Exercising with Cancer – Exercise Provides a Greater Quality of Life

I’ve not ever published a guest blog but I’ve been contacted recently by David Haas of Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance who was keen to write an article about how exercise can help cancer patients. With the Virgin London marathon just around the corner and me running it for Macmillan Cancer Support  after fundraising for the last six months, it seemed a very fitting subject, so I agreed to let David write a guest post for my blog. Here’s what David has to say….

Exercise Provides a Greater Quality of Life

Exercise is important for individuals who are experiencing cancer at any stage: diagnosis, treatment or recovery. The type of exercise recommended may vary but overall exercise can help individuals with cancer have more energy, be physically healthier and feel better than those who do not partake. An exercise plan should be developed with the help of a physician so that it is deemed safe, but it is important for individuals going through cancer to try their hardest to stay physically active.

There are many types of exercise that can be helpful during cancer. If an individual is feeling tired and lousy because of treatments or medications it is recommended that light exercise be performed regularly. This can include taking a short walk around the neighborhood or hospital, or doing light stretching or yoga. These activities will help invigorate a tired patient but will not make them feel exhausted or increase their feelings of sickness.

Individuals who are experiencing troubles with their lymph nodes during a cancer prognosis are prompted to exercise to help reduce swelling. Light weight lifting, mild aerobic exercise or yoga are all helpful during this time. This should be performed under the recommendation of a physician to ensure that it is safe for the patient. People with cancer, such as mesothelioma, can feel better after doing some health-promoting exercises.

Yoga is an exercise that is good for people in all stages of cancer because it is a mind and body exercise. This means that it helps the body to grow stronger and fitter but it also helps relax the mind. Yoga has been known to bring spiritual awareness to people and help them gain a more positive attitude on life. If this is performed during cancer treatment or recovery there is a better chance that the patient will feel better and fight harder to cure themselves of the disease.

Having cancer can cause depression in many people. Exercise helps to elevate the feel-good chemicals in the body that naturally help diminish depression. Patients who exercise regularly do not report having as many problems with depression as others do who do not exercise. This is one more reason why adding a few minutes of exercise to a person’s daily routine can help them to recover from cancer more quickly.

Life after cancer requires that individuals exercise to help prevent future cancer from occurring. Exercise can help prevent the occurrence of many types of cancer including breast, colon, endometrial and many others. It is recommended that adults recovering from cancer exercise three to five days per week for at least one hour at a time. A healthy lifestyle that includes eating a diet rich in nutrients can also help the individual’s quality of life. Fighting cancer is a difficult battle and exercise can help people get a little closer to winning. There are no guarantees when it comes to cancer but individuals who exercise generally feel better than those who do not.

If you, a friend or a family member are going through cancer, why not speak to someone like David and have a chat about how exercise can help you and what you should be doing. You can contact David through his blog at The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.

If you would like to find out why David’s blog is so fitting, please feel free to read my story and why I’m running the London marathon for a cancer related charity at my just giving page.

Remember, exercise can help in all areas of life, whether you have an illness or you don’t. You are not alone; there are plenty of people across the world that you can talk too that will help you and support you along the way.

Thanks for reading David’s post.

Injured and recovering with P.R.I.C.E

I don’t know whether it’s been the cold weather over winter or maybe the increase in exercise for the start of 2012, but there seems to be a lot of people around me that are getting injured(including myself!). Not only are there a lot of injuries at the moment, many of them seem to be injuries to the spine or pelvis. So I decided to write a blog about injuries, prevention and using the P.R.I.C.E protocol for the recovery process.

I’m using the back as an example as there are so many people with back issues at the moment and an osteopath once said to me “It’s not about ‘IF’ you get a back injury; it’s ‘WHEN’ you get a back injury!”. What he went on to say was that the spine is so complex and allows so many different movements, that without the correct posture all the time(which lets face it, doesn’t happen often enough!) it’s only a matter of time before wear and tear takes its toll and a back injury occurs. Many people lift heavy objects for a living and even those that don’t, still lift heavy things around the house from time to time, but are we lifting with the correct posture? Are we bending through the knees and not the back, letting the legs take the strain? The answer is…..generally no!!!

Many people don’t know the correct technique and those that do, rarely use it until it’s too late. That is why so many people suffer from slipped discs(also known as prolapsed/herniated discs) which can be very painful. I have added a photo of an MRI scan taken about 8 years ago of my spine, after an accident during a football match that I hobbled away from with a broken arm and two prolapsed discs. In the photo I am pointing at the two discs that have degenerative changes which can be seen by the lack of white in them compared to the rest and if you look closely, you will see the two discs protruding from the back of the spine at the curve. This caused a lot of pain down my sciatic nerve at the time and not the kind of pain that anyone would like to experience.

I do a lot of lifting in my job and even with the right technique/posture, if I don’t look after my back and concentrate on strengthening it, I occasionally get lower back pain. So if that can happen to a personal trainer, what about the people who aren’t generally as fit or strong as a personal trainer? How do they prevent this kind of thing from happening?

There are a number of ways in which we can help ourselves to prevent injuries happening like this. Unfortunately mine happened in a freak accident. I wasn’t in control of the situation and it wasn’t a direct injury from bad posture or technique at the time, but a lot of people are in control of it and neglect to do the right things. Injuries of other areas of the body can also be prevented with a little common sense and again, the right posture or technique can be a crucial part of it.

Starting with the posture, we are all guilty of slouching into comfy sofas or having the wrong posture when sitting at a desk or even when driving a car. All of these examples are things we can control.

Thinking about the way we sit and trying to keep a neutral spine like the second picture, can help prevent back pain and disc problems. Another area in which we can all improve, is the way we pick up heavy objects……

 

Bending through the knees and picking up heavy objects correctly can go a long way to preventing back problems. By bending through the back instead of the knees, this puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on the lower back which will eventually lead to an injury and lower back pain. Both of these examples are things that can be controlled.

Unfortunately not everything in life can be controlled and therefore injuries will happen; that is inevitable, especially if you are an active person and involved in sport. Knowing what to do once you’ve got injured is the next step on the road to recovery, so here is the P.R.I.C.E protocol for you to follow…..

Protection/Prevention: Protecting yourself against further injury or preventing further damage to an area that is already injured is the first step. Strapping an injured area or using padding to protect the area is a good place to start.

Rest: Resting an injury gives it time to heal. Don’t underestimate how important it is to rest for the body to repair properly.

Ice: Icing an injury helps to reduce swelling and pain but be careful not to ice for more than 10-15 minutes maximum or it can have the opposite effect. Also, make sure ice isn’t applied directly to the skin or an ice burn can occur; keep a thin layer between the ice and skin. Ice should be applied for at least the first 72 hours after the initial injury and every 2 hours when possible.

Compression: Compressing the injured area can prevent swelling and reduce swelling that has already occurred. It also helps with the first step(protection/prevention).

Elevation: Elevating the injured area above the level of the heart(if possible) reduces the amount of blood which flows to the area and therefore prevents more swelling. It also helps the lymphatic system flush the swelling away with the aid of gravity.

By following the P.R.I.C.E protocol, it can make recovery time much less than without the knowledge of what you are supposed to do. This protocol can be followed for any injury, not just the back that I have used as an example in this blog.

I hope this blog has been useful in teaching you what to do in the event that an injury has occurred. I also hope that by seeing a real MRI scan and hearing how easy it is to injure your body just from incorrect posture, that you think about your posture more each day and where possible you use the correct techniques to hopefully prevent an injury that is very common and one that I’m seeing a lot of lately.

Thanks for reading and good luck in taking good care of your body!

Starting at the beginning

Recently I’ve found myself thinking a lot about people starting exercise for the very first time and trying to remember how I first started exercising. During my long training runs in preparation for the London marathon, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my life, my training, what drives me and the goals I’ve set and achieved over the years, and it has got me thinking about what it would be like for someone who isn’t naturally into keeping fit, or those where exercise isn’t second nature to them. For someone like me it’s very hard to imagine not having regular exercise in my life, so from time to time it’s good to take a step back and think about it from a beginners point of view to appreciate the difficulties they have to overcome. To do this I started by asking myself a few questions…….

 Q1. How would I feel about going to the gym for the first time if I didn’t know where to start?

 Q2. What would my fears be about exercising if I was overweight/out of shape?

 Q3. What advice would I like to be given if I was starting to exercise for the first time?

Answering these questions as if I was a beginner gave me a good idea about how a beginner might feel and it gave me an idea about how I can help others that don’t know where to start or what to do.

Here’s my conclusions: With anything in life, the unknown can be daunting and exercising for the first time is no different. We all get paranoid that people will watch and stare if we don’t know what we’re doing and they might make comments. The truth is, everyone has to start somewhere and making the first step is the hardest. Once that’s done, it gets easier each time you are willing to put the effort in. People don’t like to fail so if we look at something in a negative way and believe we can’t do it, many people won’t attempt it and therefore they can’t fail.

I think Michael Jordan’s quote sums this up quite well…..

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

– Michael Jordan

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

– Colin Powell

In life, the best athletes don’t become the best because they never fail, they become the best because they have failed at times, they learnt from their mistakes and improved on them until they became the best. Failure isn’t losing; failure is not trying in the first place!

So I believe a beginner would like a few tips that could help with the basics and give them a base level or something to build on. With that in mind I’ve come up with a few ‘do’s and don’ts’  that could help someone take the first step to a healthier life.

Do……commit to a schedule whole heartedly as results don’t happen over night. It takes time to get in shape so stick with a routine and let your body respond to it. Nothing in life is free we have to work hard for it, so don’t expect it to come to you, work hard to go and grab it.

Don’t…..make excuses and miss workouts unless it really can’t be helped. Missing workouts lead to a slippery slope of not doing them at all and lets face it, what is more important than your health? NOTHING!

Do…..take things slow. The Sistine Chapel wasn’t built in a day and neither is your fitness levels. If you’re starting from the beginning, you have to WORK your way to the end before you reach your goal. See it as the rungs of a ladder, take one step at a time! This leads us nicely into the next don’t…..

Don’t…..push it too hard too soon. Imagine your muscles as elastic bands; if an elastic band sits in a cupboard for too long without being stretched it loses its flexibility and strength, and if stretched too much straight away, it will snap. Your muscles and body are the same. They need time to adjust and get the flexibility and strength to progress step by step and pushing it too hard too soon will only lead to injuries.

Do…..set yourself goals but make them realistic. Giving yourself something to aim for is great for motivation but if it’s well out of reach and unrealistic, it can also become demoralising if you don’ t reach it. SMART(Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Time) goals are always a good start.

Don’t……set yourself one big goal. It’s always good to set short term and long term goals so that there is always something to aim for that isn’t in the distant future. Never reaching a goal can again be demoralising so small goals will keep you heading in the right direction(going back to the rungs of the ladder again!).

Do……ask for help or advice if you don’t know what you’re doing. There is no harm in asking someone who knows what they’re doing for some advice. There are a lot of people out there that are willing to help, so don’t think you are on your own.

Finally…..

Don’t…..give up! We all have good and bad days but we need to experience the bad to really enjoy the good. Exercise is a learning curve and over time it can really improve your health and life as a whole. There are many benefits to keeping fit and healthy, so remember next time you feel like giving up just how much good you are doing for your body. The fact that regular exercise can help you live a longer, healthier life should be enough to keep you wanting to make a habit of it.

So there are my tips for any beginner that is thinking about exercising for the first time. I hope they help you reach your goals and inspire you to start making your body healthier sooner rather than later.

Good luck!

Have you quit yet?

The last month has been a crazy period since my last post. This time of year can be the busiest period for a personal trainer with all the health and fitness new year’s resolutions that people make. As it’s such a big thing for a lot of people to set goals/targets at the beginning of the year, I thought it would be the perfect subject for a blog. So, my question to you(if you’ve made a new year’s resolution!) is, ‘have you quit yet?’

Many people use a new year as a fresh start and the chance to start again and make things happen. A lot of new year’s resolutions I hear about are about lose weight, eating healthier, stop smoking, training and competing in an event(triathlon, marathon etc) and to generally be more healthy. The problem is, as humans we aim high and sometimes too high! Some of us set a target which is just unrealistic in the short term and it can be demoralising if we don’t reach our goals in the time we want to. That’s not to say we won’t get there in the future if we continue to work hard towards our goals, but many people just fall at the first hurdle and quit as their original goal just looks impossible to reach. I believe there are ways in which we can help ourselves reach those goals without quitting and I’ve come up with a few tips that I think might be helpful to prevent you from quitting before the end of January!

Here are my tips to help you stick to your new year’s resolutions and have a fitter, healthier and happier year:

  1. Mini targets: You may have a goal in mind and like I said it is reachable if you work hard towards it, but it may be something you will achieve in the long term. Try breaking it down in to smaller targets so that you have something more reachable in the short term. By working hard towards a goal but not reaching it for a long time, it can get mentally tough and easy to give up! None of us want to give up so make it more achievable. For example, you might want to lose three stone in weight. Three stone is a lot to lose if you do it the correct way(2 lb’s a week!) and could take six months or more if you work towards it religiously and get the 2 lb loss each week. Only seeing the odd ‘lb’ or so loss each week makes three stone seem so far away, so why not aim towards half a stone within a month which is much more realistic and gives you a short term goal. 
  2. Rewards:  Taking on board the tip above, once you’ve set your small targets, try treating yourself every time you reach a ‘mini target’. Being successful without rewards can also seem pointless until you reach your main goal and see the overall reward. So, treating yourself at each small target you achieve, makes it a little more fun and gives you an incentive/something to aim for. For example(using the same example as above), every time you lose half a stone, buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy, like a new item of clothing for your new body shape! 
  3. Moderation:  Cutting out the bad is always the right way to go but if you are used to something, cutting it out straight away can end up leaving you with cravings, for example, cutting out cigarettes or a certain food to lose weight. Why not try to cut down a little at a time or if you do choose to cut it out of your daily routine, there is no harm in having it once every so often(in moderation) and do it less and less until you are completely sure you are ready to stop all together. Cutting something out of your diet or nicotine out of your life all together straight away can lead to a relapse as the craving is too much to handle. Wait until you are mentally strong enough to completely stop before you force yourself to stop. 
  4. Facts:  This won’t work with all new year’s resolutions or with all people for that matter, but it’s human nature to enjoy seeing black and white facts on how well we’re doing and the successes we’ve had or having, and generally simple facts are enough to spur us on. Writing a diary or logging data is a great way to look back at past success and give us belief again when things aren’t going quite as well as they did at the start. Sometimes progress slows down and is less noticeable so graphs and figures are great for showing you may still be heading in the right direction and if you’re not, they might just give you the kick up the backside that you need to get on the path for success again! For example, you might have only lost half a ‘lb’ this week and you think you’re getting no where fast, but if you look back, you may well have lost a stone in total and it can be a positive action to keep you smiling and not quitting!

So there are my tips to help you reach your new year’s resolutions. Some might not work for you or they all might work as everyone is different and our minds work in different ways, but hopefully from the four tips above you might have got something to keep you heading in the right direction. Remember….nothing worth having in life comes without hard work!

If you’ve read this blog, I’d love to know your new year’s resolutions, how you’re getting on with them and what you are doing to reach them? Please feel free to share your comments, you never know….your success stories or advice may well help someone else in the same situation.

Thanks for reading my blog and good luck in 2012 in reaching your goals, whatever they may be.

Adding ‘lb’s’ Over Christmas!

Coming up to the festive season, many of us start thinking about how much we eat and some of the junk we end up putting into our body. With this comes the problem of standing on the scales and taking a gasp as we see our weight much higher than before the Christmas break. Sometimes it’s not just a couple of added ‘lb’s’ that we end up having to shift with our New Year’s resolutions, it can be much more and not the greatest way to see in the New Year. So what can we do to prevent this from happening and still enjoy the treats of Christmas?

Unfortunately, there is no magic wand that can help us with the problem of gaining weight after eating badly. Fortunately, there is something far better……EXERCISE! In the ideal world we would all eat healthily and enjoy some regular exercise which would go hand in hand to keeping us all fit and healthy inside and out, but we all know this isn’t going to happen! Obviously I would always advise everyone to eat the right foods, drink the right fluids and exercise regularly but there are times during the year when we all want to let our hair down and enjoy ourselves. With that comes junk food, alcohol and lack of sleep. Stress can also be a major problem for the body which is why having time to relax and have some fun is important too. So it’s all about finding a balance!

I personally don’t agree with counting calories as that feels very restrictive and no way to live, but it’s common sense that if you burn off the added calories you put into the body with some of the junk food, it helps to keep the weight off. So the solution to the problem is obvious; if you eat fattening foods you have to work harder to burn them off! There is no easy route in life to be successful, it requires hard work and dedication. Fitness is no different and Vince Lombardi has made some fantastic quotes explaining just that, here are a couple of my favourites….

“Dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price”

“A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done”

I think these quotes typify my views to exercise and keeping fit. If we put the work in, we get rewarded for our efforts! You have two choices……

  • Make sacrifices and restrain yourself around the junk food and alcohol that helps us pile on the ‘lb’s’ over Christmas. Eat healthily and maintain how you would normally live throughout the year.
  • Exercise regularly throughout the Christmas break and be able to eat some treats and enjoy yourself, knowing you are limiting the damage by burning more calories through exercise.

It is harder to lose weight after the damage is done than to maintain it through regular exercise at the time! To give you an indication of how much effort it takes to burn off the wrong foods, here is an example…

A Mars bar contains roughly 280 calories. For a 150 lb person to burn off the calories in a Mars bar they would need to run for about 25 minutes if they were running at a pace of 6mph.

Obviously these figures would change with the weight of the person and speed they run at. This is just an approximate guide but it shows how much effort needs to be put in to burn off one minute of enjoyment from eating that Mars bar, so is it worth it and are you willing to work hard to burn it off?. Now ask yourself this question and the answer will tell you if you should take choice number one or number two above….

Are you dedicated and hard working enough to exercise regularly to burn off the amount of calories you will consume over Christmas?

If your answer is no then stick to choice number one and make some sacrifices, if it’s yes then enjoy exercising over the Christmas period and you’ll have the opportunity to treat yourself too! 

I’ll leave you with a tip to a question that so many people have asked during my time as a personal trainer and one that so many people have problems with already and others will have over Christmas…. “What is the best abdominal exercise to get a flat/toned stomach?”

If you do plan on working hard and being able to have the Christmas treats,  just remember one thing…..you can do as many abdominal exercises as you want but your abdominals will not show if there is body fat over the top! Sit ups, abdominal crunches and any other core exercise will not be enough to burn the fat needed to see visible abdominal muscles, that comes from cardiovascular exercise for about 30 minutes at a time at a steady pace. There is no harm in building your core strength and when the body fat percentage decreases, the abdominals will be more visible.

Time to start planning your Christmas exercise schedule! Have a great festive period.

Fail to Prepare; Prepare to Fail!

After using the phrase ‘Fail to prepare; prepare to fail!’ this week, I thought it would be a great place to start when writing my blog. As I’m in the process of training for the London Marathon in 2012 I find myself back in the same mindset as I was as a footballer, not leaving anything to chance and making sure every training run is prepared for properly. It made me think about how others prepare themselves for their sports or just for training in general. I’ve come up with a few questions and tips that might help you train and perform to your best…..

  • Are you eating the right foods before training or the main performance? 

TIP – What you put into your body prior to training/performing will provide you with the energy you need to perform at your best. If you don’t eat right, don’t expect to perform to your best! High carbohydrate foods before hand should leave you with the energy to perform at a good level without feeling tired/drained. I tend to eat foods like, chicken, pasta, rice, bananas, toast and cereal. The size and type of food depends on the time of day I eat it and how long I have before the performance. Ideally, a big meal should be eaten 3 hours prior to the performance or smaller, lighter foods such as toast for anything closer to the performance. Remember to leave enough time for your food to go down and start the digestion process or it will sit on your stomach and make it uncomfortable to run or move when performing.

  • Are you drinking enough of the right fluids before and during training or the main performance?

TIP – Very similar to the tip above, the fluids that you put into your body prior to and during training/performing, will prevent you from becoming dehyrated and will replace lost salts from sweating. Drinking plenty of water before training/performing will help the body be at its best. If you feel dehydrated the damage is already done! It only takes 2-3% of water loss in the body before endurance starts to suffer and your performance also suffers. A little bit more(5%) and it effects the mind making it hard to concentrate and the body continues to suffer with pace slowing down. Keeping hydrated is vital! Isotonic drinks are a good tool during training/performing as they replace lost salts and also have a high concentration of carbs to keep the energy levels up. If possible, try to take plenty of fluids with you during your training/performance and keep drinking small amounts at regular intervals. It’s easier for sports like cycling for obvious reasons that you can connect a drink to your bike, but I’ve been known to hide drink bottles in a quiet place on a route I plan on taking a long distance run, so that I have a drink at certain stages of that run. Don’t neglect drinking fluids and make sure they are the right fluids, not fizzy drinks, tea, coffee etc as they are diuretics and will only dehydrate you more!

  • Do you have the right equipment and clothing?

TIP – This is a very important tip! Having the wrong equipment or clothing could be costly, not just because of comfort but because you can risk injury. Until you know a sport, it’s very difficult to know what you might need, so make sure you speak to the right people and get advice on the essentials from people who perform in that sport or know their stuff. An example: Until running long distances, you might not have ever thought about blisters, chafing, correct trainers for your gait etc, but all of them can make the difference between performing at your best and a very uncomfortable event. Clothing such as 1000 mile blister free socks, lined shorts, vaseline or other lubricants to prevent chafing and correct trainers(sometimes fitted with orthotics if necessary!) are a must. Sometimes it’s trial and error but there are specific sports shops that can advise you if you need help. How about riding up a steep hill on your bike and the gears keep slipping? Again something that can cause an injury if you’re on a road amongst traffic and can really make your ride much more difficult. Maybe it’s about the right foot wear in a football match. Do you have moulded boots for hard grounds and studded boots for soft weather grounds? It’s not just the equipment/clothing it’s also the colour! I have recently been on a training run in the clothing you can see in the picture to the right which looks fine until you know I went out later in the day and misjudged the time. I ended up running in the dark in black clothing without any reflectors on. I rarely make mistakes like this and there were no problems on the run, BUT there could have been and next time I might not be so fortunate. I have learnt from my mistake and it’s a good mistake to highlight as an example of the title of this blog.

So in conclusion, don’t leave things to chance! There are many more tips I could give you about performing to your best but the blog would go on all day, so I’ll save it for another day. The higher the level you perform at, the smaller the margins are. Not drinking enough, eating the wrong foods at the wrong time, wearing the wrong clothing and using the wrong equipment and generally not preparing for your performance could be the difference between being a winner or a loser! What would you rather be?

Running the VLM Marathon in Memory in 2012

Many people out there will know it is the time of year where they are starting to prepare for the Virgin London Marathon in 2012, after receiving an acceptance letter from the ballot, or feeling the disappointment of receiving a rejection letter instead. I was one of the latter and when you have your heart set on something as much as I did, I can tell you just how bad it feels to have the chance taken away.

I was determined that 2012 was going to be my year for running the marathon and I decided the ballot wasn’t going to be my last hope, so I made the decision to go for a gold bond place with a charity instead. I had planned on raising money for Cancer Research if I was accepted through the ballot, so this was the first charity I contacted. Unfortunately all their gold bond places had been taken so I contacted other relevant charities that meant something to me. I’m happy to announce that I was accepted by Macmillan Cancer Support and I can’t put into words how happy this has made me. If you read my story you will understand why. The story behind running the London Marathon for a cancer charity can be seen at my Just Giving page. I urge you all to read my story and then decide if donating is something you would like to do. If it isn’t, all I ask is that you share the link and make people aware of what I’m doing and for doing that I will be very appreciative.

So, now the hard work begins! The long training runs and the fundraising over the next six months all leading up to one day. I have no doubt it will be one very long emotional day for me but with all the support I have behind me, I know that when my legs start to fatigue, thoughts of everyone that has donated over the six months will give me wings and lift me to my goal. I will remember every penny donated to such an amazing cause and together we will make a difference to so many lives around the world.

As part of my fundraising and aim to raise awareness, I have started a facebook page to keep everyone that joins, up to date with my latest training, news, fundraising events and ‘thank you’s’ to everyone that donates to the cause. If you are on facebook, please feel free to join my page and support me. It’s amazing how far a few words of support can go on someone’s wall!!!

For the next six months, deep in the back of my mind one date will always be there…..22nd April 2012. When that day arrives I will run with all the passion and emotion I have in me and I WILL NOT let anyone down. I want to take this opportunity to thank you for reading this blog and my story, and also thank everyone for all the support you have given me so far and right through to race day. Without you, this would never be possible.

Thank you all.

 

Exercise: Back to Basics!

Recently I have heard a few people say “Don’t you have to be quite fit to have a personal trainer?” or “I need to get a little fitter before I have some personal training.” and my answer has been…..”NO, not at all! Every single one of us is an individual and our bodies work in very different ways. We all have to start somewhere and what better way to start than have professional advice from the beginning, rather than try when you don’t really know what you are doing!”

A friend of mine sent me some fitness blogs a few days ago and although most of them were a good read, there were points I disagreed with, one point in particular stood out in my mind and I would like to give my opinion to it. Here is the quote……

“Never do cardio right before weight training, doing cardio uses up your stored glycogen which will greatly compromise your energy level during weight training. On the other hand, doing weight training first will use up the stored glycogen then the body will look for fat to burn as energy.”

As I said above, every individual is different and has different goals. It is true that if you do cardio before weights, you will generally feel more tired during the weights but there is no reason why you can’t burn fat during a weights session too! Also, it completely depends on what is more important to you as an individual to what you do first. For instance, if you want to burn fat and gain general fitness, I would suggest the cardio comes first as it is more important for your overall goal, whereas if you wanted to concentrate more on building muscle or toning up, then the weights section would be more important and should come first, whilst you are fresh and can perform to your best. The other reason why I disagree with this statement is that when doing cardio, if you keep your heart rate to the correct zone, burning fat as an energy source rather than glycogen is easily done. So, like I said, we are all different and it’s about finding out what works for you.

Exercise is like trial and error, as long as the basic guidelines are followed and you are exercising in the correct manner and performing exercises safely(with the correct posture), the rest is about what works for you. You might find that a friend tells you to try something that has got them great results and when you do, you achieve nothing. This is because your body is not the same and will respond differently to some exercise than others.

What is important is consistency, will power, a positive mental attitude(PMA) and belief that with hard work you CAN……be what you want to be, work towards the shape you want to be and become a fitter healthier person. So, with this in mind, I’ve come up with a few pointers that might work for you and help you in the right direction to living a healthier lifestyle:

  • When starting to exercise for the first time or starting up again after a long break, don’t be stubborn and push it too hard too soon. Listen to your body and what it is telling you. If it has a few aches and pains, acknowledge them but don’t ignore them. If you try to push through them you are likely to injure your body by putting it under too much stress before it is ready.
  • Don’t neglect the boring bits! What I mean by this is the warm up and cool down before and after each session. These are not there just to make you look like you know what you are doing, they are there because you DO know what you’re doing! A warm up and cool down will get the body ready to exercise and also bring the body back to a resting state afterwards. Imagine your muscles like an elastic band; if an elastic band is left for too long in a draw and then taken out and stretched immediately, it is likely to snap. The idea of a warm up is to get the muscles warm and more flexible so they aren’t overstretched straight away and tear like the elastic band! Dynamic stretches(stretches on the move) are a big part of a warm up. It is also there to increase the body’s circulation and dilate the blood vessels ready to deal with the body’s need for oxygenated blood when exercising more vigorously. A cool down is just as important to flush away the lactic acid build up in the muscles to reduce stiffness/soreness in the body over the following few days. Static stretching is a big part of a cool down so that the muscles don’t tighten up and shorten after exercise. Keeping the muscles supple is a major part of any exercise programme.
  • Rest is just as important as exercising itself! If you continuously put the body under stress you are actually making micro tears in the muscles of the body. Without sufficient rest to recover, these tears will not repair right and an injury is on the cards. Scar tissue build up is very common from overworking without enough recovery and this can lead to a bigger muscle injury preventing you from exercising all together for weeks on end. Again, listen to your body and it’s aches and pains and if you feel like you need a day of rest and recovery, you probably do BUT this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to get out of exercising. Be honest with yourself because consistency is key.
  • Keeping your body hydrated is a must! Many people neglect the correct fluid intake which can be a bad mistake. The fluids lost from sweating whilst exercising means they are in constant need to be replaced. A dehydrated body will lead to fatigue and the muscles don’t perform as they should causing muscle pulls. It is important to prevent dehydration by continuously topping up your fluid intake before, during and after exercise to replace the lost fluids and body salts. A hydrated body will perform better and is less likely to have muscle injuries, which means regular exercise can continue consistently.
  • Lastly, many people struggle with knowing how many times a week and for how long they should exercise. There is no right or wrong(within reason!) but there are some good guidelines to follow. When starting up, try building up the time of the session gradually starting at 15-20 minutes and over time increasing it to roughly an hour maximum. Also, start with one or two sessions a week and add more as and when the body starts to recover quicker and you feel ready to exercise again. Three sessions a week is more than adequate to maintain a good fitness base but if you want to exercise more, there is no reason why you shouldn’t as long as you give yourself a day or two to rest every so often. Exercising five to six times a week is the maximum I would advise purely so there is a day or two to break the week up for a recovery period.

I hope this blog has given you an insight into a few basic pointers, to help get you on track for starting on the first rung of the ‘fitness ladder’. Remember, you know your body better than anyone else, so make sure you treat it with respect, listen to it and learn from it, and it will take care of you and reward you with the success of achieving your goals.

Consistent or Consistently Inactive?

The Findings:

After recently returning to full training from a calf injury, that meant not running for 25 days, I have witnessed first hand(again!) what a break in fitness training can do! The great thing about technology is being able to compare data and doing exactly that has shown me in black and white the differences between regular, consistent exercise, to irregular, inconsistent exercise. After seeing what it can do to someone like myself that is in the fitness industry for a living and loves to keep fit, I thought it might be a great idea to share my comparisons with others that exercise a lot less, to show the effects it can have on the body and change a few people’s mind sets towards regular exercise.

The facts:

I run 10 miles at a time 2-3 times a week with 1-2 resistance training sessions in between, consisting of full body weights and core exercises. The last time I ran(when fresh) before getting injured, was Sunday 10th July. Since then I have not been able to do any impact exercise so I’ve been limited to CV on a bike and weight training. Because of this I knew my fitness would suffer but I wasn’t sure how much until I returned from injury. My first run back from injury(without pain) was on Thursday 11th August, 32 days apart. The differences in pace, time, and most importantly heart rate are quite amazing!

Here is the comparison(make sure to click on ‘more detail’ for a thorough comparison):

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/comparison?activityId=105655672&activityId2=98138179

If you look at the difference in max and average heart rate between the two, the latter run was higher by 12 beats per minute, making the heart rate zone much higher and the body having to work much harder even on a flatter course. If this is what can happen to the efficiency of the heart of a personal trainer in 32 days, whilst continuing other forms of training in that time, imagine what it can do to the average person that neglects their body and the exercise they do to keep it in shape over months or years of irregular, inconsistent exercise. If the heart takes that short a time to become that less efficient, take a moment to think about the strain it will have on other organs of the body and the body’s performance as a whole. Even the smallest jobs could seem epic if the heart has to work so hard to make it happen, so here are a few tips to make sure you keep your body working as efficiently as possible.

The Tips:

  1. When starting to exercise, try to get into a routine that the body recognises. Build it up so that you workout at least 2-3 times a week for an hour at a time.
  2. Everyone needs a rest to let the body recover and as I’ve mentioned before, the rest is just as important as the actual workout, but don’t leave it too long between workouts. As you can see from the stats above, if the gaps are too big between exercise, the body’s fitness will suffer and you will feel like you’ve taken a step backwards every time you start exercising again.
  3. Lastly, keep things fresh by mixing up what exercise you do, this way you will be less inclined to put it off as you are bored of your routine. By doing this you will keep your exercise routine fun, consistent and your body working efficiently for as long as you put the hard work into it.

I hope these three tips help you keep your body fit and healthy. If you have come across the same break in exercise and experienced the same fitness struggles, please leave your stories and let me know if this blog has helped you!

Listening to your Body

Learning about exercise, fitness and what to do to reach your goals is a never-ending learning curve. Everyone has an opinion and there are many that are controversial. It can be quite confusing hearing lots of opinions and advice from different people and even when we know our stuff, we all still make mistakes. I’ve recently made a big mistake at which I should have known better and it’s important we learn from these mistakes. We can listen to as much advice as possible from people who know more than us, but the most important thing, is to listen to our bodies when it comes to how we feel when training. Sometimes we can get complacent after exercising regularly and that can be a dangerous place to be, as I found out recently. When we commit to exercise we all like to push it hard and see results, but sometimes that’s not the way to go. The rest and recovery is just as important and sometimes more important than the actual exercise. What none of us want is to burn out and end up injured!

I was recently running on my usual 10 mile route and I could feel my right calf was tight. I’d been training hard for a couple of weeks before hand and wanted to keep pushing myself. My body was trying to tell me that it was time to stop and recover but I didn’t listen. When I felt my calf tightening I should have cut my run short, gone home and rested for a few days to let my body recover, but I didn’t and thought I could just get through until the end. I took my body one step too far and after a few quick successive sharp pains I felt a ‘ping’ and the damage was done, I had pulled my calf. I have pushed my body to the limit so many times before that I got complacent about my fitness level and ignored the signs. We all have a limit, we just need to know when to stop!

When we exercise and continuously push our bodies to the limit, we actually tear tiny muscle fibres. These muscle fibres are so small and there are so many of them that it’s not noticeable, but over time they rebuild and cause scar tissue, what most know as knots in the muscle. If we don’t give our body time to repair and recover, these small tears can be far worse and that is when more serious injuries occur. Muscle pulls/strains are common because of many reasons but they can be prevented with a little common sense and just by listening to our bodies and having a rest when we feel we need one!

Here are some signs that might help you prevent an over usage injury………

  • Dehydration –  The body is made up of 70% water. If the body gets dehydrated, normal functions will suffer including muscle performance. Generally, if you feel thirsty or you have a dry mouth, the damage is already done, you are already dehydrated. If you feel this way, make sure you drink plenty of fluids and you feel ready to exercise before trying to push yourself. Don’t ignore it and try to exercise as dehydration can be very serious.
  • Tiredness –  When you are tired mentally or physically, the reaction times slow down and concentration levels drop. If you don’t concentrate on a run, bike ride or many other activities, or you just react slower than normal, it may be the difference between putting your foot in a pot hole or seeing it earlier, dodging it and avoiding an ankle injury. If you feel tired, rest and make sure you have recovered fully before exercising again.
  • Tightness –  If you are contemplating a weights or CV session but a certain muscle or area feels tight, it’s tight for a reason. Don’t push through it and hope it eases off, as it can be far worse like a muscle pull, such as the one I’ve experienced through doing exactly this! Be sensible, let the muscle recover and make sure it is fully warmed up, stretched and feeling ready to exercise before you exercise again.
  • Illness –  If you are recovering from an illness, make sure you have recovered fully before trying to exercise. Your body’s immune system is down and exercising at this point can increase the risk of injury or further illness. There are some minor illnesses like a basic headache that exercising can actually help with. It helps to dilate the blood vessels in the body so the blood moves more freely with less pressure in the head, hence easing a headache, but if the body has an infection or virus, bacteria can thrive when the body temperature is raised therefore prolonging the illness. I suggest you take the extra few days to recover and make sure you are on top form to be able to push yourself hard, when you get back to feeling 100% again.

The key to preventing injuries is to be smart. If you’re in any doubt and you just don’t feel quite right, don’t risk it. That doesn’t mean don’t exercise just because you can’t be bothered, but be sure you are fit and able enough to perform to a good intensity and get the best out of whatever exercise it is you have chosen.

So, next time you want to exercise, let your body speak to you AND make sure you listen! Enjoy your workout : )