Friday, July 27, 2012

Guest post

My parents are two of the strongest people I know. When most people say this they are speaking about strength of character. When I say this I am talking about physical strength (they are pretty good at the character part too).

Anyone who has ever baled hay by hand knows that there is just no way you could ever replicate such a physical experience in the gym. 8-12 hours of lifting 50 pound bales all the while balancing on hay wagon! They don't make a workout machine to reproduce this experience. And even if they did no one would have the time to use it.

I think about these things because I'm a personal trainer, and the daughter of a shepherdess. I work with city types; lawyers, financiers, actuaries, and bankers. My clients are amazing people and, with a little help, they have become pretty fit folks. But as a rule, they really aren't in same fitness class as my mom and dad. This is not a character judgement. It is just a fact.

How could they possibly be when their careers demand 6 to 10 hours a day of sitting. I work with some of the most motivated, most focused, and toughest people you're likely to find. They work really hard to keep their bodies in good shape. But they are at a disadvantage. No amount of willpower, no amount of dieting, and no amount of fitness schemes can make up for a sedentary career.
You can't sit for 8 hours and then in one giant burst make up for all that time in 1 hour at the gym.

It is no mystery to me why we face an obesity epidemic. Our bodies are not made for this amount of sitting around. Our bodies are made to move.

In recent years I've done my best to help my clients, my friends, and my family to adjust their lifestyles to be more like farmers, or gatherers, or hunters. I encourage them to do a 10-minute workout here and 30-minute walk there:
Walk to the grocery store and carry home a bag or two. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Stand up and stretch, maybe do some pushups every 30 minutes or so when you are at your desk. Rough house (safely) with your kids for ten minutes instead of watching T.V. Go for a walk after dinner... You get the idea.
This sort of up and down rhythm is what our bodies enjoy. Too much stillness can cause damage. Likewise too much physical activity in a short span of time can cause damage. When you arrive at the gym compelled to get all your physical activity in, in one fell swoop, you expose yourself to injury. When you sit at a desk all week and then hurl yourself into a day-long mountain biking adventure you expose yourself to injury.

What we need is to find the middle ground. Plenty of moving and plenty of rest throughout the day. On, off, on, off, on, off (as my 1-year-old son Jasper is so fond of saying).

So if you don't have the good fortune of being a sheep farmer I'd encourage you to figure out how to sprinkle micro-workouts throughout your day. If you need some suggestion on what to do why not visit your local sheep farm. I'll bet they have plenty of wood for you chop, hay for you to collect, trees to trim, sheep to herd, thistles that need to be policed, and manure to be shoveled. They probably won't even charge you for the workout!

Will all this make you as strong as my parents?
I doubt it. But you may lose a pound or two, and more importantly it will make you feel a whole lot better.

Amber Ellison Walker lives and works in Minneapolis as an in-home personal trainer. She splits her time training clients and taking care her 1-year-old son Jasper. One of her favorite things in life is returning home to the sheep farm. She is even up for an occasional 3:00am lambing session or a ride in the hay wagon. She is the owner and head trainer at I Think I Can Fitness.

Written with the help of Jesse C. Walker, a small business online marketing consultant, who also happens to be Amber's husband.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Raspberries - Sunday of the Month

Raspberries, that mid summer fruit that epitomizes vacation time - soft, sweet and fleeting - are a pleasure at which you really have to work. Raspberries are so ethereal that they were seldom sold in grocery stores until modern modifications created a tougher berry. Although they are much larger and do survive packaging, shipping and reselling, store bought raspberries are pale reproductions of the original.

Traditional raspberries ripen in a thicket; every inch of bush covered in thorns to catch at your clothing and scratch your skin. Yet each berry is so fragile that they stain your fingers as you pick and your lips and tongue as you eat. Your fingers must work gently to pick the berries from their stems, and you have to spread them in wide containers, berries less than an inch deep, to keep them from crushing each other.

Picking berries forces you to slow down, just a little - a small taste of vacation in your berry patch. There is nothing small about the fragrance or flavor of home grown raspberries. The scent of berries hanging thick on their branches in the warm sun entices and the bright, intense flavor as you slip one into your mouth grabs at your taste buds and shouts “Yes! This is summer!”

Wild Raspberry Sunday

The absolutely best way to eat raspberries is sprinkled liberally on a dish of vanilla ice cream. But if all my Sunday of the Month blog entries are plain fruit on ice cream, they will get boring fairly rapidly. The following “Sunday” came from a friend who ate something similar in a restaurant and figured out her own version of the raspberry treat. I altered her recipe for our family’s taste buds.

1 cup fresh raspberries divided into 3 small bowls
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon sour cream or yogurt

Mix the sour cream (or yogurt) and powdered sugar until well blended. Spoon mixture over the raspberries. Serve with small spoons to make the treat last longer.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dave and I are both 64 years old. Most of the time we don’t feel that old. We know lots of people our age with bad backs, bad knees, or big bellies that limit what they can do with their bodies. We know farmers who have to use a four wheeler instead of walking their pastures, who raise beef cattle instead of dairy cattle because it’s physically easier, who shifted from small square hay bales to big round hay bales so they wouldn’t have to lift by hand. Only skidsteers or tractors can lift the big rounds.

Haying and lambing are the two most physically exhausting times of our year. During haying, if we don’t have extra help, we lift 70,000 pounds of dried alfalfa in 50 pound bales from the baler to the wagon, from the wagon to the elevator, and from the elevator to the stack in the mow. During lambing, we spend hours of every day out in the cold. We walk, kneel, lie down, climb, lift, wrestle, chase, and tackle much more than we do the other eleven months of the year.

One of the reasons we can still immobilize a 150 pound ewe or lift a 50 pound bale, or catch a 10 pound lamb that squirts around the barnyard much faster than we can, is that we keep in good shape the rest of the year by working and exercising. Dave rows, I run or snowshoe almost daily, and we both work out by Skype with Amber, our daughter and personal trainer. That one hour workout each week, by a trained person who sees us better than we see ourselves, stretches tight muscles, strengthens weak muscles, improves our balance and keeps us limber. I hadn’t realized how the range of motion of my head had decreased until Amber helped me enhance it. When I wrenched my back lifting Dave’s backpack before a camping trip, Amber helped me focus on the muscles that hurt and then strengthen them. She worked with me for over a year until the pain was completely gone in almost every situation. Dave hadn’t seen the changes in his posture until they began to improve with his weekly workouts.

The work necessary to farming helps keep us active, but having our very own personal trainer keeps us fit enough to continue farming.