Walking

My recent fitness commitment started with having to walk our dog. Because our dog is crazy active, we need to make sure she’s doing something. In the beginning, that was three walks a day, one in the morning before work, one during the day and one after work. My husband and I took turns and we were able to make this work for a long time, although it took up large portions of our day. To give ourselves more time, my husband was able to teach her to chase a frisbee (never a ball though).

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Walking was a great starter exercise for me and helped launch me back into being fitter. If done properly, walking can have the benefits of more strenuous exercises like cycling. It takes longer to get those benefits but they are there. The main idea is to get your heart rate up so that is the best measure on whether or not you’re walking brisk enough. You have to walk at a pace of five kilometres per hour or in my case, uphill. Up big hills. The biggest ones in your neighbourhood. I benefited from having a large hill just down the street from me.

Some research appears to indicate that intensity in exercise matters and experts currently recommend moderately intense exercise for 30 minutes a day. Exercise experts recommend setting a pace of moderate intensity where you would be able to talk but not sing, just on the edge of breathlessness: 

Ultimately, because I combine walking with running and weightlifting in a week, I walk at a relaxed stroll and don’t worry too much about pace. If it was one of my main forms of exercise, I hope I would strive for a faster pace, but maybe I wouldn’t…

 

Biking

That first moment when the snow melts and the temperatures rise above zero is when I start to think about cycling to work again. I’m a fair weather cyclist – no cycling through minus 20 for me. I tried it once at minus two and realized the air is even colder when you move quickly through it.

Cycling to work is forced exercise. In the morning, it’s not hard to jump on your bike and go to work – less traffic, a cool briskness to the air, and birds chirping. When you get to work, you’re more alert and ready to face the day. On the way home, it’s your only mode of transportation so you have to cycle home.

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It also makes you a better driver. I was always the person who drove into the crosswalk to see so I could turn right. After cycling,  I stopped that as I realized what a hazard it was for cyclists and pedestrians. Because I have to watch other drivers constantly while cycling, I now watch everything while driving – sidewalks for people about to cross, cyclists that look like they’re about to go and cars that wander.

Once you have the gear you need – a good rain jacket and pants, bags for your clothes for work and a safe lock for your bike, or ideally a storage locker – biking becomes possible. After you’ve done it a few times and have the routine down, it even becomes a part of your day you look forward to.

I like planning a route that involves the road as little as possible. I’ve ridden mostly on the road but now that I live in a city with extensive bike paths, I find those enjoyable compared to the life and death stakes on the road. On the first day, give yourself lots of time to get to work. Plan out what bus you would have to take to get to and from work if something happens to your bike. Then, get on your bike, take a deep breath and enjoy.

 

Hiking

When I first took a trip out to the mountains with my family, after we had lived on the prairies for awhile, I was awestruck at the clear night sky, the moon that seemed just out of reach of my fingertips, and the heavy aroma of pine. My eternal restlessness subsided. I made many holidays out to the mountains after that.

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Helen Lake

I thought that when I moved to the foothills, I would go out to the mountains a lot more than I do. The reality of spending three hours in a car every weekend after working a full week squashed that.

But now that we have a child, we will have to go out so that our child can understand that there is more to life than lights, noise and concrete. That wild places are where our souls can be free, even if just for a short while.

If you choose to hike, there are many excellent resources out there including:

Nerd Fitness

Hiking for Beginners

MEC – Hiking for Beginners

As a reader, being out in the woods and reading means that no one can interrupt me. At least, this was true when I hiked alone. Now, it’s about sharing these experiences with the people in my life. As a writer, even though I am hiking with people, I have plenty of opportunity to write, even if it’s just working out problems or brainstorming in my head. Being away from the chaos of city life makes those big story problems into tiny ones.

My favourite hike is Helen Lake and if you find yourself there, please enjoy it (also, watch for bears).

Footwear

I’ve never focused much on footwear for working out. All I figured I ever needed were runners that had soles without holes. I have since learned that the correct shoe for the activity can mean you’re less likely to be injured. Runners for weightlifting should allow you to distribute weight uniformly so you remain steady. If you wanted to compete, you can get specific shoes for that but I just use runners since I only want to be stronger. Have a look at this post to see what I mean. 

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I have specific runners for running as they have an internal bump that counteracts my feet’s pronation (bowing inwards). A physiotherapist or a well trained shoe sales person (not likely to be at big box stores) will be able to identify what specific pronation issues you may have and direct you to the correct type of shoe. I highly recommend taking this route if it’s possible because an injury will sideline any work out intentions you may have.

This page can help you navigate footwear and decide what to buy for what activity.

 

 

Stretching

Stretching is always one of those tick boxes that needs to be done for every workout. Or does it? This article from The Globe and Mail provides a good, up to date summary on stretching and whether or not it is beneficial. 

I stretch. I have certain biomechanical issues (knee caps that wander and feet that bow inwards) that mean I need to take extra care in order to be able to continue working out. If a placebo effect is at work, I’m okay with that as it means I have good recovery after every workout. When I choose not to stretch, I’m sore.

When I go to physiotherapy, they give me stretches that I need to hold for 30 seconds. Now, I do all of my stretches for 30 seconds, twice each time, and that keeps my muscles from tightening up.

These are a few of the stretches I do:

Legs

Forward bend 

Wide Legged Forward Bend 

Arms

Triceps stretch 

Eagle Pose above the waist 

Back

Child pose 

Seated forward bend 

Sitting at your desk too much? Try these stretches

As you probably notice, I use quite a few yoga stretches. I’ve made the routines so hopefully I will find a way to incorporate yoga into my daily activities.

 

Running

I’ve never enjoyed running, until now. I used to try and quickly found myself very bored and aware of just how much physical activity I was doing. That quickly de-motivated me and I would quit. Now, my brain must be going at a much slower pace and asking for less stimulation as I actually enjoy it. Lesson for me – Never give up on an exercise form as you might enjoy it at a later date.

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It helps that it exercises my very active dog. If we don’t take her out, she lets us know what we should be doing when she sits by the door, sits in front of us and stares at us or picks up her toys and throws them at us. If I take her running in the morning, she actually relaxes , flopping out on the floor or in the yard and being happy with just being. With just a walk, she’s pacing the house within a couple of hours.

When I started running in the past twelve weeks, I had to battle with myself. I didn’t want to run. But my reward was a calmer dog so I kept at it. Now, I look forward to the run because I feel so much better mentally and physically and my dog looks at me with a happy, mouth-open, tongue hanging out, face.

I have to take it very slow. Knees that bow inwards mean I put too much weight on the inside of my knees which eventually turns into me not running. So, I run every second day, take the weekend off and take it very slow. It’s taken me twelve weeks to get up to running for four kilometres (approximately as I don’t have one of those tracker devices) non-stop. I will gradually add extra kilometres as the sun rises later and later each morning. My dog can’t chase her frisbee in the dark so we might as well run instead.

Don’t hesitate to explore those activities that you didn’t like in the past. You might find you really like them now.

Why physical activity?

I try to be fit because it makes me feel good. Losing weight isn’t one of my goals with physical activity, although I wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds. The most current research (which could eventually be proven wrong) appears to indicate that we cannot lose weight through exercise and that we must cut calories .

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Since losing weight is not likely to happen, my exercise goals are mental health related. I want to feel positive and being fit allows me to do that through the endorphin hit at the end of a run or hike or gym session. I focus on that feeling and try to carry it with me, especially when I’m feeling down. Actually what I should write there is when I’m feeling depressed because activity keeps depression from winning.

I have battled depression most of my life. I knew when I was teenager I was experiencing depression but I didn’t want to go to counselling. Talking to people I loved and trusted was difficult. Counselling wasn’t going to happen.

When I read an article saying research had shown exercise to be helpful in dealing with depression, I latched onto it, and I have never let go. I found that my emotional states were less roller coaster-ish and that I could deal with negative emotions much better. I was hooked!

I know when I haven’t been exercising because the depression starts to creep back. As soon as I feel it, I start something, whether it’s weightlifting, walking, running, or cycling. It takes a week for me to get the small high that gives me a bright spot in the day. After a few weeks, that high (by which I mean, return to even keel normality) stays around for a few hours. Once exercise is a routine, I find my depression almost all gone.

This is of course only my experience as everyone experiences different levels of depression. This is only offered as an insight into why physical activity is important to me and me alone.

What is your reason for being physically active?

Be kind to yourself.