Category Archives: Making Life Good Recommends

Canada Day

Summer is finally here in Toronto and nothing like Canada Day to show some gratitude for where we live and all the privileges we have. I’ll be making playlists with Canadian artists all week long in celebration. I’m certainly grateful that fitness is back in action having lived through 2 years of virtual shutdown. Having the option of virtual meetings is a real positive result of the past couple years. Real life meetings, human interaction is such a welcome return. July also marks my start date as a fitness professional, this year being 22 years of ‘service’ which I feel incredibly grateful for, as I love what I do has only grown in that time. Happy Canada Day!

Hour of Power- Stages Cycling

After a lot of consideration and talk, we completed the Hour of Power ride this evening at the Toronto Athletic Club. Our group had tested our functional threshold power (FTP) at a previous time and I had always wondered if that theoretical number translated to actual performance. When my FTP was calculated with a 20 min test, I felt very confident I could produce that power for an hour. When my FTP was calculated in February with an 8min test, I felt a lot less confident about my capabilities.

Armed with some very well selected tunes, we did a 15 min warmup and hit varying intervals of 95-100%, 100-105% set to the selected songs. I backed off and took a few ‘breaks’ of less than 1min here and there. Turns out I was able to complete the 60min with an average power that was 3 watts below my FTP, so that was a wonderful surprise! Our field test was a success. The ‘theoretical’ maximum power that you can ride for an hour, is a REAL thing provided that you actually push yourself during the test!

Circumstances don’t make a man, they reveal him

Circumstances don’t make a man, they reveal him. This is a quote from a Wayne Dyer that came to mind this week when discussing how to handle difficult times in life. It’s easy to make plans to guard ourselves against failure and heartbreak, but it doesn’t serve your highest good in the long term, as that strategy limits your growth and opportunities. Taking the attitude that you are being ‘tested’ by your circumstances allows more growth, learning and character building.

Dwayne the Rock Johnson also has a similar quote: When life puts you in touchy situations don’t say ‘why me’ just say ‘try me’

I laughed out loud when I saw the quote, as it takes a playful and tough attitude towards coping with situations. When we are tested we need to be better by taking the life lesson as an opportunity to learn, grow and improve.

New Year Check In

It’s Chinese New Year, more appropriately named Lunar New Year. We celebrate in our family, although not to the same extent that is celebrated in Hong Kong. With another ‘new year’ so soon after January 1, I find it is a good opportunity to check in goals for the year. A friend asked if I had any resolutions and my response was I make goals at the start of the year, preferably on a beach. It was great to receive the feedback that I am someone who accomplishes what I set out to do which got me to consider how achieving goals works for me.

More than any other practice, I believe being true to my word is of utmost importance. Saying what you mean and meaning what you say is the foundation of being able to achieve any goal. The question becomes how do you create the achievable goals? If you have not read Atomic Habits by James Clear, I highly recommend the book. One of his key points is tying your goals to your identity, which I completely agree with to my point of being true to my word is embedded in my identity. I will also add for any goal the question of what kind of person do you want to be can be layered in to help clarify the goal. For example, for the goal of being fit, it requires time and effort with exercise and food choices, however, if you like to eat pizza and booze up regularly, you are unlikely to be ready for a fitness competition. You can try your best to have it all, but most of the time you need to prioritize what is most important to you. I make it my business to be fit, and I like pizza, booze and sweets, so I accept not being all that lean and identify with being a person who enjoys food. Unreasonable expectations derail goals, as it creates disappointment and you need to feel like you CAN and WILL do it to achieve goals.

One month into the year you can take stock of how things have gone so far and see what needs improvement and adjustment. Goals can always be adjusted. Being a flexible and adaptable person makes it easier to achieve goals. There’s a lot of ‘experts’ touting magical ‘routines’ that supercharge a person to be productive and I disagree. It is not the routine, it is the commitment and holding yourself accountable to working on what you need to do. Missteps and failures happen, so you need the flexibility to get back on track. Breaking down goals into smaller, more manageable chunks is helpful. Big goals are like a test of endurance and focus, so it pays to give yourself markers along the way. Wherever you are, clarify, adjust and keep going- yes you can, yes you will!

Farewell 2021

2021 has been a year with many challenges. For those of us that are fortunate to have our health, our livelihood, family and friends, we have plenty to be grateful for. With all the different challenges any of us may have faced, I believe it served everyone well to find a way to go along with life, do our best and find some peace and contentment at any given time.

It is of more importance than ever to stay healthy and well, physically, mentally, emotionally. I’d like to share some resources that I have found to be helpful in implementing ways to be well.

All of us can benefit from a mindfulness/meditation practice. There’s many options available and the key is being consistent, even a few minutes a day makes a difference. For those that could use a bit of movement to help relieve stress and tension I highly recommend qi gong practice, which brings together gentle movement with breathing and mindfulness. Much like yoga, this type of practice is a form of self discipline for me, it’s not my favourite thing to do, but the difference it makes to my well being makes it necessary. Try any program here that catches your interest, I have tried a few myself and find it highly beneficial to well being(qi gong for better breathing is really good):

https://www.holdenqigong.com/product-category/healing-series/

I read the popular book Breath this fall and it solidified what I understood of the benefits of nose breathing. I also read The Oxygen Advantage, which has valuable information on how to apply better breathing techniques. I had trained myself to do mostly nose breathing during exercise for a number of years and encourage it for lower intensity efforts at my cycling classes. Japanese master Tak told me to use a piece of surgical tape over the lips for sleep and I told him he was crazy. I tried it a few times and finally made it a habit this year- it really makes a difference. I find I recover from hard cycling workouts quicker and I notice my breathing capacity has improved during exercise. Breathing is something that needs to come naturally, so any effort to make changes ought to be gradual and fairly easy to start.

https://www.mrjamesnestor.com/breathing-videos

Going further with nose breathing during exercise, there’s evidence to indicate that working at a lower intensity is beneficial to having your cells become more efficient at utilizing oxygen and fuel. Here’s the deep dive:

https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/the-peter-attia-drive/id1400828889?i=1000546195791

This article gives more information on this lower intensity (zone 2):

The concept is to train yourself to breathe through your nose during exercise all the way to a fairly high intensity (heart rate)- which I will need to go over in more depth and explanation at another time. This is also demonstrated regularly at my Stages cycling classes at the Toronto Athletic Club, which are also super fun!

Cheers to health and wellness for 2022!

Mental Health Check- Exercise Today

The days are getting shorter and darker here in Toronto so this is a time of year where mood can easily go down and mental health can also go downhill. For a few years now, I have advocated to be more serious about getting exercise around the holidays and mental health is one more reason to prioritize workouts this time of year. Holiday parties may not be the same this year, but exercise still needs to be done to balance festive eating. I feel very grateful that the Adelaide Club and the Toronto Athletic Club are open.

There are some sayings that indicate diet is more important than exercise such as ‘you can’t outrun a bad diet’ or ‘abs are made in the kitchen’. I like to eat what I want within reason, so I prioritize exercise and accept not having highly visible abs. At this time, exercise provides the additional benefit of elevating mood and improving mental health- go get some exercise!

I also highly recommend speaking with a mental health professional should you ever feel overwhelmed or need help to learn more coping skills for your life circumstances. Working with a therapist (Ashley Parsons) is one of the most beneficial things I have ever done to improve the quality of my life, you can find her here http://www.ashleyparsonstherapy.com

Best wishes for this festive season

Work out smarter, not harder

It’s been an awesome September being back teaching fitness and yoga classes at the Toronto Athletic Club and the Adelaide Club. I really missed teaching classes and it’s so wonderful to be back doing something I love to do. 21 years of being in fitness and I still love it!

From my perspective, leading a group class is delivering an experience in education, having studied physical education. At a cycle class, I’m teaching some exercise physiology while sweating it out with you to some awesome tunes. At yoga, we’re working on breathing, being mindful and attuning to our bodies while moving through postures. At a strength, weights or circuit style class, we are teaching 8 basic human movements: squat, lunge, hinge, plank, push, pull, rotation and reverse plank. Each instructor will have a creative way of putting you through these movements and combining them for varying amounts of effort.

We’re happy to welcome everyone to any class. At the strength, weights, or circuit classes, it is in your own best interest to gain the ability to squat, lunge, hinge, plank, push, pull, rotate and reverse plank, as it will optimize the benefit of the classes and prevent injury. If we see any difficulty in performing these basic movements, we do our best to help you learn them and when that is not possible in the class setting, we recommend that you work with a personal trainer for a few sessions. The purpose of working with a trainer is to learn these foundational movements correctly, so you develop more ideal movement patterns, which is to your benefit for improved posture, ease of movement, and improvement in body composition. Yes, you read that correctly- improvement in body composition. It was only when I doggedly persisted in improving my squat range of motion that I finally developed some abs. It took me 20 years to get an acceptable squat and it sure has been worthwhile!

Think of coming to a class as constantly practicing and improving your squat, lunge, hinge, plank, push, pull, rotation and reverse plank. That is our goal as instructors and trainers to help you work out smarter, not harder. You will naturally work harder with better form!

Why I got the SARS COV2 vaccine

I was offered an appointment for the SARS COV2 vaccine when I joined the team in March at the Adelaide Health Clinic. I have wanted to write this for some time and meditated on it until now. I know there was a level of frustration at the availability of the vaccines and I didn’t want to flaunt my privilege of receiving one earlier as a health professional. I also feel nervous about needles. I’ve become accustomed to acupuncture needles, but injections or drawing blood still has me squeamish. Without some help at the workplace, it is unlikely I would have been quick to get myself an appointment with a needle!

Like many people I was a bit cautious about the vaccines being developed and available in record time. We do not develop lasting immunity to coronaviruses, which is seen by repeat infections throughout the lifespan of the common cold. Covid 19 is as easily transmissible as a common cold with potential long term or lethal consequences where we don’t know who gets very sick, which makes a vaccine highly useful. Fortunately, I learned that these vaccines are do not offer sterilizing immunity the way the measles vaccine does, which allows us to not get measles. It seems a reasonably miraculous achievement to me, a vaccine that prevents severe illness. Here’s some further info on the immunity these vaccines offer: https://dalewharrison.substack.com/p/covid-vaccines-confer-no-sterilzing

We had a major family disagreement over the Christmas holidays when I did not press my mom to get the vaccine when she was hesitant and refusing. At the time, the vaccine was not yet available and if we weren’t going to be the first in line, I figured we could easily observe the many who wished to be first in line to get more comfortable. I didn’t know when I would get a vaccine, but had been weighing the pros and cons, coming to the decision that is was best to get the shot for the benefit of others and myself. I also felt it is my duty to do so as a health professional. I work with people and I need to take every step possible to prevent passing illness to people I interact with. Plus, I miss teaching cycle classes the most, which is a higher risk activity. See this study from Hawaii where we learn of how the illness is transmitted. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7009e1.htm Getting the vaccine is a personal choice and civic duty at the same time. It is ‘experimental’ and we live in a part of the world that has this privilege.

So what happened with the shots? I had the Pfizer vaccine first and I felt slightly woozy with slight fatigue for a day. My second shot was Moderna due to the supply being allocated for younger people and I chose to go ahead with it to comply with public health efforts. I was ill for a day with a mild fever, lightheadedness, no appetite, fatigue and transient aches- like an illness I have not experienced before, seemed like getting a controlled case of covid. At the time, I was sent some info that the mRna vaccines cause spike proteins to be stored in the uterus and ovaries, which I believe is misinformation after looking at the scientific source material. Here’s some explanation of the pathways: https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2021/01/21/mrna-vaccines-what-happens In short, the vaccine goes into your arm and circulation- through the lymph system into your armpit, then mainly liver and spleen and circulating throughout the body.

When you are ready to get the vaccine, I advise being as well rested, well slept and well rested as possible to give yourself a better response, as you are asking your immune system to do some work.

What is a Healthy Amount of Exercise?

This is a question that does not have an easy one size fits all answer. Regular exercise is necessary for health, as it maintains and improves our circulation and breathing while working our musculoskeletal system. All of our joints have an optimal range of motion and the body is very much use it or lose it in function.

Specific exercise was not necessary when we had to hunt and gather our own food. The work in chasing down an animal and gathering plants for food provided plenty of natural physical activity. We still have activities of daily living today, but that is dwindling with time spent sitting in front of a computer screen, the vast variety of prepared food and modern gadgets, as vacuuming can be done with an automated device!

I’ve been asked many times in my career how much do you exercise or you must work out every day? The answer is I make an effort to be active daily. Anywhere between 20-60 minutes of some form of physical activity daily, is my commitment. It could be a walk, weight training, yoga, running, tai chi/qi gong or a spin class. Personally, I like walking to a specific destination or walking to get food, so it is like working for the food at least a little. Find out what motivates you to take that walk, hit the weights or do a few yoga poses- making it easy for yourself to complete the task regularly will build the habit. The key is to complete any amount of activity regularly- 5-10 minutes is better than nothing. It’s important to see yourself as someone who exercises regularly to take care of themselves. For the purposes of health and longevity, light to moderate intensity exercise is enough, which is also the healthy living guidelines of traditional chinese medicine.

Of course, once we get into a regular habit of exercise and have some specific goals, it becomes possible to overdo things. Injuries or lingering pain are usually a sign of overdoing exercise in terms of your current capabilities. Pushing through is generally not a good plan, since it typically makes the injury worse. Speaking from experience, it is best to seek care sooner than later, before the injury worsens. Any activity that you are not accustomed to doing will require a bit of training. It may seem strange, but after a long period of inactivity, you will need a bit of time to adjust to even walking longer distances. The pandemic has likely left many of us myself included a bit less active and it will take some training to get back to our previous fitness levels.

In answer to the question of what is a healthy amount of exercise, I think it is safe to say some physical activity daily is ideal. The type and intensity of the activity is a different story. For health and longevity purposes, a mix of aerobic exercise, strength training and energy cultivating exercise like yoga or tai chi is ideal for optimal health and wellness.

Bay Street Shoulder

Over the years I’ve seen a few complaints of neck, shoulder and upper back discomfort. Through assessment of a person’s range of motion, a pattern appeared among accountants, lawyers, and finance professionals, many had an inability to bring their arm behind their back comfortably. I gathered the symptoms, made up a diagnosis and called it Bay Street shoulder. The purpose was to inject a little practical humour into coping with a condition that builds up over time due to posture. Being chained to a desk for an indeterminate amount of time starts to a change a person’s posture and breathing.

When we look at elderly people, many are more stooped, slower and possibly shuffle. Is that diminished posture a ‘natural’ occurrence of older age or is it habit? I would argue that habit plays a major role and there is much we can do to maintain our height and posture as we age. This requires being mindful of our daily habits and tasks then making appropriate adjustments.

A regular strength training program with a focus on the core and posture is required to stand tall for as long as possible. Regular posture breaks if you work at a desk is essential in addition to specific mobility exercises. A few easy ideas are included in the video: