in the sun, use a broad spectrum sun screen with an SPF of 30 or above to all areas of exposed skin, including the face and back of the neck.  Re-apply your sunscreen frequently as it will wear off.

Wear protective clothing.  Look for clothing with labels that offer UV protection.  Light colored, natural fabrics can cover a lot of skin while still being cool and comfortable.

To protect your face and the top of your head, make the stylish choice and wear a wide-brimmed hat. 

Take refuge in the shade of a tree, umbrella, or parasol.

To sport a tan while out in the sun, use bronzing lotions rather than tanning beds. 

Sun, wind, and heat can dry your skin, so it is important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, even if you don't feel thirsty.

Wear sunglasses with UV protection to protect your eyes.  Just like your skin, your eyes are vulnerable to damage from UV radiation.

When you come in from the outdoors, treat your skin to a gentle cleansing and lubricate with lotion or body butter.

Even with precautions, you may get a sunburn.  It may take 6-48 hours for the full effects of a sunburn to appear.  Treat a sunburn with cool baths, over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams, and aspirin for pain.  A severe sunburn, with a large area of red, blistered skin, and headache, fever, or chills, should be treated as a medical emergency.