Fit Fitness into Your Plans

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

One of the best aspects of teaching is the students.  Each semester when I start with a new group, I am inspired to renew my own fitness program.  I have 5 classes this semester; 125 students.  For me, that also translates into a weekend of grading papers – analysis of personal Wellness programs.  While a few fitness programs are remarkable, many students regretfully describe their Wellness program as “non-existent” – but with a desire to change.  Together, as a community, we can discover that information.

To take a break from grading papers, on Saturday night I engaged in Physical/Intellectual/Social Wellness by attending a performance of “Julius Caesar” at the Shakespeare Theater Company.  Since this was their annual “Free for All” – where they give away free tickets to the evening’s performance – I walked to the theater and listened to the “Get-Fit-Guy” podcasts while I stood in line for the free tickets.  I then walked back home, had a quick dinner, and rented a Capital BikeShare bicycle to get to and from the performance.  See, there’s always a way to fit fitness (yes, I like the alliteration there – “fit fitness”) into your daily routine.

The Capital BikeShare program in Washington, DC currently has about 1,100 bikes in the system.  You may purchase a daily, monthly, or annual membership; allowing you to borrow a bicycle and return it to one of the 110 bicycle kiosks throughout the city.  The major benefit is the availability of a bicycle and you don’t have to store or maintain it.  And, as they say, “there’s an app for that.”

Capitol Bikeshare: Across from the Mexican Embassy
Capitol BikeShare at the Mexican Embassy, DC

On Sunday morning I went on a great run through the Capitol Hill neighborhood.  I define “great” as, 1) the fact that I actually went outside and ran (instead of running on the treadmill), and, 2) humidity below 50 per cent.  Not only did I enjoy the row houses and other architecture, I admired the proximity of the three branches of Government.  My run took me past the U.S. Capitol (Legislative), the U.S. Supreme Court (Judicial), and down to the Navy Yard (Executive).  Of course, being an academic I always enjoy the Library of Congress; a magnificent building in so many ways.

After the run, I took a few minutes to stretch.  My typical warm up is a 5 minute walk before I start running; a 5 minute cool down walk at the end followed by a few hamstring stretches.  For those that may forget the importance of stretching and flexibility exercises, check out the stretching videos from Duke University.

As you make your weekend plans, remember to “fit fitness” into your adventures.

Exploration and Exercise

DC Convention Center
DC Convention Center

When I jog, I try to make the event both exercise and an opportunity to explore.  I may not be an uber-geek like some of our friends – we all know who they are – but I must admit that I before I set out with my heart rate monitor and GPS, I went to Google Earth to plan my route.  I wanted to take a different route, about 5 miles.  After my map study (or “chart study” as we said in my Air Force days), I decided upon a route that would loop around the White House and take in a view of the National Mall.  Jogging through a community or any area at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning is probably the best time to transit due to the decrease in traffic and pedestrians.

So I started jogging on New York Avenue by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), past the Washington Convention Center, toward the Department of the Treasury and the White House, enjoying all the great architecture those buildings – and the city – have to offer.  For those that watched the TV series, “Lie to Me” – inspired by the scientific discoveries of a psychologist who can read clues in the human face, body and voice to expose the truth – the glass façade of the Washington Convention Center is used as the offices of the Lightman Group / Dr. Cal Lightman.

As I got close to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, I discovered their exhibit of Niki de Saint Phalle sculptures along the median of New York Avenue, N.W. between 12th and 13th streets. According to the museum, the New York Avenue Sculpture Project is “the first and only major outdoor sculpture corridor in our nation’s capital by women. Her colorful and joyous works of art will remain on view through the end of October 2011.”

NY Ave Sculptures
NY Ave Sculptures

At 15th St, New York Avenue turns west in front of Treasury and becomes Pennsylvania Avenue.  Any time you visit Pennsylvania Avenue (the north side of the White House) you typically see guys on roller blades playing street hockey.  They make good use of a street closed to vehicle traffic.  Noticeably absent in from the area was the cacophony of bull horns.  I guess protestors don’t get up early on Sunday morning.

Past the White House, then around the Executive Office Building, I headed south then east along E St to admire the White House vegetable garden; you can see part of it through the fence.  Now in its third year, the garden includes spinach, peas, lettuce, broccoli, blueberries, raspberries and other vegetables and herbs.  First Lady Michelle Obama uses the garden to highlight healthy eating for children as well as the Let’s Move! initiative to “raise a healthier generation of kids.”

As I jogged past the south side of Treasury, I remembered my behind the scenes tour of the building as IT Manager during the Turner Construction Company Treasury Building Renovation Project.  Like most buildings in DC, it was impressive from its architectural, political, and historical significance.

I planned to jog east on Pennsylvania Avenue toward the US Capitol, but they were setting up for a festival, so I detoured up 15th St, and east along H St so I could end my jog at Chinatown’s Friendship Arch and stop at a nearby sporting goods store.

Overall, the lower temperature and humidity made for an enjoyable morning run.  My 10,000 steps per day are now behind me.  I’m now off to find some more adventure to fill my day.

20 Million Steps – 10 Thousand Miles

Over the past five years I recorded 20 million steps on my pedometer.  Using the average of 2 thousand steps per mile, the 20 million steps equate to walking 10 thousand miles.  In more tangible terms, that’s the equivalent to making two round trips from Washington, DC to San Francisco – on foot.

I reached my milestone this past weekend during an evening run in Washington, DC.  Although the past few weeks delivered an Arctic blast with accompanying icy weather to freeze up the sidewalks and running paths, seasoned runners used the sidewalks with a southern exposure; noting the extra bit of Sun’s warmth that reached the sidewalk melted most of the ice.  A few windy days in the mid-30’s removed the remainder.

My milestone was a solitary event; no one else on the path.  No runners or cyclists.  The glow of city lights through the overcast sky silhouetting the trees.  My overall thoughts were of my accomplishment and trying to memorize the scenery before the forecast 6 to 10 inches of snow blanketed the ground.  My only other company along the trail was the deer I saw as I jogged from the creek level to the top of a hill with empty exercise stations.

With the start of the bitterly cold weather I took some time off from running to acclimate myself to the weather.  I substituted long walks with multiple layers of clothing; determining what worked best.  For now, I’ve found that a moisture wick shirt under a long sleeve running shirt, under another shirt, under a track jacket works best.  To keep my legs warm I’m wearing track pants.  I’ve found that my iPhone fits neatly in the pocket and doesn’t bounce around.  I run the ear phones under some of the shirt layers.  While I feel the iPhone is more secure (from dropping and ice toss) in my pocket, having the phone tucked away and wearing light weight gloves does limit my ability to multi task on the iPhone while jogging.

I enjoy listening to NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” (if I missed the Saturday morning broadcast) or to a great podcast called “Podrunner.”  This podcast has a series of one hour mixes that allow you to run at 130 to 180 beats per minute (I’m in the 130 bpm league), or run intervals.  I like the 130 – 140 – 150 – 140 – 130 bpm stepped intervals.  If you haven’t checked it out, you should. They welcome donations.

In a quick search of the web, I found some cold weather running safety tips, cold weather clothing tips, and 10 tips for running in the cold.  If you run with a Santa hat, it has a nice holiday look, but you get tired of getting bludgeoned with the pom pom.

I’ve gone on winter runs in Fairbanks, Alaska; tropical runs in Okinawa, Japan; and desert runs in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War.  You can’t choose the elements, but you can chose how you interact with them.

Since my recent move from Florida to DC, I have acclimated myself to winter.  I bought and used a snow shovel; learned that calcium chloride is better for concrete steps and sidewalks than salt when melting ice; I went to the National Mall to see the Christmas Trees, Yule log, and miniature railroad display; and went to a Christmas play at the Jewish Community Center.

I hope that in the New Year, you set and meet personal health goals.  I wish you all a healthy and prosperous year.

18 Million Steps – 9 Thousand Miles

This afternoon I reached 18 million pedometer-recorded steps.  Over the past five years, I’ve kept track of my daily step count on a spreadsheet and projected when I would reach the next million-step mark.  I knew today would be a significant day so I made the most of it.

Professor Henry Allen
Professor Allen and President Lincoln

To mark the occasion, I completed an eight mile jog – behind the National Zoo, through Rock Creek Park, along the Potomac River, past the Watergate complex next to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Foggy Bottom, and stopped at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  It was my first trip to the National Mall since moving to Washington, DC.

In addition to reaching 18 million steps, today was also the most steps I recorded in a single day: 27,325 steps; about 13.5 miles.

When I moved to the city, the time constraints of settling into a new home and starting a new job limited the time available for running.  Fortunately, I kept up the walking and slowly eased back into jogging.  We started a jogging group at work; I alternate between walking and jogging at lunchtime. Living in a neighborhood with a “walk score” of 78 – “very walkable” – also made it easy to maintain my average of 10,000 steps per day.  The “walk score” and “transit score” of a neighborhood provide information on nearby amenities and transportation.  The higher the score the better.  If you are looking to relocate, you should check out the walkability of potential neighborhoods.  This may help increase the amount of daily walking and decrease your need for a car.

In the July issue of Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports, researcher Catrine Tudor-Locke writes, “tailored messages congruent with public health recommendations should promote incremental increases in steps/day on the order of an extra 3,000 to 4,000 (approximately 30 min) of at least moderate intensity and taken in at least 10-minute bouts. Additional health benefits accrue with greater increases. Of course, even more benefits are possible from engaging in vigorous physical activity, but this seems less appealing for most people. Pedometer-based guidelines are not intended to supplant existing public health recommendations, but rather supplement them.”

In other words, we need to step it up (pun intended).  This step increase doesn’t need to be done all at once, but may be broken up throughout the day.  A minimum of ten minute activity sessions will produce benefits.  Of course, the greater the amount of activity – and intensity – the greater the benefit.

Henry Allen - Heart Rate
Garmin Heart Rate Report

When I jog, I like to wear a Garmin GPS heart monitor.  This provides feedback on heart rate (HR), speed and distance.  My favorite feature is the downloadable HR information.  From the printout you can see a steady HR.  Please note the increasing HR slope is the natural response while jogging; workload (HR) increases to maintain speed.  The spike on the graph at about 20 minutes is a short hill.  Other than that, the route is relatively flat.

Even if you’re not a competitive runner, you can still track your daily step count, exercise heart rate, and distance / time.  You don’t need complicated gadgets to track your progress; a simple pedometer and watch will suffice.  As always, be safe and enjoy yourself.

17 Million Steps in Washington, DC

What a great week.  I reached 17 million steps / 8,500 miles since November 2005– two and a half weeks ahead of my Memorial Day Weekend goal.

Washington Monument

I took advantage of the break between semesters and took a mini vacation to the Washington, DC area.  It was nice to visit family and friends, renew old acquaintances and to be back in a walkabout city – walking to the Metro, walking to the grocery store, walking around the National Mall and jogging in the National Zoo.

According to my calculations – you know how I love spreadsheets – I should reach 18 million steps / 9,000 miles by late August.

I encourage each of you to take time to renew yourselves through social and physical wellness.  You will be amazed at how refreshing these aspects of wellness will make you feel.

Presenting at the AAHPERD National Health Conference

The 125th American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) National Convention and Exposition in Indianapolis, Indiana was attended by over 5,400 health professionals and students from educational institutions, sports organizations, private industry, and government agencies.  I attended as a college professor and AAHPERD member as well as a member of the American Association for Health Education (AAHE).

There were so many opportunities to meet with colleagues and exchange information that one first time attendee told me that she found the experience to be overwhelming.  I was fortunate that as a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) I was able to earn continuing education units (CEUs) by attending a number of AAHE presentations.  The CEU track gave me a roadmap of learning sessions of interest to me as a health educator.

The first session I attended was “Health Education in the 21st Century.”  This session presented the Six Critical Health Behaviors of adolescent health and the National Health Education Standards (NHES) for students.  We also touched upon the preliminary information for the national health blueprint, Healthy People 2020.  I was pleased to share a round table experience with a Senior Associate at the Council of Chief State School Officers (Washington, DC) and a Health Education Specialist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (Atlanta, GA). 

Other conference sessions included discussion of social networking as a health education tool; the latest qualifications for the evolving certification of Master CHES (MCHES) for more experienced health educators like me; strategies to improve the quality of physical education; bullying and homophobia in schools; and an overview of an upcoming CDC report discussing the relationship between physical activity / sports and academic performance.

A highlight of the convention was presenting my pedometer research, “Pedometers in the Curriculum: Enhancing Student Success Through Wellness Education.”  This research demonstrated that adding pedometers to an existing Wellness curriculum helped students increase their physical activity.  The information I presented was well received.  Fellowes of AAHE recommended future areas of research based on my findings.

The final presentation I attended was on nutrition and the distribution of fast-food restaurants and high-end grocery stores according to household income.  This research validated my personal observation that there are more fast-food restaurants in low income neighborhoods and more high-end grocery stores in higher-income neighborhoods.  Of note was that members of low-income households often buy food at the local convenience store where foods of nutritional value are limited and prices are higher.   As stated in the forum, “the poor pay more.”  This highlights a challenge to health educators in that if we want people to change their healthy eating behavior, we need to provide greater access to more nutritious food choices.

The exchange of information at this and other sessions was invaluable.  I look forward to attending next year’s AAHPERD conference in San Diego.

Promoting a Smoke Free College

Joining a growing national trend of smoke free colleges and universities, the campuses of Broward College are now smoke free.

Broward College: Smoke Free

As a member of the Health and Safety Committee it was a pleasure to see this policy enacted, with limited accommodation for those that continue to smoke.  With the smoke free campus policy in place, the effort now focuses on publicizing the policy and assisting those that wish to stop smoking.

In addition to publicizing the new policy, as a wellness professor and Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), I helped coordinate an informational session in conjunction with the Broward County Health Department to help those who want to quit smoking.

Unlike most smoking cessation seminars that are limited to those who want to quit smoking, this session also welcomed those looking for information and resources to help family and friends kick the habit.  With any change in health behavior, it is important to enlist the support of family and friends.

The session was well attended.  I was pleased to see the level of student interest.  The outreach coordinators from the Broward County Health Department kept the students engaged and set up an information table for those that may have been a bit shy to ask questions during the session.

Transtheoretical Model of Change

The lesson I learned during the seminar was that it takes the average person 3 to 7 attempts before they successfully quit smoking.  As demonstrated in the Transtheoretical Model of Change, if a person slips during their attempt to quit, it’s not a point of failure; and, they are not alone. If they relapse they can reattempt to quit and keep moving forward to their goal of a smoke free lifestyle.

I am proud to be a part of a smoke free college and wish our smokers success in changing their health behaviors to improve their overall health.

Service-Learning as Wellness

At Broward College (BC), students are encouraged to participate in Service-Learning.  This is a program where students may perform community volunteer hours and receive credit for their efforts on their co-curricular transcript.  The underlying goal is to combine service to the community with classroom learning.

Last weekend, BC student volunteers assisted the “Tour de Broward” a ride, bike, swim event to support the building of a new children’s wing for the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida.  Student volunteers assisted with activities such as registration, set up, clean up, hydration stations and cheerleading along the route (pom poms were provided).

On the academic side, the participating volunteers in my classes – both face to face and online students – were requested to write about their experience and how it related to any of the six dimensions of wellness.  This volunteer opportunity was available to my online students as well as my face to face students.

Most students started their paper noting that they woke as early as 4:30 a.m., temperatures were in the low 40’s (cold for South Florida), and it was Valentine’s Day.  As the temperature climbed, however, so did their spirits.  Below are the Dimensions of Wellness the students correlated with their experience.

  • Physical: lots of walking; setting up tables; directing people and traffic; handing out water to the participants; handling registration
  • Interpersonal / Social: keeping children away from the lake; met amazing people that they would not have met otherwise; met reggae fusion singer and rapper Sean Kingston; cheering for the walkers, encouraging them to continue; networking; some students brought their children and other family members to share the experiences; working together as a community
  • Environmental: picking up trash; recycling
  • Intellectual: earning points for Service-Learning, but learning about themselves; a positive experience to list on a resume
  • Spiritual: as a parent, one student noted that she is “paying it forward” to help support a children’s hospital that her family or other children may someday need; increased self-esteem
  • Emotional: It was unanimous among participating students that they would volunteer for another event – even on a cold day.

By the end of the day, the oft-mentioned cold had worn off and was replaced by a sense of accomplishment in helping others. The Service-Learning volunteers were glad they assisted and in the process, enjoyed meeting fellow Broward students, alumni, and so many community members that they would not have otherwise met.  Through this event, students helped the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital reach its $250,000 goal.

Overall, it was good to see college students, as part of our larger community, are willing to take time from their busy schedules and volunteer to help others.

One student summed up her Service-Learning experience with the words of John F. Kennedy, “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

In addition to my student’s enthusiasm for volunteerism, I have agreed to be a faculty member of the college’s Service-Learning advisory committee for the 2011 academic year.  My next event will be to accompany college students and staff to the Gulf-South Summit on Service-Learning and Civic Engagement through Higher Education, hosted by the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.  I look forward to exchanging ideas and promoting new Service-Learning opportunities to our community.

Journey of Eight Thousand Miles

This weekend I completed 16 million pedometer steps since I began recording my steps 4 ½ years ago.  Using the average of 2,000 steps per mile, I’ve walked 8,000 miles.

16 million steps = 8 thousand miles

When I look at my spreadsheet, I see that I walked an average of 10,500 steps per day.  Yes, I’m one of those rare folks that enjoy creating spreadsheets and data bases to track information.  By the way, my spreadsheet also shows that I should reach 17 million steps over Memorial Day Weekend.  Reaching this goal will be an auspicious start to the summer.

Walking over 10,000 steps per day puts me in the “most active” physical activity classification of Krumm (2006), and “active” classification of Tudor-Locke (2008).  Tudor-Locke reserves the “highly active” classification for those walking over 12,500 steps per day.

My body mass index (BMI) is consistent with the 9,399 to 10,084 steps per day of healthy weight individuals in the Tudor-Locke study, as well as data from Krumm and findings in my own research (Allen, 2009).

Next month, I will attend the Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) Nation Convention in Indianapolis to present the results of my research, “Pedometers in the Curriculum: Enhancing Student Success Through Wellness Education.”  The AAHPERD national convention is for professionals in the extensive fields of health promotion and health education from throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe.  I look forward to sharing my research with other health education professionals and learning from them new ways to share healthy living strategies with you.

Exercise and Cognitive Skill

According to two studies in the January 25 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, participating in a sustained exercise program may decrease cognitive decline in patients over 55 years old.

The first study, Physical Activity and Incident Cognitive Impairment in Elderly Persons, found moderate or high physical activity was associated with a lower risk of developing cognitive impairment in German patients over 55 years old.

Moderate activity was defined as strenuous activities (including walking, hiking, bicycling, and swimming) performed fewer than three days per week.  High activity was defined as participation three or more times per week.

Physical activity cut in half the odds of developing incident cognitive impairment. Moderate physical activity had nearly the same effect as high physical activity.

With the growing population of older adults, the incidence of cognitive decline and dementia increases.  It is important to find reliable and inexpensive methods of preventing or delaying this decline.

In the second study, Resistance Training and Executive Functions, resistance training programs improved the cognitive skills – attention and conflict resolution – in Canadian women between the ages of 65 and 75 years old.  Investigators sought to examine the association between resistance training and improved cognition in older women.  This may have been the first study to do so.

Although resistance training has benefits over other training as it relates to falls and fracture prevention, it also benefits bone health, prevents muscle loss, and helps strengthen muscle mass. Most studies looking at the benefits of exercise for cognition have focused primarily on aerobic training.

The resistance training groups showed significant reductions in whole-brain volume compared with the control group, which participated in balance and tone-training classes.  Task performance improved in the once-weekly and twice-weekly resistance training groups. It deteriorated in the balance and tone group. This reduction is usually associated with poor cognitive function.

Cognitive benefits were found after 12 months of training but not at the 6-month trial midpoint. The authors surmised this could be due to the motor learning of new skills in the first few months of the study as participants became accustomed to the activity.

The message in the German study is to keep moving.  Health care providers should ask their patients about their physical activity and alert elderly patients to perform some sort of regular physical activity.

While exercise promotion typically favors an increase in walking, the message in the Canadian study is resistance training should be more widely promoted.  Emerging evidence shows resistance training not only has similar benefits as aerobic training, but is also an option for seniors with limited mobility.

Both studies provide promising evidence that physical activity in any form can improve cognitive function and is an important factor for improving health in older adults.