Today’s reworked fitness post profiles Zumba–it was my very first post about Zumba back in June 2011 when I first started attending classes. Click and find out a beginner’s first impressions of this exercise, which I have now stayed with for almost 3 years!
Since I’ve been attending Zumba classes since June 2011, I’ve learned quite a bit about how much I think I can do versus how much I can actually do; I can actually do much more than I ever expected! Day by day I conquer the ailments in my feet and legs long enough to dance and have fun, and that’s the wonderful, inspirational, freeing side of Zumba.
…But Zumba would not be complete without hilarious fails and passing thoughts, either–humor makes Zumba fun, even as you wildly contemplate how long you can keep up with the instructor. Going along with the “S–t People Say” meme, here’s my take on what we Zumba dancers sometimes think while we’re moving:
- Uh, yeah, I know how to do that move…sorta…kinda
- I don’t think anybody saw me slip–I’ll pretend it was a new dance move 😀
- …How do you even DO that???
- Looking like a HOT MESS in this exercise room mirror right now…
- I forgot I even had that muscle.
- This is my JAM \m/ \m/
- 30 more seconds…20 more seconds…I CAN MAKE IT
- Ooh, ow, okay, definitely not stepping down that hard again!
- My workout clothes should come with “Anti-Jiggle Technology” included…
- If I had the energy of a toddler, I still couldn’t move that fast.
- Oh, air conditioning grate, how I love you <3 yay, cold air
- Have no idea what the singers in this song are saying, but it sounds great!
- Step 1: Dance; Step 2: Pretend you look as awesome as the instructor while dancing.
- Geez, how LONG is this SONG?! Seriously?!
- This just in: sweat definitely stings eyes. Film at 11.
- Whoops, hope that wasn’t anybody’s water bottle
- Desperately trying not to look like a complete noob: 40% complete
- I shook my rear so much I think it might fall off 😛
- –Oh, wow, I just did that crazy hard move! I JUST DID THAT 😀 😀
- That settles it, I think this instructor is a super-limber alien just pretending to be human. LOL
“Wait, what?” you’re probably thinking. “There are PROS to being a big woman, in today’s society of ‘thin is in’ and size 0-2 being glorified in every clothing store?”
Yes, there are pros. As a big woman myself, it’s taken me many years to come to terms with my shape and size since I plumped up and began to gain my adult form at 11 years old. But I’ve finally reached a place where I am content with my body whatever shape it takes. And in this skinny-crazed society we live in, it’s important for all of us bigger ladies to stop hating and punishing ourselves because we don’t “look thin” or “weigh X amount.” There’s more to fitness than just weight, as I’ll discuss in a moment.
One Important Note Before We Begin: “Big” Does Not Always Equal “Fat/Obese”
Now, I am not saying that there are pros to having severe obesity which causes medical problems. Believe me, I began to suffer a painful pre-arthritic condition in several of my lower body joints about six years ago due to weight, and through exercise I am beginning to conquer it. Body size which compromises health is something that must be addressed medically (not just with fad diets and such), otherwise one’s quality of life will wither away–I experienced that firsthand.
Fitness is NOT Measured in Body Weight Alone
BUT! My body frame is just larger than what’s considered “thin/small enough,” and I would guess that I’m not the only woman built like this. (From shoulder to shoulder, I’m 17 inches wide; from hip bone to hip bone, I’m 25 inches wide.) My shoulders and hips are just wider than some girls’, and all of my bones are thicker than most. (Even doctors have marveled at the thickness/density of my bones on X-rays.) Because of my skeleton’s structure and density, I can carry more weight without it looking like I weigh that much. Most people who look at me cannot believe I’m 300 pounds (yep, I said it–it’s just a number!); most folks guess that I’m 200 pounds or so.
Too many people focus on just their weight number, thinking that fitness is solely based on how much you weigh, and it just isn’t. There are plenty more factors that go into fitness, such as muscle flexibility and strength, heart health, joint flexibility, lung capacity, ability to walk and move easily, etc. My doctor tells me my knees are stronger and my heart and lungs are performing better than they were six years ago, yet I’m the first to admit I’m not completely fit yet.
But even with all the exercise classes I take and healthy food I eat, I will never shrink down to be a smaller woman skeletally. I will never be dainty, petite, and tiny. I am a tall woman (5’8″) with broad shoulders and wide hips. This is something I must accept about myself, because it has to do with how my body is formed at the skeletal level, something that diet and exercise cannot change. I and other girls built like me will always be somewhat larger than “model” size.
And you know what? THAT IS OKAY. In fact, it’s more than okay to be big–sometimes, there are even advantages! Thus, the reason I came up with the following tongue-in-cheek yet accurate list:
Why It’s Great to Be a Big Woman
- Our height and body structure makes us look more authoritative/confident
- No breast augmentation surgery needed–large breasts usually come with the “big woman” package
- More padding, so if you fall or bump into things, you won’t break a bone or damage internal organs
- Halter tops look great on broad shoulders and large busts like ours
- We can use our weight against potential attackers
- Wringing out clothes is easy–just wrap the clothing in a towel and sit on it! LOL
- Our figures can look more like the vintage “pinup girl” posters
- There are good men out there who genuinely appreciate our bodies
- We got hips that don’t lie (and that can shut car doors by themselves)
- Carrying/delivering children is a little easier (especially with our wider hips)
- We can pull off those lovely retro-style dresses and skirts
- Since we can carry more weight on our frames, we can usually carry heavier things more easily
- Who needs body pillows to snuggle with when you’ve got us? 😀
To conclude my series on getting fit and staying fit, I want to offer encouragement, and a few final tips for your own fitness quest:
#1: This is a Lifestyle Change
When you begin your fitness quest, remember that this journey is full of steps toward a better lifestyle. This is not a diet you will only adopt for 90 days, nor only an exercise goal you’ll hit in a year. All of the steps I’ve outlined in previous posts are new habits and routines to adopt so that you can lead a healthier lifestyle.
Don’t think that you can just go back to your old lifestyle after you’ve lost however many pounds or inches. To go back to your old lifestyle is to go back to your old weight and your old level of fitness. Do you really want to do that to yourself, when you’ve come so far already?
#2: This is Not Impossible
I admit, some of the “healthy lifestyle” routines and habits are difficult to adopt at first, and you end up craving your old life quite a bit, especially if you’ve overwhelmed yourself with a ton of changes. That’s why I suggest changing one or two little things at a time, so that you can slowly shift your lifestyle over the course of years. If you feel that a certain lifestyle change is impossible, break it down into possible goals, and achieve them one at a time.
For instance, to start on my “healthy eating” goal, I shifted from sugary sodas to flavored water six years ago, and now I couldn’t imagine going back to drinking all those drinks I used to love. (Though I still have random Cheerwine cravings…LOL) At first, I thought I’d hate it and would never be able to stick to it, but by removing every soda from the house and choosing to drink only tea or water when dining out, I found that slowly the craving for sugary drinks went away. I’m nowhere near eating “healthy” as most people conceive of it, but that choice of water over soda is one important step toward it.
#3: If You Mess Up, It’s Not the End of Your Quest
So you broke down and had a slice of cheesecake…or perhaps 4 or 5 slices. Does that mean that your fitness quest is over and you might as well give up?
Absolutely not. And actually, it’s perfectly okay to have a treat once in a while. Just make sure that that cheesecake, or those hot wings, or whatever tempts you, is purely a “once-in-a-while” treat. Take time to fully enjoy it, savoring the experience, and then continue with your regular diet again. (I have to use this trick with chocolate chip cookies–I allow myself two a week as part of my regular diet, but if I end up eating more than that, I just factor that in as next week’s allotment and move on.)
This goes for exercise, too. If you miss two or three days of exercise, pick it right back up the next day, or the next week, and continue on as if nothing has happened. In my early days of Zumba, I would sometimes miss a couple of classes in a row because of terrible nerve-ripping headaches and joint soreness. But I always knew there was next week’s class that I could return to. Soon, as my joints got better and my headaches were treated, I missed less classes, until I was attending regularly.
The point? Don’t give up on your goal just because you got off-target for a few hours (or a few days). Fitness is something that is maintained, not gained and then kept forever. It’s a constant process, which can be put down and picked back up at will.
#4: Think of How Much Better Your Life Will Be
When we’re first trying to get fit, we think of all we will lose–access to our favorite foods, less time to enjoy our favorite TV shows, etc. But to change your thinking, think instead about all the things you can’t do right now because of your fitness level, and how much you want to get back to doing them.
For instance, I had to quit basketball–and pretty much every other physical activity (even running)–because of all the joint injuries I suffered in college. When the doctor says “your knees and ankles can’t take high-impact activities,” it means everything high-impact. And for years I felt stuck by that; every exercise I tried hurt, and felt like the worst kind of punishment.
But now, thanks to getting a little more active in Zumba class and staying with it for a year and a half, my knees and ankles are more capable. Just last week, I walked around the entire outlet mall near my hometown, a feat I have not been able to do in seven years because of joint pain. I was a little sore the next day, but not bedridden like I would have been even 3 years ago.
It might be a small victory to some, but to me it meant I am actually returning to normal life as a young woman ought to experience it. I don’t feel like I’m in a body that’s over 70 years old anymore. That’s my point; if you stay with your fitness quest, you can regain physical abilities that you thought you’d lost forever. Physical capability through fitness is something many people take for granted, but when you lose it, you realize how important it is!
Here are a few other articles I’ve written about exercise and fitness, to keep you more informed. May you be successful and happy as you start your fitness journey!
As I well know from my failed attempts at fitness, trying to get fit alone can be painful, lonely, and boring. It feels like there’s no one to talk to about what kind of exercise you’re doing, no one you’re specifically looking forward to seeing when you work out, and worst of all, no one to commiserate with. For me, at least, the lack of companionship hurt more than I cared to admit; I found myself quitting on my fitness goals largely because exercise isolated me too much, and I ended up hating it.
Many people fear exercising in the presence of others because of the judgment factors: “What if they think I’m fat/disgusting/ugly/etc.?” “What if I’m not doing it right and they laugh at me?” If you’re feeling that way, I want you to firmly push that aside. There is a way you can exercise around other people who will not judge you and who love you–exercising with friends (both old and new), as well as family.
Assembling Your Fitness Buddies
When you pitch this idea to your family and friends, remember to talk about and find answers to the following questions:
- What are some activities that all of you enjoy?
- Who is physically able to do what kinds of workouts?
- When is everyone available during the week?
Remember that if the whole group can’t work out one time to all be together, you can break up a big fitness group into smaller ones. You could end up doing a Monday afternoon yoga class with one or two friends, a Wednesday morning walk with your sibling, and a Friday afternoon basketball game with two or three other friends/family members.
Don’t be afraid to get creative when you brainstorm ideas for group fitness activities. I knew a group of three friends in college who got together after their afternoon classes and did jump-rope in the campus Quad, for instance. All you have to do is make sure the activity is something you can easily fit into your schedule, and that it’s fun for all of you to do. Whether it’s attending a group exercise class together three times a week, or doing exercise videos in somebody’s living room every Tuesday night, choose something that gets you moving!
“But What If None of My Friends/Family Want to Do My Exercise Routine?”
Has this question occurred to you? Don’t worry, it occurred to me, too. I wanted to work out, but it seemed like so many of my friends and family were too busy with work. What to do then?
#1: Ask Around in All Your Social Groups Till You Find Someone to Work Out With
Once I realized so many of my close friends and family were busy, I began asking about where some of my other acquaintances worked out, and finally one of my Choral Society friends told me about a Thursday night Zumba class that she really enjoyed. I came to that class one evening just to observe, to see whether I could physically do the workout. Once I came and saw that I’d like to try it, the next Thursday night I was there with bells on. And, as this blog post proves, that began a huge life change.
What helped me stick with it? Well, for one thing, it really helped to have someone I already knew in the class with me. My Choral Society buddy gave me an “anchor” for the class, so I knew I wouldn’t be in a room with total strangers. But that wasn’t the only thing that helped….
#2: Talk with the People Working Out Around You
It doesn’t take much to start a conversation, even if you’re shy. Just saying hi to the people near you, smiling and being friendly, can make your workouts (and theirs) a much happier experience. Observe those around you, see who looks friendly/amenable to conversation, and then introduce yourself. That can be all it takes.
For me, I started out not knowing anybody in my Zumba class, but I set myself a goal to introduce myself to at least one new person every time I went to class, and to talk a little with everyone I had met before. Now there are at least 10 people I look forward to seeing in Zumba class, and we have more fun in class because we can joke back and forth about being uncoordinated or missing a few steps.
#3: Invite Close Friends to Join You in Your New Workout
Once you have a fitness routine established and a couple of casual fitness buddies at your workout place, start inviting other friends to try it with you. In this way, you can be their “anchor,” helping them try out a new activity without feeling like they’re in a roomful of strangers, and they can give you an even stronger social connection to your workout if they continue on with you. (And if they can’t continue for whatever reason, it’s perfectly okay, because you’ve already made connections with others who come to work out with you.)
The Bottom Line: Fitness Can Be a Party
I find that the more social connections you have to your fitness routine, the more likely you’re going to keep doing it. That’s really the only difference between my current Zumba workouts and all the other workout routines I’ve tried in the past–this time, I’ve made friends who Zumba, and we all laugh and have fun together while we exercise.
Next Week: A Few Other Small Details, and Other Fitness Articles to Read
As a way to conclude this series on beginning your own fitness journey the right way, I’ll cover a few more minor points, as well as including some more “exercising the right way” strategies I’ve written about on my blog before. Catch it next week, just in time to start working on your New Year’s resolutions!
When we finally do make the resolution to get fit, we usually want to see results quickly. “I’m putting in all this hard work at the gym–why aren’t my pant sizes going down every week?” “I haven’t eaten anything but ‘healthy food’ for two weeks; when am I going to see the pounds going away?”
Unfortunately, our bodies do not change as fast as infomercials would have us believe. And actually, if you push your body to lose too much weight too fast, you may only end up wrecking your muscles and packing on more fat when you’re done with your “fitness plan.” (How do I know? It happened to my mother in the sixties, when the “yo-yo” fad diet was all the rage, even with some doctors; she suffered long-term negative effects from the prescribed “starve yourself and then go back to eating regular food” diet.)
Fitness is Not a Certain Weight/Muscle Mass
Fitness is not about being skinny and fitting into itty-bitty clothing sizes. Nor is it about being able to lift tons of weight and having huge, rippling muscles. Fitness is about having a body that works efficiently, repairs itself swiftly, and can do everything you need it to do. Ideally, every food we eat and every activity we do should support our bodies’ health so that we stay fit.
But realistically, almost nobody lives this way. When it comes to food, most of us either make unhealthy food choices (guilty as charged), or we have gastronomic illnesses that keep us from eating properly. And in terms of physical activity, we either choose not to be as active as we should, or we have injuries or disabilities that prevent us from doing much.
Thus, we start “getting out of shape;” our bodies slowly lose the ability to do the things we’d like to be able to do, or eat the foods we’d like to be able to eat, even once in a while. For instance, my dad’s Type II diabetes keeps him from the vanilla milkshakes he so loves, while my bad ankles and knees keep me from playing basketball like I used to do.
Getting Fit = Slow and Methodical
Lack of fitness is not just a weight or body shape issue–it’s a quality of life issue. But getting fit again is not a short-term process. After all, we didn’t get out of shape in only a few months, so what makes us think we can get back in shape in a few months?
If you’re serious about getting back into a healthy physical state (which is what fitness is), then you must not punish your body by overdoing exercise or going on crazy fad diets. That’s a quick way to make yourself sick or injured. Instead, you must take it one tiny but firm step forward at a time.
What do I mean by “tiny but firm” steps? Make small changes one at a time, changes you can gradually adapt into your lifestyle so that they become routine; then, once one change has been adapted, move on to the next change.
Here’s an example–my own fitness journey thus far:
- Began drinking mostly flavored water (2006)
- Took out about half the volume of sweet and salty snack foods (2007)
- Began cooking/eating more meals at home (2007)
- Shrunk my portion size by a little at each meal (2008)
- Began taking anti-inflammatory medication to help reduce joint swelling (2009)
- Began doing ankle-strengthening exercises at home (2009)
- Changed out my potato chips for whole-wheat crackers, and my candy for peanut butter (2010)
- Began walking more–parking further away from buildings’ entrances, for instance (2010)
- Started Zumba classes (2011)
- Began to eat more “healthy” foods–more salads, etc. (2011)
- Added AquaZumba classes during the summer months (2012)
From this calendar, you can see that my own fitness journey has stretched across six years so far. Each change I made was a small one, not particularly spectacular, but it was a stepping-stone toward the next. I had to get my joint inflammation down before I could even think of taking Zumba classes; I had to take out many of the snack foods I was eating before I could replace them with healthier options.
The important takeaway here: each time I made a change, I made sure it had become natural and routine before I demanded another change from myself. If you force too many changes on yourself in too short a time, you’ll never stick to any of them. Trust me on this–I’m quite experienced at quitting diets and exercise plans because of this very reason.
Most Important: Don’t Be Angry at Your Body, or Yourself
As you begin your own fitness journey, you will most likely feel terribly exhausted after your first workout (or two), or you might feel a little deprived after your first “healthier” meal. Do not be angry with yourself or your body because of these feelings. You’re not “weak” or “stupid” for needing to take it slow. Every person’s fitness plan will be different, just as every child in school learns at a different pace.
I’m making this serious warning about anger because anger can push you to do more than you’re physically capable of, or to try risky or dangerous tactics to get results. For instance:
- I got so mad at my stomach rolls back in 2005 that I starved myself to try to get rid of them, and I ended up passing out in the shower at home.
- I got mad during one of my first Zumba classes because I couldn’t do every move the instructor did, and I ended up hurting my ankle because I stomped down too hard with my foot.
Anger has been responsible for these and many more fitness setbacks in my life; don’t let it sabotage you.
Don’t compare yourself to other people, or compare yourself to your younger self, even. What matters right now is making changes that you can stick to, one at a time. Who cares how fast someone else is completing their fitness journey? You’re not in competition with them, or anyone. You’re trying to get back to a body that can do all you need it to do, no more and no less.
Next Week: Have a “Fitness Buddy” (or 3)!
Finally starting on your own fitness quest is great–but trying to do it all by yourself is NOT great. Every story’s hero needs friends to adventure with, and as the hero of your fitness journey, you’ll also need friends to keep you in line and keep you motivated. Learn more about that, in next week’s episode of “Getting Fit the RIGHT Way!”
Fitness is not achieved just through exercise; you also have to feed your changing body the types of fuel it needs.
This week I’m stepping on my own toes here, since I am a very picky eater and have a lot of difficulty eating what I “should” eat. I’ve often rebelled against the bland or nasty flavors that I discover in “healthy” food as opposed to unhealthy food…but I’ve noticed that when I do not provide my body with enough nutrients, I get tired faster, I hurt more, and I’m more likely to quit my exercise routine. I would guess that I’m not alone in that.
Eating “right” has become such a cliched phrase in our culture, and yet no one seems to know what it means anymore. What I have discovered is that you should plan your eating around your exercise and your daily routine, rather than the other way around. You’ll need different kinds and amounts of foods than you might be used to eating…and, as I discovered during my research for this post, there ARE tasty healthy foods you can eat to fuel your body!
Pre-Workout Snack: Light, Easy to Digest
Yes, you CAN eat before a workout without getting sick! I didn’t think it was possible until I tried some of the following ideas; I didn’t realize that my heavy food choices were the main culprit behind my waves of nausea during intense cardio exercises.
Small portions of lighter foods (which don’t take a lot of energy to digest) will kick into your bloodstream faster and provide you with more energy during a short workout. You’ll want to avoid foods that will kick your blood sugar up too high, though. Don’t do what I did one time and scarf a bunch of very sweet cookies before my workout; I ended up lightheaded 30 minutes into Zumba because my body’s insulin response to the cookies was so strong.
One caveat: if you’re going to work out for longer than an hour, you’re going to need foods that take just a little longer to digest, so you have some fuel left over for the long haul. Foods that have a little more protein, fat, and/or fiber (like beans, cheese, egg, etc.) are best bets, but still keep the portion small so you don’t end up with stomach cramps.
In general, a pre-workout snack, consumed about an hour before your workout, made up of fruits, whole-wheat bread/crackers, cheese, yogurt, eggs, or legumes (beans, lentils, etc.), will be good for you. Here are some specific snack ideas:
- Bread with cheese or egg
- Grapes and cottage cheese
- Banana with almond butter
- Whole-wheat bagel topped with jam
- Half an avocado spread on toast
- Black beans with brown rice
- Multi-grain crackers or pretzels with hummus or cheese
- Protein shake with fruit and oats
- Small sweet potato with steamed broccoli in olive oil
- A slice of whole-wheat bread with crunchy peanut butter
- Apple with a handful of walnuts
- Oatmeal with your favorite fruit added
- Half a banana blended into half a cup of yogurt
- Greek yogurt, with fruit if possible
- Brown rice with chicken
During Your Workout: Just Water and Honey, Honey
You can take in food/drink during your workout? Sure, why not? If you find yourself in need of a little energy boost, it’s not a sin to munch or sip on a little something. It’s better than passing out in the gym!
Hydration is mainly the key here; since you lose a lot of fluid while working out, you need to replace what you’re sweating out. You want to avoid very sugary sports drinks, though, as they are little better than sodas.
Read the labels carefully on any sports drink you’re thinking about getting, and make sure that the drink will provide carbohydrates and sodium as well as fluid. The folks at WebMD suggest that a good sports drink has at least 14-15 grams of carbs in 8 ounces of fluid, and should also have 110 milligrams of sodium and 30 milligrams of potassium in 8 ounces of fluid.
Flavored water with very little sugar or other additives has also proven to be a good idea mid-workout, especially for people like me who hate the taste of plain water. This option is better for weight loss, whereas the sports drink is a better option for athletes.
As for actual foods to eat during a workout, some studies have shown that honey, especially darker honey, can provide not only a carb boost, but antioxidants and vitamins as well. A spoonful of honey might be just the thing when you’ve been going hard and need a little sustenance!
Post-Workout Foods: The Foods to Rebuild and Recover
After their hard work, your muscles need protein and carbohydrates to recover and repair themselves. It’s best to eat as soon as you finish your workout–giving your body immediate fuel helps it absorb more of the nutrients from your food, and it also stokes your metabolism, helping it burn more for a longer period of time.
You can generally eat the same kinds of foods after your workout as before your workout, but you can have a little larger portion post-workout to help keep your metabolism going. Here are some more food ideas:
- Burrito made with 1/2 cup beans, 1/2 cup brown rice, 2 tbsp. guacamole, and a little salsa
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-wheat bread
- Protein shake: 1/2 banana, scoop of protein powder, some almond milk, and some hemp seeds
- 8-ounce glass of chocolate milk (or plain milk)–I’m not kidding!
- Salad with 1/2 cup roasted chickpeas, light olive oil and vinegar
- Banana with peanut butter
- A cup of sauteed/steamed vegetables with a half cup of tofu
- Tart cherry juice (helps with sore muscles)
- A cup of quinoa, mixed with a cup of black berries and 1/4 cup pecans
- 2 slices of multi-grain bread, spread with raw peanut butter and agave nectar
Other Real-World Nutrition Hints from My Experience
- I find that trying to drink very cold water during my workout leads to chest pains–the chill of the water shocks my working muscles and leads to not-happy time. To combat this, I set my water bottle outside the fridge for about an hour before my workout.
- Sometimes I get really nauseated during my workouts, especially if we’re doing very intense cardio work. If this happens to you, don’t be ashamed to step back completely from your workout for a few seconds and take a few sips of water; I’ve tried this and it helps me a lot.
- One of my favorite post-workout meals is a small serving of fettuccini alfredo; I ate this one evening because it was leftovers from lunch, and I noticed I felt much more energized and didn’t crave all the sugary stuff in the cupboards. (I admit, this is a calorie-laden snack, but it did the job of restoring protein and carbs!)
- Pre-workout, I enjoy eating either a cheese stick (usually the low-moisture part-skim mozzarella kind) or a slice of bread spread with peanut butter. I had chosen this because it was lighter and was made up of some of my favorite food–funny that these two snacks appeared in similar forms in my research for this post!
For Further Reading
I couldn’t have written this post without the information included on the following pages. Check them out for even more nutrition-linked fitness info!
WebMD: What to Eat Before, During, and After Exercise
USNews: Best Workout Foods: What to Eat Before a Workout
Shape.com: Best Foods to Eat Before and After Your Workout
FitSugar: Bad Weight-Loss Technique: Exercising on an Empty Stomach
EatingWell: The Best Fitness Foods: What to eat before, during, and after a workout
SportsMedicine @ About.com: What to Eat Before Exercise
Bonus: USNews: 8 Foods to Help You Lose Weight
Next Week: Starting Slow
Want results from your workout quick and easy? Unfortunately, your body doesn’t work that way. We’ll see the importance of getting in shape gradually in the next installment of “Getting Fit the RIGHT Way!”
I talked last week about beginning your exercise routine right, and I mentioned that dressing for workouts is like dressing for battle. I’m not kidding or exaggerating when I say that, either. If you’re serious about working out and doing it right, you need to have the proper equipment, and that includes “workout” clothing and shoes.
I’m not talking about wearing certain brands or certain colors–I’m talking about pure functionality here. I see so many people come to the gym in jeans or long pants, old T-shirts, and worn-out sneakers, and then they wonder why their feet, legs, and back hurt 10 minutes into a workout, or why they’re burning up and can’t get cooled off.
When you don’t wear the right kind of clothing and the right shoes for the activity you’re going to do, it’s like sending your quarterback out on the field without a helmet–you’re setting yourself up for injury and discomfort.
First and Most Important: Shoes
Every type of exercise needs a different type of shoe to go with it. It’s not just about wearing any old “sneakers”–your shoes must support whatever activity you’re doing, and different activities require different support. If you’re going to be running or shifting your weight around a lot, you’ll need a shoe that helps your foot stay stable while you do that so you don’t turn or twist your ankle. By contrast, if you’re going to be standing a lot (like lifting weights), you’ll need a shoe that gives your foot maximum support, and so on.
You’ll need to take into account your own individual foot needs here; I’m completely flat-footed, so I need a shoe with extra stability and support built in to keep my ankles from rolling inward and causing me more pain. This is something you can check with your doctor about, as well as checking with a knowledgeable salesperson who can tell you about shoes for sports.
Don’t think your shoes are important to a workout? Take it from me; I last 5 times as long in my Zumba workouts thanks to my current shoes. If your shoe does not support your foot, you’re more likely to sprain your ankle, cause knee problems, and even hurt your hip or back, even if you’re young.
Just as Important: Your Workout Clothes
How much heat can you tolerate while you exercise? It’s largely a matter of where you’re exercising (indoors or outdoors), and your individual heat tolerance, but your clothing must be addressed if you’re going to work out for any length of time.
For instance, if you’re comfortable working out indoors in long sleeves and long pants, that’s great–go ahead and wear what feels best to your muscles. I, however, find that I overheat (and thus get tired) very quickly while exercising, and so a sleeveless top and shorts help keep me ventilated. When I tried to exercise before, I worked out in old jeans and T-shirts, and I couldn’t understand why I got so tired so fast. Then, when I got the sleeveless tops and shorts to exercise, I found my endurance level was much better. Getting the heat off me was the key. (I swear I could exercise 3 times as long in a meat locker or something–that’s how much I hate being hot while I exercise. LOL!)
All kidding aside, if you’re working out in colder weather or colder environments, like an overly air-conditioned room, you’ll want to make sure your clothing keeps your muscles warm. Jogging suits, sweatpants and sweatshirts, etc., aren’t just fashion statements–keeping your muscles shielded from cold, even a little, makes them more pliable and ready to exercise, so that you don’t cause injuries like muscle pulls or even tears.
You’ll also want to make sure your workout clothes are easy to care for. If you can’t just throw ’em in the wash and dryer after working out, you’re likely not to stick to your workout routine; who wants to hand-wash their workout clothes in the sink when they’re exhausted? You might laugh, but if you’re trying to get started back exercising, you want to remove all the excuses you could possibly come up with for skipping the gym, and workout clothes could be an excuse if they’re too difficult to wash and dry.
Whatever you choose, make sure that your clothing does not impede your movement, does not keep you too hot or too cold, or catch on itself/other items of clothing. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on workout clothes; I bought my two sets of workout clothes for a grand total of 30 bucks at Walmart. But they fit well and keep me cool, and that’s what’s important.
An important side note for ladies: Get a sports bra–or two. I know it gives us a “mono-boob” look, I know it’s not the most fashionable thing in the world, but it’s better than having to hold your jiggling “girls” with your hands while you’re jumping around. Believe me, I’ve been there. The natural movement of your chest as you exercise will only create soreness, as well as accelerate the effect of gravity over time (you know what I’m talking about), if you are not properly supported. Give your breasts the proper support while you exercise, especially if you’re a well-endowed lady; trust me, it will make ALL the difference. Not only do you breathe better, but you don’t feel as self-conscious, and you move more freely. I layer two sports bras for extra support–it really works!
Dressing yourself in comfortable yet supportive clothing and shoes will help you have more endurance, keep you from injury, and just feel better about working out in general. If you don’t garb yourself for battle, as I put it, then you’re setting yourself up for discomfort and pain, and possibly quitting exercise altogether.
Wearing the right gear is but the next step to getting fit the right way. Next week I’ll be stepping on my own toes by talking about another important bit of fitness: feeding your body the right foods for exercise. Tune in next Tuesday!
Are you going to resolve to lose weight for this New Year? Then take it from someone who knows: when you’re starting a new exercise routine, whether you’ve not been exercising for a few months or a few years, you can’t just jump into some kind of hardcore workout schedule. If you do, you’ll end up hurt and you won’t continue the good work you tried to begin.
I think this is where a lot of New Year’s weight-loss resolutions end up dying–we start out trying to do too much too fast, and we don’t take our bodies’ needs into account. I know I certainly made that mistake, all the times I tried and failed to begin an exercise regimen. Given that my past experience of exercise (counting humiliating gym classes in school) had largely been painful and arduous, without a scrap of fun or reward in sight, I didn’t know how else to exercise but to do some repetitious and painful movements that made me feel 3 times as fat and ugly as everyone else in the room.
But there IS a way to begin an exercise regimen that you’ll stick to, and I’m living proof of it. I’ve been doing Zumba now for a year and a half; I never thought I’d stick to any exercise plan this long, but I have, because I finally managed to start my regimen off right–with a visit to my family doctor.
Before You Begin: Doctor Visit First!
This is important for everyone who is trying to get back in shape, but especially anyone who has had sprains, twists, or any other major bodily injury. It’s physically dangerous to just start an exercise routine without proper medical advice.
One reason I say that: I see all these infomercials on TV for “hardcore” and “quick” exercise regimens (the Insanity workout regimen comes to mind). These infomercials make you believe that all you have to do is work out extra hard to see results in record time.
Unfortunately, your body doesn’t adapt to such a huge lifestyle change that quickly; I would like to point out that most of the people giving testimonials for these “quick exercise” plans didn’t have that much weight to lose in the first place, and they never mention being perpetually sick or injured before starting the plans. If I had tried going from laying in bed to doing incredibly strenuous exercise, I would have probably ended up in the hospital, simply because my fitness level was somewhere around -50.
My worry with this kind of “get-fit-NOW!” mentality is that people who are trying to get fit will try to do too much, just as I did, and end up hurting themselves worse–which will begin a vicious cycle of starting exercise, getting injured, quitting, and then trying another exercise routine.
Get A Physical, and See What Your Fitness Level Really Is
Before you start doing any kind of exercise, you need to have a complete physical if possible, so that you and your doctor both know about any current health problems you’re having. In my case, before I started Zumba, I had exertional asthma, a family history of heart problems and high blood pressure, and several old injuries to my knees and ankles.
My doctor told me before I began Zumba that I would need to avoid the hops and jumps that were part of the dance routines, because the high impact of my larger weight landing on my injured joints could do more harm than good. Plus, I would need to be aware of my heart rate and breathing during exercise; he warned me that because I was overweight, had not exercised much in the last few years, and had the family history of heart problems and high blood pressure, I would likely have some difficulties with the cardio part of any exercise program at first. “If you feel any kind of discomfort with your heart rate or breathing, don’t be ashamed to back off a few moments to rebalance,” he said. “Your heart and lungs will not be used to all the activity at first, so you have to give them time to adapt.”
Fast-forward to a year and a half later, and I am SO glad he told me that. Though I did have to stop and rest 3 times during my first Zumba class, I was not as freaked out by my rapid heart rate as I would have been if I had not seen my doctor first. Because I sought proper medical advice, I knew that my crazily elevated heart rate was not my heart threatening to bust out of my chest, and so I didn’t quit the exercise entirely; I just rested about 20-30 seconds and then started moving again. And, after a couple of months, I didn’t have to stop during Zumba class at all–my heart and lungs DID adapt to the increased activity.
Following his advice about avoiding injury to my knees and ankles has also helped greatly. Not only have I kept myself from further injury, but I’ve noticed that my knee muscles seem to be getting stronger, and the joints don’t hurt quite so much. I don’t know whether I can completely reverse the damage that was done, but at least something is feeling better in there!
Similarly, before you begin your own exercise routine, check with your doctor to see what kind of exercises and how much intensity you can handle, and whether there are any specific moves you need to avoid. This will make your workout experience a lot less painful, and you’ll be more likely to stick to it. The key to beginning an exercise routine you can maintain is to do what you can and push yourself little by little at first. (At least, that’s been my experience.)
Next Week: Gear Up Appropriately
You can’t just go to the gym in any old clothes; you must be dressed for battle. No, I’m not talking fashion statements here–I mean clothes and shoes that work with your body so that you don’t end up overheated and in severe pain. Want to know more? Tune in next Tuesday!
Most of us who play games on our computers don’t think twice about doing it. In fact, it’s fairly accepted these days to spend much of your leisure time playing a game while sitting at your computer, whether you’re playing Farmville on a laptop or playing World of Warcraft on your gaming rig.
But all this sitting still hunched over a keyboard could actually be doing you more harm in the long run, not in terms of hours lost in gaming, but in years lost from your life, and in hours of future pain.
Think I’m joking, or exaggerating? Sadly, I’m not. And this can affect not only marathon gamers, but marathon computer users in general.
Sitting Still: A Risk Factor for Several Modern-Day Health Plagues
A study has shown that sitting too long can increase risk of cancer, especially colon and breast cancer. Other studies have shown an increased risk for type II diabetes and slowed metabolism in people who either choose to be seated more often, or have to be seated for their jobs.
None of these health conditions are anything we’d wish upon ourselves intentionally. Yet many of us, especially people who are glued to our machines, like I am, may run into these very health problems if we’re not careful.
I’m not saying that we have to all drop our monthly gaming subscription for a gym membership, but we need to be more aware of how much time we spend sitting. The number of hours may surprise you, if you were to note just how many hours per day you spend sitting in front of the computer. Computer gamers are especially at risk, I believe, because games can become addictive very easily and quickly; we can become absorbed in what’s going on and forget about our physical bodies entirely.
Other Health Risks Posed by Long-Term Gaming/Computer Use
But sitting still is not the only thing we need to be worried about, as computer users and gamers. Other, more “minor” conditions like bad posture, eye strain, and poor circulation can haunt us as well. Also, those who type a lot or who work intricately with the keyboard and mouse may suffer neck and shoulder pain, swelling and twitching in the fingers, even arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. (I’ve often wondered if some of my recent headaches can’t be traced back to bad posture at the keyboard.)
Computer users, including gamers, strain their backs, eyes, and wrists more often than anything. And, if not treated, all these conditions could put us out of commission in ways we don’t even think about. For instance, I never used to think anything about sitting at my computer and typing/surfing the Internet for ages. Now, though, I find my wrists becoming sore after a while, and I’ve even had shooting pains run through my wrists into the base of my palms (one of the first heralds of carpal tunnel syndrome). Not only does that threaten my continued computer use, but it threatens my budding writing career as well as my piano skills.
Another thing we don’t think about much is our eating habits while we’re gaming or otherwise using the computer. Sometimes we skip mealtimes because we’re zoned into our technology; sometimes we eat mindlessly in front of the screen like it’s a TV. Neither of these eating strategies are healthy–the former leaves us hungry, out of sorts, and low on blood sugar, while the other can sabotage any efforts we’re trying to make to stay healthy (as well as any efforts at keeping the keyboard clean!).
As gamers and as computer-literate people, we need to be just as literate about our bodies and how much stress we put them through. It may not feel like we’re doing all that bad by our health, but as evidenced by the pains in my wrists and hands, I am living proof that our health situations can change without much warning.
Solutions to “Sitting and Gaming” Health Problems
- After 20 minutes of sitting in front of the computer, get up and walk for 2 minutes. This keeps blood circulating effectively, especially in your lower body.
- Make sure you’re not slumping in front of the computer screen. This is very difficult when using laptops, but really work at sitting up straighter. I’ve noticed that working to hold myself upright helps me breathe better, and weirdly seems to reduce my wrist pain, too. (Plus, I type a little faster. Strange, but true!)
- Look away from the computer screen every so often (every 10 or 20 minutes at least), and focus your eyes on something as far away as possible instead of on something close by. This will help your eyes exercise a little so they don’t get strained so fast.
- Every half-hour, flex your hands and wrists as much as you can, rotating your hand around, clenching and releasing your fists, etc. This is especially important if you’re doing a lot of typing or mouse work–believe me!
- Trade some of your “sitting and gaming” time for more active gaming time–playing games on a Wii or Kinect system, in which you use your body as part of the controller, can help with circulation and cardiovascular health.
- If you absolutely have to be at a desk, think about buying or building a treadmill desk–it’s like a standing desk, except that there’s a treadmill surface under your feet, and you have to walk constantly forward to stay at your desk. (This would be great for those times where you’re idly Facebooking and the like.)
- Keep a small dish of healthier snacks nearby your computer, so that when you do get hungry or do want to munch on something idly, you’re reaching for something at least partially good for you. I like the classic combo of peanut butter on crackers, or whole-wheat crackers and skim-milk string cheese. Others like a selection of chopped-up veggies with a little dip, or even a smoothie or protein shake. Whatever you choose, something with a good amount of protein and fiber will keep the “hungries” away.
Resources to Learn More
Sitting Still: Health Risks
5 Reasons Why Sitting at the Computer Can Be a Health Risk
Sitting Too Much May Double Your Risk of Dying, Study Shows
Get Up! Sitting Less Can Add Years to Your Life
Laptops and Their Impact on Your Health
Risks Associated with Computer Keyboard Use
Preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome