The following excerpt is from my upcoming fourth book, I Can See Your Underwear: My Journey through the Fitness World. It describes my first in-home private training client in 2010. I was a new Essentrics® instructor, and completely naive about how to navigate the fitness world.
(copyright Amanda Sterczyk 2019, all rights reserved)
My very first private session was probably my scariest encounter. And it actually kept me away for privates for a few years after that. A woman had contacted me about an Essentrics standing and floor workout in her home. We’re talking early in my newfound fitness career, circa 2010. You know, pre-iPhone (for me), pre-social media checkins (for me), pre-Find My Phone apps (yup, you guessed it, for me). When you went somewhere, no one knew where you were. Unless you told them beforehand. That was my first mistake.
I arrived about two minutes before our scheduled time. My first doorbell ring went unanswered, while my second one had me greeted by a face peering past a chain lock. After introducing myself, my new client unlocked the door and revealed her workout clothing. It included a very see-through top, minus a bra for support. At least that’s what I think, as I looked away fairly quickly.
When I did look away, my gaze fell over her interior. It appeared as if every square inch of floor space was filled. The technical term is hoarding disorder. My client backed up so I could enter the small, crowded foyer. As I was removing my shoes, she closed the door. I was still assessing the space in front of me, trying to determine if how one, let alone both of us, would have enough space to exercise. That was my second mistake, and we’ll circle back to it in a moment.
My client invited me into a beyond-capacity living room. I had already determined that the floor portion of the workout was no longer feasible, so I was quickly assessing in my head how to modify the workout to be standing-only. You’ll recall that I was a very new fitness instructor, with limited instruction time under my belt, so thinking on the fly was a skill I had not yet acquired.
I stumbled over my words as I explained to her that we’d be doing something a bit different. Then I asked her if we could move the coffee table so we could face each other in the room. She balked at the idea, so I quickly offered to stand in the hall while she stood between the sofa and the table.
Let me explain a bit about Essentrics here before I continue: the workout is a non-impact, bodyweight routine that uses large, flowing movements in order to work the joints through their full range of motion. In addition to having space on your exercise mat to move, you need space in the air around so you don’t bang your hand or arm on anything. As you can well imagine, the current configuration was making it difficult to complete circulate movements in a flowing manner. I banged a few things as we were “moving” through the workout, something that was causing distress in my new client.
I realized that this was probably going to be my one and only visit to this client’s home, a fact that wasn’t disappointing in the least. At the end of the thirty minutes, I turned to leave. And the door wouldn’t open. It turns out the client had locked the door from the inside, and thrown away the key (so to speak). But seriously, the door was locked, and the deadbolt was missing the required key.
I looked around the cramped and messy vestibule to locate the key — I was suddenly feeling very uncomfortable and wanted some fresh air — but to no avail. Did I mention that, even though it was the height of summer, every door and window was shut tight, every curtain and blind was drawn. And, it would appear, every door was locked. A wave of panic rolled through my body.
Shit, shit, shit. What had I gotten myself into? I was seriously questioning my new career, not at all comfortable in this current situation. Was she going to let me leave? Why was she taking so long to get to the door? Right, ALL the stuff blocking her path. I turned around just as she arrived by my side. She leaned over a small table with multiple, identical drawers. She opened one and extracted the key for the deadbolt. How had I never noticed her remove the key and place it in the drawer upon arrival?? Short answer: I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things in her house. Long answer (sort of): I was so trusting, that it never occurred to me to imagine a negative outcome; and yet, no one knew I was there.
When the client finally unlocked and opened the door, I exited and headed for my car as quickly as possible. I drove home with all the windows open, taking lots of deep breaths along the way. And it wasn’t just for the fresh air. I had to calm my rattled nerves. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that this client never contacted me for a follow-up session. That was fine by me, because I would have refused. The entire incident scared the bejesus out of me. So much so, that it took several years until I was willing to entertain the thought of additional in-home private sessions. I would stick to group classes in more public spaces. Pretty ironic, don’t you think?
Last week, the world of professional football was stunned when starting quarterback Andrew Luck announced his retirement. It was at the end of a pre-season game, and few saw it coming. After all, Luck is only 29 years old; he’s in the prime of his NFL career. But he’s been saddled with injuries and pain. I think he made the right decision for his body. To be so young and in so much pain — pain that can be avoided.
We discussed it a few days after the surprise announcement. The general consensus at the family dinner table was this: he’s smart to get out while he still has a chance to recover from his injuries and enjoy life. The topic got me wondering about my sudden departure from the world of fitness. (If you’re just tuning in, let me catch you up: I announced in July that I’m putting my fitness business on hold and returning to the paid workforce.)
Although I was sad when I made the decision and began dusting off my resume, I was also relieved. You see, I sustained two foot injuries in two consecutive years — and yes, the second injury was a direct result of lack of healing time from injury number one.
After I got through the emotional journey of saying goodbye to my business that I’ve been nurturing and growing for nine years, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Relief that my foot could finally heal properly and no longer cause me pain. I was still soldiering through classes and privates with clients, even though I was in pain most of the time. But the pain was impacting my personal time. In a nutshell, I wasn’t enjoying life.
So consider this my official retirement…from fitness. You know I’ll still be writing books — Your Job Is Killing You will be out this fall — but the only workouts I’ll be doing, or not doing, are ones for myself. Because some days, I like to take a break and let my body rest. It’s tough to take a break from working out when fitness is your business.
As I write this, I still haven’t found a job. But I’m optimistic that I’ll find the right role in the near future. It’s a retirement from fitness, but a new beginning in another field.
This month’s blog post is an excerpt from my third book, Your Job Is Killing You: A User's Guide to Sneaking Exercise into Your Work Day, which will be published later this year. If you like this — or any of the excerpts you’ve read from any of my books — please buy a copy. Authors depend on sales to pay the bills. If you’re in Ottawa, you can contact me to purchase your copy. If you’re elsewhere in the world, you can visit Amazon to purchase a paperback or e-book version.
Are You a Professional Sitter?
Do you work in a knowledge-based environment? That is, do you spend most of your working life either at a desk or at a table in a meeting room? If so, then congratulations, you are officially a professional sitter! But you’re not alone. Many adults around the world spend 50 per cent (or more!) of their waking hours mostly sitting.
You know who you are — office workers who nab the first available seat on the daily commute, colleagues who remain seated during the breaks in meetings (seriously, the seat belt sign is off, you’ve been granted permission to move about the cabin), individuals who opt for the elevator/escalator/moving sidewalk instead of employing the heel-toe express, “watch watchers” who take a seat and await the timer countdown on their microwaved lunch. You get the gist — too much sitting and not enough moving.
My slogan is “move more, feel better.” This simple message holds much power: the solution to your aches and pains, lack of motivation, and foggy brain is in your control. You can do it! Get off your butt and move about the cabin.
As my client Janice said, “This is needed! I am retired after 35 years at a desk, getting up only to sit in a meeting. Only in the last few years was there recognition of the need to move more during the day. Good luck with your book!”
And I’m not the only one who feels this way. Take biomechanist and movement guru Katy Bowman. I’ve been reading her books for years, following her social media posts, and sharing her insights with my clients. You could say we’re kindred spirits in the world of natural movement. And she even has a book to help people incorporate stretches and movements at work. Bowman, like many of us in the world of practical fitness, feels strongly about more movement, more of the time:
“For decades, researchers have been trying to figure out the best way to organize the body for optimal performance at the office. The underlying flaw in much of the research—or at least in the presentation of the research—is that it fails to highlight the use of a single position as the problem. Our quest to find an optimal position for stillness will always be frustrated by the problems inherent in a lack of movement.”*
Copyright, 2019 by Amanda Sterczyk, all rights reserved.
*Katy Bowman, Don’t Just Sit There: Transitioning to a Standing and Dynamic Workstation for Whole-Body Health (United States of America: Propriometrics Press, 2015), p. 10. Reprinted with permission.
Now that my second book, Balance and Your Body: How Exercise Can Help You Avoid a Fall, is available to the public, I’ve had several people ask me who this book is for. As in, who is my target audience?
I wrote this book as a self-help exercise guide for caregivers, family members, and, most importantly, seniors. It features a dozen foundational exercises with step-by-step instructions and illustrations that they can use as a home-based exercise plan.
What’s different about my book? The exercises don’t require special equipment or the need to get on the floor. Each exercise also includes modifications on how to make it easier or harder, depending on abilities. Falls are the leading cause of injury, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations for seniors in North America. The goal with my book is to help seniors increase their confidence — after all, the fear of falling contributes to the risk of falling — and improve their strength and balance so they won’t sustain a life-altering fall.
So let’s see how these distinct groups can utilize my book.
Caregivers. “Would you present to our staff about how to help our senior clients? You know, teach them easy exercises that they can do with clients during visits.” Be it a personal support worker, care aide, nursing assistant, or nurse, there are many professionals that provide care and support to seniors in their homes, in retirement homes, and in long term care facilities. Knowing how to help senior clients maintain balance and strength improves their ability to serve their client group. When I’ve presented to caregiver groups, they are so appreciative of the information I have shared. My book is easy to read and compact, so they can easily carry it from one appointment to the next.
Family Members. “Can You Help My Aging Parent? They’re living alone and I’m in another city. I’m worried they’re going to fall and hurt themselves. They won’t go to a gym, and I saw on your website that you offer in-home fitness training to older adults.” I’ve seen many emails and received just as many phone calls like this. Increasingly, adult children are living in different cities from their elderly parents and they feel helpless. They may see their parents infrequently, and each time, the changes in their loved ones can be an eye-opener. Time is marching on and the physical declines are more marked with each passing visit. In many cases, they want to help their parents maintain their independence and stay in their homes. And they know one slip, trip, or fall is all that separates their mother or father from permanent residency at a long-term care facility. When I do visit their parents, we begin to work on the main components of fall prevention: balance, strength, and mobility.
Do you have aging parents or grandparents whose lives you need to monitor in addition to your own life? You can pick up a copy of Balance and Your Body for your loved one, go through the exercises with them — remember, each exercise includes instructions on how to make it harder if you’re doing it with them — and/or leave the book with them for their own practice. Or are you an employer whose staff have aging parents? I’ve also presented to businesses, so their employees can help aging parents stay in their homes longer. These card-carrying members of the sandwich generation don’t have the time to research fall prevention exercises that they can teach their parents/grandparents. A lunch and learn to cover the basics of balance and how to prevent a fall will ease their minds and let them focus on how to help their aging loved ones when they’re not at work.
Seniors. “I want to be able to go for a walk with my husband.” This is just one of many fitness goals I hear from my senior clients. Finding time to do these exercises doesn’t have to be complicated. When I work with clients in their homes, I send follow-up emails that list and describe the exercises we’ve done together. My goal is to make clients comfortable doing the exercises on their own. In many cases, they write out the exercises on a sheet of paper for quick reference. You know, something that they can leave on the counter and refer to throughout the day. They often tell me that their list allows them to tackle the exercises one at a time, without feeling overwhelmed. I decided to compile these exercises in a book, as a quick reference guide for other seniors. And each exercise is a standalone passage. You can start with just one or try them all in one session. Whatever works for you. You will benefit either way.
How to buy. Would you like a paperback or e-book version of Balance and Your Body? It’s available for sale worldwide on Amazon. And if you’re in Ottawa on July 11th, why don’t you join me for the official book launch? Because even if this book isn't geared to you, there's probably someone in your life who could benefit from it.
Recently, one of my class participants chimed in with the following, “Will you please tell us what we should do for exercise over the summer?” To which I replied, “Move more.” You see, I take a teaching break every July and August, and she was wondering about workout suggestions.
I was only partly kidding when I responded with “move more.” Most people sit too much, even if they do attend weekly exercise classes. Heck, I’m in the process of writing my third book on the topic. But I would also like to address her question more specifically.
When I take a break from teaching Essentrics, I take a break from Essentrics altogether. Don’t get me wrong, I love Essentrics. But I also love other ways of moving and working out. And our bodies need variety in movement and exercise.
That’s what fellow fitness professional Kathryn Bruni-Young says about variety in exercise. Kathryn is the founder of Mindful Strength and I’m taking one of her online courses this summer. Her amazing Facebook group is one of the reasons I’ll never be able to fully extricate myself from Facebook. She is a pioneer in the fitness industry and an ardent promoter of mindfulness as it relates to body awareness. Her podcasts, blog posts, and online workouts take me outside my comfort zone both as a teacher and a student.
But please don’t ask me what class you should take when we’re on a break. Before I became a group fitness instructor, I rarely attended group fitness classes. I’m more of a loner when it comes to exercise. If you’re interested in joining a group fitness class, we are fortunate in Ottawa to have so many exercise options available. I honestly don’t keep track of other group fitness options — I’m busy enough with my own classes and clients. But if someone asks me about a different type of class, I tell them, “Try it! You may love it.” One of my other regulars recently tried Nia dance for the first time. She commented that she enjoyed how it was a bit similar and a bit different from Essentrics.
With that in mind, I thought instead I’d share what my fitness plans are this summer. You may have different plans entirely, and that’s okay. Try a few things and see what sticks. You may be surprised at what motivates you to move. And I’ll tell you now, many of my workouts happen in my living room — thanks to YouTube!
I hope this list helps you choose your fitness options this summer.
Remember: Move more, feel better. And have a great summer!
"Can you help my aging parent? They’re living alone and I’m in another city. I’m worried they’re going to fall and hurt themselves. They won’t go to a gym, and I saw on your website that you offer in-home fitness training to older adults.”
I’ve seen many emails and received just as many phone calls like this. Increasingly, adult children are living in different cities from their elderly parents and they feel helpless. They may see their parents infrequently, and each time, the changes in their loved ones can be an eye-opener. Time is marching on and the physical declines are more marked with each passing visit.
In many cases, they want to help their parents maintain their independence and stay in their homes. And they know one slip, trip, or fall is all that separates them from permanent residency at a long-term care facility. When I do visit their parents, we begin to work on the main components of fall prevention: balance, strength, and mobility. The exercises I teach them all help to alleviate the fear of falling.
And it inspired the topic of my next book, Balance and Your Body: How Exercise Can Help You Avoid a Fall. The rest of this post is an excerpt from my upcoming book. As we age, our risk of falling increases, as does the likelihood that a fall will cause an injury. In Canada, falls are the leading cause of injury among older Canadians. Twenty to thirty percent of seniors experience one or more falls each year. Falls are the cause of 85 per cent of seniors' injury-related hospitalizations. You may be surprised to learn that falls are the cause of 95 per cent of all hip fractures. And fully half of all falls causing hospitalization happen at home.
In the United States, data reported by the National Council on Aging show that one quarter of Americans over the age of sixty-five will fall each year. A fall is the prevailing source for hospital admissions in the elderly. An emergency room in the United States treats a senior fall victim every 11 seconds. And if you’re an older adult, you’re more likely to die from a fall than any other cause.
In the past, research attributed the risk of falls exclusively to aging. That is, the older we got, the more likely it was that we will fall. In fact, it’s more like aging and lack of physical activity are working in concert to increase the likelihood that we will fall: as we age, we are typically less active, our bodies gets weaker, our bones get more brittle, and we’re more likely to fall. And when we do sustain a fall later in life, we’re also more likely to be injured.
￼Finding time to do these exercises doesn’t have to be complicated. When I work with clients in their homes, I send follow-up emails that list and describe the exercises we’ve done together. My goal is to make them comfortable with doing the exercises on their own. In many cases, they write out the exercises on a sheet of paper for quick reference. You know, something that they can leave on the counter and refer to throughout the day. The following list is your quick reference guide.
Want to learn more? Balance and Your Body will be available in paperback and e-book format this summer.
Guest post by Mel Fiala, CAT(C)
We live in a society where most of us understand and operate our electronic technologies better than our own bodies. This is our norm, we don’t question physical inability because we don’t realize that there is an issue. We have the luxury of having everything we need literally at our fingertips—a click away. But your fingers don’t even contain any muscles… and your body has over 600. What if you understand them, use them, OWN them. Imagine how much power you would have at your fingertips!
‘Natural’ and ‘Functional’ movement is our birthright. It is not a fancy new innovative way of working out or training. The human body is a remarkably perfect movement machine. We are born with every muscle, bone and joint we need to move in a fluid, deliberate and healthy way. If we take the time to understand how it works and take care and ownership of our well-oiled machine it can become a liberating, energizing and empowering experience.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that movement is reserved for athletes, sports or working out. But the world of high performance and professional sport is filled with bodies that move in inefficient ways. Understanding the way your core muscles work to support your body and the way your limbs move around your core is the first step to owning the way your body moves. For example, similar movement principles can be applied whether you’re reaching for a book high up on a shelf or performing a layup in basketball, whether you’re standing at the sink doing dishes or standing in first position in ballet. Natural, functional and healthy movement is about ownership, understanding and capability—and you don’t have to be an athlete to take ownership of your body!.
Enter ‘Magnetize.’ It is a concept that breaks down and marries the basic steps to activate and stabilize the foundation of movement.
It is a model that I created for a conditioning workshop, I further refined it on the soccer field with professional athletes, and eventually named it with the assistance of an energetic group of young acrobats. Its diverse pathway to conception demonstrates its versatility and adaptability to all movements and physical activities. When you boil it down, we all have bodies made up of the same building blocks. It is from these building blocks we can move naturally — functionally — without any bells and whistles.
The concept of magnetize revolves around the idea of understanding how your core muscles set the foundation for all other movements. This is done by accessing and differentiating your stabilizing muscles (pelvic floor, glutes, abdominals, obliques, etc.) from your movement muscles (quads, hamstrings, biceps… there are too many to name). This is done by imagining all the parts of your core ‘container’ activating, while pulling towards your center without yielding — like a magnet.
So we break down the concept of the ‘core’ (cue your eye roll, please! Core is both an overused and a misunderstood concept) Here is how to magnetize in five steps:
First, pull in your diamond. Imagine a diamond shape on the lower part of your abdomen, each point represented by an anatomical landmark: your pubic bone, your two hip bones and your belly button. Try to pull those four points towards each other as if they are magnets. This will help access the lower part of your whole abdominals which wrap around your ‘core container’ like a can of soup.
Second, stop your pee. This is the same muscle that is activated when you perform a Kegel exercise. This helps access your pelvic floor and stabilize the bottom part of the ‘core container’.
Third, squeeze your butt cheeks. Activate your glutes to help stabilize your legs and protect your knees. This will help access the other bottom and back part of the ‘core container’.
Fourth, knit your ribcage. Starting from the back (where your ribs attach to your spine), pull each rib down onto the top of your ‘core container’. This should allow your ribcage and shoulders to stack over your hips.
Finally, BREATHE! Don’t forget your diaphragm, it is your principal breathing muscle as well as being the top portion of your ‘core container’. Breathing will help you relax and integrate the muscles you’ve magnetized.
You can break down this method and practice each part on its own, get familiar with how your body reacts when you engage it in that way, and then put them all together. When they work together, when you magnetize, your core muscles are functioning in a stable and healthy way. This stability translates into better posture, healthier movement, and injury prevention.
Bringing this concept to my patients and clients has allowed me to empower them to do just that! Healthy bodies that have better posture, more whole-istic rehabilitation and of course, fewer injuries. Your body belongs to you, goes everywhere you go and you spend your whole life in it. Why should you depend on a health care practitioner or trainer to tell you what to do with it. Not only have I seen individual patients move healthier when they own this knowledge but I have seen improvements across groups I have worked with. In the dance company I currently work with, no single dancer has suffered from a knee injury since we have implemented the concept of magnetize across all dance classes. This was over three years ago and in a demographic that is notorious for knee injuries (girls and young women aged 11 to 21).
Magnetize is a concept that can help you understand your core and set the foundation for healthy movement. But it is just beginning to scratch the surface! Get to know how your body works and feels, observe how your legs and arms move around your ‘core container’ with and without magnetizing. Observe your alignment in the mirror when you magnetize: do your knees, feet or shoulders shift or change in any way? Those limbs of yours are also an important part of your well-oiled machine. When you magnetize, your stabilizing muscles are taking on their designated role (i.e., to stabilize) and the rest of your body and limbs are free to do the movements they were originally and perfectly designed to do.
Love, own and understand how your body works and it will take care of you. Movement is your birthright--MAGNETIZE!
About the author: From the locker rooms of national and professional soccer and hockey to the rehearsal studios of the National Ballet of Canada, Mel Fiala has spent most of her career on field and in the clinic working with a number of professional and elite level athletes. Her career is rich in variety and has enabled a diverse repertoire of experiences which are reflected in her holistic approach to movement and rehabilitation. She currently works in the heart of Ottawa at her private practice located within KV Dance Studio, where she delights in the unique environment of working with ballerinas, acrobats and patients from all walks of life.
“One size fits all” is an erroneous premise, be it with hats, socks, or fitness. As a fitness professional, I get leery of statements that “everyone can do this workout.” Sure, everyone can, but does everyone want to?
Let’s be honest, what motivates you isn’t going to motivate the next person. And you’re more likely to stick with a program if you find it motivating. So how do you figure that out? My suggestion is that you break it down by the five W’s of fitness.
The five W’s can be traced back to Aristotle. They’re an investigative device that have been used by journalists, police, and authors, to name a few. In Aristotle’s case, he was examining ethics and determining voluntary versus involuntary action.(1) If an action is voluntary, these 5 questions should have answers:
And in the case of choosing of workout that’s right for you, it’s very much a voluntary endeavour. So let’s dive in and examine each component.
“Why” appears last on this list. But the past decade has seen the order and prevalence of the five W’s flipped, thanks in large part to Simon Sinek’s 2009 book, Start with Why.(2) Beginning with the end — why — will help to answer the other W’s in the case of fitness too.
Why exercise? For the fun of it. I’m not being facetious, I truly mean that. Think about it: if you enjoy your workout regimen, you’re more likely to stick with it. But there are many other reasons you may choose to begin a new exercise program, and equally solid reasons for why you will stick with your current workout.
I’ll help you begin your thought process by sharing my “why.” For me, I want to live a long and healthy life. So I exercise for life. And disease prevention, because exercise IS medicine. That was easy, now it’s your turn. Is it because you want to go for a walk with your spouse? Do you want to have the energy to play with your grandchildren? Do you like the feeling of strength from lifting heavy weights? There is no wrong answer here.
The first “who” is of course you. But that can be the beginning or the end of it. If you feel motivated to exercise on your own, or if you prefer the solitary aspect of solo workouts, there’s no need to include others. This is your fitness journey and yours alone. I get it if you want to opt for solo workouts. When I’m teaching group fitness classes or training private clients, I’m working on their fitness goals. So when it comes time to do my own workout, I prefer being with my own thoughts and going at my own pace.
But that may not appeal to you. Perhaps you want the company of a friend or loved one, the anonymity of strangers in a group class, or the motivation of a personal trainer. If external accountability is important to you, you’ll probably want to recruit someone else to propel you forward in your fitness journey.
At a broad level, fitness can be divided into four main components: cardiovascular or aerobic, strength, flexibility, and balance. But that only scratches the surface of what, exactly, you can do in terms of exercise. Different things will appeal to different people. And at different times in your life, the “what” of exercise will also change.
Take me, for example. In my twenties, my go-to workout was cardio via running, including training for and competing in road races. I did it all: 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon. In my thirties, I discovered flexibility training with Essentrics. In my forties, I started picking up dumbbells and barbells to incorporate strength training into my life. And as I get ready to enter my fifties, I do all the same balance exercises that I teach to my senior clients. I do a little bit of everything in the “what" category, but in different proportions than in the past.
Are you an early bird or a night owl? Do you prefer to exercise in the middle of the day? When you choose to get physically active will also dictate whether you’ll stick with your program. Although I get up early, I’m not a fan of early morning exercise. For me, early mornings are all about easing into the day. I once tried to teach an early morning Essentrics class. My body was there, but my brain and vocal cords preferred to stay at home. I was a babbling idiot, trying to string together coherent sentences. And I failed miserably. So, learn from my missteps: understand your motivation levels at different times of the day. It’s another key factor in sticking with it.
I’m not just referring to time of day, but also number of times per week. Your body needs and craves movement every single day. If you think “getting it over with” in one monster session will get you through the week, think again. You may be overdoing it with too much exercise at once, and risk an injury as your body and mind tire and lose focus on proper form. Remember, I want you to exercise for life. As in, a daily habit that you’ll maintain for the long term.
There are so many options for where to workout. Weather permitting, outside is one of my favourite locations for exercise. You can also join a gym, but you don’t have to. Lots of people opt for exercising at home, which is why I go to my clients in their homes. I want to them to feel confident about exercising anywhere, including their own living room.
And if you don’t want to hire a personal trainer, you can always use workout videos, streaming services, or YouTube to find a workout that’s right for you. That’s what I do when I don’t feel like heading outside or to the gym — I head to my living room instead. And often, I’ll work out in my pjs, because, why not?!
So there you have it — the five W’s of fitness. I hope this list will help you make choices in your own fitness journey. And remember, one size doesn’t fit all.
Epilogue: How Much
You may be wondering why I haven’t addressed “how much” you should workout. While this is an important topic, the answer is likely not going to motivate you to get moving. And frankly, it’s the same for everyone; the guidelines apply to all and thus fit in the realm of “one size fits all.” Be that as it may, I’ll share the “how much” with you now. Perhaps it will encourage you to get moving.
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every week to maintain optimal health.(3) Although some health and fitness professionals recommend five bouts of 30 minutes each, it’s really up to you how accumulate your activity. Indeed, the guidelines highlight that the bouts be 10 minutes or more.* And we’re talking here about aerobic physical activity — hence the emphasis on “moderate to vigorous.” The point is to get your heart rate up. They also recommend two days to four days per week of strength training activities and four to seven days per week of flexibility and balance training. (4)
*The US Physical Activity Guidelines were updated late last year, and they dispensed with the “10 minutes or more” guidance, in favour of physical activity in any amount.(5) This shift emphasizes the cumulative effect of physical activity throughout the day.
Ottawa is a great city for walking. It’s a walkable city, until it isn’t. This reduction in walkability is a direct result of wintry conditions: icy sidewalks, unplowed sidewalks, and blocked crosswalks are just a few of the problems that impact our ability to walk safely and avoid falling.
In early January, I participated in the Snow Moles’ Walkability Audit of Old Ottawa South. The Snow Moles is an initiative of the Council on Aging of Ottawa. Snow Moles are volunteers who report on what it’s like to walk outside on a winter day in Ottawa. The information they gather will be used by Seniors Watch Old Ottawa South (SWOOS), OSCA, and the Council on Aging of Ottawa (COA) to inform the City and others of ways that winter walkability can and should be improved.
Falls are not age-specific, but your risk of falling increases as you age. And if sidewalks are slippery due to snow and ice, anyone is at risk of falling.
Intrepid volunteers like the Snow Moles are making the sidewalks safe for walking. But before you leave home, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of falling.
As a fitness professional, I often get asked about the “best” exercise for a particular fitness goal or body part: eg, “What’s the best exercise to improve my balance?” Or, “what’s the best exercise to strengthen my quads?” The best exercise is the one you’re going to do.
The exercises listed below are some of my clients’ favourites, and include both strength and balance components. Both are key factors in fall prevention. Strong muscles and bones allow us to lift our legs and feet over obstacles like pesky snow banks that haven’t been cleared. Or your big toe: when the muscles along the shin bone are weak, it’s more difficult to lift the front of your foot off the ground as you walk. Then your own body becomes a trip hazard.
And balance is a critical component of walking - because walking is essentially a weight transfer and balance exercise. One foot, then the other. Repeat. If you’re having trouble with balance, how will you be with walking? Well, walking will also be difficult, and that’s when you’re most likely to risk a fall.
Try these exercises in your home. Focus on slow, purposeful movements. Hang on to something solid if you need help with balance. And make sure the area is free of obstacles if you’re moving around.
Draw the letters of the alphabet with your foot to strengthen muscles around your ankle.
High March (Stomp)
Lift one knee to hip level and hold for 5 seconds. Lower the leg and switch sides.
Stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart. Rise up onto the balls of your feet, avoiding leaning forward. Hold for 3 seconds, then lower.
Face your kitchen counter and hang on with both hands. Open your legs to shoulder width and lower your behind down and back as if you’re sitting in a chair. Keep your back straight, knees above the feet, and weight on the heels. Push into your heels to come back up to standing.
Switch Up Your Walking
Sideways walking strengthens little-used muscles along the inside and outside of your legs. Backwards walking helps you strengthen your brain-body connection by creating new pathways in your brain, teaches your body to rely on the messages the nerves in your feet are sending to the penthouse, and it improves coordination in your lower body. NOTE: make sure the space is clear of obstacles and hang on to something solid.
Stand on one leg and try to hold for 30 seconds. Put your foot back down and repeat on the other side. To make it more challenging, try turning your head to one side.
As we age, our balance is impacted negatively by our aging bodies:
cells die in our vestibular system, which is connected to the centre in our brain that controls balance;
- our vision declines and with it, our depth perception;
- changes to our blood pressure may cause dizziness, lightheadness or blurriness;
- we lose muscle mass, strength, and power — this can slow our reaction time if we trip;
- our reflexes and coordination also decline; and
- a variety of health problems may also impact our balance, including arthritis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. (1)
Regular physical activity is key to maintaining good balance. An exercise program that focuses on specific balance exercises as well as core strengthening and movement patterns will improve balance and stability, not to mention daily function. Working on improving your balance and strengthening your muscles will increase your confidence and reduce the risk of a fall.
The following is an excerpt from my book, Move More, Your Life Depends On It: Practical Tips to Add More Movement to Your Day.* As a Canadian, I researched and wrote about Canadians’ physical activity levels, or lack thereof. But the shockingly high levels of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour are seen across the globe. Indeed, the newest physical activity guidelines for Americans emphasize that every minute of movement counts, and they should sit less and move more.(1)
How Much Do Canadians Move Every Day?
Our bodies were designed to move, but how much do most Canadians actually move every day? Not enough, according to healthcare experts. And it’s costing us as a nation to the tune of 3.7 per cent of overall health-care spending.(2)
The World Health Organization defines physical activity as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure.”(3) I don’t see anything in that definition that mentions sweating, special clothing, “feeling the burn,” or expensive gym memberships. What it does tell us is that movement—any movement—is physical activity. You need to move your muscles, or you will lose them. It’s not rocket science, people!
Increasing the physical activity of Canadians would save lives—in excess of 6,600 premature deaths, or 2.4 per cent of the national population over a 25-year period. What’s more, as a country that provides universal health care to its citizens, national healthcare costs and chronic conditions would decline with a modest increase in daily physical activity. We’re talking thousands of fewer cases of cancer (31,000), type 2 diabetes (120,000), heart disease (170,000), and hypertension (222,000).(4)
Regular movement—loading your muscles and bones by working against gravity and then walking away from your desk—is what your body needs. Statistics Canada crunched the numbers and reported that you’ll have a lower risk of premature death if you stand or walk around regularly, as opposed to staying seated for most of the day.(5)
So, how much should we move as Canadians? I’m glad you asked. Let’s have a look.
How Much Should Canadians Move Every Day?
According to the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, adults need 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per week to maintain optimal health.(6) In the “moderate” category, examples include brisk walking and bike riding, whilst in the “vigorous” category, jogging and cross-country skiing are listed.
So, why exercise? It improves your fitness, strength, and mental health (morale and self-esteem), and it reduces your risk of premature death, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and obesity.(7)
These are the minimum guidelines for physical activity. However, Statistics Canada data indicates that only 15 per cent of adult Canadians meet these minimum requirements.(8) Broken down to a daily level, the minimum exercise requirements—which were measured with accelerometers—equate to 21.42 minutes of daily exercise.
What are Canadian adults doing with their time when they are not exercising? They’re being mostly sedentary, that’s what—over 9.5 hours per day, which accounts for 69 per cent of their waking hours.(9) And, as we saw earlier, too much sedentary behaviour is creating a global health-care crisis.
Even if you meet the recommended physical activity guidelines, sedentary behaviour in the remaining hours of your day is still detrimental to your health.(10) Those remaining hours are the focus of this book. I will help you add non-exercise activity in common sense ways. Consistent with my original goal when I first created The Move More Institute™, I will share easy to implement and low-cost or free options. Let’s go.
How Do You Accumulate Physical Activity?
Ready for some good news? The activity our bodies crave and need can happen in minuscule increments. Indeed, a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association reported that physical activity that was accumulated in sporadic bouts throughout the day still reduced the risk of early death.(11) The total amount of daily physical activity is more important than how you accumulate that activity.
What are your health or fitness goals? Disease prevention or injury prevention? Enjoyment of life? If you fall into one of these categories, there really is no need to go all out at the gym. For many people, their unspoken goals of fitness are basic to existence—prevent premature death and live life fully and pain-free. If you fall into this group, don’t despair about people who may have more specific or rigorous fitness goals. You can focus instead on accumulating small, sporadic bouts of movement throughout your day. Every little bit counts toward your total physical activity: walking to the store, taking the stairs, or getting up from your desk and pacing during a conference call. As I mentioned before when describing my mission with The Move More Institute™, I call them “snacks of exercise.” And these snacks don’t require fancy workout clothes or special equipment, or the need to shower before continuing your day. Every little bit of movement matters. Just ask actress Eva Marie Saint.
“Did you know I’m older than the Oscars? Just keep moving.”(12) Just. Keep. Moving. Those were the words Saint uttered at the 2017 Oscars. She was pondering the fact that the awards show was celebrating 90 years, and she was older at 93. And she looked fantastic, standing proudly, displaying every inch of her 5’4” frame—not stooped over and shuffling like many others later in their lives.
And she’s right, you know. There is no secret elixir for aging well. You just have to keep moving. No fancy equipment or expensive gym membership required!
You know the drill: Time for a break! You’ve been sitting long enough; time to get up and move. Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right here, waiting for you. Now go move your beautiful body!
If you enjoyed this excerpt, please consider buying the book. It’s available globally on Amazon and locally in Ottawa (contact me for more details).
*Copyright 2018 Amanda Sterczyk, all rights reserved
1. Katriana L. Piercy & Richard P. Troaino. "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans From the US Department of Health and Human Services." Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, 11 (2018): 1-3. DOI: 10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.118.005263
2. Ian Janssen. “Health Care Costs of Physical Inactivity in Canadian Adults.” Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism 37, no. 4 (2012): 803–806.
3. World Health Organization, Fact Sheet on Physical Activity, http://www.who.int/topics/physical_activity/en/. Reprinted with permission.
4. Hayley Wickenheiser, “We must move more to improve Canadians’ health,” Ottawa Citizen, March 15, 2017, http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/wickenheiser-we-must-move-more-to-improve-canadians-health.
5. Fares Bounajm, Thy Dinh, and Louis Thériault, Moving Ahead: The Economic Impact of Reducing Physical Inactivity and Sedentary Behaviour (Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2014): 15, http://sportmatters.ca/sites/default/files/content/moving_ahead_economic_impact_en.pdf.
6. Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults—18–64 years, (first viewed October 10, 2017), http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/CSEP_PAGuidelines_adults_en.pdf.
7. CSEP, Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines.
8. Rachel C. Colley et al., “Physical activity of Canadian adults: Accelerometer results from the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey,” Health Reports 22, no. 1 (January 2011): 4, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2011001/article/11396-eng.pdf.
9. Colley, “Physical activity of Canadian adults”, 4.
10. Carol Ewing Garber et al., “Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 43, no. 7 (July 2011): 1334–1359, https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2011/07000/Quantity_and_Quality_of_Exercise_for_Developing.26.aspx.
11. Pedro F. Saint-Maurice et al., “Moderate‐to‐Vigorous Physical Activity and All‐Cause Mortality: Do Bouts Matter?” Journal of the American Heart Association (March 22, 2018), https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.117.007678.
12. “‘I’m older than the Academy’: Eva Marie Saint hands out Oscar at age 93,” CTV News, March 4, 2018, https://www.ctvnews.ca/i-m-older-than-the-academy-eva-marie-saint-hands-out-oscar-at-age-93-1.3828591.
Amanda Sterczyk is a Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM), an Exercise is Medicine Canada (EIMC) Fitness Professional, and a Certified Essentrics® Instructor. She offers in-home personal training in central Ottawa. Amanda specializes in helping older adults maintain and increase strength, flexibility, and mobility. No fitness goal is too small, in her opinion.