Fitness Favorites: Fitbit Zip Review

For the past two days I have sat for almost eight hours straight during the very long day that is new teacher orientation. Now, normally I might not be all that aware of the fact that I’d sat on my butt so much. But ever since I started using this nifty little thing called a Fitbit Zip, I am very conscious of the fact that ever little bit of exercise and movement counts…and conversely, I am very conscious of just how bad sitting for eight hours straight is for you. (Here’s a hint: super bad!)

In an attempt to make regular exercise more of routine, and at the same time acknowledging my own tendency to go through phases, I’ve been using the Fitbit Zip (which is basically a very cool and modern pedometer) to set activity goals for myself and so far I am in love with it.

Fitbit actually has a whole line of modern, technological pedometers available, but for me the Zip was by far the best choice. It’s tiny…see??

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You can keep it in your pocket, on your waist band, or clipped to your bra. I usually opt for that last one, since I am seldom wearing anything with a waist band or pocket. It syncs with your smart phone or computer, making it super easy to access the tracked info.

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The Fitbit Zip will track your steps, mileage, calories burned (which it calculates using your BMR and activity levels throughout the day) and your active minutes (or amount of you spend above a certain energy output level). It has the ability to count calories, track weight, and maintain a more detailed exercise log as well, but I prefer to focus on the steps and mileage. You can set a goal for each category. Beyond that, it’s up to you what kind of exercise you do. You can take a leisurely stroll around the block or run like a little kid after an ice cream truck. It doesn’t really matter what you do, which I think is one of the best things about the Fitbit: it encourages you to be more active in general, which I think is a good way to make physical activity more of a life long habit and less of a phase.

Some days (like yesterday when I sat for eight hours having a panic attack about how much I have to do before school starts) I don’t get in very many steps without really trying. Other days (like on crazy busy Sundays at my restaurant job where I run around like a crazy person all day long) I exceed my goals by A LOT. 
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Because my activity level on my days working at the restaurant is unusually high and I actually have an activity level closer to that of garden gnome in my daily life, I set my goals at a moderate 8,500 steps, 3.5 miles, 10 active minutes, and a daily calorie burn of 1,700. Now, I have been exceeding these goals pretty regularly, which I think is a sign I need to bump it up soon. But either way, I find seeing that bar get closer and closer to being full highly motivating. When I was about five hundred steps short the other night I actually hopped and danced and marched and wiggled my way around my bedroom for awhile just to get there, and added a few extra active minutes to my count to boot.

If you are looking for a modern, simple, and easy way to up your physical activity levels without going crazy, I can’t recommend the Fitbit Zip enough. It’s perfect for encouraging maintainable lifestyle changes and it’s actually pretty fun to use. The price ($60) is pretty reasonable as well, and the Fitbit website has tons of useful information on setting up, using, optimizing, and troubleshoot your Fitbit.

N.B.:  I have been in no way compensated for this post. I purchased the product reviewed with my own money and my opinion is entirely my own.

Favorite Fitness Links: Yoga for Sleep

I know, I know, I’m entirely too alliterative. First Monday Musings, now Favorite Fitness. But it’s not stopping any time soon. So get used to it.

At any rate, I wanted to use this (semi) regularly occurring type of post to share some of the fitness related things I’ve been trying. Since I like to try and keep my exercise varied, there is sure to be a wide variety of things to check out! And even though I’m obsessed with it I promise that not every single link will be from Fitness Blender.

This week I want to share some nighttime yoga routines I’ve been trying. Lately my sleep habits have been AWFUL, and I’ve had a hard time falling asleep. I often find myself tossing and turning for ages before I finally doze off. Some of this, I know, is because I’ve got so much on my mind right now. So in an effort to help me relax I’ve been trying to incorporate some gentle yoga into my nighttime routine. Here are a few routines I’ve been loving:

1. Women’s Fitness Yoga for Bedtime

This routine incorporates some classic but simple yoga poses that you can do while in your pajamas. Your bed can even serve as your yoga mat.

2. Art of Living Yoga for Sleep

This article includes a few yoga poses to try before bedtime as well as some other more general suggestions for creating good sleep habits.

3. Oprah’s Yoga for Insomnia

I really like this article because it includes a guide for using one of my favorite breathing techniques, Alternate Nostril Breathing. I’ve used this technique during the day when I start to feel stressed out, and it works just as well for relaxing at night.

With any luck, keeping up with this pre bedtime yoga will have me feeling less like this

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And getting more of this

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Tips for winter running

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope everyone out there, regardless of your relationship status, feels loved in some way today and every other day of the year!

So, remember how I was pouting that Winter Storm Pax wasn’t bringing nearly as much snow as I wanted? I got my wish after all.

Here’s Apache to provide a reference of the snow depth.

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Apache is so funny. He actually LOVES snow. We frequently catch him prancing around in it for no good reason other than it’s apparently fun. I’ve tried to get it on camera, but the second I pull out my phone it’s like he gets camera shy and stops dead. Maybe someday!

Now, on to the main topic of this post: running in winter. I’ve mentioned before that I was on a hiatus from running, which used to be my favorite form of exercise. Lately, though, the running bug has come back, right in the middle of the worst season for outdoor running.

Because I categorically refuse to get my butt on a treadmill, I wanted to share some of my winter running tips so you can enjoy a safe and comfortable winter run.

1. Dress Right

Layers are your best friend when it comes to outdoor running. I like to pair a lightweight long sleeve t-shirt with a fleece pullover. My favorite is the Glacier 1/4 Zip from North Face.

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It’s got a higher neck so I don’t have to worry about wearing a scarf or other type of neck warmer, and it’s just heavy enough to keep me warm without being bulky. Get it here– there are loads of pretty colors to choose from. Pick something bright to improve your visibility to drivers!

When it comes to pants, I stick with my regular running tights or yoga pants. Nothing fancy on that front. I also prefer to use those cheap knit gloves you can find for $3 at Walmart. They layer well if necessary, and they’re so cheap I don’t have to worry about losing them.

To keep my poor toes warm I always try to wear wool socks- not only are they toasty, but the wool helps keep your feet dry if your shoes get wet (which is likely to happen.) SmartWool is my favorite place for socks, and they have tons of cute patterns. I do love cute socks 🙂

 

2. Don’t forget the accessories!

If you’re like me and your ears start to ache when it’s super cold out, earmuffs are a must. I use 180 Earmuffs similar to these:

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Another thing to remember is sunglasses! When there’s snow on the ground and sunshine in the sky, the light reflecting off the snow can be surprisingly blinding. Trust me, you’ll want some shades.

3. Adjust your speed and stride

When the roads are snow or slush covered is not the time to try and set any PRs. Slow yourself down and work on taking shorter strides to reduce the risk that you’ll slip and slide.

4. Leave the headphones at home

I almost always run with music, so I feel your pain, but running with headphones while the weather is bad is not a good idea. Listening to music can decrease your focus on your surroundings, and this is one time you want to be super aware of what’s going on. A car could be sliding out of control nearby, and you definitely want to hear that so you can get out of the way!

5. Watch for ice

I would imagine this is fairly obvious, but it’s still worth mentioning. Just because the snow is melting and the roads seem fine doesn’t mean there might not be some black ice lurking in a shady spot. Just today, most of my run looked like this

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Roads were wet, sun was bright. Not much of a safety concern. Then I got to a shady, tree lined stretch.

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It’s hard to tell from the photo, but just around this bend there was a good sized patch of black ice on the road. Luckily I only slipped a little before I got my balance, but it did completely sneak up on me. So always be on the lookout!

6. Water!

When the temperatures drop below freezing, I always have a hard time remembering to drink enough water. But that’s one thing you definitely don’t want to neglect, so make sure you drink up both before and after your run the keep dehydration at bay.

7. Take it easy on yourself

Running in cold weather has never been very easy for me. My lungs burn, my eyes water, and I alternately feel frozen and extremely hot. My times are never as fast as they are in moderate weather. And I’m okay with that. I’m always proud of myself just for making the effort and getting out there, and you should be too!

I hope this was helpful, and I’d love to hear from you all about winter running tips!

 

Drink your greens

About a month ago I mentioned the green smoothies I make, and I had planned to post my recipe- if you can call something with only four ingredients a recipe. It slipped my mind until now, though. Mostly because during the holiday season I forgot that leafy greens even existed.

So, here’s the thing. I really hate vegetables. A lot. I imagine my feelings towards vegetable are not unlike the those of the Montagues towards the Capulets. It’s that dramatic.

But I haven’t been living under a rock for the past 21 years- I know how healthy vegetables are, and all that jazz. So I’ve worked out some ways to hide my veggies, so to speak. Veggie lasagna, veggie pizza, vegetable soup, that kind of thing. And this green smoothie.

Now, there are about a zillion variations for this recipe. So I encourage you to experiment to find the version you like best. Me? I’ll stick with this incredibly simple variation.

Ingredients

-2 heaping handfuls of spinach, rinsed well

-2 heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter

-1 cup of milk (or milk substitute of your choice)

-1 banana, sliced

Throw your ingredients in the blender and blend well. Pour, drink. How easy is that?

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The banana towers are optional.

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I wasn’t kidding when I said a heaping spoonful. As a side note, I may hate vegetables but I love peanut butter. So much I buy it in bulk…

peanut butter 6I may have a problem. Just a small one.

Anyway…

It’s worth mentioning that I’ve heard a lot recently about the blending process destroying the vegetable’s nutrients. A quick Google search will leave you with conflicting information. Some experts believe that up to 80% of a vegetable’s nutrients can be lost in the blending process. Others say this is not the case and while some nutrients may be lost it is by no means the majority of them. My thoughts? I’m not an expert in the slightest, but I figure getting some leafy greens in my diet, even if they are missing some nutritional value, is better than getting none at all.

Cheers!
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Workouts I’m Loving

Like many people, I made a goal at the start of the year to amp up my exercise routine. For the past few months I’ve been bored to tears with running, my former favorite exercise, and I didn’t really know what to do with myself. As a consequence I basically had the activity level of an elderly sloth. Or a lazy cat…

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I know I feel SO MUCH BETTER when I get regular exercise though, so in addition to aiming to exercise 180 minutes a week I wanted to try some new workouts. The catch: they needed to be workouts that I could do from home. I know myself, and I know the second I have to drive to the gym for a workout it’s not going to happen. At least I recognize this shortcoming.

With a little Googling I had soon come up with over a dozen workouts that looked, dare I say it, almost fun. Over the past week or so I’ve tried out almost all of them. Some I loved. Some are probably what the Spartan army used for a warm up. Lucky for you, I’ve made a list of my top five favorites so you don’t have to die trying them all.

1. Ballet Body Sculpt 

I’ve always loved dancing, so this workout is quite enjoyable for me. The 30 minute session goes by quickly and is a good balance of effort and ease. The trainer, Jessica Smith, also has tons of other awesome workouts available on YouTube or through her site.

2. 30 Minute Abs & HIIT Cardio

I hesitated to list this as a “favorite” workout because, to be honest, I actually kind of hate it. It’s hard. And uncomfortable. But damn if it doesn’t get the job done. So I included it because it does give you an incredibly effective workout in 30 minutes. Fitness Blender’s YouTube page has dozens of other similar workouts if you need a different kind of torture.

3. 10 Minute HIIT Workout

Unlike Fitness Blender’s version, this HIIT workout from FitSugar doesn’t leave me wanting to die by the end of it. It’s intense, for sure, and will leave you sweaty, but the moves are easy to do (at least the first time) and it’s actually fun! And did I mention it’s only ten minutes?

4. 35 Minute Kick Butt Kickboxing

Ever have a day where you just really feel like punching someone? Try this awesome kickboxing workout instead! You’re less likely to be arrested and I promise you’ll feel better afterwards. It’s also a surprisingly killer upper body workout. This routine is another Jessica Smith…can you tell I’m a fan?

5. Renewing Power in Flow: Foot Balances

Some days I just don’t feel like working out, at least not in the traditional sense. That’s when I turn to yoga. I aim to do yoga at least once a week, at the site Do Yoga With Me is perfect for helping me with that goal. It has close to 100 different yoga videos for all levels of practice. I love this particular yoga practice because, like many people, I forget that balance is an important element of fitness. This hour long session leaves me feeling strong, powerful, and balanced.

Of course, there is one drawback to my exercising at home. It seems that Callie is inexplicably in love with my yoga mat. Sometimes she enjoys gleefully clawing it to shreds. Other times she’s content to form a cat loaf right in the middle of it. Do you know how hard kickboxing is when you’re trying to also avoid stepping on a fluffy ball of teeth and claws?

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Total Body Workout

I am currently writing this while lying prone on my yoga mat. Why? Because I just finished an absolutely killer workout and cannot find the energy to move.

Now, when it comes to motivation to exercise, I fluctuate wildly. Some weeks I find it in me to go for a run every single day and throw in several days of yoga practice for good measure. Other weeks my activity level rivals that of a koala. (FYI, koalas sleep between 18 and 20 hours a day.) I also have a tendency to focus too much on cardio and not enough on strength training.

That’s why I was so excited to discover PopSugar Fitness. This site has tons of quick but oh so effective workouts, ranging in focus from arms to legs to HIIT. I decided to combine three different 10 minute strength workouts and mix in some cardio intervals for 1 hour-ish total body workout. Now that I have a lot more free time (Hello, winter break!) I’m aiming to do this one 3 days a week.

You Will Need

-Yoga mat

-5 lb hand weights

-Water

-Optional: staircase or jump rope

The Workout

1. Start off with 5 minutes of intense cardio. My favorite is running up and down a flight of stairs as many times as I can. Jumping rope is another fantastic alternative. No stairs or jump rope? No problem! Mix jumping jacks, running in place, high knees, etc. for a no equipment cardio blast. Just make sure to get your heart rate up!

2. Follow this fantastic arm workout and feel the burn!

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3. 5 minute cardio interval

4. Next up is this killer ab workout. In the interest of full disclosure, it took over a week of doing this before I could do ALL the reps in the sets. Maybe I’m just a weakling, but I like to think it’s just that intense!

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5. 5 minute cardio interval

6. The  last strength section is a lower body/butt workout. I like this one a lot because it focuses on the back of your legs- glutes, hamstrings, etc. As a former frequent runner I have a lot of quad strength but often neglect the back side of my legs. Also, TIP: for the exercises that put a lot of pressure on your knees, double up your mat for extra cushioning. It makes it much easier to finish the set when your knees aren’t crying out in pain along with your muscles!

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7. 5 minute cardio interval (last one!!)

8. The exercises listed so far will take right around 50 minutes to complete. I advise you tack another ten minutes onto the workout to allow for a minute or two of recovery when you need it and some gentle stretching at the end.

Don’t be surprised if you’re a little sore the next day. These workouts may seem easy at first glance but they are anything but.

After you’re done, feel free to indulge in a delicious (I swear it taste better than it looks!) green smoothie. There are dozens of recipes out there on the internet, but I’ll post mine later if anyone is interested!

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