Get On Your Feet (aka: Training Your Tootsies)

Take a deep sniff. Smell that? No, it’s not a bag of stale Cheetos™.  It’s the oh-too familiar whiff of a very hard-working, under-rated part of our bodies.

That’s right. Our feet.

Most of us are born with two of these babies. Most of them have ten toes, sometimes long and skinny, like fingers, and sometimes short and stubby, like plump little balls. Some are flat and stompy, built to be encased in wide sneakers. Others have a delicate Barbie-arch that slides perfectly into high heeled shoes. Many are somewhere in between.

Do you ever think about how important feet are? Those of us who have them often take them for granted. We stuff them into cheap, too-tight shoes, then trudge through shopping malls, and across parking lots, and around the fields where our kids play sports. Then we complain when our poor tootsies get all swollen and blistered. Some of us torture our feet by making them run long distances on hard pavements. Many other people spend hours every day with their feet sitting on the floor beneath their desks, forgetting that feet, like dogs, need to take a walk, sometimes.

We put our feet through a lot.

Now some people, women especially, pay all kinds of attention to their feet. They worship their feet. They take them to spas and pamper them with professional massages and long, hot soaks. They have pedicures, getting their toenails all purtied up with bright coats of paint. They rub them with scented lotions, then dress them in cute, expensive shoes the way some people dress up their little frou-frou dogs.

I’ll bet feet love people like that.

One of my favorite things to do to nurture my feet is to let the experience nature. Undressed. Unshackled. Just the bare skin of my soles sinking into the warm sand at the beach. Letting the cool ocean waves wash over them. Getting them tickled by blades of grass at the park. Hearing them squelch as they’re sucked into gooey, oozy mud. My feet love that. Well, as long as I stay away from sharp rocks. And bees. And hot asphalt surfaces that make them sizzle like burgers on a grill.

Feet are marvelous things.

Did you know, that if you train them right, they can climb mountains? For real. They can also climb a few flights of stairs every day, if you let them. They can walk all over town, and the best part about that is that you get to see things you may have missed otherwise. Just yesterday, my feet took me along a river trail I’d never taken somewhere near the downtown office where I work. And do you know what I saw? Goats. Like, fifty goats, kids and all, chewing up the grass along the walkway. Right there, in a major metropolitan area. What the what? It was super weird, and a pretty cool sight. And I never would have seen it if not for my trusty feet. (Good girls). Unfortunately, my feet also led me to a coffee shop, where I wound up buying a delicious, fresh-baked cookie. So I guess they still need some more training.

Now I know that some of you are rolling your eyes as you read this. The only thing you want to do with your feet is prop them up on an ottoman while you watch TV. I’m not judging, nor am I pointing any fingers at specific readers. But you know what they say — if the shoe fits…

All I want to do is remind you that, if you train your feet and treat them well, then they’ll reward you. They’ll show you new sights and take you to meet interesting people. They’ll work with your body to get it stronger, fitter, healthier. They’ll remind you that you have these two amazing things attached to your legs to be grateful for every morning. They might even get a little naughty and lead you to a coffee shop that sells yummy, fresh-baked cookies. You’ll never know unless you move them.

Where have your feet led you?

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Eat for your Life! (aka: Our Flexitarian Family)

When I was a kid, food was all about three square meals per day. One food from each of the four crucial food groups: meat and eggs, bread & cereal, fruits & veggies, and, of course, milk, to do a body good. The food pyramid was pretty straight forward, too. Stuff yourself with bread and grains, add five servings of plants, then top it off with a little protein.

Vintage American meals

Back in those days, vegetarians were almost unheard of, too. Since I lived in the Bay Area, we always had one or two in each group, and the only choices they had for lunch were cheese sandwiches or PB&J. Everyone else ate pretty much the same thing — Oscar Mayer bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread, with a fruit roll-up on the side. The only thing that varied was the flavor of fruit roll-up, and the occasional novelty of Hostess treats or Capri Suns someone’s mom tossed into the lunchbox.

1980s kids lunch

My family’s diet was typically American, too. Spaghetti, chicken casseroles, sloppy joes. Meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes. Plenty of salt, sugar, and simplex carbs for all. None of us dared to complain, or to request something healthier. After all, we were eating three square, all-American meals per day, provided by hard-working parents.

Fast forward several decades.

A few years ago, I lost a lot of weight. Around 60 pounds, total. Now I will admit that the final 20 pounds or so were likely due to an eating disorder. But the first 40 were due to a change in daily diet. I scrapped the nostalgic all-American diet, for the most part, and opened my mind to a global variety of healthy, whole foods. I cut way back on meat. I also began to exercise regularly, around 3-4 days per week.

Then came a startling health discovery. My doctor found that my blood sugar was slightly elevated; a somewhat common state known as prediabetes. Unchecked, this condition can spiral into full-blown Type 2 diabetes.

I was shocked. But my daily habits were so healthy! And my BMI was in the ideal range. How could this be? Answer: genetics. Sometimes, no matter what we do, our bodies are prone to develop unfortunate conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Luckily for me, I was able to make some more effective changes. I further reduced my intake of animal proteins. Switched out simplex carbs for complex carbs (aka whole grains). Cut out most sugar, except for the occasional treat. And I began to work out every single day, with few exceptions. And, yay! My blood sugar levels dropped back down to normal, healthy levels.

chickpea curry

With my own kids, I abolished the idea that everyone has to eat the exact same foods. After all, everyone is different. We have different tastes, different nutritional needs, different health challenges. My 13yo son can’t stand cooked vegetables. So he has permission to switch them out for fresh veggies or salad. My 16yo daughter has decided that she is now a pescatarian, and has begun a zero-sugar diet challenge with her friends. Luckily, I usually prepare a vegetarian option for family meals (not just PB&J, haha). Zero added sugar is a lot harder than it sounds, but I’ve been cheering her on, and being sensitive to her goals while grocery shopping. My 18yo? Well, he still hasn’t jumped into the health nut boat with the rest of us, so it’s still all-American junk food for him.

pescatarian meals fish

Our household of four has four different food pyramids. Some of us are more likely to nibble six small meals than three square meals per day. One of us prefers veggie dogs and veggie burgers to the meaty versions. Three of us are happy to munch on nuts, seeds, and roasted edamame for snacks. All four of us adore sweet, sugary treats more than we probably should — perhaps another genetic tendency. But we are learning and growing as we explore new yummy recipes and exercise together. Hopefully these healthy habits will stick with my kids as they head off into the world, and help them to live long lives, free of those killer diseases that plague so many us.

Healthy Choices

It’s not easy to change your diet for the better. It’s not easy to give up old favorites that remind us of childhood, like smoky grilled meats and big bowls of chocolate ice cream. It’s not easy to make yourself get up and move for 30 minutes every day. But the ability to enjoy a long, good life makes those changes worthwhile. Life is sweet. Live healthy.

Que No Pare la Fiesta! (aka: Zumba!)

If there is one thing you should know about me, it is that I am a constant ball of energy. Despite my exercise-induced allergic reactions, despite my chronic anemia, and despite my, ehrmgenerous bust size, I love to be active. I work out every single day, with few exceptions. I run, do workouts at the gym, swim, play tennis, and, until recently, soccer.  I also enjoy occasional group fitness classes, like yoga or step aerobics. But by far, the workout I find the most enjoyable is Zumba.

Zumba class fitness

What the heck is Zumba, you ask? Read on:

What is Zumba?

Zumba is a dance party! More specifically, it’s an aerobic dance fitness class featuring music styles such as salsa, reggaeton, cumbia, merengue, cha-cha, soca, hip-hop, flamenco, and rumba. But it is so much fun, that the official Zumba marketing slogan is, “Ditch the Workout — Join the Party!” 

Zumba logo

How did Zumba start?

Zumba started as a mistake in the 1990’s by Columbian dancer and choreographer, Beto Perez, who forgot to bring his aerobics mixtape to a class he was leading. He ended up playing a cassette tape of Latin dance music he had in his car, and the world’s greatest fitness dance party was born. No one could resist swaying their hips and moving their feet to the infectious Latin rhythms. The movement spread, and now, Zumba is practiced by millions of people in more than 100 countries worldwide.

 Who does Zumba?

Everyone! Zumba is not a dance instruction class. Whether you’ve had years of dance and fitness training, or whether you are a newbie with two left feet, you can jump into a Zumba class and have a great time getting in shape. Even though there is usually a big mirror at the front of the studio, people aren’t watching you to make sure you can swing your hips or shake your shoulders correctly. (Thank goodness, because I can’t twerk to save my life, hahaha!)

Zumba Class for All

Is Zumba an effective workout?

Yes! In a forty-minute Zumba class, an average person can burn 350-650 calories. With Zumba’s high energy style and interval-style intensity fluctuations, it has been shown to burn more calories than a number of other group exercise classes, including step aerobics, indoor cycling, hooping, and cardio kickboxing. And just as important — Zumba is fun! The most effective workout is one that you will keep doing on a regular basis. Still not sure? The best way to find out is to throw on your sneakers and head to your nearest Zumba class. Don’t worry about not knowing the steps, because no one is watching. Come join the party!

My Zumba Playlist Favorites

Firehouse — Daddy Yankee

Mi Gente — J Balvin, Willy William

Vem Dancar Kuduro (Oy Oy Oy) — Lucenzo ft. Big Ali

Chantaje — Shakira

Shaky Shaky (Terremoto) — Daddy Yankee

Baila Esta Cumbia — Selena

Don’t Stop the Party — Pitbull, TJR

Moviendo Caderas — Yandel ft. Daddy Yankee

 

 

 

Just Do It Already! (aka: Workout Time)

exercise

 

Okay, everyone — grab your sneakers, pull on your leg warmers, get your water bottle ready. It’s time to workout!

No way, many of you will say. I’m too tired to workout. My schedule is too busy to fit in exercise. I’m not in the mood to workout.  I can’t afford to join a health club. My back/knees/hips are too bad to exercise. I’ll start my exercise program sometime down the line, but not now.

Never now.

It is astounding to me to hear the many excuses that people scrounge up when trying to avoid exercise. It is as though moving their bodies is as dreadful a chore as organizing the garage. Now in some rare circumstances, I can understand why exercise must be put on hold. If your doctor gives you a red light for health reasons, for example. As for the other excuses?

I’m too tired. You’re in luck! Science tells us that exercise gives you a natural energy boost. When you do a moderate workout, your mitochondria kick into high gear, pumping out more energy for your body to use.

My schedule is too busy. As a single mom of three busy kids who holds down a full time job, and, until a few months ago, was also a full-time student, I know all about busy schedules. But I’ve also learned how to prioritize important things, like my health. On those days when I just can’t squeeze 30 minutes at the gym into my schedule, I break up the exercise by taking 10-15 minute walks during my breaks. One of my favorite quick workouts on busy days? Climbing the many stairs in the building where I work. On purpose.

 

Every workout counts

 

I’m not in the mood. Good news — did you know that regular exercise can ease depression and anxiety and generally improve your mood? It can also help you to sleep better, take your mind off worries, and help you to cope with stress in a healthy way.

I can’t afford a health club membership. It is true that gym memberships can be costly. On the other hand, so can health care costs associated with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other ailments than can often be avoided or alleviated by a healthy diet and regular exercise. If a gym membership really can’t be worked into the budget, however, consider some free to low-cost forms of exercise, such as daily walking, bike riding around town, gardening, or at-home aerobic exercises with a video.

 

personal trainer

 

My back/knees/hips are too bad to exercise. These can be legitimate reasons to avoid high-impact workouts, like running, for example. Even my own chronic health issue, cholinergic urticaria, used to be an exercise-stopper before it was treated. But having physical ailments doesn’t have to exclude you from all forms of daily exercise. Many people with bad backs or joint pain have discovered that there are forms of exercise that can benefit them, too. Try low-impact aerobics classes, yoga, or swimming. The strength you gain and the weight you may lose may also help to alleviate discomfort.

I’ll start my exercise program sometime down the line… If not now, then when? You don’t need a New Year’s Resolution or a medical crisis to be your starting point. Nor do you need to start big, by trying to tackle some big exercise program at once. Start your change with small baby steps. Pull in a friend, partner, or coworker for social motivation. Turn that zero minutes a day into ten minutes, then fifteen minutes, until you eventually can follow the Department of Health and Human Services’ guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, each week. That’s around 20 minutes per day.

 

no workout regrets

 

Not sure where to start? The web is packed with great workout ideas, both moderate and vigorous. If you belong to a health club, consider hiring a personal trainer to design a personalized workout just for you, and to coach you through your routine. If going solo is going nowhere, consider group fitness classes or adult sport leagues. If you hate running, don’t run! Not a swimmer? Try cycling. My current favorites, by the way, are Zumba, tennis, and 20-minute walk/runs. Don’t be afraid to try something new, and switch it up when the workout gets old. Now let’s get in shape!

 

 

Welcome to the Machine (aka: High on Tennis)

world-famous tennis player SnoopyMy kids and I decided to join a club.

It’s nothing fancy – just a local tennis and swim club, where we can spend time exercising as a family. My 14 year-old daughter is thrilled about the workout equipment and yoga classes. My 11 year-old can’t wait to use the pool. And my 16 year-old finally gets to take tennis lessons, which he’s been requesting for ages.

This weekend, however, the kids went off to visit their dad, and I headed to the club alone, racquet in hand. There was a drop-in tennis group, and tonight would be my first time joining them.

tennis loveFirst of all, I am not a newb to the tennis world. I have been an avid fan of the sport since the Williams sisters first made a splash and opened up my eyes to a sport that quickly became one of my favorite addictions (after soccer, of course). Do I play tennis? Occasionally, is what I always answer. Of course for me, occasionally meant dusting off my racket once a year or so and playing a clumsy match against other unskilled opponents. A couple of years ago, I discovered a local Meetup group and have ventured out a number of times for drop-in matches at local parks. It can be a lot of fun.

However, tonight’s tennis group was all about technique. After a few of my shots went wild, one of the more experienced players explained the difference between approaching the ball with my racket open or closed. Then another player, who turned out to be a tennis instructor, pointed out that I stopped short on every hit.

“Trust your follow-through,” he said. “It should be kind of like a golf swing.” I looked at him blankly. I had never played golf. “Or like a baseball swing.” He demonstrated a two-handed backhand, not stopping short as I had, but swinging the racket all the way through. Aha! A lightbulb flicked on in my head. I had played softball for a few years as a kid. I understood how to swing something all the way through to hit a ball. I just didn’t know I could do that in tennis, too.

Then the instructor introduced me to the Best Thing Ever. AKA, the ball machine. I had never used a ball machine to practice tennis before. For the first few minutes, I swung awkwardly, forgetting all the technique tips. The ball flew wild, to the left and the right.

tennis snoopy angry

But here’s the great thing – no one else was on the court to see me fail. I could try again and again, and try different things, and there was no criticism. I got to be my own coach.

“Okay now,” I told myself, switching into auto-coach mode. “Two handed-grip. Approach with a closed racket. Trust your follow-through.” The Machine spit out another ball. And THWACK! My backhand sent the ball sailing over the net for a perfect shot. The Machine pitched me another, and THWACK! Another incredible shot.

And suddenly, I had found it. The sweet spot. That place inside me where flames ignite, and passion takes over. It was Machine and me versus our grand opponent, the Court. My mission: backhand the heck out of each ball and land them inside the lines. And I did, again and again.

THWACK! Take that, Venus and Serena! THWACK! Take that Sharapova! THWACK! Take that, Azarenka and Clijsters! THWACK! THWACK! THWACK!

tennis balls

I was in the zone. I’m pretty sure that someone else was waiting to use the ball machine, but my new-and-improved backhand and I were locked in a relentless battle. I hit the ball over and over. When I failed, my mental coach yelled at me to make the correction and get it right. When I hit a successful shot, I cheered silently. The Machine and I kept going until the club was closing and the staff begged me to quit. Okay, I’m totally kidding. When the mosquitoes came out, and the court lights flickered on, I finally decided it was time to give the Machine a break. I drifted home, high on tennis elation.

The next morning, I woke up and groaned. I could barely move. I felt like I had thwacked myself all over with my racquet. I could have rested until the soreness went away, but I had another, more intense tennis group lesson scheduled that morning. So I did what any sane person would do – popped a couple of Advil, grabbed my pretty pink racquet, and headed back to the club for another hit of one of my favorite drugs.

 

Pink Cleats and Salt (aka: Still a Soccer Mom)

I am still a soccer mom.

I know; that’s kind of a weird thing to say when none of your three kids even play soccer anymore. My oldest, who played soccer since preschool, quit after not making the high school team. My daughter, the former competitive gymnast, tried soccer for one year, then decided she was more into track and cross-country. The youngest kid detests sports of any kind. Go figure.

But I am still a soccer mom. I am as passionate as ever about the sport, and will happily spend an entire weekend shouting at the television, rooting for my favorite teams from around the world and here in the USA (while doing homework, of course). And though my kids no longer play the sport, I am currently on two indoor soccer teams and one outdoor team.

Yes, outdoor soccer. That’s my newest adventure, running around in the wet, muddy grass on a field that seems as large as three football fields by the end of the game. Here’s a picture of my favorite ball and my pretty pink cleats, which are now muddy and not-so-pretty:

Tiare Soccer Ball and Pink Shoes 2015 (2)

Am I any good at it? Well, if you judge the skill of a forward by her ability to score goals, then I’m not very good yet. And maybe I’ll never be quite as good as the other women I play with, many of whom have been playing outdoor soccer for years and have far more skill. But it’s fun. Mostly.

Here’s the part that’s not fun: all the running. I am just not that into running. I love to run fast, but only for like, ten seconds. After that, I’m ready for a nap. That’s why I’m not a midfielder (unless I have to be).

Here’s the other part that’s not fun: the salt.

Yes, you read that right. Apparently, whenever I play outdoor soccer, I sweat salt. Great salty beads that drip into my eyes and sting like soap. Salty sweat that crusts on my skin and clothes when it dries, so I look like I rolled in chalk after each game.

Yeah, I know it’s just salt, but IT’S SO GRODY!! Ew!

Apparently, salty sweat is a perfectly natural, healthy thing. It tends to happen to athletes who eat a low-sodium diet, which I guess I do (unless I’m eating my favorite food, popcorn). So I just have to wipe the salt from my brow, drink a lot of Gatorade, and suck it up until I can get home and hop in the shower (not a bath, unless I want to turn the tub into a mini-ocean).

More on this salty sweat thing: http://www.training-conditioning.com/2007/08/09/salt_in_their_sweat/index.php

Yesterday, I did something really crazy. I played in a women’s soccer tournament. That meant three games in one day. That also meant two small bottles of water, two large bottles of Gatorade, and a very, very long shower afterward. And then what did this soccer fanatic do? No, sadly, I missed the USA vs. Mexico soccer match (which we lost, thanks to Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez). Instead, I baked sugar cookies with my kids, then snuggled with them on the couch, watching Pitch Perfect 2. Because I’m a soccer mom. And the Mom part always comes first.

C Pumpkin Sugar Cookies

Life on Two Wheels (aka: Why You Should Ride a Bike)

What if I were to tell you that I know a way that you can easily save on perhaps $100 per month is gasoline? And then, what if I were to tell you that I know a simple way to burn off up to 3000 calories per month? How about a very effective way to contribute to a greener, healthier environment? Okay, now how about all three things at the same time? No, I am not kidding. Here is the secret: Ride a Bicycle.

That’s it. Plain and simple. Oh, don’t roll your eyes. There are so many benefits to bicycle riding, not only as a form of exercise, but as a major form of local transportation. So what is keeping you from driving less and biking more? Hmm, let’s see:

1. A Bike is Too Expensive

Well, for some people, this may be true. Some families can not afford to purchase a bicycle, or a car. But for many families and individuals, buying a bicycle may be more affordable than you think. There is no need to look to pricey bike shops. Stores such as Toys R Us and Target sell a wide variety of stylish, high-quality, and affordable road bikes for less than $200. For example, the gorgeous silver Schwinn bike that I bought at Target eight years ago for around $150 still functions perfectly today. And yesterday, to reward my 8th grade graduate, I purchased a very sturdy and cool-looking men’s road bike on clearance at Toys R Us for less than $60. Yes, seriously. (Shh…don’t tell my teen. He thinks I paid a lot more money for it). The point is, unless you are just a total snob who will never buy a bicycle unless it is some top-of-the-line $700 bike from a fancy bike shop, many middle-class people can afford to buy a bicycle. And the cost of savings on gasoline alone will make the purchase worthwhile very quickly.

Graduation Bike Present

2. I Am Too Lazy to Ride a Bike

Well, at least you are honest about it. We live in a lazy (and obese) society. But before you shrug off bike riding as something for people with lots of energy, consider this: A study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found that bike riding improved energy levels by 20 percent and decreased fatigue by 65 percent. Go figure – expending a little energy to ride your bike to the store actually rewards you with more energy. Not to mention that fact that leisurely bike riding ( <10mph) can burn around 300 calories per hour. And the fact that biking is easier on the joints than other forms of exercise, like running or even walking. So get off the couch, lazybones!

3. I Don’t Have the Equipment or Mechanical Skills

What equipment? All you really need is a helmet. Oh, and a bike pump. At some point, it will help to have a couple of other basic tools, like an allen wrench, some lube, and one of those plastic thingies for changing out inner tubes. As far as mechanical skills, keeping a bike maintained is easy-peasy. And no, I am not a mechanically-inclined person. The idea of doing repairs more complex than a change of batteries often sets off mini panic attacks. If I were a Sim, I’m pretty sure I would only have 3 out of 10 mechanical points. But even I can manage to replace the inner tube of a bike tire. And unless you don’t have any hands, so can you. (Although I’m not sure you should ride a bike if you don’t have hands). You do not need special sneakers or spandex biker shorts to ride a bicycle. Whichever clothes you normally wear are fine (although if you are a women who enjoys wearing short skirts, you may want to wear pants beneath your skirt. You can always take them off when you reach your destination).

4. What About My Small Children? What About Cargo?

It is now easier than ever to turn bike riding into reliable family transportation. There are many options available, from ride-on infant carriers to child tandem-bike attachments for older kids who still don’t have the hang of riding independently. When my children were very small, I spent around $100 to buy a two-seat child trailer like the one below. When my youngest son was around 1, and his sister 4 years old, I used to strap them into the trailer, and we happily cycled together to the park, the library, and the grocery store. It was safe, durable, and very convenient to use. Sure, more expensive models exist, but don’t let price deter you from involving your young children in your regular bike rides.

As for cargo, the child trailer is also a great solution for larger loads. But for normal, small trips to the grocery store, school, etc., I find that it helps to wear a backpack to carry a bag or two. You can also mount an inexpensive metal cargo rack or basket to the front or rear of your bike for additional cargo needs. 2-Child Bike Trailer

Are you convinced yet? I hope so. Biking is such a time-tested, practical way to travel around your community. It is great for your health, great for the environment, and great for your wallet, too. What more do you need to convince you that biking is a positive lifestyle choice, not only for you, but for your entire family? Go — dust off that old bike in the back of your garage and start cycling!