Two news stories about kids and nutrition have caught my eye recently.
The first article reported the findings of a Yale University study in which it was discovered that children found snack foods with pictures of popular cartoon characters on the front of the package tastier than the same foods packaged without the characters. Obviously, Shrek, Dora, and their pals have a powerful influence over kids that extends beyond their television choices, and the results of this study are hardly surprising. Unfortunately, most of these character images appear on junk food and not on healthier choices, making it difficult for parents to encourage good nutritional choices.
The second article told of a possible lawsuit against McDonald’s on behalf of a consumer-advocacy group. The group is charging that McDonald’s deceptively markets toys to children via its Happy Meals, which leads to kids nag their parents to take them to McDonald’s, where the food is less-than-healthy.
I’ve written here before about my strong dislike of the garbage food available to kids in restaurants and school cafeterias.
But I’m torn regarding my feelings about the study and the lawsuit. I believe that ultimately parents have the most influence over what their children do and don’t eat. Children cannot drive themselves to fast-food restaurants, and they can’t pay for their meals. Kelloggs, Nabisco, and other food-industry giants are in the business of marketing and selling their products. We make the choices over what we buy for ourselves and our families and what we don’t.
But I also find more than a little disturbing expensive marketing campaigns blitzing children with alluring messages that use their favorite characters to entice them to buy something that’s not good for them. Kids should be able to watch television or play a game on the Internet without being bombarded with food ads whose intent they don’t understand.
And do the majority of consumers know what’s really in their food, or understand how to read a food label? I haven’t been inside a McDonald’s in over 10 years because I know how unhealthy their food is, but even I was surprised (not to mention disgusted) to read this week that Chicken McNuggets (incidentally, the main course in one of only two ”healthier” Happy Meals that McDonald’s pledged to advertise to children younger than 12) actually contain an “anti-foaming agent” found in Silly Putty. Interestingly, Chicken McNuggets in the UK do not contain this delicious-sounding chemical.
Do you think it’s parents or the food industry (or both) who shoulder the responsibility for the childhood obesity epidemic and related health problem crisis we have in this country?
Is the pending lawsuit against McDonald’s a frivolous waste of court time, or is it an important step toward corporate accountability?
On June 12th, I ran “The Fast and the Furriest” 10K to benefit the Verona Street Animal Society in Rochester. I took more than three minutes off my time from the Lilac 10K back in May, and ended up with a PR (personal record) of 50:31.
The very next day, I could not run at all.
I had experienced a lingering pain along the inside of the upper thigh of my left leg for a week previous to the race. It never bothered me while I ran, but it would hurt after my runs. I finished the race and felt fine, but later that day the sharp pains would hit with virtually every step. Walking up stairs was exceptionally painful.
The next morning, I foolishly got up at 6am, laced up my sneakers, strapped on my ancient Shuffle and set out to run. I didn’t get very far before I had to stop. In the light drizzle of a cool Sunday morning – weather that would have been perfect for the seven-miler I was planning – I had to stop and limp back home instead.
The next morning, I headed to Midtown, tracked down the club’s unofficial trainer for runners, Bruce Hedlund, and asked for his advice and help. I was in full-on panic mode, terrified that I would lose to this injury my training progress, pace, and leg strength that I had been working so hard for during the last four months.
He talked me down from the ledge by assuring me that I had plenty of time before the half-marathon, and told me I should cross-train instead until I felt better. He set me up on the Arc Trainer (who knew there were cardio machines at the club besides treadmills?), and said he would introduce me to the magic of the foam roller later in the week when my injury wasn’t as acute.
Two days later, Bruce showed me a bunch of exercises similar to these that I could use to speed up my recovery. Bruce said the foam roller is the runner’s best friend, so if you run, I would highly recommend you check them out because the exercises helped me quite a bit.
After eight days of cross-training and no running, I did my first treadmill run on Tuesday and another yesterday. I am off pace and running shorter distances than my half-marathon training plan dictates, because I am hesitant to push myself this week.
But after wallowing in self-pity and experiencing daily panic attacks brought on by the belief that I would never run again and that my half-marathon dreams were over, I am running again.
I know that injuries are part of training. A marathoner friend recently told me that runners are always a single step ahead of an injury, and now I know that’s true. Training for the half-marathon has become a part-time job of sorts for me: I have to get my miles in, I have to do my intervals, I have to stay healthy. And with the relative insanity of balancing training along with my work, caring for three children under the age of four, and ensuring the health department doesn’t condemn my house for unsuitable living conditions, for a brief moment I thought that a break from the rigors of training would be welcome.
But it wasn’t. I hated each and every day I was off the road or the treadmill.
On Saturday night, I watched Spirit of the Marathon for the first time. Admittedly, watching this movie while injured was not the wisest choice I’ve ever made. I was a blubbering mess through most of it. But while I was sobbing quietly in the dark and hoping my sleeping husband wouldn’t hear me, I was watching some of the most incredible stories of perseverance and triumph over adversity I’ve ever seen.
Most of the runners profiled were “ordinary people.” While two were superstar professional athletes, the others in training for the Chicago Marathon included a 30-something single mother, a 26-year-old PhD student, and a 70-year-old man who ran his first marathon at age 65.
Each of them had a reason why they were training for the marathon. Whether it was to mark a return from a devastating injury, attempt to qualify for Boston, or simply to accomplish something many people just cannot do, the people profiled in this documentary would not be side-tracked by pain, personal circumstance, or the allure of a warm bed on a freezing cold morning when a 20-mile run is on tap.
I might not be training for a full marathon (yet), but I could completely identify with the runners in this film. And watching this movie made me really think about why it is I’m adding yet another “thing” (as my grandma calls my training) to an already very busy life.
I am running the Rochester Half-Marathon in September to prove to myself that I can do it and to show my children that with hard work, they can achieve anything they want to do.
I’ve set a goal. And I will achieve it.
(Of course, I may achieve it from the back of an ambulance because I have passed out from exhaustion at Mile 5, but either way, I’ll get there.)
“When you cross the finish line, it will change your life forever.”
Today marks the debut of a regularly occurring feature called “Ask the Trainer.”
At some point, each of us has likely had a question about our training programs, our workouts, our injuries, or whether that glazed doughnut we ate at 11pm will add back on every calorie burned in that day’s spinning class.
The Midtown trainers have graciously made themselves available to answer your questions in person (of course), but also here on this blog.
The first trainer who was willing to submit himself to my line of questioning was Bruce Hedlund.
Bruce has 14 years of personal training experience and has run 17 marathons (including 10 Bostons). He has spent his entire career helping people get fit, stay fit, and strength-train:
Kristi: Tell me about your background.
Bruce: I started training when I was 16 years old. The owner of the gym where I worked out encouraged me to enter the field. I realized very early on that training was the only job I ever wanted. I graduated from SUNY Cortland with a B.S. in Exercise Science, and I am a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. In addition to working as a trainer for Midtown, I am also the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Rochester Americans, and for Penfield High School.
Kristi: My friends and I are always debating whether it’s best to work out in the morning or at night. Which is best?
Bruce: Some studies show that working out in the morning may boost your metabolism and expend more calories throughout the day; however, the best time to work out if when you have available time. If you’re not a morning person, it doesn’t make sense to exercise in the morning. The first step to creating a workout schedule is finding a time that you can consistently stick to.
Kristi: What’s the best way to firm up the abdomen and strengthen abdominal muscles following pregnancy and childbirth?
Kristi: What’s the best way to treat shin splints?
Bruce: The Dixie cup ice massage! Fill a small bathroom cup with water and freeze it. Once the water is frozen, take out the cup and use it to massage your shins for 15 minutes each. Also, perform some strengthening exercises with a resistance band (or even a towel). However, while you are experiencing pain, reduce your activity, and take the time to ice, stretch, and strengthen.
Kristi: If a person has limited time to work out and wants to lose weight, should he/she spend more time on cardio or weights?
Bruce: Both! Shorten cardio time by performing intervals: After a three-minute easy warm-up, perform 20 seconds of a “hard” phase followed by an easy phase of 40 seconds. Perform 10 reps. This 13-minute workout will be a quick way to burn calories! For strength-training, include multi-joint exercises such as: dumbbell squats to shoulder presses, or reverse lunges to bicep curls. Include a “pulling” exercise, such as a lateral pull down or a free-motion lateral pull down, or a Technogym seated row.
Kristi: Do you advise eating or fasting before working out? According to several recent studies, if the goal is to burn fat, fasting is best. What do you think?
Bruce: I would recommend eating prior to exercise. They key is to eat something that doesn’t upset your stomach. Even 12 ounces of a sports drink (like Gatorade) would assist you in your workout. Another option is to eat a banana and half a bagel with peanut butter. You want to take in calories to give your body energy for the workout plus stay hydrated.
After exercising, you should refuel to help you recover from your workout. Try to eat something like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread or drink a Myoplex recovery shake within 30 minutes after exercise.
Kristi: You’re in great shape, so tell me about your workouts.
Bruce: I work out six days a week. I strength-train 3x a week, and I run about 30-35 miles a week. For cardio workouts, I include jump rope intervals, hill repeats, metabolic circuits with medicine ball throws and tire flips, and long runs of 10 miles each.
Kristi: What do you like best about being a trainer?
Bruce: Watching my clients make progress and changing their lives!
Got a question you want a Midtown trainer to answer? You can post your question as a comment, or email it to me at email@example.com. If you email the question, I will ask it anonymously on your behalf, and post the question and answer (but not your name) on the next “Ask the Trainer” post.
My great aunt is 81 years old. She mows her own lawn. She paints her house every other year. She hangs curtains (and installs the hardware), cooks huge Italian meals on a weekly basis and drives them to the lucky members of her family on both sides of the city, and can fix just about anything. She runs after my 19-month-old twins and my three-year-old, even when each is headed in a separate direction. She’s the picture of health, save for the occasional cold. My aunt seems to have more energy on her worst day than I have on my best.
She’s also about 10-15 pounds overweight.
Her very slim husband is 84. While still very vital, he has long lacked energy and strength. He has heart problems and high cholesterol. Even in his younger years, he preferred to stay at home and relax rather than follow my aunt on her many adventures.
My aunt is by far the more healthy of the two.
Recent research suggests that some of those who are overweight (33% of all Americans) might actually be considered healthy and fit. This article cites studies that have found that those with an “overweight” BMI (not to be confused with a BMI in the “obese” range) are less likely to have a whole slew of diseases, including lung cancer, osteoporosis, and anemia, when compared with those who have a “normal” BMI. In addition, a study in the journal Obesity, found that those with an “overweight” BMI have a lower mortality risk than any other weight group.
Image by Royalty-Free/Corbis
These studies have their critics, of course. Some doctors believe that over the years, being overweight will lead to other serious diseases, even if those carrying around extra pounds might appear fit and healthy now. In addition, when you gain weight, you can’t control what parts of your body absorb the fat, so, these doctors believe, while thigh fat might be beneficial in helping an individual avoid osteoporosis, abdominal fat leads to an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.
Both sides agree that working out is vital to overall health, whether you’re overweight or not.
I do think it’s possible for those with an “overweight” BMI to be strong and fit. I have witnessed both men and women carrying some extra weight absolutely smoke me in the races in which I’ve run, and I’m currently running an 8:20 pace per mile. They may carry their weight around their mid-sections, but their legs are long and lean and fast.
In addition, I think there needs to be less focus on BMI and clothing size and more attention paid to activity levels, energy, and overall health and wellness. We live in a number- and physical-appearance-obsessed culture, and while everyone can’t slip into a size 2 pair of skinny jeans or look fabulous six weeks after giving birth, I do think it’s possible to be fit, healthy, and overweight, assuming exercise and eating well are priorities.
Do you think it’s possible to be both overweight and healthy, or do you feel it’s dangerous to endorse this concept, because it might discourage those carrying extra pounds from trying to lose weight?
The American Psychological Association’s 2009 “Stress in America” survey, whose results were released last fall, revealed that sources of stress for kids were the desire to do well in school, worry over their parents’ financial concerns, pressure over extracurricular activities, and their relationships with their parents.
Kids with high levels of anxiety can have trouble sleeping, develop behavioral problems, and even suffer more frequent illnesses.
One way kids can reduce their stress is to practice yoga. Long respected as a means to help adults unite mind, body, and spirit as well as improve their posture, energy levels, physical and emotional well-being, and overall happiness, yoga is now seen as a means by which children can experience the same benefits.
Randi Lattimore, Midtown’s Mind/Body Director and a seasoned yoga instructor agrees. ”Kids yoga is a fun, creative approach to yoga that can be very helpful for children whose bodies are still developing,” says Randi. “The use of animated poses and basic stretching promote strength, flexibility, coordination, and body awareness, while breathing and visualization techniques teach kids how to focus, relax, and develop self-control.”
This summer, Midtown is once again running Yoga Camp for Kids, and at the helm is Jennifer Hess, a certified instructor of children’s yoga. She uses yoga-inspired games and interactions to inspire children to think positive thoughts, manage stress, and listen to (and nurture) their bodies and minds.
“I teach breathing exercises like “Bunny Breath” to demonstrate that different breathing can influence how you feel. In “Bunny Breath,” I pass around a flower, and the kids take three quick breaths through their noses. This type of breath is very energizing, and we discuss when taking a “Bunny Breath” would be beneficial during their day, for example, just before a test when anxiety levels are high.”
In addition to breathing exercises, kids in yoga camp also learn a variety of poses, such as “Volcano Jumps” and “Donkey Kicks,” which can release energy, and traditional warrior poses to find internal strength. Animal poses are combined with those kids can create using their imaginations, so each class lends itself to a unique adventure.
It’s only a matter of time before kids turn into the highly stressed adults many of us have become. Childhood, however, should be as stress-free as possible.
If you have children or work with children, how do you help them manage stress? Do your kids take yoga? What positive changes have you noticed in them?