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ASANAS ON THE WATER – SUP AND YOGA

This story ran in the Rutland Herald & Times Argus on 7-10-2016, written by Linda Freeman, Field Editor and Correspondent for ACTIVE VERMONT.

Last week on the Active Vermont page you read tips on how to choose your own SUP. Once selected, what next? What can you do with a SUP? The short answer is “a lot.” A stand up paddleboard is legally a vessel and can be used much like a kayak or canoe. One or more users can navigate ponds, lakes and rivers for sport, recreation or fitness.

Standing up is a lovely way to tour. The vantage is just that much better and what is below the board is easily seen. Looking straight down you will see far more than glancing across the top of the water from a seat. Though the very idea of standing on something potentially tippy in the middle of a lake can be daunting, it’s really not so bad. In fact, there’s no rule that says you must stand. You might want to begin seated or kneeling. In fact, if there’s a stiff wind and you really need to get where you’re going, you might want to lower your mass and cut through less wind.

But back to your first time out. Because I was skeptical about the touted simplicity of SUP, what I had heard of as “user friendly,” (yeah, right), I knew I had to try it before writing about it. So I did and will share the few bits I learned.

Begin, of course, with the right SUP and the correct length paddle. Don’t forget your pfd (personal floatation device), leash, water and sunscreen. (Refer to Active Vermont, July 3, 2016.)

If you start from the shore, simply push the board out a little way, lay the paddle across like an outrigger, put one knee on the board, then the other, and voila you’re afloat.

At this point the paddle is much too long to be effective, but will do something. As soon as you are ready, take your time, find a centered balance on the board, and straighten up. At first you might be tense, (I sure was) but allow yourself to move with the board and start to paddle.

Find a functional alignment: feet parallel, about hip-width apart, toes pointed forward, knees slightly bent tracking over the toes, back erect, and looking where you are going. “Much like bicycling, when your forward momentum increases, your stability increases as well.” (www.rei.com)

With one hand over the end of the paddle and the other partway down the shaft, begin to make sweeping strokes close to the board. There is a way to refine a “J” stroke that will help keep you tracking forward, but you will need to switch sides regularly anyway. The longer you’re on the board, the more comfortable you will be. Try standing slightly fore or aft and see what effect that has on your paddling. Practice turning and using so many of the same techniques that you would use with a canoe. The wider your board, the more stable. Soon, however, unless the water is really disturbed, you should find yourself relaxing and enjoying the ride. And, oh yes, don’t forget that the strength of the paddle stroke comes from your core and not just arms and shoulders. With arms relatively straight, twist from your torso to execute the stroke. Paddle wrong and you’ll tire too quickly.

“The paddle in the water is your 3rd leg of stability,” Mike Strojny said. As assistant retail manager at Umiak Outfitters, he has seen many newcomers to SUP. “A couple hours and you should be good. Wrong equipment is a problem. When it comes to technique, a lesson helps accelerate the learning curve.”

Finally, wear a swim suit. If you fall, you want to fall into the water, not on the board. Just be cool and pretend you meant to take a dip.

YOGA and SUP 

Yoga on a stand up paddleboard is not new. In fact, Wikipedia refers to this as an “emerging sport,” and cites its acceptance within an “international community.”

The Huffington Post lists the following reasons to practice Yoga on a paddle board. Certainly, if your Yoga is getting stale, SUP makes it a uniquely different experience. Because of the unstable base, you need to refine your technique and, in the process, get a better workout. Once you accomplish your goals, there is a sense of empowerment; and, because it is “a touch scary,” your success is well-earned. Furthermore, it is noted that the practice can be calming with more attention paid to breathing. It’s fun and it’s beautiful.

A quick Google search will find SUP and Yoga alive and thriving in Vermont. In the Killington area SUP Yoga is in its fourth season. (www.killingtonYoga .com). At Waterbury Reservoir both Grateful Yoga and Siren SUP with Merin Perretta and Anjali Budreski offer multiple classes each week into September. (www.umiak.com).

“FLOAT YOUR YOGA ”

Merin Peretta, SUP yoga.

Merin Perretta, SUP yoga. Photo courtesy of Merin Perretta.

Merin Perretta brings to her teaching a rich and varied background with personal, physical and intellectual depth. “I took my first Yoga class at the age of 15 or 16 with my sister at a Community Center in Newton, Ma,” Perretta said. “There was a lot of meditation and I liked it.”

Perretta has always been fitness-based and athletic. Her Yoga experience “planted the seed. It took a long time to germinate and set down roots.” First there was a move to the Northeast Kingdom where she found a little studio that “drew me in,” she said. As her Yoga learning and practice continued, Perretta went on to enhance her bachelors degree in medical sociology with a masters degree in counseling. Today in Montpelier Perretta pursues mind-body integration through her work as a certified personal trainer and Yoga instructor.

When Perretta and Budreski met, “we totally hit it off,” Perretta said. Both teach at Yoga Mountain in Monteplier. “I’ve learned so much,” Perretta said. “I’ve found my Yoga platform at Yoga Mountain.” Perretta and Budreski both love SUP and both love Yoga . “We’ve got to bring this to people,” they said. Siren SUP was born of their shared enthusiasm. The two became business partners planning their SUP classes as well as a trip to Costa Rica in March 2017 to a surf and paddleboard destination where they hope to work with women of all ages, engaging all the element of youth, coming of age, and maturity. It will be about sister groups, partnering, Yoga and, of course, SUP. (For more information visit http://trilliumhealthworks.com)

My own experience with Yoga on a paddleboard happened a few weeks ago on a beautiful, though breezy, sunny day on Curtis Pond in central Vermont under the guidance of Merin Perretta. I had never, ever, been on or near a paddleboard. Perretta was unfazed. I do, however, practice Yoga and, though relatively new, am also relatively comfortable with some of the asanas.

What are asanas? Though strictly speaking asana may refer to a seated stillness, asanas in Yoga are often referenced as postures, or the physical actions of Yoga . Though Yoga is indeed about far more than exercise, it is often the place where most of us begin.

So to begin at the beginning, I managed to stand up and paddle and reach the point where I might try a few simple asanas. Working from a tabletop postion, on all fours, was easy and a real start in adapting to the movement of the board on water.

Transitioning into downward facing dog, basically a pike position with hands and feet on the board, added something new. As I looked back past the end of the paddleboard (for all purposes upside down) the play of the water against the board did weird things to my eyes and balance. Looking the other way in camel pose was another story. As I looked up at a cloudless sky the world seemed still; so much easier.

Trying a few poses lifting one leg, twisting, stretching or moving from plank to the board were all done with a sense of exploration. Strangely aligning from bow to stern on the board was do-able (warrior I or pyramid pose) but aligning with the long side (warrior 2 or triangle poses) was far more challenging. Just as I was feeling pretty good in dolphin pose with one leg in the air (sort of half standing on my head) I looked to see Perretta in a full head stand. Oh well. The sky’s the limit I guess.

The bottom line is that if I can do this, anyone can. Each class,similar to my experience, is taught with respect for what each individual brings to the board. No previous SUP or Yoga experience is needed.

WHY YOGA ON A PADDLEBOARD

SUP yoga class taught by Merin Peretta.

SUP yoga class taught by Merin Perretta. Literally Asana on the Water.  photo supplied by M.Perretta.

Perretta, who practices her Yoga with precision focusing on alignment and fitness, also brings to her work a deep sense of the mental, emotional and spiritual. “Yoga is 1% theory and 99% practice,” she quoted.

And then there’s the fun part. Speaking of SUP Yoga she said, “If you’ve even a glimmer of curiosity, try it. Encounter it, look it in the eye, and do it.”

But perhaps more importantly the experience deepens a Yoga practice and expands it to include more than navigating the poses on water.

The unstable surface challenges core strength and balance, yes, and there is a playfulness about the process. But there is also a connection with your immediate yet vast environment; with water, sky and air.

The board becomes your mat, the space in which you engage. It becomes your partner and your teacher. You learn to release, to float. You may sit, kneel, stand or lie on your board, your Yoga mat in action. You feel buoyancy and relate physically to the movement of the water, to tides, to flow.

Your perspective is organic. When you seek your drishti, your focal point, you may need to look inward.

When you finish your practice, you lie supine on your board, eyes closed, and give yourself to the water’s surface, be it active or still. You feel and sense rather than see and do. Your board gives you feedback from your practice. You learn which muscles worked and which joints opened. You feel your spine, hips, skull, heels, elbows and hands against a stiff but moving surface. It makes you think about where you’ve been and where you are going, and then perhaps relieves you of thought. Flow is a word often united with Yoga . On the water, flow is quite literal.

For me, my take home was a very real example of what in Yoga is called Sthira and Sukha, steadiness and ease. Uniting these two qualities that could be perceived as opposites, is profound. Finding a balance between effort and ease significantly impacts sports performance as well as daily living. Striving for strength, energy and capability; then softening with ease, release and freedom, just might be what it’s all about.

Wha’SUP? The growing sport of stand up paddling!

 

Stand Up Paddleboard, or Stand Up Paddling, or simply SUP, may be here to stay. Skeptics dubbed the sport another passing fad, but that was sometime around 2001 or 2002. Here we are, more than a decade later, and we see boards strapped to car roofs, beached on shorelines, and, of course, on the water.

Here in Vermont, most SUP paddling is done on flat water, though Lake Champlain, power boats and even a windy day can give the paddler rock and roll. In other areas, SUP is more closely connected to its surfing roots from places such as Hawaii and with names such as Laird Hamilton.

Standing up to paddle can be traced back for centuries. Old paintings and a multitude of anecdotes suggest SUP possibly dates back far more than the early 20th century. Of course it’s probable that Native Americans stood in their canoes to paddle up river, but the claim that in Peru as long ago as 3,000 BC, and possibly even Pharoah’s daughter, the one who found baby Moses in the rushes, was standing up to paddle, necessitates unsubstantiated acceptance. (To read an intriguing and short history of SUP go to http://www.supthemag.com/complete-short-history-sup/)

Assuming you find the sport of SUP interesting and would like to give it a go, there are many ways in which to do so. By all means, rent a SUP or borrow a friend’s, and get on the water before you decide to purchase. However, remember that when you do, you may not be on the board that is most appropriate for you. It’s a good way to taste but not to digest. And, to be sure, a SUP lesson is a great way to begin.

SUP - a family adventure photo by L. Freeman

SUP – a family adventure
photo by L. Freeman

Once hooked, you will want your own board, paddle, leash and pfd. (Note that a Type 3 USCG approved personal floatation device is mandated by law. If you are over 12 years old, you do not need to be wearing, but must have one easily accessible on the deck. Twelve and under must be wearing.)

HOW TO CHOOSE A BOARD

How do you choose your board? The best answer is to visit a water sports store where an informed associate can give you good advice, not just sell you a board. Finding the right board is not rocket science, but it really does matter and must meet your individual needs, fitness level, body type and budget. Buy the right board the first time and your purchase will be cost effective in the long run.

For more information I visited Umiak Outdoor Outfitters on South Main Street, Stowe (www.UMIAK.com) where Mike Strojny, assistant retail manager, spent unhurried time answering my many questions. Here’s what I learned.

What do you want to do with SUP? Is it for fun and fitness or touring or maybe even racing?

There are basically two types of hulls from which to choose: planing and displacement. A planing hull is flat and wide like a surfboard, costs a little less money to build and therefore a little less money to buy, and “is the board that most recreational customers come into the store looking for,” Strojny said.

“We think most people should buy a displacement board because Vermont lakes and ponds are flatwater.” And why is that? A displacement hull is straighter and faster. The front and back (bow and stern) are slightly pointed allowing the board to be moved forward with less effort. A displacement board is a good choice for the recreational paddler who wants the option to spend his or her hours and effort touring. Displacement boards are far more stable than one might think and versatile in their use be it fitness, cruising or even yoga.

SUPs are built from the inside out, whereas a kayak or canoe is built from the outside in. Foam inside is wrapped in a fiberglass sock. While there are many kinds of boards, and some are extremely attractive, Strojny suggestions caution. “They’re like a nice sports car; it’s what’s under the hood that counts.” The variables are the materials (a plastic board will weight 45-50 pounds while its carbon fiber equivalent only 20 pounds or less), board length, width, thickness and volume. A textured mat or surface on the top of the board provides stable footing.

Put in simplest terms, the bigger the person, the longer the board needed. Also to be taken into consideration is where you will paddle, the size of your car roof, where you will store the board when not in use (an inflatable SUP folds up into a wheeled suitcase), and perhaps how far you will need to walk to the beach. Width affects stability. A board 31-36” wide will be more stable; one 29 or 30” will be faster. Volume is a mathematical equation of length x width x thickness. The answer suggests the board’s ability to float with a certain amount of weight on it. All boards have a fin to help tracking. Paddling skill aids in keeping that straight line while wind factors present problems of their own. Roughly speaking a smaller person, woman or child, might shop for a 10-11’6” board while a larger or taller person might move up to a 12’6” board. Athletic ability and fitness definitely play a role as well.

What else do you need? In addition to your SUP and PFD, you need a paddle leash. “Four people drowned a few weekends ago,” Strojny said. “Not around here. Lake Tahoe and elsewhere. They didn’t have a PFD and they didn’t have a leash.” Strojny went on to explain that a SUP can also function as a large floatation device. It’s unlikely that you will hit your head when you pitch off of one. You are, after all, standing. Most likely you will land in the water and, with your board attached by a leash, can reel it in and clamber back on, or at least hold yourself up until help arrives. Wearing a PFD (there are some that can be worn unobtrusively around the waist), is, of course, the ultimate safe way to paddle.

Finally you need a paddle. Yes, you use only one and it is very long. A quick measure is to stand on land with the blade tip next to your feet. With one arm extended straight up towards the sky, the end of the handle should be at your hand. On the board in the water, you will hold the top end with one hand and partway down the shaft with the other. Some paddles are adjustable, others are custom. Less expensive paddles are heavier and can cause stress to joints, fatigue and just maybe take away from the joy of paddling. Small, narrow blades and light, stiff paddles made of fiberglass or carbon fiber allow for more dynamic paddling, a faster cadence if desired, and a less tiring experience that can make racing, yes, but even touring more enjoyable. Sometimes it takes surprisingly little effort to move forward, but equally significant is the core workout you will get.

Oh, and one more thing. You will need a roof rack on your car, usually the bars already there will do. Hoisting the board to the roof is as easy as your board is light. Simple straps usually get the job done.

SUP FESTIVAL

Burlington SUP Festival 2016, photo by L. Freeman

Burlington SUP Festival 2016, photo by L. Freeman

I met Roxanne Scully at the 2nd Annual Burlington Paddleboarding and Windsurfing Festival, June 25, 2016, on one of those perfect Vermont days: sunny, breezy, lots of people eager to participate, vendors happy to answer questions and hopefully make a sale, kids, dogs, and boats and more boats. Festive indeed.

Roxanne and her husband, Russ, began with The Spot, a “surf style restaurant” near the Burlington waterfront. Along came a new sport, paddleboarding. “My husband and I started this whole venture,” Roxanne said. “There was an article in the NY Times about Russ. After that he became the go-to person for paddle board.” The Scullys mixed business and pleasure. Russ became a rep for Starboard paddleboards and soon the couple started selling out of their restaurant. It was not long before they opened WND&WVS (say it quickly and you’ll get wind and waves, of course), a SUP, windsurf and other types of water sports store. (www.wndnwvs.com ). When asked about the popularity of SUPs, Roxanne said: “I think it’s just the beginning. There are so many different ways to use it from enjoying the sunset with your family or dog to racing. There’s a large spectrum of what you can do.”

Though the festival was for SUP and windsurfing, I saw only SUPs. And I saw many. Juxtaposed against the backdrop of sailboats and cruisers, boats of mixed size and use, some moored and some in action, were dozens of people of all ages on a huge variety of boards. Some were adept, some a bit anxious. Some boards were slim, some were large enough for a family, some short, some long, some hard and some inflatables.

I noticed a woman wearing a dress, but holding a paddle. When I asked her if she was having a good time she told me that she was down to three boards. She had tried the inflatable and was surprised by how hard it was, not rubbery at all. But she did find it a bit “bouncy” on the water. She then tried one that was more sleek and a better performer. Finally she tried one somewhere in the middle, a board that was stiff on the bottom but had a soft covering on top. She was still uncertain. But one thing was for sure, she was going to buy one of these boards and SUP on Lake Champlain.

As noted above, paddles are important. But let me introduce you to Steve Berson of Oblio Paddles. (www.obliopaddles.com) When Berson first explored the world of SUP he loved standing on the board, but was uncomfortable with the concept of a single paddle with a single blade that had to be switched from side to side and sometimes caused balance and/or tracking problems by its very nature. Why not design a long paddle with a blade on each end with a rotating grip that would serve as an aid to balance (much like the tightrope walker and his pole) and would provide rhythm and symmetry to smooth the rough edges of an otherwise seamless sport? So he did. The process began in March 2014 in Morrisville. The first year was spent in development and prototyping. Today there are different models available ranging in price from $229-$429 and made of fiberglass, a composite, or top of the line carbon fiber.

Even this Welsh Corgi enjoys SUP on the Lake. photo by L. Freeman

Even this Welsh Corgi enjoys SUP on the Lake. photo by L. Freeman

Over the years we’ve learned that stand up paddleboarding is not limited to the big surf of Hawaii or southern California; or, in the State of Vermont, to larger lakes like Champlain or Bomoseen; or even Vermont’s smaller lakes and ponds, surrounded by summer camps and home to both motorized and non-motorized water craft. In fact, one may not really know just how much this sport may grow. SUP is one new kid on the block who may have moved in to stay. Perhaps this IS just the beginning. Perhaps in years to come we will see many variations on the SUP theme.

This story first appeared in the Rutland Herald & Times Argus Sunday newspaper,     7-3-2016 written by Linda Freeman, Field Editor and Contributor to Active Vermont.

BRAIN GAMES – EXERCISE BENEFITS BOTH BODY AND BRAIN

 

By this time, few will argue that exercise is good for your health. But doesn’t this mean physical health? Don’t we use exercise to help tame obesity, lower blood pressure, raise good cholesterol (HDL), strengthen all muscles including the heart, increase aerobic capacity including endurance, enhance quality of life, and on and on. Now, however, we are being told that exercise is also good for the brain. “Your brain is no different than the rest of the muscles in your body–you either use it or you lose it…In general, anything that is good for your heart is great for your brain.” (www.brainhq.com)

Taking this even further, it seems that the Gemini Twins of the fitness world might be combining aerobic exercise with brain challenges. The trick is to exercise the brain much as we would train a muscle, working with principles of overload (pushing it beyond what is comfortable) and specificity (honing particular skills). What’s more, the brain needs to be trained regularly, not randomly.

Recently as part of my continuing education as a Personal Trainer, I participated in a course entitled “Train the Brain.” Much of what I learned was presented in a paper by Lawrence Biscontini, MA, “Building Mental Muscle Toward Neuroplasticity,” (American Fitness, July/August 2015).

Parts of the brain serve different functions. Stated simply, the left side (hemisphere) of the brain controls analytical skills, language, math and speech. When you can’t remember a name or are searching for that perfect word, you need the left side of your brain. Interestingly the left side of the brain controls motor skills on the right side of the body and the right side of the brain controls motor skills on the left side of the body. It is in the right hemisphere that creative processes, problem solving and emotions (among other functions) are controlled.

The brain is made up of a number of sections. The cerebrum is the largest part. The frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital lobes function variously to make decisions, form judgments, pay attention coordinate movements, allow for comprehension, language, speech, behavior, vision and even personality. The cerebellum is important to fitness enthusiasts as it is associated with balance, posture and coordinating motor skills and movements.

Of course there is far more anatomy and function to be learned and discussed pertaining to the brain, but this gives us a good idea of what’s inside our skulls, and it’s quite a lot.

WHAT AFFECTS BRAIN FUNCTION?

That which messes with our brains is often something we have control over. Our lifestyle, daily habits, nutrition and sleep all play roles in disturbing or supporting brain function.

Cortisol has become a headliner. It grabs attention when one is told that too much cortisol, a byproduct of stress as well as other factors, can cause unwanted and excessive fat storage. Too much cortisol in the blood can slow down our thinking and therefore our responses.

Oh, sleep. A sleep-deprived brain is just not going to work right. Common wisdom suggests 8 hours a day.

Dehydration, depression and hypoglycemia affect slow brain activity and impair judgment.

Now here’s a good one: while loud music is distracting, soft music under 50 decibels may stimulate brain function in individuals with brain issues.

Finally, a note to couch potatoes: calcium plays an important role in brain functioning. There is a delicate balance to be maintained. “Even mild activity boosts peripheral calcium to the brain, which assists with the brain’s overall functions.” (Bicsontini)

Neuroplasticity. What a great word. Wikipedia loosely defines this as “an umbrella term that describes lasting change to the brain throughout an individual’s life course.”

This is where the fun begins. Using fitness training concepts of sets, reps, timed segments, etc., we can train the brain to better perform and to help manage fear, anger and depression. BUT, to train effectively, brain exercises should be performed along with physical exercise. The key is to put the two together to maximize results.

BRAIN GAMES

Here are a few brain games for you to try alone or with friends.

Mobile meeting. This may be the simplest. Conduct your next meeting, visit with a friend to plan an event or have your book club discuss their selection during a walk, hike, run or ride.

Choreography or movement design. The mental task can be a simple one but must be connected with the movement. For example, perhaps you know how to do a simple grapevine lateral move or step or jump in a pattern like hopscotch. Do this while at the same time performing a math task such as the phone numbers game.

Start the movement pattern then suggest a 4-digit number. Recite the digits, then do so backwards, then add them, etc. About 10 minutes is enough of this. You can make this drill more difficult by adding the first 3 digits to the number.

For some reason, or for many reasons, the number “7” is a good one. How many things can you think of that involve 7? We’ve already used a 7-digit phone number. How about 7 days in a week or 7 colors in a rainbow? Base the number of selected items to tax the brain on the number 7.

I once participated in a brain training game in which we formed a circle and, in unison, moved 7 steps to the right and 7 steps to the left. We did this over and over again while each person took a turn telling a story. The story began with one line. The 2nd person repeated that one line and added another sentence to it. The 3rd person repeated those 2 lines and added another sentence. And so it went. It was like the old fashioned game of “telephone” X10. What kept us laughing were the multiple collisions as folks forgot to transition from right to left or back again.

Step aerobics. Do you remember step aerobics classes? Find yourself a step and repeatedly step up-up-down-down changing lead foot every 8 times. Recite what you had for breakfast. Have your friends join you. Then recite what you had for breakfast backwards. Then recite what you had for breakfast using the beverage first. Then 2nd. Then 3rd. You definitely get the idea.

Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes. Did you just sing those words as you read them? You could do so while marching in place then mix up the order or add other body parts to add up to that magical 7.

As you can see, these games are simple and relatively unlimited. They are just a start to tease you to create your own. All you need is a basic movement pattern, dance step or even jump rope and enough creativity to find your challenge. To be sure, a group of willing friends helps as well.

BRAIN GAMES first appeared on June 26, 2016, ACTIVE VERMONT, Rutland Herald and Times Argus, written by Linda Freeman, Field Editor.

Wearables v. Unplugged

 

UNPLUGGED?  DIGITAL ADDICTION IS ATTRACTING ATTENTION

Unplugged  Jeb Wallace-Brodeur;  Winter hikers from Vermont unplugged as they descend from the summit of Mount Flume in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Unplugged Jeb Wallace-Brodeur; Winter hikers from Vermont unplugged as they descend from the summit of Mount Flume in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Time to deliver the mail, to deliver you on target in this new year and make the most of your time. Before we do that let’s take one step back and ask a key question. Could you go one day a week unplugged? That means not plugged into a device of any sort, but plugged into the moment, plugged into reality, instead of virtual reality. If the answer is no, you could not go a day without your device, maybe that is your new year’s resolution. To plug back into you and those around you!

If the answer is no, then let’s figure out why. Or, as this is a fitness article, let’s figure out if your devices are serving you or are you serving them? We know from brain imaging that a ping, ring or vibration for most people activates a dopamine squirt in the brain. Simply put, dopamine is a chemical created in your brain that is generally released and is associated with a reward response. However, too much “reward”, like too much of any good thing, can quickly become not a good thing. That is why we’re now seeing more and more digital addiction as devices surround us every day. Hence, the pressing need to unplug on a regular basis.

But let’s go back to the first sentence. Mail delivery; how does that relate to what the fitness world and to what marketers are calling wearables? Before wearables, we relied on training by feeling, or what exercise physiologists called RPE, rate of perceived exertion. There are a variety of RPE scales, 1-10 and 6-20 tend to be the most common scales used. The scales correlate on the lower ends with exercising easily, and as the scale progresses, exercise increases from moderate to hard at the top end of an RPE scale. Training by feeling is like delivering the mail to the right street. It generally gets you close to the destination of exercise that is on target.

One of the first wearables, in a consumer sense, is now known as the ubiquitous heart rate monitor (HRM). A heart rate monitor simply does that, measure your response to exercise, which is generally associated with an increase in heart rate as exercises becomes more difficult. Training by heart rate will show several patterns over time, but I would argue that training by heart rate is like delivering the mail to the right block on a street. It gets you close to the intended address, but not to the exact house all the time. The house you’re trying to deliver your mail to is the house that has the right intensity of exercise at the right time. The danger with heart rate training is generally most people just play the high heart rate Olympics, seeing how high they can get their heart rate up each workout. This isn’t a system that will support sustainable fitness. Rather it is a system that will ensure that the mail will get farther and farther away from the intended address as time goes on, farther from becoming a fit, happy and healthy person.

Perception and heart rate are fickle responses to a variety of stressors. They are affected by many variables. The key ones are generally sleep, nutrition, stress, hormonal variation and hydration. Often those five are interconnected. Each (and other “stressors”, including positive stressors) has an impact on perception and on heart rate. For example, if you haven’t slept enough or ate a big meal the night before exercise you might feel sluggish the next day. That means, what was an easy workout yesterday might feel hard the next day and your heart rate might be higher or lower than usual. Again, your fitness mail won’t be delivered to the right address and you won’t be making the most of your time.

That is where wearables and measurement come into play. Many of you likely received Fitbits, Garmins, Misfits or Jawbones (or one from a host of other companies), power meters or another type of GPS devices or apps over the holidays. Or you’ve already been using one or many of them. The real question is, are you using them or are they using you? Do you know what that data overload means and why you’re doing what you’re doing?

The key functions of devices like Fitbits (the most common wrist wearable) are to measure steps, purported calories (which in most cases when compared to lab results are highly inaccurate), heart rate, and sleep. There is other data you can mine from these devices, but those are likely the key metrics. A power meter (usually associated with cycling or rowing) measures watts – just like the power a light bulb uses. A power meter measures the power one produces while exercising. Finally, a GPS usually is used for outdoor exercise and measures pace per mile. In the very near future we will be potentially wearing oxygen measuring devices and accelerometers are already being used in the commercial marketplace to measure speed of movements.

Whatever device you’re using, the key becomes the use of the information to create positive change. If you’re not using the information (inferring meaning) and tracking progress then you’re likely using the wearable as a toy, a digital distraction that is eliciting a digital dopamine response. Some are calling this digital cocaine.

However, if you are using a wearable to create a better sleep pattern for example, or to increase your pace per mile, set steps goals every week, or increase your wattage output with the same or lower heart rate, then you are on the right path. If you are doing these things (or other strategically tracked and utilized metric), using the data to create change, then you are delivering your fitness mail to the right address every time you use your wearable or device. You are using a feedback loop called assessment (data) to inform instruction to create change. That change will be a newer, stronger, fitter, and faster you in the year ahead. And a smarter you by unplugging from your devices once a week and plugging into your life. Wishing you miles of safe smiles in 2016 and a fitness quest that is dialed in. 

Joey Adams, M.S. Exercise Science, Intelligent Fitness, Metabolic Specialist, VO2 assessments and performance analysis. www.intelligentfitnessvermont.com

WHAT ARE WEARABLES?  Fitness gadgets flood the market. Becoming more and more easily accessible, these gadgets run the gamut from Fitbits to power meters measuring everything from calories burned to oxygen processed.

You see them on your coworkers’ wrists. You wear them in your Spinning® class, on your cross country ski, even in the pool. You sleep in them at night to determine your resting heart rate and you check in with them to see how you’re feeling.

What we call wearables is high level technology that may even surpass that of computers and smart phones. Narrowing the topic to fitness, wearable tracking devices do just that, and more.

Of course there’s the element of GPS that can find your location, plot a course or record your travel. Fitness tracking devices can also give you immediate access to pace, speed, distance, time, altitude, heart rate, watts, calories and oh so much more.

Furthermore, this data can be uploaded to a computer program used to record and store workouts or compare with previous training sessions, assessment and sharing with others such as a coach or training partners or competitors.

Wearables, as opposed to hand-held or equipment mounted, come in a staggering variety of styles and models. The technology in each is similarly efficient and reliable. The difference is primarily one of individual needs and preferences.

For example, are you a runner, cyclist or swimmer? Do you want to record your effort during weight lifting of your heart rate in the pool? Do you want to know where you’ve been when snowshoe touring or where you need to go to find the next shelter on the Long Trail? Do you want alarms to notify you if you are leaving a training zone or reminders to get up out of your chair and move a bit? Are you fine-tuning your competitive performance or simply wanting the motivation to lead a more active daily life while you check to see how much you are sleeping? You could, after all, just be looking for a fitness watch as some new bling.

Yet wearables have stepped far outside the restrictions of watch design. Leading wearables include Jawbone, Garmin, Fitbit, Microsoft Band, Moov Now, Misfit and Polar. Wearables are found on wristbands, clip-ons, glasses, shoes, helmets and even socks that tell you when to buy new ones or headbands that interpret dreams.

For years runners have worn chips to clock their race time and other micro chips have been implanted in pets for identification.

Those uses are tame compared with some of the more weird devices such as Ping garments that allow social networking on Facebook, digital tattoos, pet pac collars that transmit bio data directly to the family veterinarian, and a tweeting bra that, yes, allows the wearer to use Twitter. (And we thought amazing the early tracking devices worn by seniors who tend to get lost.)

Mind you, I do not condemn the use of wearables. I confess that I am an athlete heavily reliant upon my heart rate monitor and power meter. Both have helped me train more effectively and given me confidence to push to the next level. Perspective, however, is an important tool in our training toolbox. Balance is, as always, imperative.                                 Linda Freeman

These articles first appeared on the Active Vermont page of the Rutland Herald & Times Argus on January 29, 2016.

CREATIVITY and the active life

Curiosity, creativity and passion. What is life without them?

Mental creativity is sparked by physical exercise. The college student who goes for a run before she writes her term paper, the artist who hikes before he paints or the CEO who spins before a board meeting find that their thoughts flow during, and immediately after, activity.

There is science to support this as well. A few years ago the Huffington Post noted the work of Wendy Suzuki, a neuroscience professor, who claimed that through exercise she discovered “improvements in strength, stamina and overall cardiovascular fitness … mood, memory and attention.” (www.creativitypost.com)

“In her research, she found that exercise stimulates the hippocampus (the part of the brain necessary for long-term memory) to create new brain cells. This ‘hippocampal neurogenesis’ enhances our ability to recall memories and our ability to imagine future scenarios, which is a key element of creativity.”

Later the Post reports: “To activate the ‘creative cerebellum,’ take a walk, play tennis, run around the block, putter in the garden, hang the laundry …. Doing so deliberately diverts your attention, quiets the left prefrontal cortex, and activates the movement-oriented cerebellum.”

It seems, however, that it takes a bit more than a few random minutes of action. One study shows that those who exercise regularly experience better results than those who are sedentary.

Cognitive psychologist Professor Lorenza Colzato of Leiden University wrote: “We found that people who are doing exercise on a regular basis outperform those who don’t. We think that physical exercise trains your brain to become more flexible in finding creative solutions.”

When we speak of creativity, just what do we mean? In addition to such words as imagination, innovation, artistry and inspiration, are words like vision, individuality, initiative and resourcefulness. Creativity is not just a matter of thinking outside the box, it is a matter of putting those thoughts into practice.

Steve Jobs said that creativity is simply connecting the dots. William Plomer embellished this by saying “Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.”

In her recently published book, “Rising Strong,” Brene Brown speaks of curiosity, creativity and courage as elements that integrate.

Perhaps Alan Alda would agree: “Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been.”

To build and maintain a lifelong habit of exercising regularly takes creativity. What do you do when the kids are home from school, when your game is rained out or when the snow cover is too thin? You think creatively of an alternative way in which to exercise, to build strength, burn off some stress, stimulate your heart rate or practice your balance or flexibility.

In turn, when you have done so, you will find that you are thinking more clearly, are motivated and go forward with your day in a more positive frame of mind.

Being creative does indeed mean being courageous. “A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. You must break out of your current comfort zone and become comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown.” Denis Waitley

To become stale, stagnant, uninspired, dull and listless is not only discouraging and sad, it is unproductive to the point of failure. Curiosity opens our thinking to explore while exercise stimulates energy as well as thinking to create more. It is the pebble in the pond and the proverbial ripple effect.

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” Would you argue with John F. Kennedy about this?

MOTIVATION IS WHAT GETS YOU STARTED

Motivation is one of those words so broadly defined as to be almost useless. It is useless, that is, unless you find a definition that works for you.

Let’s consider a few of the synonyms of motivation found in the reliable world of the Thesaurus: catalyst, desire, encouragement, impetus, incentive, reason, wish.

Okay, motivation is what gets you started. We get that. It is the catalyst, the impetus, the incentive that begins feebly with a wish and more positively with desire and reason. Furthermore it is supported by encouragement.

Delving more deeply, we find that motivation is about action, drive and hunger. Now we’re talking. Motivation leads to passion and passion is what fuels our spirits as well as our actions. Of course, this is the piece of the motivation pie in which it is possible to overindulge.

Motivation is also referred to as get-up-and-go or the right-stuff.

Goodness knows we do not want to venture into the dark side of the word, the antonyms. Hatred, discouragement, depression and above all dullness are not where we want to live our days.

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” 

Jim Ryun won a silver medal in the 1968 summer Olympics in track and field. Did you know that? Possibly not. However, you may well have read the above, one of his often quoted and pithy sayings. It’s quite true. Try it.

Find motivation and then seek ways to stay motivated until what you have begun, putting one foot in front of another, like it or not, becomes habit; and habit becomes what you like, and putting one foot in front of another becomes what you really want and choose to do.

Consider the word encouragement. It works both ways. You and I can encourage each other to be or do something, but we must be equally open to receive encouragement if it is to be useful. Encouragement offers support, helps to build confidence and bolsters an attitude of hope. Encouragement is far more than rah-rah cheering. On one hand, it is kind, while on the other promotes boldness and audacity. When we offer encouragement to another, we do so because we believe in him or her, we have faith that another individual is capable, strong, resilient and worthy. Again this works both ways in giving and receiving, offering and accepting.

DAILY

By now we have settled into a new year. 2016 is official. The sprint to the finish of the old year is a thing of the past. We’ve had time to reboot and are now running smoothly into the winter months. Seasonal events, snow sports, winter carnivals, taxes and an onslaught of ads for spring and summer clothing and gear blur visions of the immediate future.

Whatever momentum was built or destroyed in the previous month must be reset as well. It is time to consider personal progress towards health and fitness. It is here that the concept of DAILY is significant.

Fitness is not something acquired by going to a class, maneuvering through a weight circuit, or hitting the treadmill once a week. Fitness is cumulative. It is something that needs to be addressed daily. By doing so, bit-by-bit you will enjoy progress and reap the rewards.

If you are a competitive athlete or already engaged in strenuous physical training, you know that you need to balance your hard days with easy days. You know that intensity must vary and you know that there are multiple elements to fitness.

For those seeking health, increased strength and well being as part of their everyday lives, exercise is a key component, but does not need to be overwhelming.

What is needed, however, is to exercise DAILY. Some days your workout, or training session, will be short and some days long. Some sessions will be intense and others easy. Sometimes you will emphasize flexibility or balance or endurance while at other times you will simply walk the dog or stroll with friends. What is important is to make the HABIT of exercise a DAILY habit. Soon you will look forward to your time even if you cannot imagine doing so right now.

Let me share some examples with you.

I am new to the practice of yoga. I have learned that to practice yoga at home, preferably at the start of the day, is a good habit to acquire. Since my days are full of professional training, I dismissed this concept, until recently. I have learned that as little as 20 minutes spent with my notes and yoga mat transform my day.

Four days a week I work with a group at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont. Our 45-minute, lunchtime sessions are a testament of what small group personal training can do in the corporate setting. Some dedicated employees are able to attend all four sessions per week and others do so as work permits. Over the years the energy, enthusiasm, education and training has reached a high level. What’s more, in addition to increased strength, fitness, flexibility and balance, these athletes (and, yes, each and everyone has become an athlete) have gained the confidence to try new things and have much fun while doing so.

While many find it best to address their exercise needs in the morning before the day begins, others find the evening the time most do-able. There is no right or wrong. There is no one form of exercise, one piece of equipment or one sport that is better than another. The bottom line is always that the training that you will do is the training that is best.

Above, I alluded to education. For most individuals, exercise science is interesting, enjoyable, and provides a sense of purpose to one’s efforts. While it is not necessary to be able to recite the names of all the muscles, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments and nerves in the human body, it is very helpful to understand the muscular-skeletal system and how it works.

It is easier to strength train, for example, in a balanced manner when you know that the biceps are the opposing muscle group to the triceps; that when you work the quadriceps, you should also train the hamstrings, when you stretch the shins you should also stretch the calf muscles, and so on.

Learning more about your cardiovascular system and aerobic exercise helps you to understand the value of active exercise and to assess intensity to appropriately enhance the strength of the most important muscle in your body, your heart.

Now I refer you back to the word DAILY. I hope you will consider taking the challenge and making exercise a deliberate and purposeful part of each day of your life. Of course you must do so in a way that accommodates family and work, a way that provides for sickness, injury, weather conditions and all the other obstacles to a smoothly executed daily plan.

I invite you to record your efforts in whatever way you choose. Perhaps what will support your plans is to join a class, buddy up with a friend or work with a fitness professional. Perhaps you have the time to explore the internet or browse through one of the many exercise books on the market. Hopefully you will take advantage of the many steps you can add to your day by choosing options to the elevator, remote, auto and chair.

Admittedly it takes a bit of gumption to get outdoors when the temperature is chilly and the air damp, but go ahead. Bundle up. Give a companion a nudge. Open the door and walk out. See what happens.

Energy creates energy. Rather than fatiguing, moving muscles stimulates more action. Activity promotes positive effects to body and mind. It’s a wonderful give and take, an excellent continuum.

Does it all go back to the hypothesis of motivation? Recently I read that one of the top ten resolutions for cyclists (also applying to athletes of any sport) is to be sure that each ride, each training session, has a purpose, structure. Don’t just exercise to get it over with. Think about why you are training and prepare to reach the eventuality you desire. No more junk miles.

On the cover of a magazine that arrived in my mailbox yesterday is the title of an article, “Harness the Power of Intention” steps to make lasting change. These steps have universal application and appeal. It all begins with finding out what you want. Learn more about what you need to do to achieve your goal; become an informed participant. Commit to your goals, your dreams and persevere. Be diligent and disciplined enough to give yourself the opportunity to achieve. Finally look ahead and envision yourself as you wish to be. (Yoga Journal, February 2016, Make this your year, by Elizabeth Marglin.)

BEGIN EACH DAY WITH INTENTION.

BEGIN EACH DAY WITH INTENTION.

Yes, intention, motivation, a new year. They are gifts to be used. May we all do so and do so daily.

Maintain Fitness and Weight during the Off Season

Holidays 2015

Holidays 2015

STAY ON WHEN YOU’RE OFF – Unfortunately most active people, at some time, are derailed by illness or injury. More painful than the condition is the fact that these folks, who love to be up and about and pursuing their sport or exercise, are forced to take a break. Sentencing an athlete to sedentary rest is not what anyone wants.

It happens; though with the enormous strides made in medicine, physical therapy and training, alternative exercise is more often available. But these are alternatives. Facing 4-6 weeks away from exercise routines or sports specific training is daunting. The challenge is to remain optimistic and logical when feeling overwhelmed. The trick is to maintain what is safe, fuel appropriately, snag some extra sleep and be positive.

What is referred to as the “off season” for sports or conditioning, is that period of time just following the final race or event of the season stretching all the way to the start of the equivalent of pre-season, usually 4-8 weeks. An injured athlete faces down time much the same as a competitive athlete in his or her off-season or a recreational athlete whose favorite sport is seasonal and done for the year. The smart individual will look at this mandated time off as a significant part of training. In fact, some suggest that it is the most important piece of the whole.

Off-season is not the time to reduce all conceivable levels of fitness to zero. Though an initial week of zoning out and doing not much of anything might be called for depending on the previous season’s stresses, the remainder of the time should be devoted to activity that first heals and then prepares the body for what is to come.

Off-season is an excellent time to assess one’s overall strength and flexibility. Are there any problem spots, any weaknesses, any imbalances? Correct these now and help prevent overuse injury later. As you resume exercise, pay particular attention to working opposing muscles groups and a balanced mix of moderate cardiovascular exercise.

Off-season means you DO have time to play. You want to maintain about 50-60% of your conditioning and active play will help you do so as you relax your mind and loosen your tight hold on discipline.

Off-season is a great time to take some classes, work with a personal trainer who understands your sports and conditioning needs, make friends with a Concept2 rowing machine, explore new areas on foot, snowshoes or skis, and buddy up with friends or family for active hours that will remind you why fitness is your personal choice.

A word about the holidays – Apply the same skills that you apply to your training. Pace yourself. Finish strong.

Holidays 2015

Holidays 2015

While you’re at it, remember to reach out to others. A helping hand offered to those running the race, so to speak, along with you means a boost to your own energy, capability and, yes, joy.

EATING THROUGH INJURY AND HIBERNATION

by Kimberly Evans, MS, RD

Many active people are challenged to figure out how to eat when training stops. And let’s face it at some point in time training does stop. There are many obstacles to training even under the best of circumstance. For one thing, seasons change. That is how things work in Vermont, and unless you are an athlete with a year round training program, sometimes this means a pause in training.

And then, even the best athletes get injured. So you see, for one reason or another despite best intentions sometimes training stops.

When a change in weather or an injury stops an athlete’s training program they often struggle to figure out how to eat in response. As a dietitian who works with a variety of athletes, I have seen things go one of two ways. Training stops but eating remains unchanged, or training stops and so does eating. The writing on the wall is pretty clear here; neither of these scenarios leads to good outcomes.

When training stops and eating remains unchanged this typically leaves behind a deconditioned athlete with unwanted pounds. This makes it difficult, emotionally and physically, to bounce back. And, on the flip side, when a change in training results in an overly drastic decrease in eating, this too leaves an athlete deconditioned, with little energy, and in less than prime shape to jump back into the game.

So, while it is true a decrease in activity means you need fewer calories, it may not be quite as few as you think. Many formulas used to calculate calorie expenditure during exercise, for example the standard 600 calories per hour, grossly overestimate calorie burn. As a result, this leaves many injured athletes needlessly cutting excess calories during down time.

This is one of the most common mistakes injured athletes make, not eating enough for fear of unwanted weight gain. An overly restricted diet can result in prolonging an injury by not giving your body what it needs to heal.

This means that when the ice melts or that injury heals you are more deconditioned than you expected to be because of muscle loss that comes with an excessive calorie deprivation.

Here is the word of caution to sidelined athletes, please be diligent in continuing to take in adequate calories, especially from nutrient dense foods. Some foods you will want to make sure to continue to include on your plate are sweet potatoes, kiwi, salmon, walnuts, eggs, and berries. Bottom line, athletes need to eat well when training, and when recovering.

Injury aside, when workouts become less demanding eating needs to be adjusted. Continuing to eat like you are training intensely, while your are actually at rest during the off season will only result in one thing, unwanted weight gain. But not so fast. Weight gain does not need to be an unwanted side effect of changes in a training plan if you plan correctly.

First of all assess the duration of your off time. If your training will be sidelined for a week or less, it is likely that no real changes need to be made to your eating. When it looks like things will be off track for a week or more a modest reduction of about 300 calories will likely keep things in check.

Secondly, now may be the time to reduce your carbohydrate intake slightly. It is true that most athletes can get away with, and need, more carbohydrates. During off season pull back a bit and create more space on your plate for protein rich foods such as tofu, chicken, eggs, salmon, Greek yogurt and high protein grains like quinoa. This will keep both your tummy and your body happy at the same time.

Another great strategy can be paying attention to the timing of your eating while in your down time. Keeping eating limited to nine to twelve hours of the day at three- to four-hour intervals, as opposed to the graze-all-day plan, has proven to have positive impacts on weight according to some recent research.

In addition to following this nutrition advice, regardless of why you are less active, this might be a great time to try something new. Weight training, yoga, and meditation all show great benefits for the active person.

Yes, injury, weather related hibernation, family commitments and holidays could be a little bit of a game changer for the active person. However, a sensible approach that is not too extreme will keep you on the right road to successfully getting back on track to being your awesome active self.

 

Kimberly Evans, MS, RD, co-owner Peak Physical Therapy Sports and Performance Center and Whole Health Nutrition, Williston. To contact Evans, go to RD@wholehealthnutritionvt.com

To view the newly published e-book, Breast Cancer Superfoods, coauthored by Evans, go to www.breastcancersuperfoods.com.

HOLIDAY SEASON = ATHLETIC EVENT

 

Let the holidays begin, 2015

Let the holidays begin, 2015

You’re in it now. The holiday season. No matter how you treat it, Thanksgiving is the beginning of a holiday marathon that ends for some on January 2 and for others on February 14.

It’s Sunday morning and you’re reading the paper. What led you to this point? Perhaps on Wednesday you finished early at work and headed home or here to Vermont to visit and wrap up the final preparations for, most likely, one of the most glorious and gluttonous meals of the year.

Thanksgiving is the one holiday nearly everyone can agree on and celebrate. There’s no quarrel over the naming of it and no squabbling over the commercialism. (Of course there’s the struggle between Native Americans and Pilgrims and the Christmas – strike that – holiday – decorations, songs and sales that began just after Halloween, but …)

Thanksgiving is the warm up to the main events, the 5k that spikes your speed for the marathon. Hanukkah falls early in December this year, Christmas on the 25th, and for all others, school breaks, office parties and holiday events mark a period of merry-making as an occasion to prepare for, endure and ultimately recover from.

Sunrise Thanksgiving morning 2015, Harpswell, Maine. D.Bonito

Sunrise Thanksgiving morning 2015, Harpswell, Maine. D.Bonito

Thanksgiving. Hmmm. Let’s see. After Wednesday you may have jumped out of bed early Thursday morning to go run a Turkey Trot or Gobble Wobble, or you may have dashed to the kitchen to begin the final round of cooking for the feast to follow. After the travel, sports, football games and feast, you finally sink into bed exhausted from the sprint to the finish.

But can you recover? No. It’s up early (and I do mean early) to attack Black Friday with a vengeance. After an all out race on Thursday, you’re really not up for the endurance event on Friday. However, it happens, and you must draw on your tediously conditioned reserves, your base.

Saturday is the family’s opportunity to ski (several resorts are optimistically open and there are always the early season trails on which one can make his or her way down, albeit cautiously), explore and visit, in addition to the endless feeding of the multitudes that inevitably follows Thursday, though everyone declared they would never eat again. Saturday is a day of intervals, either dragging along or speeding forward, on a straight path or multiple detours.

Alas, post Thanksgiving Sunday dawns. The fourth day of this particular event signals one of two things. There might be a frantic effort to stuff in a few more non-working activities (or leftovers), or one last-ditch attempt to come home with a buck. Or, the day may demand recovery. Perhaps the only exercise for many will be handling the remote. Monday, a workday, looms as threat or relief, a return to schedule.

But will you return to what has become the usual? Most likely, the answer is no. First of all, your body has become accustomed to an abundance of holiday foods. Rather than being satiated, your appetite now demands more. And more often. You decide you want to bake cookies, or that your friends would just love a home-cooked something as a gift for the next gift-giving holiday. Very nice. But are you sure? Or is it just your need to hang out in the kitchen, pick up a spoon and stir something? And please, no fruitcakes.

If you celebrate Hanukkah, you’re on the fast track for your next extended event with barely a recovery period. You must be organized, honor your need for rest and recovery even as you push forward to the start line. For others, preparations for the Christmas holiday season begin on Thanksgiving evening. Perhaps you watch one of the versions of “Miracle on 34th Street” to put you in the mood. Maybe you drag out your boxes of decorations, write your gift list or organize cards, stamps and addresses.(Note: there continues to be some sort of practice of mailing greetings. The ready use of the internet has altered forever the face of correspondence and giving with electronically delivered holiday wishes and the ever useful last minute gift card.)

Somewhere in the intervening weeks professional obligations must be met while scrambling to put the finishing touches on the end-of-the-year fiscal records and social calendar. January 1st will arrive all too soon and you will begin another new year in whatever condition you may have brought upon yourself.

An athlete periodizes his or her annual training plan, as well as shorter blocks such as the holiday season. For many athletes, this last month waiting for snow conditions to cooperate or this first month of on snow activity marks the start of their peak season. For others, December is the off season, the month of play and early base building before January training picks up in earnest.

The off season is never entirely sedentary. To give it all up in favor of a six-pack and the sofa is to invite an uncomfortable and discouraging return to training. A happy mix of activity is the key to maintaining enough fitness to move forward, but enough rest and relaxation to allow fatigued or damaged bodies to become whole.

Waning dedication to one’s sport, even to the extent of burn out, is always a risk and can be circumvented by deliberate time off. Better to choose alternative activities than be sidelined by overuse injury, don’t you think?

Traditional recommendations for athletes during their off season is to step away from their primary sport and focus attention and energy on other types of training. For example, a cyclist or runner should take advantage of the off season to further his or her core conditioning, strength training and even more intense yoga practice. Later, during peak season, whether competing, touring or adding miles, the pendulum will swing in the other direction and core, strength and other practices should moderate to balance the increased intensity of sport training.

Mentally a break is superb. Though reading and studying one’s sport or passion is motivating and educational, a good chunk of fiction might better relax the personality that self-disciplines.

The final piece of the off season pie is sweet. Take time to roll on the floor with your kids, meander through the woods (after rifle season and/or garbed in orange), slide recklessly down a hill, try some pond skating (when thoroughly frozen, please), roll a ball down an alley or try an old fashioned game of hide and seek.

Sunrise Barre Town Vermont late November 2015

Sunrise Barre Town Vermont late November 2015

Stop to notice spectacular sunrises and by all means plan to celebrate Winter Solstice. Do you remember last winter when I challenged you to find new and different outdoor ways to commemorate each full moon? Have you done so? Some of you have and keep in touch to let me know that you have had snow shoe adventures, hiked, paddled, enjoyed moonlight picnics, and more. I have heard of some good ones.The next full moon falls on December 25th. How will you celebrate?

Until then, it is Sunday, the fourth day of the initial holiday athletic event, Thanksgiving. You have done it. Now you are ready to look forward to the month of December and all that it means to you and yours.

May the habit of giving thanks be one you practice regularly. Whatever our situation in life may be, there is always something for which to be grateful. You know the old saying, “any day I wake up in the morning is a good day.”

The American author William Arthur Ward wrote: “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”

There’s this, too: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” John F. Kennedy.

Pause for a glorious sunset as well. Barre Town, Vermont 2015

Pause for a glorious sunset as well.
Barre Town, Vermont 2015

WHEN DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME DEPARTS

We knew it was coming. Unless the powers that be decide to change the laws that govern the switch from Standard Time to Daylight Savings Time and back to Standard Time, etc., the change is inevitable. It happened last weekend and some are still grousing about it. Are you making excuses for your fatigue or lateness or lack of focus? Well, the best thing we can do is tell ourselves to “get over it.” Are you one of those folks who like to shrug and say, “it is what it is?” If so, say it to yourself and move one.

Personally I dislike fall. I have usually seen autumn as the marker of kids going back to school (I always hated that) and the time when I must settle down and be more diligent about work.

True, during the summer months work does not go away. But it seems different. In the fall I am scattered, unfocused, missing my structured cycling training and subsequent events and competitions to anticipate. I feel adrift.

In my Yoga class, I learned about VATA. Oh man, that’s me. Now I must learn what to do about it.

When I set the clock back I know it’s time to get serious about winter. Because my day starts early, I do not lose an hour of light; I find it at the beginning of the day instead of the end. (Perhaps you, too, could rise an hour earlier. Trust me, the autumn sunrise is a sight worth getting up for. And pausing for.)

I once read about an ultra distance runner who knew she was going to hurt, that the miles and the hills would cause her pain. It was inevitable. So she turned the tables and looked forward to the onset of the discomfort. She embraced it when it arrived and ran with it, no longer needing to fear or anticipate it.

Perhaps we can do the same. We know each day will become shorter and shorter. Now there’s no denying it has arrived and we can stop worrying. We can embrace these days that are bookended by light and a frequently extraordinary sunset as well.

An abundance of sunlight can be taken for granted, while a few bright hours are treasured. Clear night skies remind us that darkness is not all that bad. Whether from a mountain top or out the kitchen window, the harvest moon is striking.

Outdoor activities become an adventure in the dark. (Reminder: always practice safety habits, use lights and wear reflective clothing. Preferably go out in groups of two or more and be sure to be alert and predictable.)

Last winter I challenged you and my friends and clients to a “full moon adventure” each full moon of the 2015 calendar year. Did you take the challenge? There’s time left, you know.

Somehow Standard Time (and in our case EST) triggers reorganization. How many of you visit your medical care provider for your annual physical in and around November? And if you have done so already, did you notice the positive effects that your active lifestyle and good nutrition have had on your physical exam and the test numbers that indicate a healthy body?

If not, let this year’s return to EST mark the beginning of reorganizing your days, weeks and months to promote your personal and individual well-being.

The big three: exercise, diet and sleep, must be in balance. An active life is not a hectic life; it is one with intentional exercise and a defined goal in mind. Such exercise would include strength, aerobic exercise, balance, coordination, flexibility, specific sports or training skills and an appropriate body composition.

Exercise is positive unless it tips the scales to compulsive behaviors and addiction.

An active lifestyle is also intuitive and ready to join in any fun that might present itself. It is a life capable of endurance, but needing the time to refuel and rest.

EST validates exploration of indoor hours as well; hours to read, to write and to spend quality time with family and friends.

So here we are. Next stop – Winter Solstice. If all else fails, just remember that in only 37 days daylight will be on the increase.

Seasonal Affective Disorder a Challenge to Northern Residents

DON’T BE SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is not a myth. It is not something to disregard. SAD, suffered in its most advanced stages is indeed dangerous. But for most, a moderate form of SAD is simply uncomfortable and discouraging.

SAD is rather simply defined as a form of sadness, despondency or depression related to changes in the seasons. Most people who experience this disorder first notice symptoms in the fall that last through the winter. Only a few have complained about the reverse, or spring into summer.

Those of us living and working in Vermont might be particularly susceptible to negative feelings as we progress through the vivid colors of fall into a bleak stick season and finally countryside of white. Those who embrace winter and choose to live here because of, not in spite of, winter conditions, will find it difficult to understand others who find the frozen landscape unpleasant.

Symptoms of the disorder include lack of energy, moodiness, irritability and hypersensitivity. It is common to sleep, or oversleep, more than usual, to experience food cravings particularly for foods high in carbohydrates and then, to add insult to injury, to gain weight, yet another cause of despondency.

Note that those few who are subject to spring and summer SAD also become depressed but have trouble sleeping and lose their appetites resulting in weight loss.

Norman Rosenthal, MD wrote in the journal “Psychiatry,” May 2008, that “6 percent of the US population, primarily in northern climates, is affected by SAD in its most marked form. Another 14 percent of the adult US population suffers from a lesser form of seasonal mood changes, known as winter blues.” Rosenthal also suggested that there is strong evidence of a genetic predisposition to suffer from this disorder.

SAD, untreated and left to increase in intensity includes serious symptoms of depression leading to thoughts of death or suicide. One who is in doubt about his or her condition should always seek medical advice.

Though there seems no known specific cause for SAD, what is known is that several factors often combine to produce this result. Short, cloudy or gray days with a decrease in sunlight can affect circadian rhythms, or one’s biological clock, and put us off balance and feeling scattered or unhappy.

Reduced sunlight can also cause a drop in the neurotransmitter serotonin resulting in depression while a change in the balance of melatonin plays havoc with sleep and mood. Interestingly it seems that females, and young people are more at risk than their seniors and those already suffering from clinical depression or bipolar disorder are possibly more vulnerable.

Bleak or a promise of Winter, Its all in the viewpoint. Photo Linda Freeman

Bleak or a promise of Winter, Its all in the viewpoint. Photo Linda Freeman

Treatment for all forms of SAD range from light therapy to psychotherapy and possibly even medication.

If you find yourself struggling with the return to standard time, the darker drive on your way home from work or the lack of sunshine during your morning and afternoon, consider taking steps to cheer yourself up and “don’t be SAD.” Here are a few that have helped many before you.

Yes, living here in Vermont can be a risk factor in and of itself. However, making a few changes in your home and workspace could brighten the atmosphere in which you live and work.

For example, when the sun shines, it is bright and beautiful. Always take advantage of sunny days by removing obstacles such as blinds or curtains that can be opened or pulled back. Sit or work closer to the windows and, if possible, add skylights to your home. Healthy house plants are known to boost mood.

While some of those might be unattainable, getting outside should be a possibility. Take every opportunity to be outdoors. Some research shows that walking, running or spending time out of the house within two hours of getting up in the morning is beneficial all day. (Those early morning runners among you are onto something.)

And, of course, there’s exercise. As usual we of Active Vermont are strong proponents of exercise. Exercise regularly. Exercise is proven to help combat stress and brighten your spirits as it helps you become the fit and energetic person you are meant to be.

If you suspect that you or someone you know suffers from SAD, give them a helping hand. If symptoms appear dangerous, recommend a visit to their medical care provider or mental health practitioner.

If, on the other hand, symptoms are simply a personal annoyance, an obstacle to one’s normal well-being, find a way get up, get out, and brighten the day physically, mentally and emotionally.

This story first appeared in the Rutland Herald and Times Argus Sunday Edition, ACTIVE VERMONT, by Linda Freeman, 11-8-2015.