Fitness Programs Designed For You, By You

Editor’s Note: Please consult your physician before starting an exercise program.

alive-low-impactDo you feel like you’ve spent quite a bit of time over the years “restarting” your fitness program? Are you discouraged with a lack of results? Have you repeatedly told yourself you will work out more, only to continue with the same habits? This article will require a little doing on your part but, in the end, you will design a program that fits your schedule, gives you options, and builds opportunities for a lifetime of health.

The biggest struggles with physical activity in our society come from the idea of movement for weight loss and many people view it as a negative. Before starting your routine, be clear with your “why?” Why is exercising important to you (not why scientific research says!) and what do you want to accomplish or be able to do? Be very honest with what makes this important. Think through all the reasons way beyond losing weight. Is it more travel, kids, grandkids, chronic pain, preventing illness, etc. Also, what stopped you in the past? Was it an injury or vacation or frustration? What do you see as you take this journey? How do you visualize your life changing? These answers guide your journey.

lift-to-get-leanNow the action steps. Write down the days of the week, starting with Sunday (or whatever day begins your “week”). Then, fill in activities that you do regularly such as work, school, meetings, kids practices, date night, Church, etc. Using this as a framework, figure out your unscheduled time where you can fit in exercise. Busy days where you know exercise would be pretty much unrealistic and don’t schedule a workout! Be realistic in how many days you will actually exercise and for how long each day. For example, 4 days per week for 30-45 minutes total.

step-and-dance-beginnersNow you know your personal “why?” for exercising, your schedule for availability and the frequency and duration. Now, what physical activities do you enjoy? It can be anything such as aerobics, walking, square dancing, swimming, lifting weights, biking, etc. Look at your schedule and see where specific activities fit. Is there a class you can take, a friend you can do things with, or an available fitness center. Start plugging in specifics and leave room for flexibility.

method-for-beginnersAs with any well laid out plan, things happen – LIFE as we call it! Two big things that derail fitness programs are vacation/missed week and injury. How do you work around these? Starting with vacation, plan unstructured, planned active movement time while you’re away and schedule your workouts for when you return before you leave. Sometimes life gets super busy and we miss a week – it’s okay, pick right back up and revisit your WHY? from earlier. Use friends and family to help you stay accountable.

Injuries prove to be more challenging. Differentiate between injury and hurt. If something just hurts, move your body anyway. Try something less intense or change things around for what feels best. If you end up with a real true injury, many times you can work around it. For instance, if your knee hurts, switch to exercises that strengthen the upper body and work from the floor. Make changes and seek a professional to help you figure this out.

Exercise is something you will do for the rest of your life. Ultimately you only answer to yourself, make it a priority. Don’t accept excuses. Take responsibility for your actions. Seek help from positive influences in your life throughout your journey. Positive encouragement helps! Find your formula and realize that it is a continuous process that constantly changes. Start now!


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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Swimming in Your Neighborhood Pool

Prácticas de Piscina By Asdrubal Velasquez (Visionado on FLICKR)

I rejoice when the weather is warm enough to swim! Swimming is one of the most healthful ways to exercise, and is broadly enjoyed by people of all ages, from babies to the aged. People can get into the pool and enjoy themselves so much that they don’t even know how much beneficial aerobic (heart-pumping) exercise they’re getting.

Aerobic exercise itself has important health benefits: it reduces harmful inflammation linked to many diseases; lowers stress; lowers blood pressure; strengthens muscles (including the heart), and can even help smokers to quit. In fact, swimming is one of the most highly-recommended types of aerobic exercises, according to Johns Hopkins exercise physiologist Kerry J. Stewart, Ed. D. In addition, it’s one of the best exercises for older adults, as it’s easy on the joints.

Most swimmers in Howard County don’t have access to natural bodies of water, such as lakes or the ocean, so we swim in the neighborhood pool, kindly supplied by Columbia Association, one of the neighborhoods in other towns, or by a private owner. The water in these pools needs to be carefully maintained for cleanliness, because the people splashing around bring bacteria into the standing water of the pool. The operators of these pools add chemicals to the water. Without chlorination, health risks would prevent our swimming in a pool.

Most pool operators maintain water cleanliness with chlorine-based chemicals, then test the water for the correct balance of pH (acid-alkaline balance) and chemicals several times throughout the day. Although several alternatives to chlorine exist, each has a disadvantage, including a substantial differential in price. So additions of chlorine seem to be the default choice for water cleanliness.

But chlorine use has its side affects: it’s drying to skin and hair, and may make swimmers’ eyes redden and burn. Some some people are undeniably allergic to chlorine; some people suspect chlorine of causing serious diseases of the respiratory tract or even cancer; but research on these serious side effects is not conclusive.

But (sniff) what’s that sharp smell? Smells like too much chlorine!

Actually, that smell is the result of inadequate amounts of chlorine. Here’s the science: molecules of chlorine combines with molecules of nitrogen or ammonia being thrown off our bodies (organic matter). This is what smells bad. Whenthere is more chlorine in the water, the chlorine can do its job and the odor should be minimal. It’s inadequately-chlorinated water that is most irritating to the skin and eyes, and may be implicated in swimmer’s ear, a common ear infection due to constantly-wet ear canals and bacteria in the water.

And why is the water so cloudy? It’s due to any combination of these events: particles forced out of the water by imbalanced water, poor filtration or sanitation, or heat. Hot days can contribute to cloudy water.

Unless there are other health-related risks, the health benefits, fun, and social value of swimming far outweighs the disadvantages posed by chlorine. One of the rites of summer is swimming, especially out of doors on a hot Maryland day.

The Center for Disease Control’s Triple A’s of Healthy Swimming go into depth on ways to keep everyone healthy when in the water. The most important and easiest of these include:

  • Staying out of the water if you are ill, especially illness of your digestive tract. Also stay out of the water if you have a cut or other break in your skin. Being aware of potential water-borne problems.
  • Showering before you swim to rinse off the organic materials on your skin. This way, you won’t be contributing to what the chlorine as to break down.
  • Regular bathroom breaks for children and adults are crucial. Urine, after all, in another organic material.
  • Protecting yourself with eye goggles, an after-swim shower, shampoo, and body moisturizer.
  • Questions to ask the pool operator: “Are chemical levels checked at least twice per day, or more often when the pool is heavily used?”, “What is the latest pool inspection score?”, and “Has the pool operator completed specialized training in pool operation?”Have a great swim!
Jean has recently retired from Howard County Library System. She also swims at four different Columbia Association pools each summer.

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Bathing Suits and Posture

method express 617397With the pressure of the beach and pool season upon us, many people start looking for stomach exercises to look better in their bathing suits. Visions of 6 pack abs, or any pack abs for that matter, from magazine photos and TV ads often drive these requests. It takes months and months to build muscle tissue and developing visible abs requires a great amount of work with both nutrition and exercise as well as the right genetics. Additionally, any sort of 1, 2, or 6 pack does not necessarily equate to great posture and daily function just as the absence of a “pack” does not indicate weak muscles.

So, where’s the motivation to exercise if the visible benefit comes with so much work and little promise of actually seeing those abdominals? Ever experience back pain or stiffness? Or neck/shoulder “stress”? Going beyond what we look like in our swimsuit and on to exercises that impact our posture takes a generic workout and extends it into specific and appropriate movements for each individual person to help minimize some of these annoying, painful issues.

Posture! Such an exciting word, right? At some point, we’ve all had to address our posture either because of a constant nagging to “stand up straight” or our bodies screaming at us in pain. Let’s take a deeper look and investigate what this means. Throughout this article, you will learn how posture influences breathing, muscular tightness and balance and some tips to help make improvements and feel better overall.

fixing you back pain 317138A normal spine consists of a curvature in the neck or cervical area, the mid back or thoracic area and the lower back or lumbar area. Over time, abnormal curvatures develop in one or more of these areas contributing to various aches and pains. The terms kyphosis, lordosis and scoliosis define these curvatures. Kyphosis means a curve in the upper part of the back1, often appearing with slouched, rounded shoulders and a forward head. Lordosis appears as a strong curve in the lower part of the back, like a sway back. With scoliosis2, the spine curves in a C or S shape and the shoulders and/or hips appear higher on one side.

In the average person, these postural issues signal how our bodies develop over time and can come from sitting for hours, carrying a purse or backpack, and in most cases can be positively impacted through the right exercises. Finding the balance of appropriate strength training, range of motion exercises, and cardiovascular exercise can help improve these muscular imbalances.
For example, for someone with rounded shoulders doing exercises to open up the chest, strengthen the upper back and mid-section will bring the head and chest back up into better alignment. Doing lengthening exercises on the hamstrings may help as well. This will also help open up the lungs for better breathing. The person with a sway back will benefit from exercises loosening up the lower back, strengthening the muscles that extend the hip and opening up the hip flexors. Look at how you stand in the mirror. While it may not seem extreme, pay attention to how your shoulders, hips, and head sit in relation to each other.

Spend time working on incorporating exercises that strengthen the entire body and develop a well-rounded program with all components. With exercise, take time to be intentional with your movements. Make sure to use appropriate progressions with the right intensity for your fitness level, at that point in time. Learn proper form and the benefit of movement for a lifetime, not a moment in time.

[Editors note: As always, please speak with your family physician before starting a new exercise program.] 

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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How a Spin Class Turned this Cardiologist into a Triathlete

cardiovascular exerciseI was an overweight and inactive kid and never an athlete during my school years. About 15 years ago, my weight was increasing and my cholesterol was high, so I began going to the gym. I found I liked spin classes, but I wanted to get out of the hot spin studio. My cardiology practice partner at the time, Dr. Jack McWatters, was an avid cyclist and lent me a bike so I could try cycling outdoors. That was the start of my addiction to cycling, which eventually led me to participate in many long-distance bike rides both locally and in such far-flung destinations as California and the French Alps.

Around the same time, a neighbor of mine, who was a ‘couch potato’ and a cigar smoker, announced he was going to do a triathlon and I thought, “Why can’t I do that?”

So, in 2005, I found a triathlon training group. I started competing in local events, like the Columbia Triathlon held in Howard County every May. Triathletes are so exuberant, excited and inclusive—they suck you into their world and you want to be part of the next challenge.

In 2011, a cycling buddy encouraged me to compete in my first IRONMAN in Florida, and it went exceptionally well. In 2014, I completed IRONMAN Lake Placid, which was scenic and beautiful. Afterward, my coach encouraged me to race in another IRONMAN in Lake Tahoe to keep momentum and training. As it happened, an arsonist set a forest fire in the area around Lake Tahoe that week and, just as we were warming up for the swim, the organizers cancelled the event. In every IRONMAN competition, spots are given to winners for the world championship. Because no winners came from that event, those spots were chosen from a lottery, and I was selected for one of those coveted spots as IRONMAN World Championship.

An international race, the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, features the best professional triathletes and best athletes from every age group. For this event, 2,300 athletes started the race and 2,144 finished on a 97-degree day with 100 percent humidity and 20 mph headwinds during much of the bicycle portion. During the race, I burned 10,500 calories!

I train between eight and 17 hours a week, depending on the season. I swim, bike and run, but adding strength training has kept me injury-free for the past three years. I limit processed carbohydrates. I don’t eat out of a box, I eat foods in their least processed form. I eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, grains, nuts, dark chocolate and I drink almond milk.

Why do I do this? I like a challenge, I like how it feels and I want to set an example for my patients. I know the profound effect that exercise and diet have on your heart. My lipids were terrible before I started exercising regularly, and now they are off the charts good! My HDL/good cholesterol was under 30, now it’s 86; my LDL/bad cholesterol was 150-160, now it’s 79; my triglycerides were 250, now they are 38.

High, intense and regular levels of exercise cause a release of endorphins—cycling is my legal addiction.  If I can’t exercise because it’s snowing or I am too busy, you can tell by my lousy mood.

I tell my patients who don’t exercise that anything is possible—if I can do this, you can do this. You’ve got to start somewhere and build exercise into your routine. You don’t have to be like me, because I’m nuts! But you must build muscle mass and participate in aerobic exercise.

After running, biking and swimming the IRONMAN, I feel an overwhelming elation that I can’t even describe. Coming across the finish line makes me feel like there’s nothing I can’t do.

You don’t have to be like me and do extreme exercise, but you should exercise regularly. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise (or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise) every week for adults. This translates into 30 minutes a day, five times a week—but ANY amount of exercise is better than none!

In September 2014, Michael Silverman, M.D., started a year of intense training in preparation for the IRONMAN World Championship. The training included biking 3,915 miles, swimming 414,240 yards, running 898 miles and completing 98 hours of strength training. A cardiologist with Cardiovascular Associates of Central Maryland, Dr. Silverman could be seen on the roads of Howard County starting his day running or biking at 5:30 a.m.

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Discover Downtown Columbia 5k

DD5kHeaderImage2015WebV2Howard County Library System has teamed up with the Downtown Columbia Partnership for the second annual Discover Downtown Columbia Running Event happening September 27, 2015. The event kicks off at 9 a.m. with a one mile Fun Run for children up to 10 years old. The 5k begins at 9:07 a.m. at the Plaza at The Mall in Columbia and will finish at the People Tree on the Downtown Lakefront. This is also listed as a Road Runners Club of America member event.

Runners will experience the iconic landmarks of Columbia like Symphony in the Woods and Merriweather Post Pavillion in a new way. The course will guide runners past Howard County Library Central Branch and onto Columbia Association’s newly renovated pathway around Lake Kittamaqundi, and set runners toward the finish line at the People Tree.

Participants can enjoy myriad post-race activities courtesy of Downtown Columbia Partners including live music and entertainment for all-ages. In fact, it’s rumored live entertainment may be present along the course with a post-race concert awaiting finishers. Clyde’s “Beer Garden” and Whole Foods Market’s “Runners Garden” will be on site offering free beer and food to participants. Friends and family of the runners will be able to purchase food and beverages.

While the course will close at 10 a.m., it’s certain that the last of the runners across the finish line will be greeted with cheers and fun festivities. Register for the event today!

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The Essence of Lace: Challenge Yourself

15301843831_faa5506137_zI just completed a 30-day squat challenge. Let me tell you, it was quite the experience. I’m not one for exercise and tend to stick to a work-out routine for a short amount of time (or until I get distracted). One of my biggest challenges is falling back into a healthy routine once it has been interrupted. However, this squat challenge forced me to keep going. I didn’t allow a busy day to get in my way or cause me to call it quits (even though there were plenty of times that I wanted to). I was inspired after seeing one of my favorite bands perform at the end of March. The whole concert had an uplifting vibe and many motivational words were spoken. It triggered something in me. I told myself that I had to do something to better my life in some way (no matter how big or small). I simply needed a change. I decided to start small with a work out challenge. I chose the squat challenge and mentally prepared myself for the days to come. I didn’t go into it with an “I got this!” attitude. I knew there would be days that would make me curse myself for being motivated to make a change like this, and that there’d be days where I would want to give up and binge watch shows on Netflix instead. I knew I had to prove something to myself. I needed to make it through the next 30 days no matter how many times I’d try to creatively convince myself to quit.

I researched the proper form, typical number of squats in a set, and general tips. This information helped me to feel more prepared and confident. As the number of squats increased each day from the starting number of 50, I felt many emotions. I would have good days where I was motivated and looking forward to my small bit of exercise. I also had days where I would avoid it until the last minute and power through because I had to. The last day of the challenge concluded with 250 squats. The thought alone made me tired. As the number per day got above 100, I would break my exercise into segments to be completed throughout the day instead of over-exerting myself in one sitting. This certainly helped and made those numbers a lot less daunting. I soon figured out that it was all about finding what worked best for me.

I chose to start with one goal instead of compiling a huge list that would otherwise be disappointing if not accomplished. I knew that if I were to go from little to no exercise to a three hour workout every day that I would fail. I knew that I needed to set realistic goals in order to be successful. Guess what? It worked! I completed the challenge and survived to tell you about it.

When it comes to healthier living, it’s important to make manageable changes at a realistic pace.

Now that the squat challenge is over, I’ve made squats a part of my daily routine. I rest every fourth day in order to give my muscles a break. Now that I have added something new to my lifestyle, I am ready to add another form of exercise. This time I think I might go with something a bit more fun… maybe hula hooping!

Editor’s Note: Please consult your physician before making any kind of exercise or diet change to your daily routine.

Laci Radford is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch and STEM Education Center. She is a music lover, writer, and an avid reader. She enjoys attending concerts, plays, and other forms of live entertainment. Her favorite activities include scoping out unique items at thrift stores, bonfires with friends, and having tie-dye parties. She is studying Psychology and plans to become a music and art therapist sooner rather than later.

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