My Story: Benefits of Working Out With Friends

July 28, 2016 at 10:30 am | Posted in Fitness, My Story | Leave a comment
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By Jahnelle Bray
Population Health Coordinator

One of my old coworkers made a commitment to get up early every morning to go spinning. She always had so much energy during her day I thought I’ve got to try this! When a spinning studio opened across the street, I got a group of friends together and that’s what we did. That first class was tough and I had really mixed emotions when it was over. I was sweaty and sore, but also really energized. A little while later I introduced another friend to spinning and she LOVED it. She also suggested we go to a class every week. This was great for me because it has helped me build consistency with my workouts.

If you struggle with staying in shape or sticking with exercise, finding an exercise buddy is really helpful. When you’re by yourself, it’s easy to talk yourself out of exercising or just do the bare minimum. When you make plans with someone else, you’ve made a commitment to be there and do your best. You don’t want to feel like you’re letting them down.

Your exercise buddy can push you to keep going when your muscles start to hurt. If I start to feel like I’m ready to give up, I’ll look over and see how my friends are doing. Seeing them going for it when I’m flagging really motivates me to stick with it. Thinking about the class as a group effort also helps. Everyone is there for the same reason and we’re all going to get through this together. I don’t want to be the only person not doing anything, so I tell myself if they can do it, so can I!

It was great finding someone who loved spinning as much as I do and wanted to go regularly. We have a routine now where we text each other every week to decide what day we’ll go. It’s been about a month since we started doing this, and I’m much less sore than I was after that first time! I look forward to class. It’s a chance for me to disconnect and recharge my body and mind. If I miss a week, I don’t feel my best. Working out is a great accomplishment. If you don’t finish anything else in your day, at least you’ve done that.

Getting Active with Pokemon Go

July 22, 2016 at 1:00 am | Posted in Fitness | Leave a comment
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By Chrisanne Sikora, Sr. Project Specialist
Diabetes Self-Management Education Program

Chrisanne headshot

By now you’ve probably heard of Pokémon GO, the Augmented Reality mobile game where players “catch” virtual creatures in the real world. Out of curiosity, I downloaded the app while I was on vacation.  After about a week of playing around with the game I still don’t quite get many of the details about leveling up your Pokémon or challenging other players to competitions (yet). Finding and catching Pokémon, though? THAT I get and it ties in with what I find most appealing about the game: it encourages you to get up and get active.

The game uses your phone’s GPS to track your location and movements. As you move, your character in the game moves as well. Places where Pokémon will appear are marked on the map and when you get close, you “catch” them using the phone’s camera. While you may be able to find a couple in your home like I did, catching all 100+ different types of creatures (one of the goals of the game) means heading outside and exploring. The more you walk around, the more likely you are to find new and different types of Pokémon.

While you’re out catching Pokémon, you’ll also encounter “Pokéstops” where you can pick up useful items. These places usually match up with real life landmarks or interesting sites. The more of these sites you visit, the more items you’ll collect (and the more walking you’ll do). Eggs are one type of item you can find at these stops. To find out what’s inside your egg, all you have to do is walk. After a certain distance (the app tracks it for you), it will hatch. There may even be a Pokémon inside!

It’s a cute way to spend time with friends and family, or jazz up your regular routine if playing solo. I had the app open when I went walking the other day and found several Pokémon and Pokéstops along one of my regular walking routes. If you do decide to try it, make sure to pay attention to what’s around you and be respectful of other people’s property.

Summer Fitness Idea: Swimming

June 22, 2016 at 10:24 am | Posted in Fitness, Guest Post | Leave a comment
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By Sara Evans, Aquatics Supervisor
The Clubs at Charles River Park

Swimming is a great, total body exercise for building strength in your muscles as well as your heart and lungs. Swimming is also a safe activity for anyone. Because you’re weightless in the water, there’s less wear on your joints and you don’t need to worry about tripping or losing feeling in your feet. Unless your healthcare provider says no, there’s no reason not to try swimming.

Swimming uses every muscle in your body, but especially your core. A strong core is needed to keep your head above water, and will help improve your posture in other activities like running or walking. Since the whole body is used to pull you through the water, swimming is a great time saver workout. Just 30 minutes in the pool is about the same as at 45-minute run on the treadmill. You can also adjust how hard you work by making small changes to your hand positions. For instance, keeping your hands flat adds resistance and challenge.

If you’re new to swimming, the first steps are learning to float and developing good breath control in the water. Most of all you’ll need to have confidence about swimming in the deep end. The best way to build confidence is through practice. I recommend beginners start with 15 minutes twice a week at either the beginning (warm up) or end (cool down) of your workout. Remember, swimming is much different than running so it’s best to take it easy to start so you don’t wear yourself out. As you get stronger, you can increase how long and how often you swim. Eventually you’ll be able to swim every day of the week if you want! Swimming is a life-long activity and there’s no risk of injury from overuse.

One last thought: There’s no one “right” way to swim. You’ll soon develop a style that works for you. Be comfortable with your stroke, even if it’s different from someone else’s. The best fit for you is whatever gets you to the other end of the pool and back.

 

Use the Force (for Fitness)

January 14, 2016 at 10:13 am | Posted in Fitness, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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By Chrisanne Sikora, Sr. Project Specialist
Diabetes Self-Management Education Program

Chrisanne headshot

Chances are “okay grab your lightsaber, get ready to move” is not something you’d expect to hear in a group fitness class. Gyms and health clubs often run special promotions after the holidays when many people begin setting up new fitness routines. Last week when I read an article about one of the nearby gyms offering a free class inspired by the new Star Wars movie, I thought it sounded a little silly but also like it could be a lot of fun. I figured why not? and called to sign up.

After we’d picked out a lightsaber and chosen our spots the instructor, Cassie, explained the class was designed around the idea of circuit training. We’d learn a sequence (or “circuit”) of about four exercises that we would do for a minute each. After we’d done each sequence three times, we’d start over with a new sequence. Cassie showed us the first sequence while a dance remix of the Star Wars theme played over the speakers, and we were off.

I couldn’t help but giggle along with the woman next to me as we swung our lightsabers side to side while doing lunges. Aside from thin disks used to slide our feet along the floor (and of course a toy lightsaber), there was no equipment used in the class. Most of the exercises were versions of basic moves like squats and push-ups that use bodyweight as resistance. Even so, the class was more challenging than you’d think! By the time we started our second sequence you could see several people were already getting tired – and we still had another whole sequence to go!

The second and third sequences were more challenging than the first, but Cassie always gave us the option of going back to an easier move if anything became too difficult. By the end of the class everyone was tired, sweaty, probably a little sore, but smiling. On the way out, I chatted with a couple of classmates about what we’d expected going in and how much fun the whole experience was. Maybe if we take the class again we’ll be able to float rocks with our thoughts.

The two key things I took away from the class were:

  • You can get a really good, challenging workout with using just your bodyweight. No equipment (or even a gym!) required.
  • The most important part of any routine is making it FUN. If you’re not enjoying yourself, it will be hard to stick with it.

Gardening for Body and Mind

June 12, 2014 at 11:35 am | Posted in Fitness, Guest Post, My Story | 1 Comment
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By Rebecca Ocampo
Project Coordinator

phlox

Medulla Oblongata, Phlox Subulata, Calamagrostis Acutiflora, Panicum Virgatum – they may sound alike and look alike but are all very different. The medulla oblongata is the lower stalk-like section of the brain. The rest are plants: beautiful creeping phlox and exotic perennial grass. The photograph to the right is Phlox Subulata or creeping phlox. They bloom in the beginning to late spring and are perennials. They are used for garden edges or “fillers” near a stone wall.

There is an old Chinese proverb that goes like this: “If you drink tea, you will be happy for a day. If you roast a pig, you will be happy for a week. If you get married, you will be happy for three weeks. If you garden, you will be happy forever.”  My love of gardening peaked recently when I moved to the suburbs and found myself in an apartment surrounded by beautiful and lush forestry. Never did I imagine that gardening would be one of my priorities outside of work. It’s very relaxing and a healthy way to exercise. I’m outdoors and not connected to anything electronic.  Most of the time, I do not use my gardening gloves and dig right in the dirt.  It’s like making cake batter without utensils, if you will.  The texture is soothing to the skin.  It may have something to do with childhood, like making mud pies at the beach.

When I was growing up in the Philippines, my family’s ancestral home was surrounded by a variety of fruit trees (banana, avocado, mango and jackfruit) sugar cane, bamboo, and a variety of tropical and exotic flowers including different shades of hibiscus – all surrounding an in-ground (almost Olympic size) swimming pool. Flash forward to the United States where my mom, brother, and I visited several garden centers every Sunday. They would never agree to go to a mall, so it was either another pair of shoes for me or a Panicum Virgatum which is a metallic blue (sounds like shoes to me!) grass that blooms in late summer and grows up to 3’ in height and approximately 18” wide. It has pretty blue blades during the summer and turns to golden and bright yellow blades in the fall.

I mostly grow perennials:  orange and red tiger lilies, pink and white English daisies, bright orange poppies, vinca with purple flowers.  There are purple irises, red knock-out roses (tough roses that will come back every year no matter the weather) and some annuals like impatiens and pansies as well. The benefit of gardening is twofold.  First, it’s a good form of exercise because you rake, mow the lawn, pull weeds, thatch the grass, prune trees, and design your garden so it’s esthetically pleasing. Second, gardening exercises the mind. There is a calmness and peacefulness in gardening. It’s a proven source of good mental health awareness, and releases tension. It means I have escaped confinement from my cubicle. It’s a form of exercise that soothes and calms my mood after a hectic day at the office.

Spotlight: Charlestown HealthCare Center Activity Tracker Pilot

May 1, 2014 at 10:30 am | Posted in Fitness, Guest Post, My Story | Leave a comment
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By Rajani Larocca, MD
Charlestown HealthCare Center

with Chrisanne Sikora, Senior Project Specialist
Diabetes Self-Management Education Program

FitBit activity tracker

Lifestyle change is ultimately in the hands of the individual, and our job as medical  providers is to find a way to empower people to make those changes. It’s an old problem, but the question is: how do we get there? And can new technology help us solve the problem in new and innovative ways?

In spring 2013, I ran a series of six weekly group visits with a group of my patients at MGH Charlestown HealthCare Center. The group was originally intended for those with metabolic syndrome, but the majority of the patients already had Type 2 Diabetes.  The idea for this program came from an interest in applying a public health approach to medicine. All of the patients volunteered for the program on my recommendation. The focus of the visits was to educate the participants about healthy lifestyle change, to help motivate them to implement this change, and to provide a support system to help keep them motivated.

Each session focused on a different topic. In addition to the introduction in the first week and a summary group in the last week, we discussed nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, and social connection. A key part of the sessions included removing the all-or-nothing mentality that many people adopt when they are trying to be healthier, focusing instead on taking what steps you can and forgiving mistakes in the past.

During the meeting in which we discussed exercise, everyone who participated was given a FitBit activity tracker to wear. Once the trackers were on, the group went on a short walk through the neighborhood. Many were surprised to learn they didn’t have to walk far to reach 1,000 steps.

In subsequent sessions, reviewing the Fitbit data was part of what we did during our time together. Interestingly, everyone liked the Fitbits – even those who didn’t have ready internet access or who weren’t really internet-savvy. Because the trackers had a display which showed results in real time, everyone could tell whether they were reaching their goals on a daily basis. While there was some friendly competition among participants, most were only competing against themselves, trying to beat their totals from the previous week.

After the program ended, the participants were allowed to keep their FitBits, and some were still wearing them eight months later. Some of those who stopped wearing them said it was because they had incorporated their new habits into their routine and didn’t need the tracker anymore. When asked how he would keep up with his daily walks during the winter, one gentleman responded “I’ll wear a coat!”

Electronic trackers like the FitBit make developing healthy lifestyle habits more fun, but we can’t underestimate what the social connection of the group did to foster people’s success. The participants really enjoyed the group setting, especially the sense of community that developed and the confidence they gained from learning that others face many of the same challenges. Living with a chronic disease can be isolating, but in this group, people realized that they were not alone.

Focus on Functional (Fitness)

March 14, 2014 at 3:46 pm | Posted in Fitness | Leave a comment
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Like many people, we’ve spent a lot of time exercising indoors at the gym this winter (thank you, polar vortex).  Something we’ve been hearing a lot about from fitness instructors is incorporating “functional fitness” elements into our routine.  Functional fitness exercises use movements that mimic everyday activities to increase strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility (range of motion).  This type of training makes performing day-to-day activities like carrying groceries easier, while at the same time reducing the risk of injury.

The key element is using multiple muscle groups together (as opposed to traditional weight machines which work one muscle group at a time in isolation).  In essence, functional fitness trains the body to work with itself.  Bodyweight exercises like pushups, squats and lunges are great examples.  Without a machine for support, the muscles of the core (think back and abs) play a crucial role in maintaining balance and proper form.  Functional fitness isn’t limited to bodyweight exercises, either.  Free weights, kettlebells, resistance bands and balance boards are all useful tools.

Exercises that use more than one muscle group not only help strengthen the core and improve balance, they’re often less time consuming.  Plus since there aren’t any big machines necessary, many can be done at home.  If you have access to a gym, see if there’s a trainer who uses a functional training approach to help you get you started.  And always, check with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program.

(Content reviewed by the Clubs at Charles River Park)

 

Beginning Yoga

October 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Posted in Fitness, Guest Post | Leave a comment
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By Brenda Santora, Yoga Teacher
The Clubs at Charles River Park

with Chrisanne Sikora, Project Specialist
Diabetes Self-Management Education Program

Yoga is the integration of mind, body and soul. It’s physical, it’s relaxation. It’s working on flexibility, meditation and calming the mind. Ultimately, it’s learning and accepting your own body. There’s a perception that you need to be an athlete and/or able to twist yourself into a pretzel in order to practice yoga. The truth is we’re all built differently. If you can’t do the final pose, there’s nothing wrong with that! Not everyone will be able to do every pose.

If you’re new to yoga, a good first step is finding the correct level class. Starting with something that’s too advanced can be discouraging (and possibly unsafe). Check out the websites for studios in your area and look for classes with the words Intro, Beginner, Basics or Foundation in their title. If you’re still not sure which class is the best fit, you can always call the studio. They’ll be more than happy to answer your questions and make recommendations. Another option is looking into what’s offered by your local YMCA/YWCA or Adult Education Centers. These community centers are a great place to learn about yoga before moving on to classes at a yoga studio.

It’s normal to feel a sense of being overwhelmed at first. Part of it is simply the experience of doing something new, but you’ll find that after a few classes it becomes very familiar. Also when you’re getting started it’s quite normal to see something you’ve never done and feel like you can’t do it. Instead of saying I can’t do this, focus on what you can do. Just walking in the door and standing on your mat is an accomplishment! Over time you’ll start to notice you’re working and stretching parts of the body you didn’t know you could before. You may also notice you start to just feel good and more relaxed.

Finally, remember instructors are all different and each has their own individual way of teaching. Before your class take a look at their background, where they did their training, and with whom. If something doesn’t click with your instructor, don’t give up. Keep an open mind and try experimenting with different styles and teachers.

Brenda is an RYT 200 registered Certified Iyengar Yoga teacher at The Clubs at Charles River Park

My Be Fit Success Story

August 8, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Posted in Fitness, Guest Post | Leave a comment
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By Jina Rameau, RN, MPH
Project Specialist

I was new to the MGH community, just 3 months into my position. During new employee orientation, I heard about all the benefits we can access. One in particular really caught my attention:  the MGH Be Fit program. Be Fit is the MGH employee wellness program, a free 10-week program that focuses on helping employees learn to eat healthier and exercise more with guidance from nutritionists and personal trainers.

I knew I wanted to join the program, and began contacting the directors. There was one hiccup:  I was pretty new to my department, and the program requested teams of 15-25 people within your department. I remember thinking I don’t know enough people to get a group together! I explained my situation to one of the directors and promised my commitment to Be Fit. He advised I could possibly join another team! I was ecstatic, and couldn’t wait to be a part of the program.

I joined the team at the Diabetes Research Center (team name: Sweet Success).  The time flew by with weekly team breakout sessions with our nutritionist, Debra, and personal trainer, Pete. Weekly rallies were also held to review team stats for submission of food logs, the total time we spent exercising, how many times we practiced relaxation response techniques, and number of steps taken. There were a total of 6 teams, and Sweet Success remained within the Top 3 throughout the 10 weeks. We felt a sense of achievement whenever we took a trophy home.

In addition to 1 hour weekly strength training sessions with Pete, I also participated in the weekly group exercise classes at the gym right next to the hospital. I fell head over heels for Zumba:  a fun, effective workout system featuring dance moves set to Latin and International music.  As a result of Be Fit resources, I learned relaxation techniques (i.e. deep breathing and visualization) as well as nutrition facts like how to read a food label, portion size and healthy snacking.  I lost over 15lbs and continue to include exercise in my daily routine. It’s a lifestyle!

Go Team! Sweet Success'Be Fit Trophies

Intro to Intervals

July 18, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Posted in Fitness | Leave a comment
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A clock face. Photo credit: Robert Proksa

What’s a common excuse for not exercising?  No time.  With everything we do  every day for work and family, sometimes we’re lucky if you have 30 minutes free for anything else.  Not enough time for a good workout, right?  Well, any activity is better than nothing.  And in any case, it’s not really about how long you spend exercising that matters most but the intensity of your routine.

If you only have a few minutes in your day for exercise, intervals are a great way to get the most “bang for your buck.”  Interval training is alternating bursts of intense activity with periods of rest.  Even if you’re not pressed for time, adding intervals to your workout is an easy way to mix up your routine – good for keeping boredom at bay and breaking out of a fitness plateau.

An interval workout will start with a warm up (foam rolling and/or light activity to get the body moving), followed by a short (like just 1 minute!) burst of intense activity coupled with a recovery period.  The recovery period varies from person to person, but 3 minutes is a good starting point.  Repeat this activity/recovery pattern two to three more times, cool down and you’re done.  Total time spent:  about 20 minutes.  As your fitness level increases, you can add more intervals or adjust the activity/recovery times so your workout stays challenging.  If you have access to a trainer at a gym, they can work with you to create a personalized interval training plan that will help you reach your goals.

Interval training doesn’t require any special equipment, and it’s easy to incorporate into just about any activity.  A few ideas to get you started:

  • Add a short sprint to your walking routine
  • Increase the incline on the treadmill
  • Bump up the resistance when using an elliptical

Now for the disclaimer:  interval training may not be right for everyone.  The short burst of activity in each interval is meant to be done at a level you find strenuous but not impossible.  It’s not a good idea to jump right into interval training if you’re just getting started with a fitness routine.  Check with your healthcare provider first to make sure it’s safe for you do intervals.  If your provider gives you the OK, it’s recommended to do interval training on alternate days so your body has a chance to recover.

(Content reviewed by The Clubs at Charles River Park. Photo Credit: Robert Proksa)
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