While driving down Cedar Lane on the first warm day during our long winter, I saw kids outside playing and biking. It warmed my heart! It was great to see



folks getting some fresh air and exercise.

As an exercise physiologist with the HCGH Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, I see the long-term effects of heart disease, diabetes and other conditions that are made worse by excess weight. It’s especially worrisome to see so many kids struggling with their weight, because childhood obesity is a precursor to many health problems that will follow them into adulthood.

Here’s some advice to help get kids started with regular exercise:

Start with what they know.

A good way to start is to have the child perform exercises that they’ve done in gym class and see how many pushups or crunches they can do in a minute, how long they can hold a plank or how many times they can run around the track. Record the results and use this as a baseline to track progress. If your child is not an athlete, pushing sports – especially team sports – may be a turn off.

Set achievable goals.

For teens, find out what they want to get out of an exercise program. Do they want to lose weight? Build muscle? Have more energy? Or, just want to become more fit? Help them to set goals they can meet. Set a timeframe to re-evaluate progress; e.g., every two weeks or once a month, and then set new goals.

For children through “tweens,” build in rewards. Suggest that you’ll walk or bike around the lake or neighborhood and then stop at the playground for free time. Invite their friends to come along.

Once a regular routine has been established for two to three months, mix it up. Inspire them to try new activities – dance class, rock-wall climbing, kayaking. Find out what motivates them and use it – friends, competition or keeping logs to see progress. Keep them motivated.

Start out simple and slow.

Kids are still growing, so you need to be careful to prevent injury and build strength and endurance over time.

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    the impact on joints. Cycling, swimming, biking, martial arts and tennis are good exercises.

  • Use low weights, building with higher repetition and resistance bands to help increase strength.
  • Stability balls are great and inexpensive tools.
  • Set your kids up for success. If they are completely new to exercise, just starting to move is a great beginning. Running is a tough way to start if the child isn’t fit.
  • Start with exercise that is challenging, but not too difficult. A little discomfort is okay; a lot of pain is not.
  • Gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise. For most kids, the ultimate goal should be 60 minutes of exercise a day.
  • Do a combination of cardio, strength and flexibility exercises.
  • Don’t encourage crash diets or extreme exercise. These can be discouraging and impossible to stick with.

As fitness increases, consider new activities.

  • Get Active/Stay Active Howard County has a variety of programs that allow kids to try out new activities without committing to long-term, expensive programs. Visit stayactivehowardcounty.org.Howard County Striders is a great opportunity to run and walk with other kids at a variety of fitness levels. Visit striders.net.
  • Girls on the Run is an after-school running program. Visit gotrcentralmd.org.
  • Visit the Howard County Recreation and Parks site for a full list of affordable and accessible facilities at bit.ly/outdoorshc.
  • Team sports through community leagues or school.

Get educated about exercise.

Teach good form for all exercises to avoid injury and maximize benefit. If you are not familiar with an exercise, get help from a professional. Online tools and apps track activity, calories and goals. Exercise should be a life-long goal, not a temporary hobby.

Support them.

You can’t exercise for them, but you can be a great source of inspiration, motivation and encouragement. Let your child or teenager know you are in this together and that exercise is as important for you as it is for them. By exercising with them, you can set a great example and get your child on the road to a healthier lifestyle.

Make sure your child knows exercise is not about the way they look. They need to feel loved and accepted, not criticized. Exercise should be a way of life, not something that has to be forced. Build the healthy habit!

For more information about encouraging a healthy lifestyle for your children, see this presentation called “Weighing in on Your Child’s Weight.”

Suzie Jeffreys is an exercise physiologist with the Howard County General Hospital Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. Click here for a presentation called “Weighing in on Your Child’s Weight,” featuring Suzie Jeffreys.

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Many people assume that people with disabilities cannot be athletic. They probably never heard of the Paralympics, an international athletic competition for people with disabilities. The competitions follow the summer and winter Olympic Games in the same venues just a couple weeks after.

The current U.S. Winter Paralympics Team features 80 athletes competing in sports like: alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, sled hockey, snowboarding, and wheelchair curling. The team includes 32 returning Paralympians who have previously won an impressive total of 50 medals. Eighteen athletes are U.S. military veterans and active service members.

When I get frustrated with my exercises and feel like I’m getting nowhere, it helps to note the achievements of these disabled athletes. While I struggle with my rheumatoid arthritis and physical limitations, it helps to know others with disabilities have worked hard to succeed in their sport to proudly represent their country.

My earliest exposure to the Paralympics was a documentary film, called Murderball, about the U.S. wheelchair rugby team that competed in the 2004 games. The film told stories about the players’ experiences with disability and the importance of athletics to their well-being. I found the film personally inspiring as it dug into the athletes’ stories of disability and coping with their physical challenges. What resonated with me strongly were people with disabilities working to live their lives and pursue their dreams without yielding to exclusion or low expectations of the society around them.

While exercise has always been important for maintaining my health and mobility, I gained a newfound appreciation for athletics when I saw the film and learned more about the Paralympics. It helped me to understand that while I may live with a disability, I can still be an athletic person like able-bodied people. My exercise may look a little different or be adapted for my abilities, but it can be just as challenging (sometimes more so because I’m coping with joint damage and weakened muscles).

What the Paralympics tells me is that anyone can be an athlete, if they desire it. Adjustments can be made to account for physical challenges and needs, with tools to emphasize and accentuate our abilities.

If you have the chance check out some of the Paralympics games—they will be shown on television and also online—it is well worth it. I look forward to seeing some of the competition and daydreaming about new sports and adventures to try.

In the meantime, I’ll stick to my customized exercise routine, while also periodically challenging myself to try new things like the athletes I so admire.

Kelly Mack lives in Washington, DC, and works for a marketing communications firm.


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Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

It’s been a long cold lonely winter… or something like that. I know that February always bring those thoughts…  but this year, even the snow lovers are weary of it all. The snow shovels don’t get put away anymore, they stand propped up against the house in an attitude of resignation.

Perhaps you brace yourself to withstand the final icy grasp of winter by looking through seed catalogs and planning gardens, by reading about new varieties of tomatoes and new methods of germinating seeds. Perhaps you even have a cold frame and will jump the season and nurture seedlings into edible lettuce plants early. Or, perhaps you’ll wait a little longer to start seedlings indoors or wait for the traditional days to plant outdoors. Did you know that planting potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day is a gardening tradition?

But what if you have never had a garden? Or don’t have a yard large enough for a garden plot? Or live in the shade? Can a novice start a growing tradition? Should they? Absolutely! There are resources for every gardening obstacle and plenty of help for the greenest of green thumb wannabes.

Is your yard too small?  Too shady? Too rocky? Try a community garden. If you live in Howard County, check out Howard County community gardens and the garden at the Howard County Conservancy. Other jurisdictions offer the programs, as well. In addition to a right-sized plot, many of these gardens include deer fencing, compost heaps, water and even plantings to encourage pollinators. Equally important- they offer expert advice from fellow gardeners- just what the novice needs!

Do you need information about how to get started? Information about types of plants? Resources about pest management? Questions about fertilizers? The Howard County Library System has an extensive selection of books that can answer all of your questions about gardening. And, of course, there is always the Old Farmer’s Almanac – published continuously since 1792- it is wealth of information. If you learn better from attending classes in person, the University of Maryland Extension service offers a series of gardening classes in Howard County that will get you off on the right track.

Finally, do you need to have a reason to give gardening a go this year?  Here are a few good reasons.

  • It’s good for the bottom line. Gardening can save you money. A $2 tomato plant can produce $60 worth of tomatoes during a single growing season. The drought in California will cause produce prices to rise, buying locally- and better yet, growing locally will save you money.
  • It’s good for the bottom line- the other bottom line. Growing your own vegetables is great exercise. Eating fresh veggies may keep you fit, but the physical exercise that it requires also contributes positively to your fitness level. Think of what all that weeding and hoeing will do for your glutes!
  • Fresh vegetables are nutritious and tasty because they have the chance to ripen on the vine. If you’ve never had the opportunity to go out just before dinner and pluck a red ripe tomato off the vine to add to your salad- you don’t know what you are missing. No supermarket tomato will ever compare.
  • It’s good for the environment. Locally sourcing your own vegetables reduces- the carbon resources need to transport veggies from far away.
  • Staying connected to the earth is good for your mental health and the extra sunshine vitamin D will give your mood- and immune system- a boost, as well.

Perhaps most importantly, though…  planning a garden gives you something to look forward to in the lingering days of February.  And if that isn’t encouragement enough, I leave you with a little music to get you going.

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Concerned About Your Child’s Weight?

The National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research estimates nearly a third of youths today are overweight or obese; that’s more than 23 million children and teenagers. The Howard County Health Assessment Survey showed that one in two Howard County residents is overweight or obese, and that one in 10 Howard County parents were told by a doctor that their child should lose weight. In a 2008 survey, 17 percent of school-age children were considered overweight and 14 percent obese. Regardless of whether you think your child will outgrow his or her weight issues, childhood obesity has immediate and long-term effects on your child’s health and well-being.

Did You Know?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obese children and adolescents are more likely to:

  • Have risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure
  • Experience bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem
  • Be obese as adults; therefore, they are at greater risk for developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoarthritis or having a stroke as well as have an increased risk for many types of cancer, including breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix and prostate.

What is Overweight vs. Obese?

Obese children and adolescents have a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile for their gender and age. The term “overweight” describes those with a BMI at or above the 85th but below the 95th percentile. To calculate your child’s BMI, visit cdc.gov/bmi. According to Edisa Padder, M.D., a pediatrician on staff at Howard County General Hospital, the goal of BMI screening is to recognize the weight gain trends earlier and initiate prevention before serious obesity has developed.

What Can Parents Do?

Dana Wollney, M.D., a pediatrician on staff at HCGH, outlines simple things parents can do to help their children with weight loss:

  • Confirm that your child is ready to work on their weight.
  • Once they are committed, include their physician as an extra layer of accountability.
  • Establish goals so everyone is on the same page; work with your physician to determine what is a reasonable amount of weight loss.
  • Change one habit at a time. Once a new habit becomes routine, it is easier to keep and you are more likely to be successful.
  • “Close” the kitchen before bed to avoid snacking right before bedtime.
  • Offer fresh fruit and vegetables; they will help your child feel full and your child will come to appreciate natural sweetness.
  • Pack your child’s lunch for school and be sure to include fresh fruit versus cookies/unhealthy snacks.

Remember you don’t have to be perfect to claim success—even five pounds of weight loss has health benefits.

“A nutritious diet is necessary to maintain a healthy weight but exercise is important too. Family exercise time is a great way to strengthen both muscles and relationships,” says Dr. Padder. “Exercise does not have to be rigorous. A great way to start being active is simply walking together as a family. And, remember to be a good role model for your children; if your children see you eating healthy and exercising, they will be more likely to do those things too.”

calendar_2014smWeighing in on Your Child’s Weight

For more information, join us for a free panel discussion on March 25, 6:30–8:30 p.m. at the Howard County General Hospital Wellness Center.  Join pediatrician Edisa Padder, M.D.; psychiatrist Robin Toler, M.D.; dietitian Ashli Greenwald; and exercise specialist Suzie Jeffreys to hear ideas, tips, and tools to help your child reach a healthier weight. Submit your questions in advance to HCGH_news@jhmi.edu. Click here to register for this free discussion.

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Running outside in winter? Are you crazy? Although cold weather and the holidays can really play havoc on your running regimen, winter is one of the best seasons to be a runner. The weather is cool, the path isn’t crowded, and the running outfits are adorable! It’s easier than you think. All you need are a few key strategies and a firm running goal, and you’ll be running in any kind of weather.

Set a Specific Goal
There is nothing more motivating than to train for a race or specific goal. Runner’s World has a number of titles to help you plan your first 5K, half marathon, or reach your desired number of miles every month. You’ll have instant motivation in knowing you have to train for the race or hit your target mileage. Reward yourself when you reach your goals, then set another one.

Run with a Buddy or Group
Make your workouts safe and social. You’ll have a built in motivational resource, a friend to chat with along the way, and it’s safer to run in numbers. Running with others (or pets) is a great way to beat the winter doldrums. If that’s not enough motivation, reward yourself with a fun race destination like Florida, California, or anywhere warm. Alexandra Heminsley’s book, Running Like a Girl, provides useful insight to the value of support when integrating running as a part of your life.

Having the right apparel makes all the difference in any athlete’s world. Layering is the key to avoiding over- or under-dressing. Consider wearing a layer that blocks the wind; pants, tights, and tops that wick the moisture away from your skin; and, for the coldest days, a mid-layer that fits more loosely (like fleece) that insulates and moves the moisture from your base layer away from your skin. Your winter running wardrobe should include a running jacket, hat or headband, gloves, tights, and a few long-sleeve shirts. Your body temperature increases as you run, so you don’t need many layers in most winter conditions.

Take Extra Time To Warm Up
Your body will warm up more slowly in cold weather, especially if you run in the morning. Take at least five minutes to walk briskly before you start to run. It may take 10 – 15 minutes of running before you are completely warmed up and in your running tempo. Take a hot shower to get your circulation going or put your clothes in the dryer for a few minutes and then, head out for your run. Runner’s World Complete Book of Women’s Running is packed with tips to make your run an injury-free and pleasurable journey.

Keep it Fun
Mix up your route, run through the neighborhood, or run a fun race such as The Ugly Sweater Run. There are tons of great wintertime running events that will get you outside and enjoying winter rather cursing it.

Happy Trails!

Anna Louise Downing is a Customer Service Specialist at the Miller Branch. She is an avid reading and enjoys Disney, music and her passion of running. She has been a race ambassador for several local races, is a Sweat Pink Ambassador for promoting women’s health. Follow her journey towards being physically fit with running and healthy lifestyle here on Well & Wise.


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We hear about “core training” so often in the fitness world, yet few people understand what this means. Sometimes people say it in reference to wanting to reduce their waist size, other times it’s used in conjunction with a sport. Most people equate the word “core” with the “abs”, but the core is more than creating a six pack and doing crunches.

Do you remember that song, “Dem Bones,” from childhood? The lyrics go something like, “ the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone, the hip bone’s connected to the back bone,” etc. Little did you know you were getting a simple anatomy lesson at such a young age. The hips, low back, and abdominal area connect the upper body to the lower body. All these bones connect and impact each other. The upper and lower bodies work in together during all movement. Pay attention to how you walk. As your right leg comes forward, your left arm swings forward and vice versa.

The core muscles of the trunk work to help us maintain posture, relieve some chronic pain, minimize risk of injury, and control movements. Core exercises generally work the muscles that stabilize the spine, pelvic area, and shoulders. In order to move efficiently, the muscles in these areas need to be able to work by themselves in isolation, but also learn to work together to transfer movement to the legs and arms. Think of these muscles running from the shoulder through the hip and into the legs as a chain where each link connects the other. If one link is missing or impaired, it affects how the rest of the chain moves. The arms and legs really don’t want to lift heavy things and move by themselves! They need the trunk muscles to help.

Most core exercises can be done with little to no equipment. To design your program, first consult your physician and consider meeting with a professional trainer. It’s important to take past injuries or accidents into consideration. Create a program that provides exercises specific to your activity, whether it is for sport or everyday life. To list all the exercises to train these muscles would make for a small novel. These two exercises tend to fit many peoples’ needs and help to reconnect the body.

To train the abdominal muscles more effectively, begin to work on a basic plank. The most basic form of the plank starts lying on the stomach then propping your body up on your elbows and toes or knees. The body should form a straight line from the head down to the feet or knees. Hold this position for a certain amount of time; start with 20 – 30 seconds.

Photo by Michelle Wright

To get the feeling for good form with the plank, use a broom handle and place it on your back. It should touch your body on the back of your head, between your shoulder blades and at your tail bone. This exercise takes some mental focus as you need to consciously focus on holding your abdominals in tight. Variations of the plank include holding on your hands instead of elbows, holding on your side, alternating lifting a leg or arm and hold for longer. Increase time and/or intensity as your body feels comfortable.

In order to work the hips and get those buns of steel, lie flat on your back with your knees bent at about 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. Lift up your toes so your heels stay in contact with the ground. With your toes up in the air, lift and lower your hips slowly by squeezing your butt cheeks. You should feel your butt tighten. Hold the position at the top for a few seconds to get the feel in the right muscle group. Play around with this one. Be sure you feel it in your butt and not the back of your thighs. Hold at the top for longer to get the right feeling.

Photo by Adrian Valenzuela

Once you feel comfortable with isolation movements, begin using multi-directional exercises such as lunges with rotation into your program. Progress the exercises as you build strength. Incorporate core training on a regular basis throughout your workout program. Continue to find the exercises specific to your body and your needs.

Lisa Martin founded the Girls on the Run program in Howard County in 2009. Lisa is AFAA & NSCA certified, has more than 15 years of personal training experience, and practices a multidimensional wellness approach at her studio, Salvere Health & Fitness. Lisa says that one of the best things about being in the health and fitness industry is watching people accomplish things they never thought possible.


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