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.
Everyone Loves a Good Origin Story! aka the Evolution of Amanda Sterczyk Fitness and The Move More Institute™
I wasn’t always in the fitness industry; I studied psychology at school. During my university days in the late 1980s/early 1990s, a professor announced that our generation would not have jobs for life. Instead, we would become the “continuous learning generation” and cycle through three to five career changes.
To be honest, I breathed a sigh of relief. At that point, I wasn’t entirely sure of two points:
1. that I could make a career with a Bachelor of Arts, Psychology, and
2. that I wanted a career in psychology.
The first realization drove me to extend my post-secondary study — first, to complete an honours thesis, and then to complete a Master of Arts, Psychology. And so I began my career in health promotion research. Not psychology — health promotion research — which I suppose qualifies as my first career change. And I loved it. I even toyed with completing a PhD in the field. But then research funding started to dry up, and the opportunities became scarcer.
That’s when I conjured my next career transition, which landed me in human resources. In high tech during the 90s tech boom. Talk about a trial by fire. Given my penchant for research, I found a home on the compensation side of HR. Numbers didn’t scare me, but having employees crying in my office did.
The HR career sandwiched two maternity leaves, and I realized that I loved being a stay-at-home mom. More on this later; be patient, grasshopper.
During a return to the workforce, a foot injury sidelined my hobby as an occasional runner, I was devastated to hear that I needed orthotics and “indoor shoes.” Indoor shoes?! I’m a barefoot babe, and in my world, shoes are for outside only. Sometimes.
During my first maternity leave, I had discovered the TV version of Essentrics® - Classical Stretch™ with Miranda Esmonde-White. I stumbled upon Classical Stretch again shortly after the shock of indoor shoes was thrust upon me. I’m not kidding when I say I was an “occasional runner.” I’ve never been a huge fan of structured exercise, which is partly why I stopped following Classical Stretch a few years earlier.
But when my foot problems began to recede, I decided I needed to become more diligent about working out. Let’s be clear, I’ve always led an active lifestyle — walking and biking almost everywhere, taking the stairs instead of the elevator — but at the same time, I eschewed structured workouts.
One day, as I was searching for a Classical Stretch DVD online, I discovered that I could train to become a “Classical Stretch instructor” from home. You mean, I could get paid to exercise? Having the accountability of teaching others whilst working out appealed to me, because it forced me to be more consistent with my workouts. And actually get out of my pjs to exercise.
Over four years — 2010 to 2013 — I studied and passed the four levels of certification to become a fully certified Essentrics instructor.* And I taught A LOT of classes. In 2014, I was teaching 15 classes a week, in eight different locations across the city. In addition to teaching a lot, I was also travelling a lot between these classes. And spending a significant amount of time in front of my computer to market and promote the classes.
All of a sudden, my enjoyment of teaching a workout I loved was taking its toll on my body:
- I developed a serious shoulder injury from too much computer use;
- I fell down the stairs when I was rushing and carrying too much (you can’t really see the stairs when your arms are overflowing with stuff);
- I was involved in a car accident when I was hurrying to complete an errand before class; and
- I generally felt burnt out all the time.
Too much rushing. Too much on my plate. Something had to give. And it did.
Around the same time, I was reading and writing about the risks of too much sedentary time. Headlines like “Sitting is the new smoking” preceded articles that were imploring people to sit less, move more. It was from this zeitgeist that The Move More Institute™ began to take shape. Even if people were going to the gym or a fitness class on a regular basis, they still needed to get off their butts in more frequent intervals. Every. Single. Day.
I wrote multiple blog posts and social media posts on the topic. And I also created workshops entitled, “I’m not sitting anymore. What now?!” The workshops were well-received. In addition to my Essentrics certification, I began taking other fitness courses and certifications, including my personal trainer certification. I was spending a great deal of time teaching my clients about body awareness. How? By teaching them how to use their muscles for their intended purposes. Even though I worked part-time at several gyms in this period, I much preferred to meet people on their home turf. In so doing, I could show them that they could be physically active without spending tons of money. Do we really need fancy clothes, complicated equipment or expensive memberships to use our bodies? Of course not! If you choose to hire a trainer, join a gym or exercise class to workout, that’s fantastic. But it’s not the only way to move your body. You also don’t need to get sweaty to get your body working. The World Health Organization defines physical activity as "any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure.”* Bottom line, all exercise is movement, but not all movement is exercise.
As I looked back over the past 10 years, I realized that I was at my healthiest when my kids were young and movement was the name of the game. We were active all day long, whether I was playing with my kids or just taking care of them and running our household. Injuries began when I was sitting too much in an office job and then running myself ragged with my fitness business.
The Move More Institute™ began to take shape. My slogan became “Move More, Feel Better.” Not exercise more. Not head to the gym and lift more weights. Just move more. My goal with movement coaching is short-term coaching, long-term results. And this goal is woven throughout my book Move More, Your Life Depends On It: Practical Tips to Add More Movement to Your Day. As I say in the book’s dedication, I wrote it for people who think physical fitness is beyond their reach.
So there you have it. That’s my origin story, so to speak. After my book was published, someone asked if I had always wanted to write a book. Initially, I said no. But then I remembered a project from school; I believe I was in grade five. Our task was to create a family crest. One of the quadrants had to be how you saw yourself in the future, as an adult. I had drawn a book cover, complete with title and author - me. So I suppose I have always wanted to write a book.
World Health Organization, Fact Sheet on Physical Activity, http://www.who.int/topics/physical_activity/en/. reprinted with permission
*Classical Stretch is the name of the TV workout, while Essentrics is the live version — aka, classes and privates with instructors.
It's finally August, and the dog days of summer are living up to their moniker. Since the soft launch of my new book almost two months ago, I've been working on an official book launch in Ottawa. Don't worry, you won't miss it whilst at the cottage. Although I'm announcing it today, the launch is not happening until September. The 19th, to be exact. That's a Wednesday - middle of the week, so you'll definitely be in town.
Are you ready to hear the location? I'll give you a hint first with this image:
Function Physiotherapy will be hosting the official book launch of Move More, Your Life Depends On It: Practical Tips to Add More Movement to Your Day. Join us on Wednesday, September 19th, between 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm, for the launch. Light refreshments will be served. There will be a limited supply of books for sale at the launch, and I'll be signing copies. If you've already bought a copy and would like it signed, bring it with you!
See you in September!!
I am so proud of my book and want to share it with everyone. The book’s message is a simple one: Exercise, physical activity, practical fitness, movement. Call it what you will, just make sure you do it every day. Physical activity doesn’t need to be costly, complicated, or time-consuming. But it does need to happen every single day. No special clothing, fancy equipment or expensive gym memberships are required. Just a commitment to get off your butt and move more.
To that end, I’m thrilled with the early response I’ve received. There have been fantastic reviews for the book, both online and in person. It’s nice to run into someone you haven’t seen in a while and be told your book is fantastic and helping them so much. That happened to me one Saturday afternoon, as I walked to the library. And here are some written reviews I’ve received:
Angela: "I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! I'm buying 7 more copies for presents for some of my friends. The red, white and black cover is very eye catching and dynamic and invites you to pick the book up. The style is fresh and positive. I love the frequent invitations to move my beautiful body. This book is a gentle reminder to keep moving and stay as healthy as possible. It suggests small changes that have a huge impact on our health: Age without Pain!"
Amazon Customer: "Great book on how to get more movement in your day, whether you are actively working out every day and if you are sedentary, or think you move a lot. You will be surprised. It's an easy read and informative, backed by credible references and written by a very knowledgeable author. This book needs to be read by everyone! I workout 5 days a week for an hour; I was amazed at how much I sit or stand. If you are someone e that needs inspiration to get more movement in your day, Amanda can certainly help you and you are going to feel better. Promise!"
Lydia: "This book is amazing! Amanda makes it so easy to add more movement to your day. I love the concept on nudges and creating new habits to make it more sustainable and long-lasting."
Kindle Edition Reader: "A great little gem! Filled with practical ideas of how you can add more movement to your day. I especially like the suggestion of a health SMOK break at work: Sedentary & Movement Optional Kills Early. The author point out how it's socially acceptable for smokers to take a break, yet it's not as socially acceptable to take a movement break at work. As a personal trainer, I'm always trying to encourage my clients to move more outside of their traditional exercise time. I'd totally recommend this book if you're need more ideas on how to do this, whether for yourself or your clients.”
I’ve published a few videos of the book’s content, including the introduction and the table of contents.
And I’ve had some wonderful individuals reach out to share details of my book with their audiences. This exposure has included podcasts, radio interviews, blog posts, and newsletter features. You can visit my media pages check back often to see the others!
Next on my list are workshops, presentations, and book signings. I have a few of those scheduled later this month. Please visit my events page to see the ones that are open to the public. And do let me know if you’d like a live event scheduled at your location.
Well, in addition to promoting my book, I’m still running my fitness business. So that means it’s time to get back to work on personal training and group and private Essentrics classes.
I hope you’re enjoying your summer as much as I am! And remember, keep moving.
Earlier this month, I sat and stared at my laptop for the better part of a Sunday. You see, I needed to write my latest blog post, and I couldn’t. I was drawing a blank.
This was more than writer’s block. I typically have at least 5 ideas percolating in the back of my brain, ready to take centre stage for a monthly blog post. And when I sit down to write, the words and ideas flow.
But not this time. This time, I felt like my fountain of creativity had run dry. I felt “beyond burnt out”. And that made the situation worse. What if I had tapped all that was available? Was that the end of my business?
Honestly, I felt heartsick. And deflated. Finally, I put my computer aside and tried to distract my overactive brain.
A few days later, and still no change in my demeanour. I made a radical decision to take a break from social media for a brief spell - both professionally and personally.
I told people I was logging off for a break, and gave them my website and email info, in case they needed to contact me.
And then I turned off all notifications for Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and Twitter. I thought I’d experience a moment of withdrawal; but it never came. I actually felt liberated.
A few wonderful souls emailed me to say they hoped everything was okay. [No need to name them, they know who they are. And their support is forever appreciated.]
For 4 days, I detoxed from the online world. I tried to forget about my failed blog post. But I stewed. Was this the end of my business? Could I continue if I felt this way? You see, my heart felt simultaneously heavy and hollow. "Beyond burnt out" is the only way I can describe it.
Then one morning, an idea popped into my head: write a book. Write a book?! I can’t write a book. The notion germinated all day long, and by the end of the day it became: I CAN write a book!
But I kept it to myself. Until the next day, when I told my husband. His response, “That’s a good idea.” Then I told my teenage kids. Their response, “Cool.” And then I told a few close friends. Everyone was excited for me. No one said I couldn’t do it. So I’m going for it. And a few days later, my daughter started talking about my book launch party. I suggested we put a pin in that until I had a draft completed.
Although the process of writing a book can seem daunting, it’s also thrilling. I’ve been researching how to self-publish; I’ve been working on my outline; I’ve been reaching out to people to be interviewed for the book. And I feel reenergized.
The heavy/hollow feeling has disappeared. My creative juices are once again flowing. And I’m excited.
You’re probably wondering, “What’s the book about?” Great question! The working title is “Get off your butt! Your life depends on it”. I’ll be taking much of the content I created for The Move More Institute™ and turning it into book form.
And now, I need to get back to writing…
Balance. What does it mean to you? There are many definitions for this seemingly simple word. Let’s address a few of them here. And I'll share with you how I interpret balance in my life.
How do you define balance in your life? Do you have other ways of balancing?
I have spent many, many years - decades, really - focused on dieting and never being truly happy with my appearance. It started in my teens. At the time, my mother bought me a pin that said, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” I loved the pin and wore it proudly. I believed it - that you can’t be ‘too thin’, and I was always pursuing this ever-elusive ideal.
At the age of 48, I’ve finally realized that people accept me for who I am, not what I look like. And if they don’t, I invite them to take a long walk off a short pier. It’s taken me 35 years to accept myself the way I accept others. It has never once occurred to me to judge a person based on their appearance. Instead, I look at their character - how they treat me and others. Are they reliable? Do they keep their word? Are they kind to those less fortunate?
Yet, when it came to me, I assumed no one would accept me unless I was svelte and skinny. Especially as I transitioned into my new career in the fitness industry. What if clients wouldn’t accept me as a fitness expert because of my appearance?
Ironically, that very thing happened. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard, “You don’t look like a fitness instructor.” What, exactly, is a fitness instructor meant to look like? People come in all shapes in sizes; shouldn’t that ring true for individuals, no matter their profession? Rhetorical question.
I’ve also heard, “I like taking classes with you because you look like a normal person.” I used to think, “Thank you?” Now I say, “Thank you!” What’s the source of the statement? An unrealistic expectation/representation of everyone in the fitness industry as rake-thin.
Skinny does not equal fit. There, I’ve said it. You can be skinny and unfit just as easily as someone who is not as skinny. But I digress. My point is, I may not be as skinny as I used to be, but I’ve got WAY more confidence now! Because I’ve accepted myself as being more than my body.
I’m valuing myself the same way I value others. For who they are, not how they look. Not only has this mind shift boosted my confidence, I’m also a lot happier than I used to be.
If you’re still reading, thank you for listening to my story.
Even before I started running my own business, I volunteered on a regular basis. When my kids were young, it was regular sessions at their school. I moved on to a local hospice, a long term care home, and a women's supportive housing facility when I was no longer needed at the school. In my opinion, philanthropy and entrepreneurship are two sides of the same coin. Think about it: when you first start a business, you put in a lot of unpaid hours to get it off the ground. In essence, you’re a volunteer for your business. You better be passionate about it at the startup phase if you want to move beyond volunteer status. Since you know you’re willing to work without being paid for a cause in which you believe, it seems a logical that you’d volunteer your time for another worthy cause in which you believe.
One Million Women, Ten Million Lives
When Pierrette Raymond asked me to donate to a charity of my choice as part of The Living Fully Show's “One Million Women, Ten Million Lives”*, I said yes immediately. And I knew which charitable organization I’d be selecting. Sidebar: to learn more about Pierrette’s fantastic organization, visit Women Living Fully. And here's the link to my podcast, "How Movement Is the Key to Longevity and Wellness".
*The Living Fully Show, which is the Women Living Fully podcast and radio show, is on a mission to help one million women support 10 million lives.
The charity I am supporting is called Voice Found, a survivor-led charitable organization that is on a mission to prevent child sex abuse and commercial sexual exploitation. Their slogan is “Giving voice to those trapped in the dark.” I’ll tell you more about Voice Found and then I’ll tell you why I’m supporting them.
Voice Found was created in 2011 by Cynthia Bland, “a survivor who had a successful career prior to disclosure. Once she disclosed (after 42 years of silence) she realized that she needed to DO something. And so in 2011, she founded Voice Found.”
Did you know that over 90% of youth who are sex trafficked have been sexually abused as children? That’s why Voice Found created The Hope Found Project: to support youth and women who are victims of sex trafficking. “This heinous crime is happening in every neighbourhood in our city. It crosses all socio-economic boundaries and with devastating consequences. Victims really can be anyone and the common age of recruitment into trafficking in Canada is 13.”
The Hope Found Project
“The Hope Found Project is currently working with 70 clients at an undisclosed, safe location in downtown Ottawa. The office is a sanctuary where professionals with lived experience help them to create new lives. Each case is unique but some of the things they offer are; paying for specialized trauma therapy, assistance with education and employment, court support, safety planning, assistance with emergency housing, help with addictions and connections to other agencies who are trauma informed and victim-centered manner. Clients are also provided with 24/7 support. This support has helped in the rescue of clients who have been taken by their traffickers to other cities.”
Why I’m Supporting Voice Found
In 2015, I was invited to donate a silent auction item to an event called Clear the Room, supporting the Canadian Continence Foundation and Voice Found. The premise behind the fundraiser was that openly discussing incontinence and child sex abuse would ‘clear the room’, since most people would be uncomfortable discussing these topics. It struck a chord with me - it must be incredibly difficult to fundraise for a cause that makes people squirm. I had never heard of Voice Found, so I endeavoured to learn more about the organization. And I willingly donated a silent auction item.
Fast forward to 2016: I approached my friend, Danielle Allard. Danielle is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter based right here in Ottawa. I love her music and Danielle is also very giving of her time and talent to charitable causes. I approached Danielle with a fundraising idea: a live music Essentrics class. She would be set up in the corner, playing songs from her debut solo album (Chameleon), while I taught an all-ages Essentrics class. Attendees would pay by donation, and all money raised would go to Voice Found. Danielle loved the idea and we immediately started planning the event.
Well, the kids are older now, and they’d rather tromp around the city with their friends. So, our routine has changed drastically. But that’s okay, it was still an all-Canadian experience for me this year: starting the day with an Essentrics workout, followed by a run along the canal in my Lululemon running gear. During said run, a loon landed on the water beside me, and then the Canadian Forces Snowbirds passed overhead on their way to their annual Parliament Hill Canada Day flyover.
2. Rideau Canal - we’re lucky to live just a few short blocks from the “oldest continuously operated canal system in North America”. As of 2007, it was also designate a UNESCO World Heritage Site.(2) And it’s my favourite place to go for a run.
3. Lululemon - there are many fitness clothing companies these days. And I own lots of different brands - it’s an occupational hazard when you work in the fitness industry. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, no one can dispute that Lululemon helped make fitness clothing trendy and popular. There’s even a term for it - athleisure wear, as in athletic leisure wear. Yoga pants are not just for yoga class anymore. Lululemon was founded in 1998 in Vancouver, BC.
5. Snowbirds - the Canadian Forces Snowbirds are as iconic as poutine or beavertails.(4) And it’s a long-standing tradition that they fly over Parliament Hill on Canada Day. So much so that Ottawans who aren’t downtown for the ceremonies still get outside in droves at the noon hour. They know they’ll see the Snowbirds without having to fight the crowds.
Well, that’s wrap on Canada’s 149th birthday. I hope your celebrations were as equally Canadian!
4. S is for Shhhh - Listening to your body. You’ve heard me say it so many times - listen to your body. If an exercise hurts, don’t do it. Your body is speaking to you with that pain message. Well, I’ve been so busy lately, that I haven’t taken the time to practice what I preach. My brain is telling me it needs a break. Down time - in the form of sleep and vacation - is key to reenergizing your brain. (3)
So, when I’ve completed the sabbatical and study work, I think I’ll sleep in. Take a nap. Go to bed early. Take a trip. All of the above.
Finally, S is for: See you in September! Enjoy this beautiful weather.
1. Saving Luke: https://www.facebook.com/SavingLuke/?fref=nf
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.