I'm always fascinated by reports about 'fittest,' 'healthiest,' or 'most active' cities because, well, I'm competitive. I want my city to 'represent,' so to speak. I'm pleased that three cities I call home--Charlotte and Raleigh, NC, and Jacksonville, Fl--all made the American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) top 50 fittest metropolitan areas for 2014.
According to ACSM, with support from the WellPoint Foundation, the data report, "reflects a composite of preventive health behaviors, levels of chronic disease conditions, and community resources and policies that support physical activity."
Now that I'm currently in Jacksonville, let's see if we can earn a higher spot next year! Where do we start? With the "preventive health behaviors" that we can control: move more, eat well, and live freely with a positive attitude!
Here are the rankings:
Rank/Metropolitan Area/2014 Score
1. Washington, D.C. 77.3
2. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. 73.5
3. Portland, Ore. 72.1
4. Denver, Colo. 71.7
5. San Francisco, Calif. 71.0
6. San Jose, Calif. 69.4
7. Seattle, Wash. 69.3
8. San Diego, Calif. 69.2
9. Boston, Mass. 69.1
10. Sacramento, Calif. 66.9
11. Salt Lake City, Utah 65.7
12. Hartford, Conn. 63.8
13. Raleigh, N.C. 61.5
14. Austin, Texas 60.6
15. Chicago, Ill. 56.6
16. Atlanta, Ga. 56.0
17. Pittsburgh, Pa. 54.8
18. Cincinnati, Ohio 54.5
19. Los Angeles, Calif. 53.4
20. Philadelphia, Pa. 52.9
21. Richmond, Va. 52.3
22. Virginia Beach, Va. 52.0
23. Providence, R.I. 51.6
24. New York, N.Y. 51.5
25. Baltimore, Md. 50.8
26. Miami, Fla. 49.0
27. Charlotte, N.C. 48.1
28. Riverside, Calif. 47.5
29. Buffalo, N.Y. 47.2
30. Jacksonville, Fla. 46.6
31. Tampa, Fla. 46.0
32. Milwaukee, Wis. 45.7
33. Cleveland, Ohio 45.4
34. Kansas City, Mo. 45.1
35. Houston, Texas 44.0*
36. Phoenix, Ariz. 44.0*
37. Las Vegas, Nev. 43.7
38. Dallas, Texas 42.6
39. New Orleans, La. 42.4
40. Columbus, Ohio 41.3*
41. St. Louis, Mo. 41.3*
42. Orlando, Fla. 40.8
43. Detroit, Mich. 37.3
44. Birmingham, Ala. 35.9
45. San Antonio, Texas 35.6
46. Nashville, Tenn. 32.5
47. Indianapolis, Ind. 32.3
48. Oklahoma City, Okla. 31.6
49. Louisville, Ky. 25.7
50. Memphis, Tenn. 24.8
*Scores have been rounded to the nearest tenth of a point, resulting in some apparent ties; however, the rankings are based on the full, calculated scores that were not equal in those cases.
(View the full report at: http://www.stonehearthnewsletters.com/acsms-top-50-fittest-metropolitan-areas-index/exercise/#sthash.MdjY81IS.dpuf)
Let's play a little game, shall we? I'd like for you to imagine exercise personified. In fact, let's make it a proper name and capitalize it: Exercise. For the sake of this article, Exercise is male. So far so good?
Now, describe your relationship with Exercise to me. Was he a part of your past--one you think fondly of but never expect to meet again? Was his a short-lived romance, leaving you tingly, sweaty and satisfyingly sore, but bored after a couple of weeks? Did you love him, but the lackluster results of your relationship left you feeling unrequited? Maybe you enjoyed each other equally, but you got too busy and stopped making time for him. Is he someone you see here and there, hoping for more frequent interactions, but are too insecure to make a commitment? Does he hurt you every time he sees you, making you unsure of yourself? Or perhaps you're still waiting to meet him, hoping that life will magically motivate you to seek him. Conversely, maybe you're addicted to him, leaving you insecure, exhausted and desperate.
Did any of those scenarios describe your relationship with Exercise? Do you love him and hate him at the same time? Do you want to break-up and make-up all in the same day (the answer's always yes if you've just done burpees!)? Guess what? Even fitness fanatics are occasionally tempted to trade Exercise for the next best thing (like flirty Mr. Fast n' Cleanse, rich Dr. Injectable or endearing Diet Pill).
But perhaps the better question to ask is, "How would you describe your relationship with your body?" Because when you consider that, the issue is much less about whether you love or hate Exercise, and much more about whether you love or hate your body. When you hate your body, you're likely going to dislike Exercise, because it makes you very aware of yourself, and your perceived limitations and flaws. Or it may make you obsessed with Exercise, as you seek to run from the body you've been given.
However, when you love your body--imperfections and all--your relationship with Exercise becomes healthy, supportive and nurturing. It brings out the best in you. It makes you want to go on double dates with Good Nutrition and Rest.
Within the next 24 hours, what's one thing you can do to start restoring your love for your body again? Get more sleep tonight? Eat a healthy breakfast? Make time for a little exercise? Avoid snacking on junk food? If you're feeling particularly amorous, pick two!
Perform as many burpees or squat thrusts (squat thrusts are burpees without the jump at the top) as you can in 20 secs. Rest for 10 secs. Repeat for 8 rounds. (Challenge option 1: Add a pushup at the bottom of the burpee. Option 2: hold a low squat during each 10 sec rest.)
In my previous blog, "When you know better," I talk about voting with your groceries. Every time you place an item in your cart, you're casting a vote for the kinds of products you want to see carried in that store.
Well, let's talk about where more votes are cast than probably any grocer in the country--Walmart. And I happen to cast A LOT of votes at my local Walmart Neighborhood Market. Do I enjoy the experience? Not particularly, but because I, like most fitness professionals, don't earn Gillian Michaels' salary, and because food is my largest monthly purchase, I go where I can save. I also shop at other mass grocers, and occasionally at Whole Foods and a natural foods market when I feel like splurging and wasting a lot of time driving. But by and large, Walmart it is, because I'm frugal, because it's on the way home, and because I've learned to find healthy options there.
I realize that each Walmart (superstores and neighborhood markets) offers a slightly different assortment of products, so some of the items I highlight may not yet have reached your store. But use these finds as a guide, and don't be afraid to ask a manager to stock similar items.
As you take a look at these products and read the captions, I'd like to remind everyone that locally-sourced, fresh, unprocessed, homemade food is best. We're all on the same page with that, right? Good. But I'm a realist and don't take an elitist attitude about my food or its source. I'm a busy mom with two kids and a husband with a demanding job, so I do what works best for my life. The point of this blog is simply to show you that healthy options are available, even at Walmart, and if we want to keep seeing more good stuff, we have to buy the good stuff.
Do all of these items cost more than other options in the store? Yes. Are they worth it? To my family, absolutely. If we are what we eat--down to a cellular level--how can I accept less than quality food? And we have made adjustments in our budget to afford these items. As such, we only consume bison or grass fed beef once every 7-10 days, chicken once or twice a week, salmon (I buy the wild caught frozen filets from either Wal-Mart or Target) once a week and tuna once or twice a week. Other days, we have a vegetarian or bean-based meal, and every Sunday, we consume a family ritual of popcorn, cheese and fruit for dinner. And we rarely eat fast food, or eat out for that matter.
If the idea of incorporating more organic, high quality--and thus, more expensive--foods into your diet seems daunting, start small. Little by little, start swapping bad stuff for good, and good stuff for better. And make the healthier stuff go farther. For instance, I buy organic milk, which is stupid expensive, so I only allow my boys to consume it at breakfast and dinner. To bulk up a pound of ground bison, I add cooked quinoa, brown rice or black beans. To turn organic vegetable soups into a heftier, protein enhanced meal, I blend in cottage cheese (or tofu, which I haven't found at Walmart). You get the idea (and if not, leave a comment and I'll help you out!).
I'd like to leave you with a simple challenge: take a look in your refrigerator, freezer and cupboard and determine one item in each that you will replace with something healthier the next time you shop. That's just three small changes...and a great start!
I admit it. I was scared to watch it. I was afraid I would suddenly find revolting all the things that taste good. That depictions of inhumane treatment of cows, pigs and chickens would turn me against consuming animal protein. That I would be left with the powerless feeling of, "I know this is happening, but I can't do anything about it." But you know what? I watched it this week, and none of that happened. I actually walked away feeling enlightened and empowered. And good thing, because this girl likes a burger.
The film to which I'm referring is 'Food, Inc.' Many of you have probably seen it a time or two already since it's been out for six years. As I said, I've been reluctant to watch it, knowing it might force me to change, because as Maya Angelou said, "When you know better, you do better.' And how might doing better disrupt the diet with which I've grown accustomed? I shuddered at the thought.
This probably seems counterintuitive that I would respond this way, but food is a highly personal thing, and I like what I like. Here's the good news: I like healthy stuff. That wasn't always the case. But as I've become educated over the years on the power of what we eat, particularly as it relates to our performance, I already (mostly) eat clean, lean and green. And the difference in how you feel, look and function when you eat what your body needs is nothing short of significant.
But even if our dietary intentions are pure, how are we to avoid the deceptive practices of food producers pointed out in the documentary? Ideally, we'd grow our own produce, buy meats from a local farmer, knead our own bread (check out this easy einkorn bread recipe on my 'Favorite Recipes' page), and make all meals from scratch. Yeah, um, not happening, at least not all of them at once. One guy in the documentary drove five hours to purchase meat from a featured farmer. More power (and fuel) to him, but I prefer quick, close and cheap!
The most meaningful takeaway for me in the film came, appropriately, at the end. The guy who runs Stonyfield Organic, which is now owned by multinational food giant Danone (its line of YoKids yogurt is in my fridge as I type this), reminded viewers that every time we purchase a product, we're casting a vote. That vote determines what continues to be supplied in stores, or what gets discontinued. At the end of the day, food stores just want to carry what sells. It means little to them if it's healthy or unhealthy.
So the next time you're at the grocery store and about to place an item in your basket, ask yourself, 'What am I voting for, and how does this impact my health?'
More on how to choose healthier options at discount grocers in an upcoming blog!
1. Tap Squats 20x (With a stable surface, such as a chair or bench, behind you, lower your backside to the surface without releasing your body weight, then immediately rise to standing)
2. Up-Down Plank 10x (Start in a high plank on your hands and toes. Drop down to your elbows, then rise to your hands again. The pattern is 'elbow-elbow-hand-hand,' or 'down-down-up-up'. Perform on your knees to reduce the challenge.)
REPEAT 3 times!
"Raise your hand if you had breakfast this morning."
It's a poll I regularly take in my morning fitness classes. Invariably, there are attendees whose hands remain at their sides. They still haven't grasped the importance of the first meal of the day.
They'll say, "I'm just not hungry in the morning," or, "The morning is too rushed for breakfast,", or the worst one, "I'm skipping meals to lose weight."
The funny thing is, they're often the same people who complain of not being able to lose weight, of a slow metabolism, of results unrealized. Don't get me wrong--eating breakfast won't solve every weight loss woe, but it's an important part of healthy lifestyle that contributes to sustained weight management, among other benefits.
And while experts argue over whether eating breakfast affects body composition, or by what degree it impacts metabolism, research overwhelming supports that those who regularly eat breakfast demonstrate a decreased risk for obesity and heart disease, and better cognitive function. Beyond that, those who regularly eat breakfast tend to be leaner than those who don't.
According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:
And if you're one of those who regularly skips meals, understand that restricting calories slows your metabolism--the thing you need to keep revving to burn calories. "Skipping meals increases your likelihood for metabolic syndrome, which includes decreasing your good cholesterol, increasing your blood pressure, and worst of all increasing your belly fat," says Rachel Cosgrove, renowned women's fitness expert and author.
Furthermore, randomized controlled trials have shown the metabolisms of people on starvation or crash diets slow down to conserve energy, which means their basal metabolic rate (BMR) can drop by up to about 15 percent. BMR is the amount of kilojoules (or energy) your body burns to maintain functioning at rest. This accounts for 50 to 80 per cent of your overall energy requirements.
Ok, now that you're convinced to start your day with breakfast, what should you eat? Those who say they aren't hungry in the morning can start with something small, like a piece of fruit with a scoop of nut butter, an easy-to-drink protein-fruit smoothie, yogurt or pre-made bag of granola with nuts/seeds. Heck, you could even combine your coffee with a protein shake (vanilla or chocolate) to have an all-in-one kickstart to your morning. If yours is a time issue, get up 15 minutes earlier! That, or prepare your breakfast the night before so that you can just grab and go.
Whenever I enter the breakfast discussion with folks, the question always comes up, "What do you eat for breakfast?" Well, I'll tell you. I'm a creature of habit, so when I find something I like, I stick with it. Each morning, within 30 minutes of rising, I eat a bowl of Nature's Path Organic Pumpkin Flax Granola with skim milk and blueberries, and one mug of Starbucks coffee with stevia, honey, cinnamon and organic plain soymilk. This has been my breakfast ritual for a few years now, and it just works for me. It's also safe to eat for my son with a peanut allergy. I don't recommend most cereals, which are laden with sugar and void of nutrients, but this one is nutrient dense with 5g of fiber, 6g of protein (not including the skim milk), 31g of whole grain and 0.7g of ALA Omega 3. This combo of rolled oats, pumpkin and flax seeds, and brown rice flour sustains me during the classes I teach, tiding me over until my late morning, post-workout recovery shake. I literally order it by the case from Amazon because it's either out of stock at the local store or is grossly overpriced.
Now, the only question that remains is, what are you having for breakfast tomorrow?
1. Alternating reverse lunges 10x/leg (from standing, step one foot back into a lunge, then step feet together again. Repeat other side.)
2. Quadruped with opposite arm/leg raises 10x/pair (on hands and knees, slowly lift and lower left arm and right leg. Repeat with right arm and left leg)
REPEAT 3-5 times!
When I told my husband that I came up with a concept called The R.E.A.R. View, guess where his mind went? Yep, to my backside. I can't blame him. After all, part of my job as a fitness coach is to help make rear ends high-and-tight. In fact, no workout is complete without a round of squats and lunges to target those gorgeous glutes!
The rear view also reminded me of an instructor's visual perspective when leading fitness classes. Before the advent of Les Mill and Body Training Systems, programs requiring instructors to face their participants, instructors faced the mirror. The reflection in the mirror--the instructor's rear view--is how we keep an eye on our participants. Building on the idea of that rear view, where we continually monitor and coach the participants who faithfully follow the instructor, I came up with an acronym for R.E.A.R. representing four key concepts that create a best experience for my clients. Every time I teach, train, or advise, I keep these concepts in mind to deliver what clients want:
With The R.E.A.R. View--my reader's best interest--always in sight, I hope to provide you with just the right message to encourage you to move a little more, eat a little better, and love yourself a little deeper each day.
1. Hip bridges 20x (Lie on your back, bend your knees with feet on the floor. Lift/lower hips, squeezing glutes at the top)
2. Push-ups 10x
Repeat 3-5 times!
I want to be a ninja. Not in the violent, mercenary sort of way, but in the "excels in a particular skill or activity" kind of way. And I want to be a ninja in EVERYTHING--fitness, parenting, housekeeping, cooking, you name it. The reality is, I'm not even close. In fact, I consider myself your run-of-the-mill generalist: good at lots of things, but great at very few things.
Here's the deal with becoming a ninja--it takes practice. Excelling in something--anything--requires daily, disciplined, planned repetition of the action you wish to command. And if I am committed to be a ninja, I should read books about them, such as, 'How to Become a Ninja in 90 Days,' 'The Ninja's Diet Guide,' 'How to Live Like a Ninja,' 'The Ninja Exercise Plan,' 'The Ninja Dress Code,' etc. (No, these aren't real books.) I would also want to investigate where ninjas hang out (dark alleys? roof tops? libraries?), then assimilate with them. Perhaps I could develop a ninja mentor to guide me through this process. My very best chance at becoming a true ninja is to embrace it as a lifestyle. To fully immerse myself in it so that it becomes second nature.
Now, since becoming a ninja is my dream, what's yours? Re-read the paragraph above, substituting your goal with the word 'ninja'. If that's to be a stronger, fitter, healthier, happier version of yourself (an awesome goal for anyone!), the same rules apply. Determine your goal, commit to it, make small, steady strides daily toward it, educate yourself about it, surround yourself with people who share your goal, and ask for help from experts who can get you to your goal faster.
Well, what are you waiting for?
1. Squat (as deep as you can) with alternating front kicks 10x (5/side)
2. Mountain climbers, any style 20x (10/side)
Repeat 3-5 times!
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I am not a registered dietitian, nor a medical professional. My blog is a representation of my views and experiences, which are not intended as medical advice. While I am a certified personal trainer, descriptions of things I eat and exercises I perform may not be suitable for everyone. Please speak with a medical professional before making any changes to your current routine.