What do you choose?

It is raining...again.  This weather really does not inspire me to want to much of anything except go back underneath my covers, pull out a book, and start reading until I drift off into some kind of dream like state.  But that is certainly not my reality (at least during the work week).  Instead, my reality includes a rather active lifestyle that involves a job that has me working 10 hrs a day, several blogs on the side, a passion for cooking, and oh yeah, I am also a fitness instructor!

Most days I choose to exercise.  I do it for many reasons aside from the fact that it is a job.  However, I would be lying to you if I just wrote that it had to do with the health benefits associated with being physically active, even though that is one of the reasons I choose to exercise.  I would also be lying to you if I told you that the primary reason for my exercising was because according to the American Heart Association, 80% of cardiac events in women could be prevented if women made the RIGHT decisions in their lives, such as choosing to exercise.  These reasons are good enough for almost anyone to make the decision to change their lives and become more physically active, however after having been exercising regularly for more than half of my life, exercise is part of my life.  It is non-negotiable and happens at least 5 days / week for about 60-90 minutes each time.

Yes, there are days that I do not want to put myself through the motions of my feet pounding around Boston's pavement as I run 5 miles, or go through another set of front shoulder raises with the 8 lb weights (does anyone have some 3 lb weights in the area???), but I do it.  I might be sore the next day, my body might tell me to do yoga one day instead of running, and I will listen to that.  However, I am at the point where I feel far worse if I do not exercise versus if I do exercise.  Upon finishing my workout I feel healthy, light, clean, energetic, calm, and happy.  I take pride in myself.  Exercise and staying physically fit and active is one of those reasons. 

There are so many excuses people give so that they do not have to take that first step - none of them work for me.  1 back surgery, 3 knee operations, 1 stroke, 1 heart surgery - exercise was not the cause for any of these tragic events, but it was what helped me to recover from each and everyone of the events.  Start small, and think big.  Only you can choose to make it happen.  Your health and heart will thank you.

Work Your Heart Out

Last week I started posting about the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women: Better U Movement.  This 12-week program is a way to take steps - one at a time - to understand and learn about the importance of heart health.  The steps are literal, as they should be when one is talking about heart health.  You can make over your heart, make it stronger, make it work more efficiently, and make yourself healthier.  You might ask me how I know this information, and my first answer would be that I am a fitness instructor.  However, the more important and even relevant response is that I suffered a stroke in July 2006 and underwent open heart surgery several months later.  Because my heart had been worked, running up stadium stairs, the 1996 Chicago Marathon, hundreds of step aerobic classes, laps around tracks, hours on a treadmill, and years perfecting squats and bicep curls, I recovered from the stroke and from the heart surgery and found myself back at the gym, back to getting my heart beating like it once was, less than two weeks after the stroke and less than two months after the heart surgery*.

Yes, years of working my heart actually saved it.  Every single day that I decided to exercise and to work out, I made a decision to save myself.  Yes, the stroke happened after I taught a step aerobics class (irony at its best...) but due to previous training, and a conscious decision to take care of myself, I emerged healthier that I was before, stronger than I was before, and more aware of what I needed to do to ensure that I could forever choose to make a difference in my life and the lives of others.

*While this time-frame worked for me, it might not be the most ideal time frame for all stroke / heart surgery patients.  It is always best to check with your doctor before starting / resuming any kind of exercise program.

Extreme Training for the Body and Mind

She pulled, and felt the muscles in her back contract.  Her lats fired every time her body went from a squat to standing.  She was then instructed to go from a one legged squat to a one-legged plyometric jump.  Seriously?  Four on the left leg and then four on the right.  She then straightened her back and started the rows - again, muscles in her back fired.

Chest - presses as she held herself up with her hands fixed into the straps of the nylon bands that were hanging from the ceiling and initiated creaks every so often that gave her a sense of insecurity.  Beads of sweat started to run down her face and pool in the small of her back.

She then lay in a supine position, looking up at the ceiling, and hooked her heels into the foot straps.  She lifted her hips up off the ground, bent her knees, and curled her heels into gluts.  She felt the burn in her hamstrings.

Prone position - face down - and push-ups with feet suspended off of the ground.  One push-up, and then she brought her knees into her chest.

And on it went, dozens more exercises each one more interesting than the next working her body in ways that she had never worked before.

She couldn't help but think that some of this might never have been possible had she not recovered from the stroke and heart surgery - but she did, and with every muscle fiber worked on controlling and stabilizing her core time and time again.  Some of the moves were rather reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil, which she did not mind.  In the end she took a TRX suspension system home with her.  Oh, she could not wait to bring it to the park for her first workout.  Although it would all depend on how much Tylenol she would need tomorrow...

Trx (participants at the TRX training)

TRX - Training to the extreme

Tomorrow I will be inside for eight hours training.  Not just training, but TRX training.  This is fitness training to a whole new level.  It involves a band that is suspended from the ceiling or another contraption and a series of exercises that are done in sequence to train the whole body.  So after eight hours of this, I think that I will need a few things...Tylenol, a hot bath, and something really good to eat.  Why am I doing this?  Because I need continuing education credits for my personal training certification and at the time (I must have had one to many classes of something) I thought it looked cool).  Hhmmmm.  Maybe not so cool anymore.  So if this is supposed to go from 9:00 - 5:00pm tomorrow, I wonder how I will feel around 5:05pm, oh, Monday will not be a good day.

Want to know what I am talking about?  Check it out:
174101177_PSiKi-L (photo from racerxonline.com)


My body feels broken.  Not in a spiritual or symbolic way, but in the literal sense.  It hurts to walk, sleep does not come easily, food does not have the same taste that it once did, and simple movements that I could do without thinking twice make me wince.  Lying on the concrete floor in my apartment on a yoga mat with my feet propped up on the ottoman brings instant relief to everything that feels broken (mostly my back), that is until I have to roll onto one side to get up from that position because my body starts to feel as stiff as the poured cement below.  Yes: broken, casse, fragmented little pieces.

My father wondered whether I was getting too old to be teaching fitness classes... "You are 35 after all..." Thanks a lot dad.  Actually, I am 36, but who's counting?  And too old?  Are you kidding me?  I mean I think that Jack Lalane is still going strong (juicer and all!) and I KNOW that Richard Simmons is going strong.  I mean if he can do it, then I most certainly can as well!  So even though there has been one back surgery, three knee operations, and open heart surgery, I will still keep at it... broken or not.  Perhaps it is vanity, or those endorphins that bring on a high greater than any drug could, but I cannot stop moving, teaching, or being myself.  Even if it means lying on a concrete floor from time to time...  Thank god I brought a towel to work so that I can lie down on my office floor if needed.  No ottoman, but I can always prop my feet up on that Herman Miller Chair!

Aeron_3(image from Herman Miller Seating)

Go Red... TODAY

Mall posterFINAL
Why do I Go Red?   The American Heart Association works tirelessly to get its message out their about the importance of heart health for women everywhere.  One simple way is by wearing Red.  Everyone, everywhere, on the same day.  Today, February 6, 2009 is Go Red for Women Day.

    -One in three women die of heart disease
    -Every minute of every day a woman dies from a heart related issue. 
    -Heart disease is the nations number 1 killer

What frustrates me to no end is that more often than not heart disease (and subsequently stroke) is preventable.  As someone who has spent more than half of my life in the fitness industry, I see people who make positive changes to their lives everyday.  I come across people who take better steps to a healthier heart.  Of course there are those heart problems occur without warning no matter what steps were taken.  My stroke was caused by a congenital heart defect.  No matter what choices I made, my stroke would probably have occurred.  I Go Red for my own heart, for my mother's heart, for my grandmother, my sister, and all the women who do not have a voice or a choice in the matter.

The good kind of pain

Tired, sore, aching everywhere.  That is how I felt on Tuesday evening after a grueling 90 minute workout at 6:30am that morning.  Jumping jacks, pushups, squat thrusts, power lunges, pushups on a medicine ball that made every fiber in my shoulder scream because they all knew that they would need to repair themselves in time for Thursday's workout out.  And having to take off my work clothes so that I could get ready for bed... oh, forget it.  Slow and painful.  It was a good pain though.  One of those pains where you know that you pushed yourself and worked your body, your muscles, and your mind to the edge and back.  You thank your body for what it helped you accomplish.  Hector shakes his head and thinks that I am crazy for dragging myself upstairs and moaning and complaining after these workouts.  He does not understand the pain - the good pain as I explain to him.  It is not the kind of pain that ripped through my chest after heart surgery.  NO this is the kind of pain that say "Thank you for taking care of yourself, and continuing to be good to your body".  As for the instructor who does this to me?  Well it happens to be yours truly.  I am the one who wakes up at 5am three mornings a week and takes my class through the bootcamp classes and the weight training classes.  Hey, if I can do it, so can you!  I wonder how the rest of them feel right about now...

And by the way, if you have a blog out there and have not checked out ALPHA INVENTIONS, check it out!  It is great!!!  It provides a great way to bring traffic to your blog PLUS you get to see some fabulous up-to-date blogs in real time.

In health,