Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

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Competition vs. Camaraderie: The Marine Corp. Marathon

racepicOn Sunday, October 27th at 7:55 AM in Washington, D.C., 30,000+ runners took to the streets to participate in what is known as “The People’s Marathon”: The Marine Corp. Marathon. I was one of them (#25912, to be exact!).  This was my second marathon, to date (and in the same year as my first one – sorry, legs!!) but, while Disney was absolutely “magical” back in January, this race brought a whole new humbling, inspiring, and straight-up tearjerking experience. I’ve been in all kinds of races since the beginning of my running days, but have never witnessed the camaraderie among athletes quite like what I saw on Sunday.

Let’s first have a quick English lesson: Merriam-Webster defines “camaraderie” as a.) a feeling of good friendship among people in a group, and b.) a spirit of friendly good-fellowhsip. It’s synonymous with “comradery” which had it’s first (known) use in 1879 to describe the spirit of brotherhood that existed among soldiers in combat. Hmmmm, kind of sounds fitting for a race honoring Marines, don’t you think?

Next, I’ll note that I’ve been in athletic events where competition was prevalent. Heck, three or four Sundays prior to MCM, I busted my butt to try and be #1 female finisher in a 5K. I’ve also been elbowed out of the way in races by people who seem to think getting ahead in the pack is more important than enjoying the ride (ummmm, sorry Mr. 9:00 min/mile pacer, do you really think scooting me out of the way is going to help you catch up with all the Usain Bolts in the front?). And, “Marine Corp” Marathon sounds pretty hardcore, right?

Talk about people giving off positive energy – this race was oozing with it. I’m a firm believer, as you know, of the power of positive support when it comes to athletic feats. Many people (primarily female) asked me if there would be hot marines cheering us on as we ran the course, saying things like, “Woooo! That would be my motivation!!!” (Yes, and there were ;)) But the title of this blog post isn’t “Why Hot Marines Make You Run Faster” (maybe tune in next week?)

As soon as the starting gun went off, I was met with cheers, hoots & hollers, claps, and words of encouragement from fellow athletes. I passed family members wearing pictures of lost soldiers, ran alongside wheelchair participants, and people with shirts on that said things like “Feel free to chat with me!” or “If I can do this, so can you”. At mile 13, halfway there, just when my random calve cramp decided to kick in (and the course was in a particularly spectator-free zone), one man yelled out “We’ve got this! Can we do this? Let me hear you!” and EVERYBODY cheered. I don’t think I can recall a time, short of maybe watching Ironman Lake Placid back in July, that I felt so inspired by the people around me (and somehow my cramp felt less apparent)… And let’s not forget the row upon row of servicemen dolling out high-fives and you-can-do-its. OH and the SPECTATORS were flat-out AMAZING!

The race almost didn’t happen due to government shutdown, and my training regiment this time left me knowing more about my leg muscles (and how much they can hurt) than I ever wanted to know. The night before, I was filled with anxiety that something would happen causing me to not cross that finish line. The marathon itself, however, made you forget about everything painful and difficult along the way. From taking in the sights of the nation’s capitol, to honoring our military, to witnessing how many first-time marathoners came out to tackle 26.2, the day ws nothing short of amazing. If anybody out there is considering running their first marathon and is nervous about the mental-toughness to do so, I highly, highly recommend registering for MCM 2014 (but be warned – it sells out in like, 2 seconds… now I can see why).  It’s true that sometimes competition drives us, and I’m no stranger to that, but I’m 99% positive the spirit of camaraderie was a huge component driving my legs and heart to finish the marathon that day.

Oh…. and this happened at the end:

racedaypic2

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Teens and Exercise

On Tuesday of this past week, I had a tremendous opportunity through my personal training work with CoreFitness to teach a fun fitness bootcamp to the students of New Foundations Charter School. First of all, major applause to the youth who participated with great enthusiasm and smiles on their faces (despite having to withstand my sick love for burpees). I was happy we had such a great turn-out of 8-10 kids, as in the past I know the school (and other school programs) have found challenges in getting teens to enjoy exercise.

It got me thinking about the epidemic we face in our country ever day: Regarding teens, since when did fitness became lame, weird, something only skinny people do, OR something only supermodels can obtain… or, best yet, a non-preferred activity? Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of great high school athletic programs out there that promote healthy competition, staying in shape, eating right, etc…. but what about the average high schooler who does not land themselves on a sports team?

Well, here are some jarring facts about that:*
  • Nearly half of American youths aged 12-21 years are not vigorously active on a regular basis. About 14% percent of young people report no recent physical activity.
  • Participation in all types of physical activity declines strikingly as age or grade in school increases.
  • Only 19% percent of all high school students are physically active for 20 minutes or more, five days a week, in physical education classes.

Why? All types of reasons… PE/Health classes are loosing funding and/or priority, stress and emotional issues among teens are on the rise (creating a lack of energy to participate in physical activity), AND “screen time”, as they call it (video games, computer time, tinkering around on an I-Pad), is becoming increasingly more ‘awesome’ than, say, a walk in the park. I feel like when I was in middle/high school… all I did was walk around (seriously, high school friends… do you remember how much aimless walking around we did? Let alone the miles into the woods we would hike for “social gatherings” (sorry mom & dad)).

The facts & figures above demonstrate why I find it so important to help bring a joy of fitness, heck, MOVEMENT to teenagers. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The majority of teens out there today are quickly prescribed psychotropic medication when they show even the slightest signs of anxiety, depression, or mood disorders (heaven forbid we have a moody teenager out there!)… and what do those medications do? Increase “happy hormones” like dopamine and serotonin in the brain to (supposedly) make children feel better. But – wait Caitlin, doesn’t exercise make us happy, too?! Well, YEAH!! Which is why I find such importance in helping youth find a holistic, natural way to find happiness. Who knew that a kickboxing class could make the grumpies go away? (Yes, I called it the grumpies. No, I would not tell a teenager her/she has “the grumpies”… unless I wanted major eye rolling or “psshaaaas” coming my way).

I digress… Parents, help your children recognize the importance of movement. I’m not talking a 60 minute vigorous spin class or making them run 5Ks every night before dinner. But, please, get them moving. Family walks together. Group classes at your local Y/gym. Encouraging them to get OUTSIDE the house with friends! (No mischief, of course). Heck, help them train for a 5K (talk about wonders for confidence!).

The reason I started “Healthy Mind, Healthy Body” was because I saw an incredible need for a new, healthy way to tackle the stress and emotional issues youth (and adults!) face. I also recognized that exercise carries a stigma with it. and the majority of children/teens feel awkward, frustrated, or insecure when they attempt it. My goal is to provide an experience void of that stigma, and help spread the gospel of healthy living that I live by every day.

I can’t wait to continue my classes with New Foundations Charter School, and I’m hopeful those teens will continue to have an awesome experience with each class.

Until next time!

*statistics provided by: medicine.net

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STRESS MAKES YOU FAT!!!

…Now that I have your attentionStress-test-cartoon

If you just had a moment of panic – don’t worry, it won’t truly make you fat. Turns out, though, if you feel chronically stressed, it has a profound impact on your health – more than you may realize.

I was recently invited to speak at my previous employer’s staff wellness day coming up on November 5th (Gotta love Child Guidance showing an old Family First-er some love!!). I’m incredibly excited about the opportunity to tackle a subject I frequently practice AND preach: SELF-CARE. Since I’ll be yapping at (and hopefully entertaining) my former co-workers for 90 minutes about this, I won’t turn this post into my lecture, but it’s definitely a “sneak preview” to something I’ll address.

A major part of practicing self-care is, first of all, recognition you NEED it!  It seems there is a rise in 14 hour workdays, lack of sleep, consumption of unhealthy food/beverages to get us through those days (I’m looking at you, people-who-drink-Monster-Energy-Drinks-at-10:00AM-to-stay-awake ), AND negligence to attend to the needs of our minds, bodies, hell – our souls. Now, 14 hour workdays aren’t the enemy here (I’m no stranger to them). The enemy is your STRESS.

The video below discusses a study done with baboons exposed to consistent life stress (as I’m sure living out in the wild, spending every day worrying if a lion is going to eat you, is quite stressful) and what happened to their bodies. Chronic stress (as opposed to acute stress, like sitting in traffic, getting a root canal, or waiting in line at the DMV) actually increases a hormone called cortisol in our bodies that causes fat to collect in our midsection. This, as the video suggests, is one of the most dangerous areas on our bodies to carry unhealthy fat. Why is that bad?

The middle of our body is where we carry our vital organs – if you have fat there, you’re essentially smothering them. Having fat around your internal organs translates into a myriad of health issues – heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes to name a few. Excess belly fat is one of the main causes of death by heart attack because of the problems it’s directly linked to.

OOOHHHKAAAYYY…now that we’ve played Debbie Downer, there’s good news… tackling chronic stress is ACTUALLY an easier problem to address than you think. We’re not talking about battling major illness here, folks. We’re talking about making small lifestyle adjustments (to start, at least) that have profound long-term benefits. The video below ends with the idea that people today need to re-evaluate their values. “People glorify the person who can multi-task”, they say. Well sure, it’s awesome to have that skill – but don’t let it come with a price.

Take a moment to consider a SMALL part of your day where you can add some zen. Take stretch breaks at your desk, get outside for lunch, call your family and have pleasant conversation instead of business-talk for 5 minutes… WHAM! There goes 5 pounds. Okay, it’s not that miraculous, but you catch my drift – a little self-care can go a long way on your path to well-being.

To my CGRC crew, I can’t wait to share more of this with you on November 5th. To the rest of you, please take a look at this film and feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns, or advice on how to begin making small, stress-free changes in your life that, I assure, will lead to a better you.

Happy de-stressing, everyone!!

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