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The Girlfriend's Guide to Health will be updated every Tuesday.... Stay tuned dear readers and let me rock your world.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

And the Beat Goes On

Last week, my girlfriends marked a milestone in my fitness. I have hired a running coach.

As my sisters know- I am a fan of fitness. I believe we should all invest in our bodies and our health in order to plan for our futures.  I have built a life and a career around mindful eating and better living.

But in preparation for the New York Marathon (pray for me my sisters) I have enlisted professional help.

Why shouldn’t I have a running coach? After all I do have a variety of “go to” people in my life who aid and assist in my lifelong pursuits.

I have my shoe guy who always keeps my foot interests in mind. I have my drycleaner who meets all my cleaning needs. I have my fabulous Antonio who keeps my hair looking its best.

There is my trainer, Mike who has forced me to do push-ups on surfaces the world over.

I am a firm believer my girlfriends in having people in your life who make you want to strive for the best in life.

I was not an athletic child. In fact I was the exact opposite of an athletic child. I rarely found myself in a sports setting. Now as an adult, I would argue that my aversion to group sports stems form my lack of athletics as a child.

I will take you back to 1977. The time was baseball season and the place was a ball diamond in the North End of Winnipeg. My mother insisted that I play little league and the coach stuck me out in centre field. Needless to say my girlfriends I was not a fan of being put in the middle of a field during mosquito season and asked to catch any potential balls that a 6 year old might hit out into centre field. 
Heads up, girlfriends, we were 6 years old. No one was hitting a ball anywhere past 2nd base. Hell, I could have played with my Barbies in centre field and the game would not have been affected.

And so I did what any nonathletic girl at age would have done in order to remedy the situation. I peed my pants. Yes my sisters…. I confess it here. I wet myself at age 6 in a field in Winnipeg in the name of true sportsmanship. Twenty minutes later- like clockwork, I found myself in a warm bath- hair washed and playing with some fabulous bathtub toys.

My how times have changed. Although I am still not a fan of group sports…. I can exert enough bladder control to make it through a spin class. And now I found myself taking instruction from a running coach, called Kristina. 

Kristina is pretty fabulous, but safe to say she does scare me a little bit. Kristina is as fit as an Olympic athlete. I short she is built like a brick shit house. Now let’s be clear my sisters- I am not usually intimidated by people in general- but Kris is pretty intimidating. That being said- she is very encouraging and I am quite confident that she will get me to my marathon on time….

Enter the concept of heart rate training. Kris has suggested that I buy a heart rate monitor and train within certain heart rates.

Ever a fan of shopping, I went on a search for the perfect heart rate monitor. Make no mistake my sisters- Wearing a strap under my breasts does nothing for a girl who has no bragging rights in that department- but as I’ve always reasoned- God does divide. What I lack in chest I make up for in stunning personality.

And so I found my perfect heart rate monitor and yes, I strapped it on for my running- ever eager to learn a little more about my own physiology.

It turns out this weekend was the perfect classroom for my new heart rate training. For on Sunday, my girlfriends, I ran the Scotiabank half marathon. Yes, sister- strike up the band and cue music…. Another 21.1 km under my belt and a medal at the finish line….

Let me take you through my heart rate journey one kilometer at a time….
 Starting line- I was pretty excited and despite the fact that my coffee shop was closed this morning and I could not have my usual fix- my heart rate was indeed 90 beats per min (BPM)

First 5 kilometres of the race- I was in a really good place- feeling quite happy and loving the air and the run- almost like an athlete if you will- my heart rate was a solid 130-140.

From kilometre 5-15 my average heart rate was 145-156. I blame this on a few hills and an overall sense of competitiveness. There was a woman ahead of me who insisted on running RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME and it pissed me off. I had to pass and keep the pace. My heart rate and my aggravation level was higher than expected. 

For the last 6 kilometres, I was all over the map. Much of the race was downhill but by kilometre 1- I was in need of a shower, a latte and a nap. I glanced at my watch a few times to notice my ticker was beating steady at 158. 

My last kilometre was where I pulled out all the stops and made a sprint for the finish. My heart rate was 170 BPM and yes, I felt like a superhero. 

Having ran my first race with a heart rate monitor and having a future plan to train for the NYC marathon with said monitor I wondered if all this monitoring really was indeed good for me? Was there something to be said for a heart rate monitor or was it just another excuse for me to buy a watch? 

SO like any good diva/scientist I did some research on this whole heart rate training thing. It turns out, heart rate training can be an excellent way to increase one’s fitness in long endurance sports. It does, however, have some limitations. 

According to an article published in Sports medicine in 2004 by Halston et al, heart rates can differ from one day to another and can be affected by a number of factors.

Heart rate can have a natural biological variation from one day to another by up to 2-4 beats per minute.
Dehydration can increase a person’s heart rate by as much as 7-8%.
Heat and humidity can increase heart rate by as much as 10 beats per minute and altitude can increase heart rate by 10-20% even with acclimatization.

A small scale trial in the Journal of Sports Medicine in 2011 showed that heart rate training was as effective in improving fitness levels in cyclists as was a fancier power training method.

The study randomized 20 people (11 men and 9 women) to interval training and fitness testing using heart rate training, power monitors or nothing. Each group was given heart rate monitors, power monitors or nothing. At the start of the study all participants completed a 20 km time trial like test. Their Vo2 max (fitness levels) during this test. They then underwent a 5-week program. The heart rate training group had a program geared towards their heart rate prescriptions. The power training groups had a similar prescription and the control group was just given a usual training plan. At the end each group had their VO2 max (a measure of their fitness level) measured and compared to their initial VO2 max at the start of the trial.

The study showed an average 10% increase in VO2 max in the heart rate and power training groups and no change in the control group. It turns out that heart rate training does, after all mean more than just another accessory and a chest strap to reminds me how small my girls are… who knew?

And so my girlfriends another week ends, a triumphant one in fact. It was my first half marathon in some time- after a long injury and a look at my road ahead (no pun intended).

I started the week with a plan for greatness and a new watch and a chest strap. I ended the week with a new half marathon medal and a sense of where I am going in my fitness goals. After all my girlfriends- isn’t a life plan and a new set of accessories what the world is all about? I think so. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Smile with Style

Oh my girlfriends I do believe sisterhood is alive and well…. And not just in the cyberworld. For just last week on a flight back from Toronto to Vanlover I experience the power of the Swarovski ties that bind.

There I was on the airplane, dressed of course in my flying best with the perfect accessory- my sunny demeanor and my Alan Anderson necklace.

Side bar, my girlfriends…. this accessory really IS all that and a bag of fabulous. A bib of vintage Swarovski crystals in candy coloured hues that really does complete me. Yes I am a shallow cow but I bought the piece at a trunk show in celebration for finishing my first draft of my book. (insert judgement here).

Incidentally I have been using that excuse- the finishing of my first draft of my book for a variety of purchases lately. Once the book does hit shelves in December/January (stay tuned my girlfriends…) I will need to find another reason to pad my wardrobe.

Back to my plane ride. There I was a lowly traveler boarding the flight when one of the lovely (yes she was) flight attendants stopped me to admire my Necklace.

“Oh that is fabulous” she gushed. She was really sweet and of course her taste was impeccable.
“Thank you”, I smiled.
“Where did you get that?” She asked.
I went on to explain to her that Alan Anderson was a Toronto based jeweler who has  a talent for all things girlie that is beyond amazing.

“It’s fabulous, just fabulous” she mused.
And then I did something that of course would be considered a bit odd and a bit unconventional- but hey my girlfriends I do gotta be me….. I took off the necklace and asked Lisa, the lovely flight attendant if she would like to try it on.

Lisa obliged and like a giddy school girl put on my Alan Anderson Necklace and proceeded to head for the nearest Lavatory (equipped with smoke detectors for your safety) to get a glimpse of her new perfect pimped out self.

Now say what you must about Air Canada, my girlfriends- we all have our faults- I know there is a little more apathy at 35000 feet these days. But on that one occasion in this moment with flight attendant and necklace, I do believe I broke the sound barrier of sorts. For there we were just a couple of girls playing dress up in a Boeing 747 and  for but a moment, this moment- this tin can really was a flight of fancy.

It’s not always how it goes these days, my sister. Lately we have such busy lives with so much to do that we forget the small intimacies of the human connection.

Sure it was a bit nutty to have a perfect stranger parade around a plane wearing my fabulous family jewels – but I do believe it made her day. And if ever I doubted it, when she handed me back the necklace a few moments later she confirmed this very fact.

“Thanks so much,” smiled Lisa, “you made my day”.

It was this little unconventional act of kindness that really did take flight that day my girlfriends and I do believe there will be many more to come in the future.

Lisa and I shared a moment there- while boarding flight 223 for Vancouver and I must say, I spent the next 5 hours feeling a glow of goodness.

I could not help but wonder what said random acts of kindness really do for the spirit?

According to the world renowned Behavioural Psychologist, Dr. Shaun Achor, random acts of kindness really do have an effect on our overall well being. Studies out of Achor’s Harvard lab show that such events increase the dopamine receptors in the brain.

Dopamine, my sisters- is the neurological equivalent of the little black dress- you can not function well without and it is the key to overall well being. In science speak- Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects memory, cognition and happiness.

According to a study published in the Journal of Aging Health in April, 2012 there is something to be said for interpersonal interactions impacting a woman’s overall well-being.

The study looked at various aspects of social supports in men and women and their impact on depressive symptoms. The study sample was 6,767 middle aged men and women. The researchers subjected all study members to a series of questionnaires regarding their mental well being.

The study showed that women in particular who received emotional support from “non-kin” (non-family) members had the lowest rates of depressive symptoms. The same could not be said in men, interestingly enough.

This “non-kin” emotional support was found to be most effective when it was given in both brief encounters and through long term relationships. In other words. Women who received emotional support from acquaintances as well as long term friends had lower rates of depressive symptoms. Emotional support in this study was defined as personal interactions, conversations as well as in depth emotional connections.

Did my new found sisters on the plane help me in my pursuit of happiness? According to this study… hell yeah.

I’m not so sure these brief interactions ward off the blues but I do suspect that people who interact in the world around them and make daily connections with many other individuals do in fact feel better in this world. Although this study is not the perfect proof of this- I suspect it’s a great place to start….

There you have it my girlfriends- one woman’s necklace is another one’s smile. And thus another week begins and ends with confirmation of the eternal saying,

“Good Style opens all doors”

Go forth my sisters and spread the joy – this world can always use another good accessory. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Walk in Time

Yo Girlfriends! Excuse me if I sound rather urban, but here I sit in the city of Philadelphia learning about American history and Diabetes! A quick brush up on my Latin, has in fact revealed that Philadelphia really does mean “brotherly love”.  Allow me break it down for you my sisters:
Delphi= brother
ia= city

There you have it.

Don’t get me started on how the founding fathers had no concept of equal opportunities. As for sisterly love? Let’s just say…. We don’t really need a city do we?

As for the purpose of my visit? I was here to attend the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association and have a little American History lesson on the side….

The weekend proved to be a very educational one, my girlfriends. Firstly let me say that, as a city- Philadelphia is quite lovely. The architecture is something to be seen. Colonial fabulous mingles with the everyday and the art world is alive and well and taking hold at every turn.

The streets really are paved with statues and art installations. This of course made up for the fact that I did have to maneuver my way along 300-year-old cobblestones… in 4-inch heels… at night…. With a cocktail on board. Having to stop periodically to admire a large artistic statue of chess pieces or the iconic “L-O-V-E” sign more than made up for the fact that at times I was, in the name of fashion, running an urban gauntlet.

In fact, my girlfriends, there was much more to Philly than just the art and the cobblestones…. The city is of course the birthplace of America. According to my taxi driver- Ken Schwartz, Pennsylvania was in the middle of what was know in the 1700’s as the “keystone states”. There were 3 states to the north and three to the south with Pennsylvania in the centre. The north and the south would of course meet in Philadelphia to plan out the future of what would be known as America.

The founding fathers (again with the boys) met in Philly in 1776 to plan out and write the declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Incidentally both documents are still housed in Independence hall in the historical section of the city.

Yes my sisters- on Friday evening, on the way home from dinner, I did take a stroll on a warm summer night through the historical quarter. I stood outside the liberty bell (did you know it has a crack in it?) and took in the history.

I walked and I walked- through he streets where Jefferson and Lincoln and Washington had all walked. They with a hope and a dream- me with four inch stilettos and a fabulous Charlotte Olympia handbag to mark the occasion. And yes, in the name of brotherly love- I understood what they were all about- freedom and possibility.

The next day of course was ALL about the conference (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). In the early morning my beloved and I walked to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where I ran up the iconic steps featured in the movie Rocky. After a few jumps in the air and a pause for a picture I relished in the superhero moment. We toured to museum- saw some kick ass art and headed back to the hotel, where I changed and headed out to embrace my doctor side.

On Saturday afternoon- fresh in the glow of my historical and artistic awakening I sat through a talk on diabetes and exercise.

The speaker, Dr. Wolf from the University of Virginia waxed fantastic about our current state of affairs.

Twenty six million Americans have Type 2 Diabetes. According to the CDC 70% of these cases would easily be prevented with proper diet and exercise.

An iconic study published in 2003- known as the Finnish Diabetes Prevention trial shows that regular moderate exercise 5 days a week or more at 45 minute intervals reduced a persons risk of developing diabetes by as much as 58%.

Research abounds about the benefits of regular exercise in preventing Type 2 Diabetes. Dr. Wolf showed study upon study about how just 60-90 minutes per day of walking can reduce the risk of developing Diabetes by as much as 50%.

Further data from Dr. Caly’s lab at Berkeley University has shown that getting up periodically during a workday and walking around for 5 minutes at a time significantly improves a person’s insulin sensitivity- both with and without diabetes.

I could go on my girlfriends… the talk was after all 90 minutes…. The evidence for this week’s blog is essentially hot off the presses. I give you second hand news of a first hand account. I sat in the lecture hall mesmerized and enthused by these captain of industry- giants in the world of Diabetes who presented study upon study showing that in both mice and men- movement is the key to a better life.

As one speaker put it so eloquently- “Death is sedentary disease”.

And so, I took the advice of the giants of my field and after sitting in the conference for almost 2 hours- I did what I was told… I went for walk.

I walked for my health and my happiness. I cruised down JFK Boulevard and through the market district. I passed the cars and the people with their promises of cheese steaks and I kept on walking…. Thought the streets of Philadelphia. Where Washington began and Springsteen put it all to music. Where history had a way of making every person feel connected and where a Canadian dreamer with a great pair of heels has a chance, for but a moment to be a part of something perfect…. Even if my heels get caught in the cobblestones.