Safety Tips

Found this list of safety hints for women via this week’s Carnival of the Vanities. I think they’re good ones and a few of them are new to me. Unfortunately for the daily calorie burn, one of the tips is “always take the elevator, never the stairs!” It’s a good reminder to balance conflicting priorities; I loved taking the stairwell in the office where I worked, for the exercise, but if somebody had hit me over the head there’s no telling when I would have been found.
These safety tips don’t directly address a need for fitness or strength. Most are tips for good judgment. But I think making good decisions and being fit can help any person stay safe by being able to run away faster; by keeping your balance long enough to use a knee or elbow and get away; by being better able to save yourself in an accident; and by possibly being less likely to be attacked or to have certain types of accidents (falls or ankle sprains) in the first place.
I don’t know of any statistics on fit people fending off attacks, but I feel more capable and safer from being in good shape. Our neighborhood is an unpredictable one, but rather than limit my activities out of fear, I choose my routes, look around me, and walk as if I won’t be stopped. I know I’m still vulnerable, but I’m doing what I can. With regard to accidents, there have been plenty of times when I’ve come close to twisting my ankle or falling during a steep hike. In those instances I’ve been thankful for the stability, flexibility, and agility that comes from strength and balance exercises.
Unrelated to fitness, another thing that helps me feel safe on the street is the fact that I never wear shoes I can’t run in. Even when I was much younger and not as safety conscious, I could never bring myself to wear heels or open shoes of any kind. They made me feel hobbled. Sandals have to have an ankle strap; loafers have to have a sole with some grip; dress shoes have to be flexible, comfortable, and impossible to kick off.
Do you have any favorite safety tips? Do other women share my avoidance of fragile shoes?

Learning New Eating Habits

I’ve gone through phases in my attitudes toward exercise, fitness, and food. I went from blissful ignorance to a sense of dread when I saw I’d gained too much weight and couldn’t lose it. I needed to relearn how to eat. How did other people lose weight, other than by going on unrealistic diets? Small, discrete suggestions from people who’d been there were what I wished for. Eventually I found routines and meals that allowed me to get back the fitness I lost. I want to share some of the stages I went through and steps I took, in case someone else is looking for tips as I was (and always am).
I was an active kid and ate whatever I wanted, including unlimited quantities of the foods you’re supposed to have only in moderation. I was a miserable flop in gym class, never able to concentrate on organized games or remember the rules. Instead of playing sports, I climbed trees, ran sprints on the sidewalks and in the local vacant lot, skateboarded in front of the house, and rode my bike as fast and as far as I could.
In my twenties, I biked to work in summer and paid no attention to what or how much I ate. Although I noticed I was slowly gaining weight, I had no idea how to stop. Rather than make the effort to learn about nutrition or to fit more exercise into the cold months, I went into denial. I told myself I was still very active and had a long way to go before I’d have a weight problem.
By my mid-30s, I had gained 25 pounds. I had lost all of the muscle definition I’d had in my upper arms, shoulders, and thighs. I’d started a workout routine at the YMCA two years earlier and had continued to gain weight (though much more slowly). I was frustrated, but all I knew to do was to keep exercising. After all, what would I eat if my favorite, convenient, comfortable foods were off limits? I don’t cook and I don’t make detailed meal plans. Thinking ahead about the week’s meals is tedious and stressful for me, and I can’t make myself do it.
In 1999 I learned that my aunt, 30 years older than I, had osteoporosis. Because I knew I could still prevent this disease in myself, this event motivated me to change my diet. I changed one eating habit at a time, continued exercising, and finally started losing weight. I was stunned when I weighed myself after a two-week interval and discovered I’d lost five pounds. I actually asked the gym staff if their scale was out of calibration. In eight months I lost eighteen pounds and regained some of my muscle tone.
To lose the extra weight, I made the following changes one at a time, adding a new one every week or two, in approximately this order.
* Substituted sparkling water for Coke, both to cut calories and to try to protect my bones from calcium loss.
* Ate two pieces of fruit during each work day, whether I wanted them or not.
* Eliminated pizza for eight months, substituting smaller portions of Thai or Chinese food (also fattening but not as bad, either because I ate less of it or because pizza is so extremely high in calories).
* Eliminated ice cream for eight months.
* Bought small quantities of fruit home to eat each weekend and made sure I finished it all by Monday morning.
* Ordered only nonfat lattes and mochas if I wanted a coffee drink during the workday.
* Bought and installed a nutrition software program to help me count calories eaten and burned.
* Measured ingredients in my meals to make sure my calorie counts were accurate: exactly one tablespoon of mayo in the tuna salad, exactly half a cup of cereal and milk, and so on.
* Eliminated lattes and mochas completely (including nonfat) for five months after deciding to think of them as a snack choice. Instead if I wanted a snack, I’d have one handful of trail mix (nuts and dried fruit) or one ounce of smoked salmon. I kept these snacks at the office along with bottles of sparkling water.
* Reduced my consumption of peanut butter sandwiches from one a day to three a week. Substituted spicy, Asian-style frozen meals made by an organic brand.
Along with continuing to exercise at the Y every other day and to walk as much as possible, those changes to my diet were what finally tipped me toward weight loss. I never had to meticulously plan meals or cook ahead for the week; all I had to do was learn some convenient one-step meals and go easy on whatever ingredient was the most fattening. It also helped to tell myself, in a loud internal voice, that I could have the leftovers tomorrow instead of finishing the whole serving now, or that I could come back to the restaurant for dessert another time if I still wanted to.
What are the most useful changes you’ve made while building healthier routines into your life?

FitNotes’ Mission

Many choices and habits, some harder than others, add up to physical fitness. These choices require daily effort and attention, and even some creative thinking. Together they add up to a process that never ends—and that’s good. Talking with others about this process, and about the rewards of being in shape, helps me maintain better habits.
I want to use FitNotes to learn, and to help others learn, by talking to each other about how to get fit and stay fit through exercise and reasonably healthy eating. I’ll share my experience and my reading in short, upbeat articles, to let readers know why I think that if I lost weight and got in shape, you can too. I hope you’ll leave comments and send email that will spark conversations and allow us to learn from each other.
Some topics I plan to write about in weekly columns: enjoying exercise for its own sake; being proud of meeting small and large exercise goals; how exercise improves mood and attitude; building muscle without a gym membership; pros and cons of calorie counting; meals that are healthy and convenient; and more.
I’ll also list links to other websites that seem to offer high-quality help and information, whether free or commercial. Please let me know if you find any good fitness weblogs or sites.
Disclaimer: I’m not a healthcare professional; I offer personal experience, reading, and opinions as a basis for columns and discussions. Nothing I write should be taken for medical advice. See your doctor before starting any new exercise program or diet.