On August 12 I will be checking out Viva Streets which is being put on by LiveWell Colorado. This is a program in its second year designed to build activity and community by closing down an entire city street to traffic. Residents are encouraged to get out walking or on their bikes to enjoy the car-free street. Like a giant block party for people all over Denver, this will be a unique experience in a beautiful neighborhood. The event will take place on 23rd street between City Park and Stapleton in the Park Hill neighborhood, and there will be a bike parade down 23rd starting at Kearney at 10am. This is a wonderful opportunity to get out with your family, and learn more about the easy ways you can get active and connected to your community. Check out the video from last year’s event below!
Next week on June 27th I will be participating in Bike to Work Day 2012. If you live elsewhere you may have already done this back in May, but in Colorado we have it in June due to the fact that it is less likely to snow. I have a special fondness for BTWD (as us old timers like to call it) due to the fact that it kicked off my attempt to commute to work via alternative transportation. The first year I participated I had no bike, so I ran the 14 miles to work. I vowed to get a bike for the next year, and that May my dream was realized. By the time my second BTWD rolled around my butt had almost healed from my first attempt at riding to work without bike shorts. Now a few years later, BTWD is just another day on the calendar that I ride to work but I love to remember how it got me started!
If you talk to many hardcore bike commuters you will find that many of them hate BTWD. It’s the one day of the year that you are guaranteed to see someone on a bike do something crazy, putting themselves in harm’s way. It’s inevitable when people are trying something for the first time to have problems getting started. And I know it is tough to ask for help when you are doing something that most of us have been doing since we were 5!
So for BTWD 2012 I thought I would write a few tips that I have picked up over the years of riding my bike to work (and I’m still learning). You probably know all of these things already, but you’d be surprised at the things I’ve seen and done.
Choose your route carefully! You are not going to want to ride the same roads that you drive to work on your bike. You are not going to be able to pedal 40mph, so it’s not going to take you any longer than it would otherwise by taking side streets. And if you can avoid streets completely to ride on bike paths, do so even if it’s out of your way! It is SO much less stressful traveling on a bike path than it is on a street with cars. Bike lanes do improve that comfort somewhat, but even with them there is the feeling that you are going ridiculously slowly compared to traffic. Google maps has a great feature that will let you search for directions to travel by bike. It’s not perfect, but I’ve found lots of potential routes by that tool that avoid many of the main traffic problems. Don’t be tempted to ride on the sidewalk, or ride on the road against traffic. Cars are expecting other cars on the road, so if you act like other cars they won’t be surprised. I’ve run into a few “bike lane salmon” in my time, you do not want to be that cyclist!
Be prepared! Make sure you have an extra tube, tire levers and a pump with you. If I meet you stranded on the trail I can probably help you change a tire, or make adjustments to your bike with my tool set, but I don’t carry tubes and pumps for all sizes of tires and chances are you don’t have the same size I do. If you have the things you need most cyclists will be happy to help you deal with the problem if you are in over your head. Ask for help if you need it. There are not “born cyclists” who are good at everything from day 1, everyone has had to start at some point. If you do know how to change your own flat tire, great! Just make sure you don’t leave any trash behind. Abandoning your blown-out tube on the side of the road will not give it time to think about what it has done.
Be comfortable! I know you hate spandex, everyone does. But there’s a very good reason that bike shorts exist, if there wasn’t no one would wear them. It’s not to make you more aerodynamic. Apart from providing some much needed padding for your sit-bones, the chamois ensures that there are no seams rubbing against any part of your body that touches the saddle. The chamois is your first line of defense against discomfort, and it’s not a thing you want to go without. If you are concerned about the spandex issue wear bike shorts under your regular shorts. Once you get to work, change as soon as possible, a sweaty chamois is not your friend.
Ride your bike like you drive your car! Stop at the stop lights and stop signs and wait until it is your turn to cross. Take your place in line at intersections, just because you can fit by on the right side doesn’t mean you should. Cars are not expecting you to come flying by on the right and that’s an invitation to getting cut off. Signal your intentions with hand signals, and thank drivers that give you extra space with a wave. Don’t react negatively to cars that cut it too close. If they are dumb enough to be trying to “teach you a lesson” with a 2000lb hunk of metal, they are probably not going to park their car to politely debate the merits of bike travel with you.
Relax! Riding your bike to work is fun. Give yourself extra time to enjoy the slower pace. If you wanted to be at work “right away” you would have taken your car. On BTWD, find a couple of breakfast stations and stop to chat. In the morning it is cool, and if you are doing it right you probably won’t even need the shower when you get to work! If you really do need that shower, just take it as an opportunity to brag to coworkers about how you just rode to work.
As a dad, I am always interested in finding activities that my kids enjoy and that I enjoy doing with them. One of the best activities I’ve found is hiking. Kids are natural climbers, and interested in exploring the outdoors, so it’s never a hard sell to convince them to go for a hike. But there are some things that can make it a pretty miserable experience. Here are the ways that we have found to keep hiking a fun, family activity.
Length is important. A hike that takes too long will quickly become a test of patience as the kids complain about how far they have to go or how much their feet hurt. Miles aren’t as important as time, if the terrain is challenging even a one mile walk may be too much. We recently completed a hike that was a 2 mile round trip, but with 1000 feet of elevation. With all the breaks, it took almost 45 minutes to get to the top, then we had to get back down again. Being flexible with your schedule is important as well. It’s hard to gauge how quickly children will hike, so if a hike is taking too long don’t be afraid to adjust your plans. A good way to ensure that a hike is not too long is to be heading back to the start well before you are feeling tired.
Route is important as well. Loop trails are great for grown-ups as the sights are different for the whole trip, but for kids they can be problematic. Having to finish a full loop can make a hike too long if you are not prepared for the distance, and it can seem never-ending for kids who don’t have an idea of how close they are to the finish. An out and back hike can be turned around at any time, and the kids see familiar landmarks on the return trip that give them hope for the finish.
The goal of a hike doesn’t have to be a destination, but it should always include snacks. Bring granola bars, or trail mix and eat them at the half-way point. If kids are older you can plan a day hike and eat lunch. Always bring more food and water than you think you need, even if you don’t eat it all it’s better to have a reserve than to run out. Trail mix is great for keeping kids moving when they are tired. They can be snacking on raisins and peanuts right out of their hand as they walk. As well as keeping their energy reserves up, it’s a distraction from sore feet.
Bring extra clothes. Jackets and hats weigh very little for a grown-up, but can be a huge source of comfort if the weather changes. Make sure you bring clothes for yourself as well, young kids walk slowly enough that you may not be generating as much heat as you would on a hike on your own. Raincoats or ponchos are cheap and pack down incredibly small, there’s no excuse for not having one at the bottom of your pack.
In Colorado we are fortunate to have trails in the foothills and mountains that offer incredible opportunities for hiking with kids, but mountains are not necessary for a great hike. Kids are interested in everything around them, and wildlife and insects can be found even on urban trails and parks. Take your time to examine things with them and you will find things to talk about both on the trail and long after the hike is over. It’s an adventure that everyone in the family will appreciate!
Our youngest son is finishing preschool this year, and the class was participating in a field day event. There was very little support from the school for the event, however, so the parents ended up doing most of the organizing. We are fortunate in that there are at least two or three parents involved with the preschool that understand how fun a field day can be for young kids.
Melissa asked the school for access to some of the small hurdles that were being used for the older kids, but was told that preschoolers are too small to jump hurdles and they might get injured. Not one to let adversity get her down, she decided we could make some hurdles ourselves. I thought that would be a great project, and I advised her to get 3/4″ PVC pipe and some tees and elbows for the project. She ended up getting the following items:
- 3 x 10-foot lengths of 3/4″ PVC pipe
- 8 x 3/4″ PVC Tees
- 8 x 3/4″ PVC 90° Elbows
- PVC Primer
- PVC Cement
- Tubing cutter for PVC pipe less than 1 5/8″ diameter
Using these supplies I was charged with making 4 hurdles of reasonable size for preschool children. I first laid out the three pipes and measured for the feet and the cross-bar. I wanted the feet to be 8″ each, and the cross-bar 36″ across, but I didn’t know how much that would leave for the vertical supports. I got all of the feet laid out and the cross-bars and was left with 3 sections of pipe 24″, 16″ and 48″ long. I divided these into six, 12″ pieces and two 8″ pieces, which would give me three hurdles approximately 14″ high and one hurdle 10″ high.
Happy with the fact that I would be able to build all 4 hurdles with zero waste I set about making the cuts. You could do this with a hacksaw, but using the tubing cutter was MUCH easier, resulting in nice clean cuts, in a fraction of the time a saw would have required! Starting with the feet I attached two of the 8″ pieces into each of the tees, and then attached two elbows to each cross-bar. I was planning to cement these pieces together, but the fit was pretty tight without glue and I ended up just leaving them loose. I may go back and glue them later so that I don’t have to keep straightening out downed hurdles. Regardless of whether I glue these pieces or not I will leave the vertical pieces unglued so that I can make the hurdles taller as the boys grow. I may also get some PVC end caps for the feet so that the cut edge of pipe is not exposed.
Once they were all assembled, I tossed the 4 hurdles into the back lawn and let the kids at them. The laughing, running and jumping left them both breathless in 10 minutes and it was obvious the project was a success. It took about half an hour to finish, and cost $34 for all the items on the list. Expansion of the current set of hurdles will require only PVC pipe, and the sky’s the limit!
And no one was hurt at field day!
I have been thinking a lot lately about the role that diet plays in a healthy lifestyle. In the past I have been quick to write off dieting as a weight loss method due to the fact that I place a heavy emphasis on activity. With my level of daily activity I can maintain my weight, and even lose weight, without any adjustments to what I eat. I tend to boast that I can eat whatever I want as I know I’m going to be able to run or bike it off later!
But, “whatever I want” is different for different people. Even at my worst I don’t eat fast food, junk food like potato chips are reserved for the weekend, and healthy portion sizes are the norm. The question that has come up in my mind is, “Even with my level of daily activity, would a poor diet lead to weight gain?”
The reason I think this question is important is related to the childhood obesity problem currently affecting Americans. The current trend is to blame lack of activity for children’s weight gain. No doubt that plays a role, but are video games and lack of physical education programs at school just scapegoats for the food industry? If you have children you know that they have almost infinite energy, and their desire is to be active without any motivation. Despite changes in the school system that limit physical activity, all schools still have recess and playgrounds. Kids have far more daily activity than adults, so it’s hard to believe that lack of activity is the main factor in childhood obesity.
Instead, I am starting to think that it is possible to undo all of the healthy effects of activity merely by dietary choices. And more importantly, blaming video games and schools for childhood obesity while the fast food and junk food industries rake in profits with little to no oversight, seems unfair.
Everyone makes choices, whether consciously or not. I consciously choose to exercise because I know it helps me stay healthy, but to some extent I unconsciously choose to eat healthy options because I have been doing it for so long. For some, the choice to exercise and to eat healthily are both conscious, and often difficult, decisions. However, ignoring the effect of one or the other is shortsighted, and can only lead to failure. Small, positive activity and dietary choices every day are the true path to success.
I’ve been feeling pretty encouraged lately by my activity level. Back in March I was out of shape and I knew it, now I feel like I’m getting back into a groove. For me that’s the hardest part about staying active. If I miss one day, then the next day follows, and pretty soon I’m not doing anything at all. But if I work to make sure I’m doing something every day, then missing a day just seems wrong. Lately I have been much better about getting out for a run or riding my bike to work every day, but there’s still the weekends where I am not consistent at all.
I can’t say that I’m not doing anything on the weekend, at least I am up and on my feet most of the day, but finding the time to get a workout in when I have family plans and chores to do is tough. After all, my kids only really get me to themselves those two days, for me to wave goodbye and then head out the door for a 4 hour bike ride seems irresponsible. Maybe when they are older and don’t really care if their dad is there I can get away with that, but at this age I can’t justify it.
I know I’m making excuses. There are some chores that don’t have to be done right away, I’m sure I could slip out for an hour to run. I could be getting out of bed at 5am to run long before everyone gets up. I could be making an effort to eat healthier meals on the weekend so that I don’t put such a big dent in my “fitness reserve.”
So I have some work to do, but I’m a lot further along than I was at the beginning of the year. And when the goal is maintaining daily activity for the rest of my life, slow progress is to be expected.
The Colorado Center for Health and Wellness opened to the public on April 15, so this week I have been getting acquainted with my new gym. It’s been a while since I’ve been a member of a fitness center, most of my activities are outdoors and the locations are not convenient for me. But as the Colorado Center was opening near my work I figured I would give it a try. Also, with the way I was feeling in March, it was time for drastic measures.
Part of the process of joining the Colorado Center is a fitness assessment, and an orientation session. The fitness assessment tests a variety of metrics: blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol, blood sugar, body fat percentage, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, and grip strength. From those measurements the center assigns a fitness plan that is accessible through the TechnoGym equipment. The concept is that trainers at the center will be able to track your progress and adjust your training plan without having to be there in person. For people who are new to the gym, or who struggle to find a fitness plan that works for them, this takes some of the guesswork out of the equation.
TechnoGym features a “keychain” that plugs into each piece of equipment to record your progress. When you first check in, the system tells you what the training plan for the day entails. The workout is selected by the trainers for you, and includes which exercise to perform, how many reps/sets to do, and the weight you should be lifting. If you make changes to the weight or number of sets/reps that information is recorded to the keychain and can be used to adjust the workout later. At the kiosks you can also view information on each of the individual exercises, including the muscle groups worked, and videos of how to correctly perform the exercise.
By far, my favorite feature of the TechnoGym equipment is the range of motion indicator. During your first two reps, each machine monitors how far you extend/contract during the exercise. It then uses an LED display to show you how far you need to be moving, as well as how quickly. This means that your speed is controlled during the whole exercise, and that you can’t count reps where you don’t perform the whole motion!
These features dovetail into the mission of the Colorado Center, which is to get people into a fitness program, develop the program for their needs, and follow up with them to ensure that working out becomes a part of their lifestyle. I hope that it helps me to add resistance training into my fitness plan so that it’s not just running and biking all the time!
The Colorado Center for Health and Wellness represents a new concept in health care and health care research. The center is located on the University of Colorado, Denver Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Colorado. Primarily a research facility, the center focuses on educating the community on healthy eating and activities. Preventative health maintenance is stressed, with the goal of keeping people out of the hospital rather than post-disease treatment.
This mission is evidenced throughout the construction of the building. From the expansive lobby, featuring a demonstration kitchen and Bistro Elaia, to the massive fitness center contained within, and finally the clinical and research labs, the center embodies a desire to get people interested in nutrition and exercise, and treating the physical barriers to fitness. The education programs developed by the center will be available to the public through the center’s website and the tailored fitness programs available either through the clinical facilities or through fitness center membership.
The fitness center is also a paradigm shift from the standard gym membership. Membership begins with a fitness assessment, testing physical fitness, flexibility, and strength as well as metabolic measurements. From this a “prescription” training program is developed, creating a total health program for the individual. Progress can be tracked through the Technogym system, with each exercise tracked through a “keychain,” taking the guesswork out of a fitness program. Progress is followed up with subsequent assessments, keeping individuals on track and equipped to maintain the fitness gains achieved. These assessments are available to anyone, meaning that individuals need not be members of the fitness club to take advantage of the program.
For athletes looking to improve their performance, the center is also home to the Human Performance Lab run by Iñigo San Millán. Offering tests such as VO2 max, lactate threshold, and body composition via Bod Pod or DEXA Scan, the center can fine tune training and nutrition programs to optimize performance.
With so many health care programs aimed at treating people who are already unhealthy, it is refreshing to see a facility that aims to be more proactive. Equipping individuals with the tools and knowledge to create healthy lifestyles, the center will help to develop methods that bring on sustainable changes in fitness for an entire community.
“Take it to the wall!” That’s what we now tell our kids to do when they get frustrated, or whiny, or worked up. No matter the weather, they now have a place to go and work their minds and bodies, and experience accomplishment.
The project started with a Christmas gift idea from Nana. “Should I get them a climbing wall set?” It seemed like a good idea, it wasn’t a toy, or something that made noise, or something unhealthy. And when they opened the gift the excitement was obvious. “Can we set it up now, Dad!?” I had to explain to them that we needed to build a special wall to climb on. The set included a book that gave great instructions about how to build a wall, with just one small problem: it didn’t have the words “DON’T PANIC” in large, friendly letters on the cover. I panicked.
Where are we going to put it? Is it going inside or outside? How big does it need to be? What if it’s too difficult for the kids?
These are just some of the many thoughts I had every time I thought about the box sitting in the basement. Luckily, plans were made for Nana and Grampy to visit at Easter, and Grampy agreed to help build the wall while he was here. The panicky feelings began to subside.
With a trip to the hardware store we had everything we needed: studs, plywood, and lots and lots of screws (the climbing set included all of the mounting hardware). After some deliberation we decided on an 8′ x 8′ design in the basement, with a slight overhang to make it more challenging. Laying out the angles on a couple of studs and tacking them to the header and footer let us test fit the design in the space before filling in the wall with studs every 16″. If not for the fact that it was leaning outward, it would have looked like a good start on framing the basement!
The plywood was a more overwhelming task. The book recommended laying each sheet on each other and drilling holes through 2 sheets at a time. There were no clear instructions on where to drill the holes though, apart from the advice to not drill them at the locations of the studs. A half-hour of discussion later and we had a plan for the locations of the holes, one that would keep the same 6″ spacing along the length of the wall. After drilling, cutting and hammering 84 T-nuts into the back of the plywood, we were ready to screw the sheets to the wall. As the kids anxiously waited, the process of attaching the 35 climbing holds to the wall slowly took place.
Immediately after finishing the kids scrambled up the wall and all fears of difficulty were washed away. They climbed up and down; they climbed sideways. After attaching a bell to the rafter they became even more intent on reaching the top and ringing the bell in victory. They climbed until their arms hurt, then they would rest and climb some more.
Suddenly, what was once just a basement is now an activity room that can offer year round exercise to everyone (even I can find challenging routes across the wall). As the kids develop, the large holds can be swapped out with small ones, making it an ever-adapting challenge. It provides them with an active option no matter what the weather, and shows them that we want physical activity to be a part of all of our lives on a daily basis.