Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pets and Your Health

A very sad thing happened in my family last week, followed by a very happy one. 

My parents' dog Chelsea, who was approaching 13 years old, developed pneumonia and congestive heart disease and had to be put to sleep.  While my parents had firmly decided that Chelsea would be their last dog, plans tend to change upon being stricken with the grief and sadness that accompanies losing a cherished family member.  And a few days later, this little nugget was being welcomed into the family:

Mandy is a 6-week old West Highland White Terrier and I'm absolutely obsessed with her cuteness.  But I knew I would be, since I come from a family of pet-lovers.  Growing up, our house was a zoo.  There were pets of every kind... from dogs and cats, to birds, fish, turtles, frogs, and even hermit crabs.  So it was no surprise that my parents, even now in their 70s, decided to get another puppy.


Today, I have one pet of my own (unless you count the mold growing in the back of my fridge).  My cat Rocky has provided me with unconditional love and companionship over the past five years. While Rocky has undoubtedly helped my mental health (especially on bad days where all I needed was a cuddle or a laugh from something cute he was doing), pets have actually been known to inprove your physical health as well. 

Dogs can get you moving every day, since they need to be walked, but even a cat can provide you with a little exercise when they want to play.  Rocky and I like to chase each other around the house.  (Well, I enjoy it anyway.  He usually just looks bored and annoyed, as he does in the pic on the left.)  Having a pet gives you a routine to follow. You can't lay around being lazy all day when you have a pet to care for... and their cute little furry faces will constantly remind you of that fact.

Partly due to the mental well-being they cause in their human owners, pets have also been proven to lower blood pressure, increase longevity in those who've had heart attacks, and even help relax Alzheimer's patients.  "Any disease or condition that has a stress-related component to it, we believe pets could ameliorate stress and moderate the situation," said biologist Erika Friedmann, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.  Midland Insurance Company even considers pet ownership in their medical screenings to determine their policy holders' level of health.

For those who aren't ready to take the leap into pet ownership, animal shelters often allow you to walk a dog on a regular basis or foster a pet in need.  Contact or your local shelter to inquire about these programs.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lesser-Known Diet Tips

When it comes to dieting and weight loss, there are certain tactics that are widely accepted.  Everyone knows that consuming less calories than you expend is the key to losing weight, and we are all well aware that substituting lower calorie versions of the foods you enjoy is a great way to keep you sane and happy.  But recently, I got to thinking about some of the lesser-known (and perhaps a tad controversial) diet tips that have worked for me over four years of "keeping it off" and I thought I'd share some of those today:

Don't let the workout you were supposed to do prevent you from the workout you CAN do.  We've all had days where the crazyness of the office prevents us from making it to our workout class on time.  Furthermore, there's those days when you just aren't feelin' it.  Just because you aren't going to make it to that Zumba class or you aren't going to get that 7-mile run in doesn't mean you shouldn't do anything.  On stressful days, even if I am under the weather or waaaay too tired for a "proper" workout, I still try to go out for an easy 30-45 minute walk. It's not going to burn a ton of calories, but something is better than nothing. And all those little somethings over time really do add up.

Eat Before Bed.  While everyone knows you shouldn't eat a big meal right before you hit the sack, you should have something so that your stomach isn't growling all night (especially if you ate an early dinner).  Getting a good night's sleep is uber-important for successful weight loss, and a small snack before bedtime can help you fall asleep easier as well as keep you from waking up ravenous in the middle of the night.  I usually reach for something sweet and light at about 10 p.m., such as a 60-calorie Jello-O pudding.

Invest in a DVR.  Huh? What does my TV have to do with losing weight?!  Well, more than you may realize.  If you watch TV (especially during prime time) every other commercial is pretty much food porn.  Advertisers know what they are doing when they show you that cheesy gooeyness of a piping hot pizza just out of the oven. While you may have the willpower to resist the temptation right then and there to pick up the phone and call for a pizza, your subconscious may not be as cooperative. You may end up snacking to curb the urge to dial or end up binging on half a pepporoni pie later since it was all you could think about.  So, my advice is to spend the $8/month for DVR so that you can fast forward through the food porn.  For me, even if I am home to watch a show or sporting event at a particular time, I still record it and wait until 20 minutes in so that I can avoid the salacious commercials.

Okay, those are a few of it's your turn.  What are your favorite lesser-known tips for managing your weight?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

About My Zumba Love

Lately I've been teaching a lot of Zumba.  I mean a lot. I have two of my own weekly classes, and in addition to those, I am taking the opportunity this month to do lots of subbing for other instructors.  Next week, I am teaching seven classes!  I'm still loving every minute of getting paid to do something I love (and would be doing anyway even if I weren't getting paid for it).  Last August, I posted a story about how Zumba and I met.  Here it is again for those who didn't see it the first time:

When I was eight, I had a little group of neighborhood friends—Tracy, Stacey and Christa, a.k.a. the Windhill Terrace gang. We were a fearsome posse of thugs, decked out in neon t-shirts, jelly shoes and packing scratch-n-sniff stickers. As little girls do, we spent long, leisurely summer days swimming in Christa’s pool and playing with our Barbie dolls. One day I found my puppy in the midst of chewing up my Barbie’s left leg (BAAAD dog!), and she was heretofore dubbed Shark Bite Barbie. Tracey, Stacey and Christa may have had ambulatory Barbies, but I wasn’t jealous. I loved Shark Bite Barbie because she was different. (Plus, it was easier to get the clothes and shoes on her on account of her one leg.)

But I digress...this story isn’t about Barbie. Something wonderful showed up in my home around the same time that made me drop Shark Bite Barbie like a hot potato…MTV. It was the summer of 1983 when the cable company came around offering an illustrious new world of entertainment for any Anderson Township suburbanite that was willing to shell out the monthly fee. My parents were first in line.

I was never the same.

The lure of MTV for me, really, was the dancing. I had already discovered that I loved the music…I spent a good deal of time taping my favorite songs off of Q102 on my little pink cassette player and listening to them over and over again. But I was absolutely floored when I saw music videos for the first time on MTV. Here were my favorite artists and they were dancing in perfect rhythm to my favorite songs! I studied their moves and learned how to copy them. I spent hour upon hour up in my bedroom learning how to dance like Madonna, Janet Jackson and the Bangles. I actually wore a hole in the carpet in front of my mirror. (My mom still reminds me of this fact.) 

My little friends caught the MTV bug too, and soon enough we were choreographing routines and charging $0.25 admission to our parents to see our “shows” that we would put on for them. Luckily, our parents didn’t see any sort of marketable talent in any of us; otherwise we might have had very different lives today.

My love for dancing continued as I got older, where I enjoyed participating in cheerleading in middle school and gymnastics in high school. In my early 20s, I stumbled upon the new swing dancing fad while out drinking with friends at a bar and the bug bit me. Two days later I was enrolled in my first swing class and two years later I was performing, competing and teaching swing dance. I started dabbling in Latin dance from time to time as well. My love affair with partnered dancing has been a tumultuous one, and though I still enjoy occasionally going out dancing, it’s just not what it used to be.

In January 2010, I went to my first Zumba class and the dancing bug bit me again. Zumba was a mixed bag of everything I love about dancing: the familiar latin and hip-hop rhythms I knew from partnered dancing, upbeat music, and an amazing aerobic workout. By the end of my first class, I thought to myself, "I ought to be teaching this." Once my marathon training was over in May, I decided to go ahead and do it.  I got my certification in July 2010 and started teaching classes shortly thereafter.

I think it’s difficult the older you get to find passion in life. For me, I found it when I looked back at the one thing that brought me joy at age eight. At eight, I certainly wasn’t dreaming of crunching numbers on an Excel spreadsheet. Not me—I was busy wearing a hole in my bedroom floor learning dancing steps. And here I am, 25 years later, spending at least a few nights a week studying Zumba dance moves from DVDs and wearing a hole in the carpet of my floor learning the moves. Some things never change... 


Check out my Zumba page for details about my current and upcoming classes.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My irrational fear of all things medical

I sat there on the exam table with my feet dangling over the edge, sipping apple juice out of a box with a giraffe on it--tears streaming down my face--and that's when it occurred to me:  I am a 34-year-old woman acting like a 6-year-old child.

While I've managed to bravely face several scary medical situations in my past, every once in a while, my irrational, deep-seated fear of all things health-related creeps up unexpectedly and I turn into a total spazz.  Such was the case this morning.

I had to fast overnight for a routine cholesterol screening at 8:30 a.m.  I haven't had blood work done in several years and my gynecologist suggested at my checkup last week that I have my cholesterol checked, "now that you're getting old."  Yeah, he said "old."  Not "older." Old.  Thanks a lot, buddy!  I told him you can't tell a woman that she's getting old, it hurts her feelings.  But, this is coming from the same doctor who said during my last pap smear that he earned his medical degree from sending in cereal box tops. (I find his sense of humor odd but comforting.)

So, I reluctantly agreed to the cholesterol screening.  I didn't want to do it due to my storied history with blood extractions.  The veins in my arms are very thin and difficult to locate, so a special butterfly needle is usually necessary.  I also have trouble with coagulation. That is, once the needle is in my arm, I sometimes just stop bleeding and they have to start all over with a new vein.  Oh, and I also almost always pass out as soon as the needle gets near my arm.  Basically, I'm a wimp.

After soliciting advice yesterday from a variety of friends in the medical field, I took the suggestion to drink a lot of water before my appointment and also to take an aspirin.  When I got to the doctor's office, I waited.  And waited.  I started out the morning feeling sane and well-adjusted, but as time elapsed, I got irrationally worked up.  And, I was starving.  I'm not used to fasting, especially in the morning, and I quickly became light-headed and shaky.  And then I started getting hangry.

Twenty-five minutes passed, and I was still in the waiting room, psyching myself out and practically chewing off the arm of my seat.  Just as I arose to ask the receptionist, "How much f@#%ing longer?!" the nurse opened the door and called me back.

As we walked to the exam room, I rattled off the list of all the things that have gone wrong with blood extractions in the past so the nurse would be prepared.  Undaunted by the challenges she was facing, she retrieved a butterfly needle and asked me to lay down flat on an exam table.  She could see that my eyes were welling up, and did her best to comfort me as she quickly--and easily--extracted the blood. 

"That wasn't so bad," I admitted as she applied the band-aid to my left arm.  She then produced a package of crackers and the aforementioned juice box, and gave me a few minutes to dry my tears, sip my juice, and start acting like an adult again.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What I've Been Up To

I've been told that you should never apologize for a gap in writing posts on a blog, so I won't.  After all, you shouldn't just write to write, you should write because you have something important or interesting to say.  While I'm not saying there's a lack of important and/or interesting posts swimming around in my head... there's just not enough time lately to write them down.  I've been too busy with other projects. So, please stay tuned for future important and interesting posts.  In the meantime, please check out some of my recent work from LIVESTRONG:

Zumba Workout Plan: Unless you have been living in a cave, you probably have already heard about or tried Zumba, one of the most popular new workouts trends in America and across the globe. As the Zumba program grows and adds more types of classes, Zumba lovers are finding new ways to incorporate their favorite Latin dance program into their overall workout plan. More...

Exercise and Weight Loss Excursions:  Vacationing can be a great way to relax and unwind, but it can also be a quick way to put on unwanted pounds. With more options available in the growing market of health-related excursions, from spas and boot camps to weight loss camps and outdoor adventures, many vacationers are eschewing the time-honored tradition of sipping pina coladas by the beach in exchange for a more active getaway. More...

Cooldown Exercises:  Just like a car slows down before it comes to a full stop, many athletes incorporate a short cool-down period at the end of their workouts as a way to transition the body from a state of high-intensity activity into a state of rest. Cooling down is not only a great reward after a tough cardio session, it can also help prevent injury and improve your athletic performance. More...