Fitness hints from a fitness guru

Take the stairs and not the elevator. Stairs are a terrific exercise. Photo:

by Phil Marsh

Thanks to those wonderful folks who dedicate their lives to fitness studies, a recent study showed that Canadians now spend more time on the toilet than they do exercising! I guess there is no app for that…yet.

We all have busy lives but time spent being active is an investment that will pay huge dividends now and as you get older. I have coached MPs, senators, ministers, business and community leaders, parents with young kids…and they all managed to find time to be active. For Senator Nancy Greene Raine, Canada’s Athlete of the Century, it means walking at lunch, working out with a trainer before work and skiing as often as possible. Former Treasury Board president Stockwell Day scheduled his long runs at 4:30 a.m. as he trained for the Boston Marathon.  For my friend Bobby, it meant loading his daughter into the stroller and getting everyone to take turns pushing on our weekly 16 km run.

Being active and fit means you feel better, you sleep better, you can maintain a healthy weight, you can lower your stress levels and reduce the associated chemicals that stress produces, improve your focus, lower your resting heart rate and blood pressure, and studies have shown increases in IQ as well! In the Glebe we have some great fitness facilities, spin and yoga classes, core training programs, and the Y is also close by. The reborn Lansdowne Park has hills, stairs, skating, baseball diamonds, a kid’s activity and fitness area, basketball hoops and folks even rollerblade loops of the Great Lawn making it a far more fitness and activity-friendly park than ever before.

Parents are the best role models kids can possibly have. If kids grow up going to triathlons, skiing, cycling, running, walking, doing yoga and dance classes, then walking or cycling to work will be normal to them and they will likely maintain that active lifestyle. If you eat a healthy diet, your kids will also eat better and make educated choices when out with other friends.


Here are some tips that might help you get started:

If you have kids in hockey or soccer, bring a yoga mat and go for a walk or run and include core strengthening and stretching – much healthier than sitting in the stands eating doughnuts and drinking coffee. You will be a terrific role model for your kids and other parents.

Set short- and long-term goals. Ten thousand steps is a great walking goal but it can be as simple as 20 minutes of exercise three times a week to begin.

get a gadget! The technology is so good now – heart-rate monitors that don’t require a chest strap, GPS speed and distance tracking, but many that will simply and accurately track how many steps you take. Ignore the calories burned or per cent fat statistics. Heart rate, speed or distance and steps will be the best stats to review.

Find a group program, like a Running Room 10- or 16-week program. You get coaching, expert guest speakers, but most important you get a group to train with and keep you motivated especially when winter hits. Training with a group also means road trips and weekly pub nights!

Take the stairs and not the elevator. Stairs are a terrific exercise – you can make them more challenging by increasing pace, taking multiple steps at a time and reducing your recovery time. There is an amazing new set behind Parliament Hill with almost 300 steps and a magnificent view of the Ottawa River. Start by parking a few blocks away and walking to the stairs and walking up once. Next could be taking two steps at a time, alternating each flight, eventually being able to run the entire set of stairs. Set short- and long-term goals.

Have walking meetings at work or with friends. Let folks know that you want to have a walking meeting; most people will be much happier outside enjoying the fresh air and not stuck in an office. Going for a coffee with a friend to catch up? Why not go for a walk instead?

Ditch the coffee – water is healthier and cheaper than a latte or espresso.

Dance like no one is watching. Your heart is the most important muscle you have, but it doesn’t know what activity you are doing, only that you are exercising. Effort and duration are what you need to focus on; the benefits are huge and can begin with only 20 minutes of movement daily. Do a little of everything each week – salsa dancing, yoga, skating, etc. – and bring play back into your routine. Include things that help with balance, e.g. yoga, dance and juggling.

Talk to a dietitian or nutritionist; healthy eating choices are essential to get fit and active. The folks at Whole Foods have staff on site that can help you with tips and advice and you can arrange to have a free healthy choices tour of the store.

Take baby steps. The success of the Running Room’s training clinics stems from founder John Stanton’s run-walk approach. Taking 10 weeks to run between 20 minutes and 5 km ensures that you minimize chances of injury and you always feel like you could have done one more interval.

Walk or bike to work. Sometimes it is almost as fast as driving and fighting the traffic. You will be more alert when you arrive, less stressed and you reduce your carbon footprint. If you are a Sens fan, instead of battling the parking lot traffic, park at the Tanger Outlet Mall and walk to and from the game, saving the cost of parking!

Cut down on screen time. Technology is quickly becoming an addiction and being attached to your mobile device means you are never fully engaged.

Get a check up before you start any training program. For active women, I would recommend getting your iron checked at least yearly as low iron is common among female athletes and yes, you now get to call yourselves athletes: a benefit of being active.

Track your progress with tracking software or a good old paper diary. You have to see where you’ve been to get where you want to go, and by tracking your activity you get a better idea of how your body is responding to training.

Make it three. Exercise is always easier when you have a buddy but if you have two, you will almost never end up exercising alone.

Take a camera out on a walk. Gatineau Park or the Rideau Canal offer so many photo (and selfie) opportunities, you are likely to extend your walk and incorporate some off trails as well.

Incorporate stretches and core strength. Getting more flexible while you improve your fitness means less chance of injury and better balance and body awareness. Yoga is terrific (see some great videos on YouTube) but it can be as simple as stretching after you exercise. Never lock a joint and try to hold your stretches for 10–30 seconds. If you are new to stretching, I suggest consulting a physiotherapist or a personal trainer to get started.

Bottom line: make exercise fun. Adults often forget how important it is to just go out and play, like throwing a ball or jumping into a street hockey game.

Remember – doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Phil Marsh is the Running Room regional manager and parliamentary running coach.

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