Review: Texture iOS app

2016-11-28-07-59-26 I subscribed to Next Issue several years ago. I canceled my subscription when I started grad school knowing that all of my spare time would disappear. I liked the Next Issue app, but it wasn’t all that difficult for me to give up my subscription. I felt there was a lot of room for improvement.

Having completed grad school a year ago, I finally decided to give the magazine app, now Texture, another try, and I was blown away by the improvements that had taken place in the years I was absent from the app. Now Texture has become a Must Have resource.

Curated Content

My absolute favorite change to the app is that you no longer have to download a complete magazine to read an interesting article. My second favorite (and corresponding) change is that Texture curates the content and spotlights the articles. What’s more is that once you start on a collection, it pre-loads the next article in the collection so that advancing from article to article is a seamless 2016-11-28-19-02-25experience. However, after each article, you’re given the chance to load the rest of the magazine or continue to the next article in the collection.

One reason I love magazines is for the annual gift guides around this time of year. I always learn about interesting new products in these features. (This year, the popular gift seems to be Yeti coolers, go figure. Is that paid advertising? I don’t know.) I loved checking out the wide range of gift guides this year, but the collections will also highlight other trending topics. For example, for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek in September, several magazines were celebrating with feature articles honoring the show in one way or another, so Texture included a Star Trek collection.

Search

Texture now lets you search across all of the magazines in their system, and it seems to produce fairly comprehensive, relevant results. When I travel, I’ll search for my destination to see if any magazines have recently covered places to eat or sights to see in the area I’m visiting. I’ll also use the Search if I’m looking for workouts, such as a 5k training guide or a core fitness routine.

Saving Articles

2016-11-28-08-02-56

When I’ve found an article I want to refer back to, either by browsing highlighted articles, discovering the article in a search, or by reading a full-length magazine, it’s important that I can save the article. This is one of the features I found missing when I used Next Issue a few years ago, and I’m extremely grateful they’ve added it since. An especially useful feature is that you can create your own categories for saved articles enabling you to easily find it when you need it.

Whether you’ve tried Next Issue in the past or are looking for a new resource for short reads, I highly recommend Texture. The amount of content they offer is already prodigious but keeps increasing. To me, it’s worth the subscription price.

 

 

Emotional Cause of Injury

There's nothing physically wrong. It needs a psychiatrist.It’s hard to believe it’s been over three months since my last post. That’s about the time I started experiencing symptoms of Repetitive Stress Injury, which is common enough for people who spend their day on the computer that I immediately guessed at the problem. From a previous bout of RSI, I understood the basic ergonomic recommendations. However, over the course of an intense work project, I had let my break and posture habits slip. I thought I was paying the price, so I set about paying attention to my habits and working to correct them.

Unfortunately, becoming more attentive to my break schedule and correcting my posture did nothing to eliminate the problem, and in fact, it started getting worse. I enlisted the help of a massage therapist and a chiropractor; both provided temporary relief only. I purchased and read It’s Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! by Jack Bellis and Suparna Damany and thought I had narrowed down the problem to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. In the meantime, I spoke to everyone who would listen, including my primary care doctor and a friend of mine who is a physician’s assistant, about my issues. Firstly, those in the medical community seemed to be completely baffled by the symptoms I was describing, saying things like, “Usually such an issue only manifests unilaterally,” while I was experiencing problems in both arms. Still everyone had advice, and I did my best to follow the advice (such as, cut down on sugar consumption) except where it was conflicting (the topic of chiropractors seems to be a particularly polarizing one).

And yet nothing was helping. So I continued my research. I stumbled across one blog article in which the author states that he solved his RSI problem by reading The Mindbody Prescription by Dr. John Sarno. When I read the synopsis of the book, I was skeptical that it would apply to my case because I feel like I’m fairly even keel. On the other hand, at this point I was willing to try anything.

I read the book and was surprised to see that Dr. Sarno was describing my personality and symptoms to a tee. Sarno’s theory is that those who are most even keel emotionally are most likely to internalize stress so that it manifests as physical pain. I’ll spare you most of the boring details about my particular case. Suffice it to say that I’m finally comfortable enough to sit and write a blog post during my off hours, and I, too, would attribute my recovery to the concepts covered in The Mindbody Prescription.

Though I was initially skeptical that my problem was emotional in nature, the idea that mental state could influence physical outcomes is well covered in scientific literature, and thus it was not much of a leap for me to accept Dr. Sarno’s arguments. For example, the placebo effect by which simply an expectation of a therapy to have success has a positive bearing on whether the therapy is successful has been amply documented not only with medication, but with a long list of treatments from acupuncture to ultrasound.

And yet there’s enough of a stigma about the mind-body connection that some people simply refuse to acknowledge the connection. It’s Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! refers to The Mindbody Prescription and almost completely discounts it because the author Jack Bellis infers an “all-in-your-head” theme that he finds offensive. His opinion is mildly amusing to me because the message in It’s Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! is that there is no way to completely heal yourself but that you can dampen and manage the pain with physical therapy and habit changes, while the message in The Mindbody Prescription is that you can, in fact, completely heal yourself. So what this means is that Jack Bellis (and many others like him) finds the notion of emotions being a source of physical pain so repulsive that he is willing to live with the pain rather than open up to the possibility of the mind-body connection.

By the way, as I mentioned, I had previously suffered from RSI in my twenties. At the time, I made the ergonomic changes recommended by medical professionals, but at the suggestion of a friend, I also took up yoga, which emphasizes deep breathing and introspection similar to what Dr. Sarno recommends. The problem went away with me none the wiser as to why it went away.

In any case, this RSI experience reinforced for me the idea that we have to be advocates for treatment of our own injuries and illnesses. Now when I am suffering from a physical ailment, my modus operandi is to talk to others, do internet research, and keep trying different therapies until I stumble on the right one. So far it’s worked well for me.

Playing Card Workout Schedule

Playing CardsMy friends and family tease me because I have a system for everything, from what book I’m going to read next to the music I listen to while working. I’m good-natured about the teasing. I understand how ridiculous it all seems, but at the same time, I stand by my processes for a reason. Psychologists have identified a phenomenon called decision fatigue, wherein people only have so much mental energy for making decisions in a given period. After making a series of other decisions, people are more likely to make poor decisions because they no longer have the energy to think through the normal decision-making process. As it happens, low willpower is also correlated to decision fatigue. By instituting my ridiculous systems, I eliminate various minor decisions from daily life, leaving me energy for both willpower and the big decisions.

I think we’ve already covered how I get bored easily. My biggest challenge towards my goal of long-term fitness is my tendency towards boredom. I need variety in my workout schedule for me to get excited about my workouts, but for a while I really struggled with how best to randomize my schedule enough to keep it interesting. Then I happened to read an article in Fitness or Self magazine about Carrie Underwood (I think) in which Carrie mentioned how she uses a deck of cards to guide her workout. I didn’t save the article to refer back to it (or even properly cite it), but I think the idea was that she assigned each suit to a part of the body; e.g. clubs = abs, diamonds = back, hearts = arms, spades = legs. Then for whichever card she pulled, she’d do that many exercises for that part of the body; for example, if she pulls an 8 of clubs, she does 8 crunches.

Inspiration! If I was looking for a way to randomize my workouts, what better way than to use a deck of cards? For me the suits become a category of workout: clubs = fitness classes at the local Y, diamonds = pull from a library of DVDs, hearts = streaming/web classes, spades = BYO (build your own). If I pull an 8 of clubs, I look at a calendar of fitness classes at my Y and count 8 from the last class on my schedule (of classes that fit into my schedule, so after work and weekends).

I use the deck of cards to schedule a workout four weeks in advance, and I choose a card for each day in those four weeks (so 28 cards). I fill in the clubs first since for that one my schedule is dependent on the Y’s schedule of classes, and then I fill in the rest of the days in the order that the cards are drawn. As I’ve previously mentioned, I have weekly scheduled activities two days a week, but I draw for those days in the off chance that soccer or yoga are canceled, and I take two days a week off. So I usually end up using three of the cards drawn for a given week.

But here’s the fun part for me: I sometimes choose my days off by what I’ve drawn – if I’ve drawn a really hard workout (like an Insanity DVD) and see that ahead on my schedule, I might choose to take that day off. But that means I’m really excited about the alternative workout. I might get excited about a 30-minute fartlek run just because it means I’m not doing the Insanity DVD the following day.

I used to try to rearrange the cards so that I would evenly space the cardio workouts and the weight training workouts, but after getting a heart rate monitor and realizing that I get a decent cardio workout from yoga and weight training, I stopped worrying. To me the important thing is just to move and to enjoy doing it. My only rules are that my workout should be 15-90 minutes long and that if social obligations decide my days off, I have to do the hard workouts (the hard workouts make me appreciate the easy ones, after all).

Fit For Free (Or Cheap)

freebiesI do have a fairly flexible budget allowing me to spend money on fitness, and I do spend money. However, I get bored easily, so I face a constant challenge of finding resources for adding variety to my schedule. Fitness providers will often want you to enter into a commitment with them, and though I do have a few monthly subscriptions, if I don’t want to spend $800/month on fitness, I still need to find cheap or free resources. I know not everyone has the room in their budget for fitness resources, so this post is dedicated to the free or very cheap resources that I have found over time.

  • Magazines – Fitness magazines regularly include workouts with detailed instructions, and as mentioned in Today’s Tabata-style Workout, I often draw inspiration from the workouts in these magazines, usually tweaking them depending on my mood or needs. I subscribe to both Fitness and Self and won’t pay more than $10/year on a subscription. Each issue usually has 2-3 usable workouts, though this depends on whether you have access to some of the gear used. The magazine’s websites can also provide inspiration if you can handle the website design (I personally find their ad-driven designs too obnoxious to navigate). I also recommend checking with your library. My local library offers access to a selection of magazines on Zinio, allowing one to download the magazines to a tablet for free.
  • Community classes – It’s in the nation’s best interest for its people to be healthy and fit because healthy individuals provide productive output for more years and require less health care resources. For this reason, often times grant money will be available to provide community group fitness classes. In addition, some fitness studios or personal trainers will offer a free community class once a week or more as a way of marketing their services. Finally, others are just so enthusiastic about their mode of fitness, they are willing to share their love with others for the sake of their passion. Eventually I’d love to provide a resource where people can go to find out about the free classes offered in their area, but for now you really just have to poke around for these opportunities, such as by Googling “community exercise programs <name of town>”. Some examples in the Oklahoma City area include MetroFit and Yoga in the Park.
  • Groupon – Groupon often lists good deals for sampling local fitness classes.
  • Blogs – In addition to this hobby blog, innumerable blogs exist on the Internet providing workout inspiration for free. For example, Fit Bottomed Girls and The Fitnessista. As an extension of this, since some bloggers (like The Fitnessista) put their workout suggestions in nicely formatted images and even provide Pinterest links for pinning the images, Pinterest is a great place to search for workouts (and thereby help you find other fitness bloggers). Try abs workout, bosu exercises, or resistance band arms for example queries.
  • Streaming fitness videos online – If you have Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu subscriptions, you can sometimes find fitness videos offered through your membership. Alternatively, there are a number of free streaming options (some through YouTube) or cheap monthly subscriptions. For example, one of my favorites is FitnessGlo, $12/month for a subscription, which is about the cost of a drop-in class at any of the local fitness studios. Fit Life Pursuits has a comprehensive list of streaming options, including a number of free ones.
  • Apps – Again, innumerable apps are available, free, freemium, and paid, to help you with your fitness. Some, like the Nike+ Training Club iOS app, offer videos you can stream. Others, like the Fitocracy iOS app, match you with a personal trainer. Still others, such as C25K (Couch to 5K) iOS app, will guide your runs. PCMag recently listed 25 Best Fitness Apps for 2016 to help you get started. The two apps I use regularly in my workouts are C25K (I went ahead and paid for the premium app because I was getting great use out of the free version) and Interval Timer (free).

What are your favorite free/cheap fitness resources?

Habitual Chocolate Intake Has Positive Effect on Cognitive Function

Photo by Arvind Balaraman, posted courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.
Photo by Arvind Balaraman, posted courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

For someone who regularly indulges in chocolate (such as yours truly) a recent study showing long-term positive effects of chocolate on cognitive function is happy news. As the psychologist behind the study, Merrill Elias, points out, this doesn’t mean that one should make chocolate a primary part of your diet, but rather that you can have that chocolate truffle on occasion without feeling guilty. Of course, if you are enjoying chocolate in moderation, you shouldn’t feel guilty anyway, but more on that in a future post.

Motivation: Teamwork

Soccer teammates
Part of our soccer team – it’s hard to get a photo of the whole team as people are always arriving late and leaving quickly.

After giving my advice to those just starting their own fitness journey in Walk Your Own Fitness Path, I asked my friends what advice they would give. One said, “I would say make it something you love because it increases the odds of you making it part of your lifestyle!” Another said, “For me it’s all about accountability. Find someone to do this journey with you. Not only does it hold you accountable, but they can be a great source of motivation and encouragement.”

Building on both of these gems, I’m going to take a moment to talk about teams and the social aspect of fitness. My goal is always to exercise five days a week. Twice a week I have standing activities: on Mondays I play indoor soccer on a co-ed team (part of which is pictured here); on Tuesdays I take yoga with a group of regulars. These are both activities I love, but it’s really the people who make me look forward to Mondays and Tuesdays.
Playing on a team is an excellent motivator. I pretty much have to show up to the games because we only have a few girls on the team. If any of us does not show up, we are down a sub, meaning everyone has to be on the field longer, and we all play hard. I cherish rest when I get it. And during the game, you don’t want to let your team down by giving half effort.
However, in addition to the obligation to show up and give effort, team sports are just plain fun. We all cheer each other on – we’re a team playing for the same goal, to win. Shared goals bring people together. The social aspect is what makes me excited about the games. Receiving high fives for finally scoring a goal, laughing with others when you do something ridiculous (like trip on your way onto the field), commiserating when someone just misses the goal, all of those little moments are what make soccer so valuable.
Yoga is not a team sport per se, but when you find the right group of people, it can get pretty close to it. The women I see every week during our scheduled yoga practice are all cheerleaders, all very supportive of each other. We ooh and ahh when one of us strikes a pose that is all grace and beauty, and we celebrate when one person finally masters a position they’ve been working towards for months. The fact that my yoga class is willing to put together a video for a local radio station is completely representative of why I love this group of women (video created when the Pharell song was all the rage):

The Mitch Park Yoga Class says we make them HAPPY! Thanks girls, AWESOME vid

Posted by Magic 104.1, KMGL on Tuesday, April 22, 2014

In conclusion, teamwork (both literal and metaphorical) in fitness can be a powerful motivator. I’ll leave you with a couple of tips for finding your own teams:

  1. If looking to start with team sports, you may want to contact a facility that runs club sports to see if they take names of individuals. Sometimes they’ll pass these on to leaders looking to fill their rosters.
  2. If you’re looking for a group activity (like yoga) to be a social avenue, shop around until you find the right fit. I think it has a lot to do with chemistry. People with shared personalities or goals or whatever.

Today’s Tabata-style Workout

One of these days I’ll get around to explaining how I schedule my workouts. Not today, though. Today I’m just going to share my workout. (Legal disclaimer: I do not claim to be a certified personal trainer, but rather a fitness enthusiast. Do these exercises at your own risk.)

Inspired by a workout found in a fitness magazine (I do not know which one), I converted it to a Tabata-style workout. I highly recommend using a timer of some sort. I use an iOS app called IntervalTimer – it allows you to build simple or complex routines and save them for future use. Each block is comprised of 8 sets (20 seconds active, 10 seconds resting) with a minute of rest between. Do as many reps as possible (AMRAP) in the active 20 seconds.

Update – Great cardio workout, but also, I discovered, for leg strength. It’s a day later, and I have muscle soreness all over my upper legs, especially in the quads and glutes.

Block 1 Active Rest Sets Demo
Plie squat jumps 0:20 0:10 8
Rest 1:00
Block 2 (alternate sides each set)
Dynamic Warrior III 0:20 0:10 8
Rest 1:00
Block 3 (alternate exercises each set)
Squat-lunge combo 0:20 0:10 4
Side-lunge shuffle 0:20 0:10 4
Rest 1:00
Block 4 (alternate exercises each set)
Surfer popup 0:20 0:10 4
Plank jack/push-up combo 0:20 0:10 4
Rest 1:00

Exercise While Traveling

Limited space in hotel room.
Tight spaces

I’m traveling this weekend for a wedding, and because I took a couple of days off of work, pre-travel chores at work and home kept me particularly busy this past week so that I didn’t get around to my mid-week post. But, since it’s on my mind, let’s talk about exercise while traveling. I don’t know about you, but when I’m traveling is when I most feel in need of a good workout. Between lots of restaurant meals and time spent in planes and cars, nothing feels better than taking a few minutes to move the body. Obviously, there are a lot of considerations:

  1. Time – when are you going to fit a workout in?
  2. Space – is there room in the luggage for workout gear?
  3. Equipment – does the hotel have a decent gym? If not, can I carry the necessary equipment?
  4. Network connection – If relying on internet for a workout, do I need to pay extra at the hotel for internet access? Is the internet connection strong enough to support streaming (if needed)?
  5. Safety – If planning an outdoor run, does the hotel location offer safe running routes?

On this trip, my overriding concern was luggage space. I was dead set on traveling with only a carry-on. This meant I didn’t have the space for an extra pair of shoes, but leggings, t-shirt, and sports bra don’t take much room. This pretty much decided my workouts for me – yoga it is. I have endorsed Yogaglo on another blog, so I won’t say much about it except to say that I thought I might be able to do one practice with Yogaglo. Hotel internet can be spotty, though, so I can’t rely on it. Turns out this hotel does have decent bandwidth, but I also brought along a P90X Yoga DVD. The P90X Yoga program is great – it’s an hour and a half, but if I don’t have time for the whole program, it can easily be split into a good cardio/strength workout by limiting myself to the first 45 minutes, or a balance/stretch exercise session (the last half).

One reason yoga is a favorite of mine is that it requires so little. The practice can be tailored to what I need (short practice, long practice, focus on strength, cardio, or flexibility), and it can be done almost anywhere. It’s not ideal to do a yoga practice without a sticky mat, but it can be done. This hotel’s gym is not a spacious one, and it is not equipped with a good mat, so I opted to practice in the room, even though the room didn’t have much space either.

On other trips I’ve relied heavily on good local trails, internet streaming, DVDs, and hotel gyms. I also regularly travel with a resistance band set. One can get a complete strength training workout with resistance bands (for example: http://greatist.com/fitness/resistance-band-exercises), and the bands do not take much space, so it’s great to have these as a fallback option.

After a full weekend of eating like a queen, I’ll be glad to get back to my normal diet/routine, but in the meantime, I’m very thankful I made the time to get in a yoga practice or two. What are your favorite travel fitness tips?

 

Walk Your Own Fitness Path

Insanity exhaustionI remember my first time trying a cycling class. I’ve always been fairly active, but my level of fitness varied in my teens and early twenties. Still, I walked into the cycling class with some confidence. I was not a complete slouch. Ten minutes into the class, the instructor called for us to stand on the pedals and sprint, and my legs buckled underneath me. I was spent. I looked around the class and was dumbfounded to see that everyone else was still going like this was a walk in the park. For the first time in my life, I walked out of a group fitness class before it ended (much before! we weren’t even a quarter of the way into it!). I was absolutely humiliated. I felt like everyone else in the class was laughing to see how they had bested me. It was years before I worked up the courage to try another cycling class.

As you can probably guess, I am a competitive person. This aspect of my personality I think has served me well. Competition can be a powerful driver towards success, and when the competition is friendly, it can be a lot of fun. But what it took me years to learn is that you have to be savvy in picking your battles and your competitors. I was setting myself up for failure by comparing myself against a group of people who were used to the pace and length of cycling classes. But this was the norm for me – I was always competing.

The one piece of advice I’d give to someone just beginning (or restarting) their fitness journey is: walk your own path. I’ve heard celebrity trainers say variations of the same thing. Tony Horton, who emphasizes avoiding comparison with your peers, says, “Do your best and forget the rest.” Felicia Tomasko says something like, “Work for your body today,” which I think is a great reminder that some days our body is in better shape than others. If you are sore or weak on a given day, work, but work easier than you do on your powerful days.

One of the reasons I really like Shaun T’s Insanity workouts is that the cameras show when someone drops out for a rest. The photo in this post is a screenshot from one of the Insanity workouts – don’t the models look exhausted? This makes me happy because these people are at the peak of their physical fitness, and they are winded, too! It’s a reminder that everyone has their limits. It’s a hard workout, and it’s okay if it’s too much for you and you need to take a quick rest. Just do what you can on this day.

Midweek Inspiration: American Birkebeiner

The temperature has been in the 30s here this past week. When the temperature dips below 40 degrees F, all I want to do is climb under a down comforter and hibernate. Even walking from the car to the gym seems a special kind of torture. So today I’m drawing inspiration from people who find enough joy in winter sports that they’ll come back to this race year after year. If they are willing to wear moleskin in pursuit of their sport, surely I can brave a couple of minutes out in the cold in pursuit of mine!