Thursday, May 30, 2013

How Fit Is Your City?

The American Fitness Index yesterday released its annual report of the healthiest & fittest cities in the country. This third consecutive report lists the top 50 most populated metropolitan areas in the United States and then ranks them from most to least fit in the country. “Fitness” is based on personal factors like smoking, exercise, obesity rates, chronic health problems, and health care access. Other factors that figure in include parks and recreational facilities, walking trails, farmers’ markets, and more.

Elements of fitness.
Elements of fitness.
Image: Shutterstock
Do you live in a city (most of us do)? If it’s one of the top 50 most populated, check out where you fit in. It’s interesting to see which cities tend to have more health-focused people and available facilities! Here’s the list, provided by The American Fitness Index:

1. Minneapolis-St. Paul
2. Washington, D.C.
3. Portland, Ore.
4. San Francisco
5. Denver
6. Boston
7. Sacramento
8. Seattle (YAY Seattle! Good job!)
9. Hartford, Conn.
10. San Jose
11. Austin
12. Salt Lake City
13. Cincinnati
14. San Diego
15. Raleigh, N.C.
16. Pittsburgh
17. Baltimore
18. Virginia Beach
19. Cleveland
20. Richmond, Va.
21. Atlanta
22. Providence
23. Buffalo
24. New York City
25. Philadelphia
26. Milwaukee
27. Chicago
28. Kansas City, Mo.
29. Los Angeles
30. Columbus, Ohio
31. St. Louis
32. Nashville
33. Phoenix
34. Orlando
35. Riverside, Calif.
36. Charlotte
37. Jacksonville
38. New Orleans
39. Las Vegas
40. Tampa
41. Birmingham, Ala.
42. Miami
43. Houston
44. Dallas
45. Indianapolis
46. Memphis
47. Louisville
48. San Antonio
49. Detroit
50. Oklahoma City

Here's the list in map form (also from AFI):

Walt Thompson is a professor of exercise and physiology at Georgia State University and creator of the index. He praised Minneapolis, saying, “What Minneapolis has done brilliantly is put their resources where residents can use them effectively to maintain a high level of physical activity.”

“We really believe that if people don’t have the environment to exercise, they probably won’t,” he added.

Minneapolis spent about $227 per capita on parks, which is about double that of some cities on the list. It also had lower rates of smoking and death from heart disease. Thompson recommends that less fit cities take simple steps to improve overall city health, like implementing smoking bans in public places and requiring P.E. for kids throughout high school. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

To All the Angelina Jolie Haters: Mind Your Own Business

Jolie was criticized for "ruining her looks" when she got
a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
Featureflash /

 It’s been two weeks since Angelina Jolie announced that she had gotten a preventative double mastectomy. Jolie’s mother had fought a decade-long battle with cancer and died at age 56 from the disease. And now, just a month after the completion of her own preventative procedures, Jolie’s aunt has passed away from breast cancer. She was 61.

In her op-ed for the New York Times, Angelina Jolie explains her reasoning behind getting the procedure done: her genetics left her with an 87% risk of breast cancer and a 50% risk of ovarian cancer. She carries the BRCA1 faulty gene that raised her risk by about 65%. Her mastectomies brought her chances of developing breast cancer down below 5%. The procedures and following reconstructive surgery left her with some small scars, but that’s a small price to pay for your life.

I was dismayed and shocked to hear of the people who had criticized Jolie’s personal medical decision. It is her body and her choice. Her family supported her. Her children will grow up without having to worry about their mother dying from cancer. These are all fantastic things.

Some women unable to afford reconstructive surgery have covered their scars with beautiful tattoos.
Some women unable to afford reconstructive surgery
have covered their scars with beautiful tattoos.
Image: Bodies of Subversion
But instead of congratulating her on being strong and intelligent about the matter, people lamented that she had “ruined” her looks. They said she got what she deserved for “stealing” Brad Pitt from Jennifer Aniston. Essentially, they told her she should have taken her 13% chance and kept her breasts.  

Are we such a superficial and cold-hearted society? I guess in some ways, we are. It’s inexcusable that someone’s entire worth as a person be judged completely on physical appearance, but occurrences like this remind me that not everyone believes the same as I do. Why can’t we set our judgments aside for a moment and consider a person for who they really are—for what they do and what they affect?

Jolie’s personal decision and openness about it will hopefully encourage other women to get the facts and make an informed decision when facing the prospect of breast cancer. The choice belongs to each woman—but it’s sad that it is a decision tainted with societal constraints. It’s sad that a woman would choose the 13% chance because she was more afraid of being judged than of dying.

Gwyneth Paltrow suffered a miscarriage and stroke scare
before taking on a more proactive role in her health.
Helga Esteb /
For someone in a position like Angelina Jolie’s, the decision becomes even harder. With a career that is often focused on physical appearance and the entire world as an audience, there are far more judgments coming in. I personally applaud her decision. Not only was she making the difficult decision to have a painful and lengthy procedure, but she was also doing so knowing that millions would be judging her for it.

I hope that others will find courage in Jolie’s decision—whether or not they like her as a person (at least as the person the media portrays). Socioeconomic status, celebrity, and looks do not make us immune to disease or misfortune—a fact that Gwyneth Paltrow knows as well. Know your risk factors, and be informed.

WebMD is a wonderful resource for those seeking information about breast cancer, causes, risk factors, treatments, and more. Please check it out—you might be surprised at some of the risk factors, preventative practices, or other information available. Be safe, not sorry.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Working (out) For the Weekend

I have a confession to make: I’m a weekend workout wimp. Generally, one of two things will happen over the weekend. One, I get “too busy” to work out, having made lots of plans. Or two, I am so ready for a break by the time the weekend hits that I decide to be as lazy as possible.

I have been better about finding a nice balance between the two lately, but I’m still working on it. It’s like I use up all my productivity during the week and have nothing left by the time Friday hits. Does that ever happen to you? I am not trying to make excuses for skipping out on exercise during the weekends, but rather I’m trying to be honest about what’s really going on. And I’m hoping that by writing about it, I will be able to hold myself more accountable.

So today, in an effort to both motivate myself and others to keep on exercising during the weekend, I’m posting a few quick and (almost) painless workouts. Each one takes just a few minutes to complete and doesn’t require any special equipment. My plan is to try at least one of them out over the weekend, and I’m hoping some of you will, too. Who’s up for a challenge? If you are, then keep on reading!

Workout #1: “No Excuses” (found at Daily Spark)
  1. :60 Chop Squats
  2. :30 Charlie’s Angel Lunges (each side)
  3. :30 Kneeling Crunches
  4. :60 Push-Up Planks
  5. :60 Rise ‘n Raises
  6. :60 Triceps Presses
Workout #2: “Easy Abs” (found at Back On Pointe)
  1. 20 Crunches
  2. :15 Plank
  3. 10 Mountain Climbers
  4. :15 Plank
  5. :10 Side Plank (ugh, I hate these!)
  6. 10 Vertical Leg Crunches
  7. 20 Bicycles (try subbing flutter kicks if these bother your hips)
  8. 30 Scissor Kicks
  9. :15 plank

Monday, May 20, 2013

Surprise: It’s Not 100% Juice After All

Today’s post comes to you after reading a disturbing article from Food Renegade about orange juice. I’m not much of a juice drinker, but when I do drink it I always try to shoot for the 100% juice kinds, like Simply Orange or Tropicana. Now I might just have to buy a juicer and make my own.

100% orange juice? Not likely.
100% orange juice? Not likely.
Image: Shutterstock
According to the article (which has multiple sources), orange juice labeled as 100% juice isn’t what it claims to be. I don’t know about you all, but when I imagined the making of these so-called juices, I naively thought of millions of oranges being squeezed, immediately packaged, and sent off to stores in individual cartons. But that’s not how it works.

After oranges are squeezed, the juice is sent to huge storing tanks. It’s there that the oxygen is removed from the mix. This does two things: first, it allows the juice to be kept without going bad for up to a year; and second, it strips the juice of flavor. Those huge vats, then, are essentially holding large volumes of tasteless “juice.”

That won’t sell, though. Before that juice can go to market, it has to have flavor added back in. To do this, flavor and fragrance companies (yes, like perfume makers) come in and create “flavor packs.” These flavor packs are made from ingredients derived from oranges (like orange essence and oil). But they also contain high amounts of chemicals that add a fresh orange fragrance and taste (like ethyl butyrate or valencine).

The worst part of this is the betrayal factor, at least for me. As a consumer, when I’m shopping for and purchase 100% juice, I want something that is 100% juice—not a chemical mess. The flavor packets don’t have to be listed because, technically, they are made from orange by-products. Labeling laws allow this even if the ingredients have been chemically manipulated.

Fresh squeezed orange juice.
Fresh squeezed orange juice.
Image: Shutterstock
I am not that person who has to buy everything organic (though if I could afford it, I probably would). But I am that person who reads the labels of the foods I buy in an effort to be food-conscious and know what, exactly, I am consuming. Sure, I buy things like doughnut holes and sometimes I even drink Coffee Mate in my daily cuppa. I don’t do it often, but when I do, at least I know what I’m eating or drinking.

That said, the fact that chemically manipulated ingredients are being included in my “100% juice” orange juice is more than a little upsetting. Perhaps it was na├»ve of me to assume all ingredients had been included on the label, but that still doesn’t make it acceptable for such an omission. It’s these sorts of things that make me want to just grow all my own food. Perhaps someday I will.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fitness Apps to Test Run

Use technology to stay active with these exercise apps.
Use technology to stay active with these exercise apps.
Image: Shutterstock
It seems that everywhere you look, people have smartphones. From professionals to teenagers, many of us are “plugged in” to technology more often than not. And while this can sometimes be detrimental to staying active and fit, there are also some great apps that are actually meant to help keep you exercising on a regular basis. If you’re looking for a source of motivation and have a smartphone, check out these apps:

MapMyRun does exactly what the title denotes: it maps your run using GPS. Not only that, but it also tells you your speed, total distance, time, elevation change, and overall calories burned. All your runs are saved, so you can look back at anytime to track your progress. The creators of this app have also created other apps for cycling, hiking, walking, dog walking, and more. Best of all: it’s free!

Nike Training Club offers a variety of training activities, from cardio to weight lifting. It has over 90 custom and comprehensive workouts and allows you to set goals like “Get Lean,” “Get Strong” or “Get Toned.” After that, you just select your fitness level and the app will create several workouts from 30-45 minutes long. Each exercise comes with photos, step-by-step instructions, or a video. You can even play music from your phone at the same time as you are completing your circuit training workouts. Oh, and this one is free, too. What’s not to like?

Need motivation? Try "Zombies, Run!"
Need motivation? Try "Zombies, Run!"
Zombies, Run! might just be the best idea for a running app. Ever. Seriously, who wouldn’t be motivated to run faster and farther when threatened with zombies? The clever integration of a game-like concept (zombies attack, you must save humanity) into a fitness app makes working out more exciting and fun, and I can’t help but love it. For beginners, the app costs $1.99 and for the deluxe edition, it costs $3.99.

Fitness Buddy is for those who want to build muscle and strength. The paid version, which costs $0.99 includes more than 1,700 exercises, 1,000 HD photos, and more than 45 full-length workouts. The free version offers 300 exercises and dozens of workouts to explore before deciding whether or not to purchase the app. The workouts featured utilize several types of gym equipment such as kettlebells and resistance bands, making it the perfect gym companion. Like MapMyRun, Fitness Buddy allows you to track your progress over time, making it even more valuable.

Which fitness apps have you tried at home? I have RunKeeper on my phone at home, but I haven’t decided how I feel about it yet. I enjoy being able to track how far I’ve run, what my pace is, calories I’ve burned and everything else. It feels a little like a prize at the end of a long workout—something I can hold up and say, “Look what I accomplished!” Certainly, fitness apps are not for everyone, but for those who have a hard time getting motivated or coming up with workouts, they could be incredibly helpful.