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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Know Your Limits

In our search to overcome the struggle to become or stay fit, there is a small risk of over doing it. We could set increasingly difficult challenges for ourselves which overstretch our body's limitations.

I'm reminded of a tragic event that unfolded at the London marathon on Sunday 22nd April 2012. A young woman, Claire Squires who was only 30, collapsed and died with only 1 mile left to run of the 26 mile marathon.

Apparently, she was fit and healthy and not a stranger to fitness challenges. Climbing Kilimanjaro and completing other marathons.

This isn't the first time an apparently fit and healthy person died while engaging in some fitness activity. Going back to 490 BC, there is a record of an athlete, just like Claire Squires collapsing and dying after running 26 miles. Phidippides, a young Greek messenger, ran 26.2 miles from Marathon to Athens to deliver the news of the Greek victory over the Persians, he then collapsed and died. This is probably the first recorded incident of sudden death of an athlete.

Can we learn anything from these tragic events? If you're just starting out on the road to a fitter and healthier body and setting ambitious goals for yourself, get checked out by your Doctor.

Ask him/her to do an ECG on your heart, or better still ask for an echocardiogram. None of these tests are invasive and only take a few minutes. The tests will give you and your Doctor a picture on the state of your heart.

I've had both these tests done, not because I planned to run a marathon or climb a mountain, but because I collapsed at work. The echocardiogram found I had an enlarged heart caused by untreated high blood pressure. Until I collapsed, I thought my health was great. But had I started an ambitious programme of exercise and fitness routines the outcome could have been more serious than just collapsing at work.

Getting these tests done is no guarantee against developing heart problems in the future. But, at least you can make an informed decision on just how far to push yourself and your heart in beating the struggle to stay or become fit.

I'm now going on a 4 mile bike ride, uphill, to get home from the train station.

See you next Sunday.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

De-risk Your Chance of a Heart Attack

De-risking the incidence of a heart attack is a subject close to my heart, pardon the pun. Both my father and father in law had major heart attacks in their 50s. Several years later they both had major heart surgery. One thing they both had in common was lack of a regular exercise routine.

It's the blood flow through the coronary arteries that is a key factor in deciding whether you’re at risk of a heart attack. Cardio exercises can help ease the flow of blood through the coronary arteries, and literally save your life. The graphic below shows what a difference a few minutes of exercise can make towards reducing the risk of a heart attack.

The experiences of both my father and father-in-law should drive me to beat the uphill struggle to stay or become fit. Here's some really easy activities to help lower the risk of heart attack. I do 1 and 4, as they’re part of my daily routine.

1) Running is one of the easiest and best exercise activities you can do. When running you can burn 300 calories in 30 minutes and it doesn't require any special equipment except comfortable running shoes.

2) Walking is something that fits into most people's lifestyle.

3) Swimming is ideal for a full body exercise and cardio fitness. Spend 30 minutes swimming to burn 400 calories. There’s also the advantage that swimming doesn’t involve impacting the joints, as running, and to some extent walking does.

4) Cycling builds strength and agility. Depending on how fast you go, you can burn 250-500 calories in 30 minutes.

I cycle to the train station a 4.5 mile journey, say 2-3 times a week and walk 10 miles per week from the train station to my office in London. I should do more. The cycling and the walking, if I’m honest is to save money because the bus journeys are too expensive.

Who knows, the increasing cost of living could help us overcome our struggle to stay or become fit.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Health and Fitness Supplements - A Quick Fix?

If only life's problems were solvable with tablets and medicines. But, climbing our personal mountain to get fit presents us with many obstacles or really one obstacle, ourselves.

I get home from work; yes I walk 2 miles a day to and from the train station to the office. But, when I get home I don't want to go down to the gym before or after dinner. Then there is the weekend, so many jobs to do around the house which still don't get done, I don't have the motivation, or energy to hit the gym.

Is it worth investigating supplements for body building or fitness supplements designed to help you get fit or, will they be a waste of time and money? Heeding the old and useful advice - buyer beware, read reviews from reputable websites.

In the UK you get very cheap slimming pills, celebrity endorsed products and other health and fitness supplements. At the end of the day most people are only interested in results. Few people care whether the answer is a protein shake, a weight loss patch, fat Burners, Green Tea, 5-HTP, a specialist diet, exercise or a combination of these methods. So where does that leave us?

Received wisdom, which makes sense to me, is that all conventional drugs have go to through a rigorous validation process before they are placed on the market. So before we look for a shortcut to overcoming the struggle to keep or stay fit, thoroughly check if the product is licensed by your country’s licensing agency. In the UK it’s MHRA and in the US it’s the FDA.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Staying fit with Your PC or Smartphone

One of the biggest obstacles to keeping or staying fit is lack of motivation.

Do you remember the clockwork toys you had as a child? You turned the key several times, let the toy go and it would burst into action only to splutter to a stop for you to windup the key again until you got bored.

We strugglers can get the first wind that motivates us along the road to a fit and healthy state but then we lose the energy and motivation to continue.

How can we stay motivated? Turn on your PC or smart phone and you'll find dozens of applications to help you stay motivated.

One application that caught my eye is FitnessBliss. This application lets you create, print, track and chart workout routines online. You get access to a huge list of fitness exercises, totalling more than 750, all of which are depicted by animated illustrations. FitnessBliss is accessible from your web browser so there is no software to download and install.

You need to complete a short registration form to access the software. One of the questions you answer are your goals. There are three options - muscle power and size, general muscle strength and muscle endurance or weight loss. There is a section on their privacy policy, this is important as personal details as well as details of your progress is held by FitnessBliss.

The site is uncluttered. Using the free version, the main options are My Routines, My Progress, My settings, Buy Gear and Buy Services. A help option would be useful in addition to the FAQ, but that might be reserved for paid accounts. It's worth taking a look at FitnessBliss. You could even share your feedback.

Another application to watch is Motivation RPG. This Looks like it could lift a little of the burden in our struggle to stay or become fit.

Using an innovative approach to staying or becoming fit, you assume your character at the start of the game. On registration you're asked to enter race - you can't enter black, white Asian or mixed, you select options that include human, elf, dwarf, Troll, Lizardman and Goblin - there are more.

Motivation RPG is a game where your character, both inside and outside of the game, is progressed by you performing small physical activities. You get to choose which activities are presented to you, and how often.

You literally progress in the game as you progress in your life. Like FitnessBliss there is no software to download. You access the application through your web browser and have to create an account.

After registering on the website you’re presented with a couple of options Activities and Style. Visit the activity list and pick out what you like.

Activities are grouped under these headings: Fitness, health, intelligence, mood, posture and voice. Edit your options to suit your style. These are Activity Delay- the number of minutes between each activity, Number of Repetitions, and Statement of Motivation - why are you here? And, Countdown, this displays the minutes until the next activity.

Playing Motivation RPG means you’ll end up engaging in activities such as stretching your tongue out to doing pushups. Just make sure to let everyone nearby know what you're doing, so they're not alarmed at your innovative approach to beating the struggle to stay or become fit.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A Personal Trainer, an Indulgence?

Personal Trainer sheer indulgence or a necessity if you're struggling to become or stay fit?

My view is a personal trainer can as the motivating force for you to keep fit. I used one many years ago, although I stretch the truth slightly by calling him a personal trainer. What he did was create a fitness program for me. He then checked at periodic intervals my progress and suggested new exercises to help reach my goals quicker. So why did I stop? I attended the gym during my lunch break, the pressure of work meant less time in the gym. I began to feel the gym was a heavy overhead on my working day.

Personal trainers, provided they’re accredited, will look at your overall health and create a training program that is safe and efficient. The efficiency part means you don’t waste time doing exercises that provide little or no value in contributing to your fitness goals.

I can’t say a personal trainer will make going to the gym fun. But, they can breakup a fitness regime you find boring and unimaginative to something you might have a remote possibility of enjoying.

If your goal is to lose x pounds or gain muscle strength to lift x pounds, a personal trainer can help realise that goal. This is how they earn their keep. Look at celebrities who appear in love with how they look. I’d bet £100 or $100 they have a personal trainer, and I don’t bet.

How do you link up with a personal trainer?

Personal Trainer Accreditation

In the UK there is the NRPT - National Association of Personal Trainers ( It's probably better to use a personal trainer with accreditation so you know they know what they're doing.

In the USA there are at least a couple of accredited personal trainer organisations. AFPA Certified Personal Trainers & Certified Fitness Instructors are internationally recognised ( AFPA has provided certification and continuing education to over 65,000 Certified Personal Trainers & Certified Fitness Instructors worldwide.

According to their website, AFAA is the world's largest fitness and Telefitness educator, has issued over 300,000 certifications including personal trainer certification, group exercise instructor certification, kickboxing certification and much more (

How much does a personal trainer cost? In London personal training sessions can cost up to £150 an hour although the average is £50 or £60. Outside London the average price is about £40 to £50.

If you have deep pockets, beat the struggle to stay or become fit and hire a personal trainer.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Get a Recumbent Cycle, Lie Back and Keep FIt

If only I could stay or become fit while remaining in my comfort zone I’d be happy. Is this possible? Yes it is. The answer is to lie back and ride a bicycle – a Recumbent bicycle.

What's one of those? Below is a picture of a Recumbent here for Recumbent bicycles in action

Recumbent Cycles in the City

I haven't ridden one but have seen riders in London weaving in and out of traffic. They make it look relatively easy.

The possible attraction of these bikes for us struggling to stay or become fit is that you lie back as if you're in a recliner chair.

Recumbents will be more comfortable than conventional bikes, because there is no strain on your neck, back or wrists. You also have more of your body in contact with the bike, so painful pressure points are reduced. And, you don't have far to fall.

Recumbents are also faster - your legs are in front of you instead of below you, so the aerodynamics are better. Recumbents are at least 30% faster than standard bikes, and can be a lot more - the current speed record on the flat is 82mph.

If you can ride a conventional bike it doesn't follow you'll easily ride a Recumbent. It can take 6-8 weeks for your legs to get use to the different riding position. It also takes a while to master riding them. Recumbent bicycles aren’t cheap. In the UK expect to pay around £800 and up to £1,500 for a specialist Recumbent bicycle.

If you're not the show off, look at me type then a Recumbent may not be for you. But, if you're the quirky, don't care too much what others think type - go for it.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

7 Commandments to Observe in the Gym

I can guarantee that at least once a week I will get handed a flyer asking me to join a gym, along my route from the train station at London Cannon Street to my office in Central London. I think I take the leaflets partly in sympathy with those handing them out. I’ve been offered these ‘join our gym’ leaflets for years, but I still haven’t joined, even the subsidised gym run by my employer.

I'll explore why I haven't joined a gym in a future post so fellow strugglers can compare notes.

In this post I'll talk about how you’re supposed to behave should you or I accept the invitation to join a gym.

Until a few days ago I was ignorant of the unspoken rules on how to behave when using the gym. So here are the seven commandments to observe when if you decide to join:

1. Re-rack weights when you're finished, don' just leave them on the floor

2. Wipe down machines when you’ve done, the last thing you want to touch is a piece of equipment dripping with sweat

3. Avoid occupying equipment while you're chatting

4. Don't use more than one piece of equipment at a time unless you are sure nobody else needs them.

5. Don’t stare at others in the gym - it can distract them and make them uncomfortable. If you're watching somebody's form, don't do it for too long

6. Don't offer unsolicited advice, unless somebody is close to hurting themselves

7. Be willing to spot, (Spotting means helping someone lift through a portion of the exercise that they can not manage by themselves). you may want someone to spot for you one day.

Hopefully, these commandments should be pretty easy to keep.

See you on Wednesday 11th April 2012.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Get Fit Quick?

Do you remember back in the days of junk mail, the endless stream of credit card offers or get rich quick money making schemes?  Now, you get bombarded with the same promises of instant wealth or once in a life time offers to buy an ‘amazing’ product or service - except it's through your email account.

Were you ever tempted to explore the get rich quick money making schemes? Deep down you knew hard work and perseverance was the only way to make serious money. But why bust a gut trying to get rich if you don't have to?

For us strugglers trying to become or stay fit there are some smart gadgets that claim to make you feel fit without having to invest much effort. In fact, virtually no effort required except pressing a few buttons or switches.

I'm going to talk about a couple of such gadgets in this article. I admit I haven’t gone out to buy and try but you could and I’d welcome your comments.

First off is the Bodi-Tek Ab-tek Belt, described as a quick and easy way to tone and firm the abs. It has six programmes with adjustable intensity and a LCD display. The belt fits all sizes. Oh, it also comes with a conductive gel. Is it worth it?
Here’s the rationale behind the Bodi-Tek Ab Tek belt. When exercising, small electrical nerve signals stimulate the muscles to contract. “Bodi-Tek toners mimic these signals to simulate exercise, delivering advanced muscle development and performance”.

Here’s another device, the Slendertone System Abs, it uses the same technology as the Bodi-Tek belt. The sales pitch says, “advanced toning for firming and strengthening”. Also thrown in with the price is a handheld rechargeable controller. 

Do these keep fit gadgets have a similar attraction to the get rich quick schemes? Get rich quick without doing the hard work.  Can I really get fit slouching on the couch?

The view from the website on Bodi-Tek Ab Tek is that, “the unit is not suitable for people who are overweight or those wearing a pacemaker. There are no health warnings on the official website to this end. Potential buyers must live in the United Kingdom or Europe to order the product. The lack of product description or information about how the unit works is enough to turn away most potential buyers”.

It’s not all bad though, here’s a contrasting quote from a user in the UK – “well worth the money - can see the improvement already, only had it a few weeks can wear it anywhere even when eating”.

These gadgets sound great, but I’m not convinced I’m really going to get fit slouching on the couch using these gadgets - even though it’s a much more attractive alternative to working out at the gym or going out for a mile run.

See you on Wednesday 4th April 2012.