Category Archives: Fitness

2013 Goals

new yearsJust like that another year is gone and it’s time to make some new year’s resolutions. For the next month gyms all across the country will be overcrowded with people who made the resolution to get back in shape. By mid-February things will revert back to normal as over-zealous resolutionaries (best made up word so far this year!) lose their enthusiasm and return to their sedentary lifestyles. One of the nice things about having a blog is that by writing out my goals for the new year and keeping a link to them right at the top of my blog, I can’t pretend they don’t exist once my fervor has waned.

I did a pretty good job with my goals in 2012, and hopefully I can be just as successful this year. Last year my goals were mainly financial goals, with one health/fitness goal that turned out to be too difficult to measure accurately. With that in mind, I tried to expand my goals a little to cover a few more aspects of my life and make sure they’re measurable.

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Health and Finances

health and finances

Since I hit a milestone weight this weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about how health and finances are related. Turns out, a lot of the building blocks for losing weight are the same for growing your savings. Both endeavors entail a journey that will bring you through many of the same stages, including an initial period of sacrifice, a period of re-calibration to your new lifestyle, followed by a maintenance period where the changes you’ve made become second nature. There are a couple differences as well, though. Let’s take a look.

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The Benefits of Exercise

I couple years ago I discovered a lecture on YouTube about fructose called Sugar: The Bitter Truth. It’s an hour and a half, but I promise you it is well worth the time commitment. It is the single best video I’ve ever watched. It completely changed the way I think about food. The lecture is presented by Dr. Robert Lustig, who begins with the thesis that your weight is not determined by the simplistic calories in – calories out formula that most of us have accepted as fact. Instead, he argues that there are biochemical processes going on within your body that make some kinds of calories worse than others, namely fructose.

This video is fantastic and filled with a ton of amazing information, but I want to focus on one part of it: the role of exercise (1:11:15). (This is actually an incredibly small part of the video, and a bit tangential to the main point, but very important information and quite relevant to both health and personal finance.)

The common belief is that if you eat an extra 100 calories, you have to burn an extra 100 calories or you’ll gain weight. And it’s true… mostly. But “20 minutes of jogging is one chocolate chip cookie, you can’t do it!” says Dr. Lustig. It’s true that exercise is very important for weight loss and good health, but when you look at it in such simplistic terms as calories in – calories out, it seems impossible. “One Big Mac and you’ve got to mountain bike for 10 hours,” jokes Lustig. It can be incredibly discouraging and many people give up on their exercise routines because they think they just can’t burn enough calories to make it worthwhile. That’s why Lustig highlights the other benefits of exercise, including stress reduction (helpful because stress is correlated with over-eating and obesity) and an increased metabolism (which helps you burn more calories while at rest).

Ready for the tie in to personal finance? It’s the old saying, “nobody got rich by saving.” Saving can only get you so far toward your financial goals. The real wealth building comes from earning more money, either by increasing your earned income or increasing your investment income. Calculating the effect of compound interest over a lifetime is an eye opening exercise. If you start with nothing and invest just $100/month in an account yielding 6% for 40 years, you’ll end up with approximately $200k, but you only had to contribute $48k. The rest came from interest. Your money is doing the work for you.

Exercise is making an investment in your health. You might not be able to do enough exercise to work off that Big Mac, but the residual effects of that exercise will continue to benefit your body for several hours. In the same way that your initial monetary investment builds on itself, your initial exercise increases your metabolism and reduces stress, helping your body to keep itself healthy without you having to actively do anything.

This is not a perfect analogy, of course. And the difference is what makes exercise (in my opinion) harder than building wealth. If you make one monetary investment today and then completely stop adding to it, it will continue to grow indefinitely. It’s obviously better if you consistently add to that investment yourself, but even if you don’t, it will still keep growing on its own. The benefits of exercise don’t last as long. If you exercise once and then completely stop exercising for the rest of your life, your body will not just magically keep you healthy. The effects of a workout only last for a few hours, so you do need to regularly exercise to keep those benefits.

Since I started out with a recommendation to watch a lecture about sugar, I can’t resist the urge to give a final plug for it, just in case you need more convincing to watch it. The main focus of the lecture is on fructose, and how your body processes it differently than glucose. In essence, your body is terrible at processing fructose, but thanks to the government subsidy on corn, high fructose corn syrup is in everything, making us get fatter by the year. Yes, fructose exists in nature, but as Dr. Lustig so poetically puts it, “when God made the poison, he packaged it with the antidote.” He’s talking about fiber, which is always present in natural sources of sugar, such as fruit or sugar cane. The fiber helps your body process the fructose more efficiently. But fiber reduces the shelf life of food, so all the foods that are packed full of high fructose corn syrup are also depleted of fiber. Dr. Lustig challenges you to look at the labels of packaged foods. Nearly all of them will have fructose as one of the main ingredients, but no more than a gram of fiber. That is why our country is growing fatter, and that is why I do my best to avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague.

Do You Listen to Music While Exercising?

I have made a discovery recently: I like running without music. Before I started running, I visited a lot of online forums where other beginning runners congregated. I heard the same thing over and over: running is boring on its own, so you’ve got to have music to take your mind off it. Knowing that surely I too would find running boring, I brought my music with me on day one of my quest to become a runner. Over the following months, I changed up my playlist, deleting songs that didn’t inspire me to push harder and adding new songs as I found them. I had one criteria for picking songs for my play list: the song must build up to a climactic key change. I find that when the song is building up to the climax, it pushes me to run harder, and then when it gets to that climactic key change, it puts a huge smile on my face and I suddenly enjoy what I’m doing. I don’t think I have an explanation for that, everyone needs to find their own warm fuzzies, right? Since I’m a musical theatre nerd, I had a wealth of songs with climactic key changes to choose from. All was well… for a while.

It turned out the songs had a drawback. I knew that most songs on my play list were about 3 minutes long. That meant I was acutely aware of exactly how long I had been running for. When trying to run for even just half an hour, monitoring your progress in 3 minute increments makes it seem like an eternity. I switched up my playlist and only listened to really long songs, and that helped a bit, but I found myself getting bored of listening to the same song for 8 or 9 minutes. So I tried something revolutionary. I went for a run without my music.

I anticipated that I would get bored, that without music I’d hear my breathing get heavier and be too aware of how winded I was getting, that I’d look down at my GPS watch every minute willing time to pass more quickly. None of that happened. Instead, my mind wandered off to distant places. I thought about what I was going to make for dinner, pondered deep philosophical questions, thought about people I’d fallen out of touch with and wondered where their lives had taken them, all sorts of things. Before I knew it, I looked down at my watch and I’d already been running for 15 minutes!

I listened to music when I started running because all I heard from other beginning runners is that running is horribly boring and they’d never be able to do it if they weren’t listening to music. I went in with the wrong attitude. I expected it to be a chore that I’d need a crutch to struggle through, but found that freeing myself of the crutch allowed me to clear my mind and enjoy the experience so much more. I know that there are plenty of people out there who are the opposite of me, who have tried both and decided they prefer running with music. But I wonder how many beginning runners out there go in with the attitude that I did – that running is going to be so unenjoyable that they’ll only get through it if they bring their iPod. So I encourage everyone to always go into new things with a positive attitude, whether it be a new exercise routine or a new budgeting routine. If you go in with the expectation that it’s going to be unenjoyable, it probably will be.

Get Fit on a Budget

Going to the gym can have many great benefits, but chances are you’d be just as successful with your fitness goals at home, and for a lot less money. Your gym has plenty of exercise equipment, and might even offer group classes, but is all that really necessary? Next time you go to the gym, take a look at the people working out with personal trainers. How much time do they spend using the fancy exercise equipment? Practically none. They spend the majority of their sessions using free weights, resistance bands, exercise balls, and step boxes. All things you can buy at your local sporting goods store,, eBay, or Craigs List. And then there are the classes. Part of your membership fee goes toward providing these classes, so if you’re not taking advantage of them, you’re paying for services you’re not using. And if you are taking classes, ask yourself what about the class motivates you. Is it the particular instructor? The group setting? The fact that it’s a recurring, scheduled routine? With just a little extra motivation, you can get all these things at home for a small cost, or even for free.

Free Forms of Exercise
There are a number of exercises you can do at home for absolutely no money. For cardio you can go for a run or a bike ride, put on a CD and dance around your house, or run up and down your stairs. To build muscle, do push ups, sit ups, planks, and squats. If you don’t own any weights, pick up a heavy book, a sturdy table lamp, anything at all!

Bring the Instructor Home
There are a ton of exercise videos out there, so it’s just a matter of finding a few that you like. If you have a Netflix account, you can get exercise videos through them. P90X and Insanity are very popular right now, so chances are you know someone who owns the DVDs and would be happy to burn a copy for you (that’s how my fiance and I got P90X for free). You won’t like every workout video or every instructor, so try out several until you find a few you enjoy doing. Another thing to note is that many videos will suggest that you buy a few pieces of exercise equipment. You may want to go out and get a couple dumbbells, but you usually don’t need everything they suggest. For instance, P90X suggests you buy this silly little push up stand that lets you get about an inch lower on your push ups, but it’s completely unnecessary in my opinion.

Find a Group
We all know that working out by yourself can be difficult. When the workout gets too hard, you’re tempted to quit because nobody’s there to push you to keep going. Find someone else who is committed to an exercise routine so you can’t skip a workout just because you don’t feel like it. If you’ve agreed that you’re working out every day from 7-8pm, there’s no backing out. If you like to run or bike, a lot of sporting goods stores organize weekly runs/bikes, which is a great way to meet new people who share your passion for exercise and will push you to improve. If you live near a park, pay attention to see if there are groups playing sports there. If you see a group, approach them and ask if you could join their game on a regular basis.

Keep Yourself Accountable
There are a number of online communities where you can find support and encouragement from others with the same goals as you, as well as set goals and track your progress. I belong to, which provides a number of tools for people trying to lose weight. I can set my daily calorie target and log calories eaten and calories burned through exercise. It has a vast database of foods, so you can just search for a food and it will fill in all the nutritional information. Similarly with exercise (but only for cardio as far as I can tell), you can enter what type of exercise you did, at what speed/intensity, and for how long, and it will estimate how many calories you burned. In addition to all that, there is a huge community where you can connect with others. On the message boards, you’ll find people asking and answering questions, sharing inspirational stories, organizing weekly check ins, and creating groups for people with similar goals. If you don’t have an exercise buddy or support network in the “real world,” an online community is a great option.

Friends and Finances – The Frugalist

Did you have an awesome time? Did you drink awesome shooters, listen to awesome music, and then just sit around and soak up each others’ awesomeness?” Why yes, yes we did. Well, not drink awesome shooters and listen to awesome music necessarily, but we definitely soaked up each others’ awesomeness. That’s a quote from Mean Girls, but applicable here in a way completely unrelated to its context in the movie. It’s how I feel when I hang out with my frugal friends. 

How can you not bask in your awesomeness when you spend a girls’ night in playing board games and gabbing instead of going to an overpriced club? Or when you turn an otherwise pricey activity like going to the movies into a frugal night at the drive-in? When two or more Frugalists get together, it’s hard to ignore the fact that you’re just plain awesome.

I’m preaching to the choir here, I know. But just because we’re all awesome, there’s no reason we should become complacent – it’s always possible to be even more awesome. With your friend the Spender, you feel the urge to help guide her toward frugality, but with your friend the Frugalist, you’re on the same wavelength when it comes to money, so you may not feel the need to talk about it. It’s not a discussion of whether you should go out to a fancy restaurant or stay in and cook dinner – you both know where you’re going to end up eating dinner. So how can we be better?

Though we all strive to be as financially responsible as possible, we all have certain areas where we’re not doing everything we could. We also all have strong points though, and as we learn where our friends’ (and our own) weaknesses and strengths are, we can help learn from our friends’ strengths and use our own strengths to advise our friends.

Take my friend Sarah. She has strengths where I have weaknesses and I have strengths where she has weaknesses. One of my weaknesses is that I eat too fast, which means I eat too much, and that’s bad for both my health and my wallet. Sarah is the slowest eater I know. By simply eating so slowly, she recognizes when she’s full before she’s finished her whole plate. I have never seen Sarah not stretch one plate of food into two meals. When we eat together, I try to match her pace, and I always end up eating less and having leftovers. Thanks, Sarah! (But now to figure out how to remind myself to do this even when Sarah’s not around…)

One of my strengths is my housing situation, and it’s one of Sarah’s weaknesses. Granted, my extremely low rent ($500/month in the Bay Area) is due to my fiance’s frugality,* but even before I met my fiance I always made sure my rent was under $1000/month. Whether that meant sharing a house with 4 other people or finding an off-the-beaten-path apartment complex, I have always looked for the best deal possible on rent. Sarah’s rent is somewhere around $1600/month for her one bedroom apartment. It’s the one area where she is decidedly unfrugal (though that is a very typical rent for where we live). Her lease will be up soon, so we’re talking about how she can improve her housing situation. Some suggestions are to move to a neighborhood that is farther away from the ridiculously expensive city where she works, but closer to a freeway so her commute time would remain about the same, or to downsize from a one bedroom to a studio.

When you really start to get to know your friends and become close enough that you can talk about financial matters, use each other’s strengths as examples to shoot for and use your own strengths to advise your friends in areas where they may not be as frugal. And if you’re both just so perfect that there’s no way to increase your awesomeness, challenge each other to improve your health, get better results at work, or help your community. When two awesome people get together, good things can happen.

*My fiance has rented the same 3 bedroom house for about 15 years (he’s a bit older, in case you were wondering), and the house is in total disrepair due to the owner’s refusal to spend any money fixing the driveway, getting new carpets, re-shingling the roof, etc. The owner knows she would have a hard time renting the house out to anyone in its current condition, so my fiance took advantage of the situation and negotiated a lower rent, which we split down the middle.

Fitness Check In

I’m going to be leaving tomorrow for a business conference, so I probably won’t be making any new posts until September. I thought today would be a good day to check in again on my fitness progress.

I’ve been struggling a lot with how to set fitness goals. Should I go by weight? Inches? Body fat percentage? Aerobic ability? Anaerobic ability? Strength? I still don’t know the right answer, but I’m fast approaching a weight milestone, so I’m positively giddy! I’m currently sitting just a smidge above 150 pounds, and I cannot wait to see the 140′s. It’s going to be glorious. I don’t know if my hotel will have a scale. If not, it will be like not having a TV or internet connection during the Superbowl. I’ll just have to wait it out and hope I like the results when I get back on August 31.

In addition to closing in on the 140′s, I’m also close to another weight milestone: I’m 4 pounds away from having lost 20 pounds from my highest weight. When I realized a couple days ago how close I was to losing 20 pounds, I was filled with an emotion I wasn’t expecting: embarrassment.

When I hit my highest weight of 167 pounds, I knew I was slightly overweight, but I thought that at most I only needed to lose 10 pounds, and even that would just be nice, not necessary. I made excuses for why I weighed so much at 5’6″. I have a large frame, I have a lot of muscle, I have a slow metabolism, and so on. But now that I’ve lost nearly 20 pounds while building muscle, there’s no escaping the fact that I weighed too much before. And I’m embarrassed that I didn’t realize it at the time.

The interesting thing is that when I weighed 167, I thought I only needed to lose a maximum of 10 pounds, and now that I’m 151, I think I could still lose another 10, maybe more. Once you start to make real progress, you realize that your excuses were all that was holding you back, and without those excuses you can achieve some really amazing things.

Of course, this has gotten me thinking about how you know when you’ve reached your final goal. My original goal of 10 pounds turned out to be just a stepping stone on my fitness journey, 20 pounds is now within reach and 30 doesn’t seem so far fetched. But when do I stop losing weight? Will I get to a weight where I look at the scale and feel content with the number? For my own sanity, I should probably stop paying attention to the scale. But after I get into the 140′s.

In other news, I look really hot now.

Not Giving Up Feels So Good

Apparently introspection is a great motivator. Who knew? After my last post I decided it was time to get my butt in gear, so last night I broke out my running shoes and my GPS watch and went for a run. Since it’s been 5 months since I stopped running, I figured I might need to start back on week 1 of the Couch to 5k program. I’ve been doing P90X and dancing, but running is a different beast entirely. It takes stamina, lung capacity, determination, and most of all, the ability to not get bored. So I looked at the program again. Week 1: alternate 60 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking for 20 minutes. Surely I don’t have to go THAT far back. Week 2: alternate 90 seconds of running with 2 minutes of walking for 20 minutes. Still seemed a little easy. So I went with week 3: 90 seconds running, 90 seconds walking, 3 minutes running, 3 minutes walking, twice through. And what did I do? I KILLED it!

The first 90 second run was easy, but I knew if I kept checking my watch while doing that first 3 minute run, it would seem to last forever. So I didn’t look, I just ran. When I finally figured it must be almost 3 minutes, I looked down. It was 3 minutes 30 seconds. Well that wasn’t too bad! So when I got to the last 3 minute block of running, I figured why not just run until I didn’t feel like running any more? When I looked down at my watch, 5 minutes had passed. And I felt like I could keep going. So I went another 3 minutes. And at that point I said to myself, “you’ve already been running for 8 minutes, let’s make it 10.” When all was said and done, I ended up running about as much as I would have had I skipped week 3 and done week 4.
I’m reminded of a line from my all time favorite movie, Gattaca.

“No one exceeds his potential.”
“If he did?”
“It means that we did not accurately gauge his potential in the first place.”

I’m not accurately gauging my potential! I thought that after 5 months off I would struggle just trying to run for 3 minutes, and I ran for 10! Moral of the story: set goals, but don’t settle for them. I could have easily done the week 3 routine and patted myself on the back for achieving my goal, but I recognized that my goal wasn’t ambitious enough, so I pushed further. Now to apply that attitude to every aspect of my life…

What Motivates You?

I’ve recently been having trouble with my weight. I successfully lost about 12 pounds in 3 months back in the end of 2011, plateaued for a few months, and now I’m starting to put on a little weight again. True, I started P90X a couple weeks ago, so I am building muscle, but I feel like I’m putting on fat too (and I know that I haven’t been eating very well lately). So I think it’s high time to remind myself why I should keep pushing until I reach my goals.

This is what motivates me:

  1. Improving my overall health – I’m usually tired and get colds pretty frequently, so I hope that by exercising and eating right, I’ll have more energy and get sick less often.
  2. Align my body with my voice – I do musical theatre, and vocally, I should be playing ingenues, but because I’m not petite, directors don’t want to cast me as such. I can’t change my height, but hopefully by trimming down a bit, I’ll have a better shot of getting the parts I want. (I’m also working to broaden my vocal abilities so I can sing other styles, but it’s still a good motivator to lose weight.)
  3. Being stronger – What can I say? I like being strong. It makes me feel good.
  4. Achieving small goals – Every time I write in my food journal and hit my calorie target for the day, every time I lose a pound, every time my workout feels just a little easier than the time before, I have a feeling of accomplishment. That feeling propels me into the next day feeling great about my progress. If I ever feel like skipping a workout or overindulging, I must remind myself that if I give up one day, it will make me feel less motivated the next day. It’s the snowball effect – living a healthy life today will make it easier to be healthy tomorrow, living an unhealthy life today will make it easier to be unhealthy tomorrow.
  5. Accomplishing what I set out to do – Back in 2011 I started out this journey to lose weight and get healthier. I don’t want to stop when I’m so close to reaching my goals, and I certainly don’t want to backpedal. I said I was going to do this, so damnit, I’m going to do it!
I hope that by July 1st I’ll have some progress to report. Stay tuned and keep motivated!