Posts Tagged ‘exercise’

Why do I work like this?

In May 2016 on May 4, 2016 at 1:18 pm


Sarah: Last week I ran a marathon and juggled burning batons.

Not literally in my running shoes plus fuel and matches of course, but it felt just as massive.

I had taken on a huge writing job for a new client, and it coincided with the second week of school holidays during which I had previously scheduled multiple allied health appointments for me and my kids.

Looking back, I’m amazed it actually got done. With early wake-ups and late nights and very high levels of screens and ignoring healthy cooking and being cranky with my children and pet, somehow it happened. A typical day looked like this:

5.30am –> awake and sitting at computer

7.30am –> love and breakfast for kids

8am –> load of washing on, then walk dog

8.30am –> more work for me, kids play and fight and play

10am –> hang out washing, dash to dentist

12pm –> buy and eat sushi for lunch, play at the park on the way home

1pm –> more work for me, kids on screens

3pm –> yell at kids to get off screens and do something active, they walk dog

4pm –> hair appointments

5pm –> more work for me, kids on screens with intermittent yelling

6pm –> take kids and dog to the local oval for a run and kick of the ball

7pm –> OMG what is for dinner?

8pm –> more work (husband cleans kitchen, plays with kids, gets them into bed)

10pm –> yes, still working

11pm –> suppose I’d better sleep

Why do I do this to myself? Why not just say no to the client, or delay the work, or opt for a simpler life with more sleep and lower income?

I love being busy and am at my most efficient and effective when I have a lot on. But every now and again I wonder if this is not the best way to operate. Things would be a lot simpler if I got a fixed job, walked away from the house to a set office, used more Out of Hours School Care and babysitters, ate takeaway and threw the clothes in the drier every day.

But then yesterday — as I took a deep breath and hid in the laundry and actually found pairs of matching clean socks — I listened to Radio National’s Life Matters program. In this episode, guests of host Cassie McCullagh were Professor Ross Anderson and Associate Professor Susan Bartlett of McGill University in Montreal. Speaking on the risks of heart disease and joint problems, Professor Anderson said:

Individuals who sit for prolonged periods of time, without interruption, are at greater risk.

A lot of Australians commute to work passively, in a car.

Most of us sit behind a desk or at a computer for the entire morning, and in many cases we don’t get up to take a break.

We sit at the cafeteria eating lunch passively, and then we go back to work and back home in our cars.

This is not the way I work. I suppose that’s good.

I also wonder if I would be as efficient if I knew I had endless hours in each day to dedicate to my writing tasks. Even today, when deadlines are less pressing, I can feel myself drifting off, thinking too much, checking out clothing online, seeing what everyone’s up to on Facebook.

Snatched windows of time in-between physical tasks forces me to focus and deliver. And it helps me lose my inner smart-arse.

Now excuse me, the dog needs a run. And so do I.

PS. I’ve written previously about the need to sit less in several posts: Sitting and standing, Making a stand, and The walking meeting

[image thanks to Ky:]


Adventures in winter

In August 2015 on August 10, 2015 at 2:47 pm

adventure web

Sarah: It can be tough to get through winter with your body and mind in good shape.

Dark mornings, wind and rain, layers of clothing and too much calorie-laden food usually conspire to dampen my mood over Australia’s June, July and August.

But this year I’m finding it easier.

I’ve become adventurous, and joined a trail running group.

Every Wednesday I’m taken on a guided tour of sorts through Adelaide’s hills and dales. There’s a bit of jogging, but not always. We climb up rocks, we scale slippery slopes, we balance over logs and streams. We see kangaroos and small marsupials, we hear birds and we enjoy spectacular views over our city.

Now I’m getting more confident, I’m starting to hit the trails on my own when I have spare time. I feel like a kid, brave and strong.

I snap photos, I look around, I take my time. If I want company, I rely on my favourite podcasters to natter away in my ear (RadioLab, So You Want To Be a Writer, and Science Vs most of the time ).

Winter’s not so bad with adventures.

adventure path 2

adventure path

adventure city

Stand on your hands!

In March 2015 on March 2, 2015 at 10:56 am

kirsti Handstand 6Feb border

Kirsti: It’s the end of #handstandfebruary, didn’t you know?!

I enthusiastically joined Sonja Dominik for my inaugural handstand February in 2014.

Kirsti Handstand with Sonja 17Feb border

Now having just completed my second year, I suspect it will be an annual event in our household. Handstands are fun, often challenging, and who doesn’t want to improve their upper body strength? I’ve been doing them since I was 4, so there is no reason to stop now.

An unexpected benefit of daily handstands for me this year has been the improvement in my posture. Being conscious of my posture on a daily basis helps me to make frequent adjustments to align my body.

On a very simple level, standing up straight with my shoulders relaxed but aligned feels good, because my shoulders are often sore from so much handstanding!

It’s also because I am conscious of my body alignment when handstanding regularly; I think about my balance and alignment when grounded on my feet as well as on my hands.

But it also helps I came across this cool site that details ALL the muscles involved in doing a handstand, and shows progressions to the most awesome and complicated dream-on-dare-I-try-it handstands! It further lead me to make micro-corrections to my alignment and posture, and helped me stay vertical on my hands just like I do on my feet every day.

Biomechanics in sport is an important part of improving physical performance in competition. It involves analysing aspects of body movement like stillness (inertia), kinetics, velocity, rotation, acceleration, torque and muscle coordination.

I’ve blogged about rediscovering gymnastics, and the physical and cognitive benefits it will have for me into old age. But I’d be fairly willing to say now that just a handstand a day might keep the physio away!

Kirsti Handstand 5Feb border

Not so happy feet

In February 2015 on February 9, 2015 at 2:21 pm


Sarah: A recent birthday notwithstanding, I officially know I’m getting old: my feet are giving me merry hell.

Around the start of December, a stabbing pain showed up in my right heel. Not all the time, mind. First thing in the morning, after a stint sitting on the couch, other times here and there. Walking barefoot…..agony.

After a good 6 months of managing a running injury last year, I was a little scared. Did I need to stop? Strangely enough though, it never hurt me when exercising.

Attending a follow-up appointment at my podiatrist, I mentioned it to her. She asked what had changed in December – different exercise? New injury? No, and no, I answered, feeling confused.

She smiled knowingly, and explained the likely cause. Plantar fasciitis. Why? Tight calf muscles — not enough stretching after exercise, resulting in upward pulling and inflammation of the foot structures via my achilles tendon — and too much wearing of flippy floppy flat summer shoes.

So if you see me in a pair of those nice supportive wide and slightly elevated granny shoes, and pushing up against a wall with my right leg extended behind me, you’ll know why. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

[photo thanks to Janis Petranis on flickr]

Rediscovering gymnastics

In November 2014 on November 14, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Kirsti Gymnast

Kirsti: Recently I competed in a veterans gymnastics competition (and secured a gold medal, might I add! – Sarah).

I’m 39, and I was the oldest in my age category (31-40 years). With moral support provided by a 42-year old fellow competitor and friend, I was amazed to arrive and then meet the oldest competitor, a man of 71 years! This fellow was still doing some impressive tumbling and vaulting, a result of his training in his garage in the Flinders Ranges (far from any organised gymnastics venue).

It was a fascinating weekend. For one thing, I discovered that at least six of us 30 competitors were scientists! I also learnt that the origin of the word for gymnastics is the same as that of gymnosperms (conifers and pines that have naked seeds). ‘Gymnos’ in ancient Greek means ‘naked’. The men of those times trained and competed in gymnastic exercise completely naked. They believed that coordination of the mind and body was enhanced by physical development. Gymnastics was as important in their education as music and art.

At this point I might add that whilst my friend and I did not take the ultimate step in clothing removal for our competition, we did strip down to bare bones (see a sample of our outfits by clicking here).

Most people these days regard gymnastics as something only young people do. This is partly with good reason – sports scientists agree that gymnastics is hard! In fact, it has recently been listed as the hardest sport in the world! It demands skill and agility, but also physical strength, flexibility, power, coordination, grace, balance and control of your body. It requires and develops good vestibular and proprioception sensing, two senses that are frequently forgotten beyond the early years of life.

This Sports Science video analysing the balance, spatial awareness and speed of gymnasts at a recent competition gives you an idea of the complexities involved in high level gymnastics. The accuracy and precision displayed by these women in the execution of their routines is astounding. Enviable!

I didn’t quite get this fancy when I competed. But whilst training it became clear that I had retained a substantial amount of technique and muscle memory from my childhood and early adult gymnastics and dancing careers. The neural pathways were still there! I realised that to start from scratch in gymnastics as an adult must be daunting and very intimidating.

I’m grateful to gymnastics for giving me an awareness of my body – of the biomechanics of my core and limbs – that will hopefully persist into old age.

I know that as I get on in years my muscle fibres will decrease in number and size, and new muscle fibres will be generated at a slower rate than when I was a teen. But I fully intend to reap the physical and cognitive benefits of gymnastics. With persistence and continuous exercise, I plan to continue gymnastics into my 60’s. It’ll be fun, a challenge and might even have an impact on my life expectancy.

More gym, for longer. Sounds good to me.

[image thanks to uwoshkosh on flickr]

My GPS is ripping me off

In May 2014 on May 16, 2014 at 1:03 pm


Sarah: Today’s Google doodle is of 18th century mathematician and philosopher Maria Gaetana Agnesi.

Quite a coincidence really, as this morning I’ve had maths on my mind.

“No, please no! Not maths!”

I hear some of you scream (through the magic of the internet).

But wait…wait! I shall explain.

I’m recovering from an ankle injury, and so went for a gentle run this morning and included 10 ‘grandstands’ in my workout. Grandstands are quite simply trips up and down a staircase for the purpose of getting one’s heart-rate elevated and adding a bit of extra challenge for the big muscles in the back of the legs (ie arse and hamstrings). Luckily there is a beautiful old grandstand adjacent to an oval in my suburb, and so off I went.

Because I like to keep track of my progress, I use an App called Runkeeper to record my runs. It uses the GPS in my phone to monitor where I go, and reports on time and pace as well.

This all works swimmingly when I run on a flat surface.

However I was less than happy to see that when I started heading upstairs for the grandstands, I was being ripped off. The distance I was travelling per grandstand was not appearing in my running record. And it’s because of maths.

Here’s where I need to refer to my diagram shown above. Imagine these are the stairs I use to exercise; I have overlaid a triangle to make my point.

True for all triangles, there are 3 sides and 3 angles. In this particular example, it is a right angled triangle (shown at bottom right). Now, if you recall your high school maths you’ll know that the side of the triangle opposite the right angle (known as the hypotenuse) is the longest side of the triangle – shown here as a yellow line. This is the distance I travel when I go up and down the stairs.

But Runkeeper – or more specifically my GPS – can’t see the hypotenuse. Because the satellite floating above Earth that monitors the position of my phone is looking straight down, it can only see the bottom side of the triangle, the red line. Which is shorter than the hypotenuse! Which is why I am being ripped off in my records!

Could someone who cares about my self-esteem and bragging rights please rectify that?

(image thanks to Eric Sanchez on flickr)


Body crisis

In October 2013 on October 24, 2013 at 12:26 pm


Sarah: I was crazy enough to think that I could be a runner without looking after the rest of my body.

Yeah, I can run long distances.

Yeah, I’m fit.

Yeah, I don’t have time to swim or do sit-ups.

A couple of months ago, a niggling achilles tendon sent me to the physiotherapist. I visited a most excellent woman about my age, also a runner (and a very good one at that), and a renowned expert on core and pelvic strength (the kind that gets messed with in pregnancy and childbirth).

Not surprisingly, she told me my right achilles was inflamed. That made sense. Also, my quadriceps muscles (those ones at the front of your leg) were strong and well-developed from my running.

Hell, yeah, I’m a runner.

But pretty much the rest of my body was screwed. Abdominal strength, terrible. Butt muscles, pathetic. Hamstrings, tight and inflexible.


Also, my shoes were wrong and I needed moulded shoe inserts to support my insteps.


So now with the advice of the physiotherapist as well as a podiatrist, I’ve modified my fitness program. In full earnest, I’m applying Kirsti’s approach:

Repetition rapidly reinforces specific neural pathways.”

Everything I do needs to pull in and reinforce the use of specific muscles and their associated nerve pathways.

Swimming, with deliberate and conscious use of rear leg and abdominal muscles.

Gym classes with squats, lunges and abdominal strength exercises in front of a mirror to provide visual feedback on alignment.

Cycling classes with focus on using core strength, and pushing and pulling the pedal around its circuit.

Mate, I’m concentrating on exercise more that I ever have. It’s exhausting!

But the theory goes that if I think and recruit specific muscles into activation on a repetitive basis, soon they’ll be used automatically for all my activities.

And that means better fitness and form, all over.

[image thanks to here].

Day 293. Walking and running

In June 2013 on June 1, 2013 at 9:59 pm


Walking is very good for you.

Running is very good for you, and facilitates weight loss.

Too much running may damage your cardiovascular system.

Three very broad statements I’ve extracted from my reading today.

I’ll explain a little.

Gretchen Reynolds over at New York Times wrote a piece this past week summarising recent studies of walking versus running in terms of health benefits.

Her two main conclusions are as follows:

  • Running beats walking in terms of losing weight – possibly via an effect on appetite control;
  • In walkers and runners matched according to energy expenditure, walkers had more benefit to cardiovascular health.

Moving to the more extreme end of exercise, Kevin Helliker at the Wall Street Journal recently addressed the impact of endurance running on health.

Kevin writes of a slight shift in evidence relating to hard-core running, the kind you’d do to prepare for an Iron-Man competition:

“That extra six years of longevity running has been shown to confer? That benefit may disappear beyond 30 miles of running a week, suggest recent research.”

“The improved blood pressure, cholesterol levels and robust cardiac health that exercise has been proven to bestow? Among extreme exercisers, those blessings may be offset partially by an increased vulnerability to atrial fibrillation and coronary-artery plaque, suggest other recent studies.”

This weekend I’m going to walk and run a few kilometres. Not an excessive amount, an enjoyable amount.

[image thanks to sophiea on flickr]

Day 35. Skink

In September 2012 on September 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Having forgotten to register for the City to Bay (yes, really!), this morning my son and I went to a run/bike ride along the River Torrens.

Hiding in a stretch of railways sleepers we spotted a number of large scurrying skinks. After a bit of research (see Lizards of the Mount Lofty Ranges from nature photography website Andy Down Under), we’ve identified them as White’s Skink (Liopholis whitii). While listed on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, in South Australia it is abundant and not threatened due to its capacity to live in a variety of habitats.

According to the 9-year old, our next task is to catch one. Think we’ll need to progress to speed training for that to be a success.

[photo taken from Lizards of the Mount Lofty Ranges]