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!
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.
Is it possible to overtrain when you are not training at all? At what point does daily activity cross over into too much. This is something I think about due to the rigors of trying to stay in running shape while commuting by bike. On many days this means I am doing 3, hour long workouts, not including any physical tasks that I may need to perform as part of my job.
If I have to take my laptop with me, my commuter bag weighs about 20 lbs. Add to that a 14 mile ride to work, and I can end up feeling the burn just getting in in the morning. Fortunately, it’s all downhill from my house to the office. I generally try to take in a small snack when I arrive and keep hydrated all morning. By the time lunch rolls around I’m hungry, but can usually get through an hour run on the trails before I eat. If I’m still tired from the day before this run can be pretty painful. Now I’m faced with an uphill ride home with a 20 lb pack. I’m already beat down, and some days just riding the flat sections hurts. It’s at this point that I question the wisdom of this commute.
At first I was under the impression that through training the body can adapt to all stresses. But after a couple of seasons of riding/running almost every day I’m beginning to wonder if my body will not adapt to that volume of exercise. I find myself getting burnt out, dreading my evening ride. The only thing that keeps me going is knowing that’s the only way I’m getting home.
But, perhaps my body is adapting to the stress of commuting and running. Granted my speed specific running training is suffering, but potentially with the gain of overall fitness. And overall fitness is really my goal. My ride home may seem just as difficult as it was the first time I tried it, but I’m riding it a lot faster now. Perhaps there is a continual improvement with this training, but without a measure I can’t see it. I am not exhibiting any of the signs of overtraining, such as irritability or sleeplessness, I may just have forgotten what pushing myself really feels like.
I always assumed that if I worked hard enough I could reach a plateau where my activities would seem easier. I equated that with fitness. Now I think that fitness is a dynamic thing, what was easy one day may be difficult the next. In this way I may never achieve what I consider to be in shape, except by striving to improve every day. Instead of the means to an end, the end is the means.
I think one of the biggest problems of the fitness industry is sports and recovery drinks. Coincidently, sports and recovery drinks accounted for $3.9 billion in sales in 2010 and continue to increase. It’s no wonder that the soft drink manufacturers want to get in on the action. But in many respects they are selling products that most consumers don’t need, and will in fact harm them.
Part of the problem arises with our definition of “athlete.” “Athletes” need sports drinks to achieve top performance, the University of Florida showed us that. “Athletes” need recovery products to kickstart the muscle building process, bodybuilders have known this for years. But these cases reflected the needs of pro-football players, and people pushing their bodies to the very limit of performance.
The term “athlete” now refers to anyone who does anything physical. Just watch a sport on TV and keep an eye out for the sports drink ads. Are these companies spending millions on advertising to reach the 0.1% of the population at the peak of physical fitness? Are NFL football players recording the games they missed on their DVRs, then watching them later in the week thinking, “I bet I wouldn’t have missed that pass if I was drinking that!” The sports drink industry wants every armchair quarterback to think that they need 20oz of electrolyte drink after they mow the lawn. That’s what makes $3.9 billion.
So now we have a generation of active, informed adults who are doing exactly the right things to get in shape, then eliminating all their gains with their choice in recovery drink. They don’t need a 20oz sports drink and a protein shake to recover from an hour long trip to the gym, they need a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk!
I understand there are barriers to making real food part of a recovery plan. Almost all of my workouts end with me going back to work, so I can’t exactly grill a lean chicken breast to eat. But I can take dried fruit in my lunch instead of an energy bar. I can buy a small carton of milk at the cafeteria (granted I have to dig deep into the refrigerator display to find it). And I can pay attention to what advertisers are telling me. Good products sell themselves and don’t need the hype. When it comes to my fitness, I’m pretty sure the soft drink giants don’t have my best interests in mind.