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Why Exercise?

05/28/2006

Beautiful Readers,

So I thought it might be time to write a little about fitness. Fitness, as I see it, is sort of like brushing your teeth, except that it can be a much wilder, more engaging experience, with the potential to take you places mentally and physically that brushing your teeth can not.

In it’s best expression, it can put you in touch with a more, basic, animal nature, and in the modern, quite cerebral, world, I think that can be a very good thing. Chimps aren’t fretting all day over break-ups, sour realtionships, aging parents, or job stress. And I suspect that female chimps don’t second guess themselves as much as their human counterparts "Oooh. I wonder if I really deserve the biggest banana on the tree. Am I good enough for the biggest banana?"

And, animals also don’t  worry about their weight or what they look like. A little grooming, and they are good to go–feeling confident that they’ll get to mate. And that’s what we want for you (or something like that anyway). And exercise can get you that feeling of confidence. Many studies have proven conclusively that women of any body type feel much better about the way they look after they exercise.

And, for me, that’s what’s great about exercise. It is as close to a "magic pill" for women as anything that I have ever seen. Some combination of the chemicals that your body releases during a good workout, plus the reprieve that it can force upon your worried mind, really does bring greater confidence, and higher self esteem, all the while helping you to recreate your body into a form that you would rather live with.

Exercise will increase your energy level generally, make you smarter, improve your memory, and allow you to live with a minimum of health issues into older ages. And if you have read other posts of mine, you know how skeptical I can be, and yet I am entirely convinced that all of this is true, I have read all of the studies, and have seen it happen with tons of clients of ours already. 

Getting enough exercise also seems to naturally encourage a healthier diet. I have had countless clients tell me that they suddenly find themselves wanting to make better food choices once they have started a regular exercise routine. Underweight clients want to eat more. Overweight clients want to eat less.

And if you care about how you look as you age, it is entirely true that women who exercise regularly often look much better, well beyond their 50s (you should see some of our 50+ trainers–they’re amazingly young looking.), than women who don’t. 50 is the age around which I tend to see the biggest differences that exercise can make. I can tell at first glance (and this seems to be particularly true for women, more than for men, though I don’t know why) who does and doesn’t  exercise at this point in their lives.

The differences have something to do with skin color and quality, overall elasticity, and the way the women move, which can make the difference between looking "old" or looking "young" (though, in truth these are probably the wrong adjectives because if lifestyle differences effect the outcome of time so dramatically–we should stop associating the qualities of brittleness and sagginess with aging).

So my suggestion for those of you who feel lukewarm about starting an exercise program is to give it a try, and see how you feel, and get help from friends, or from us, if you need it. If after a few months, you are enjoying the benefits that I have described, I bet you will want to continue. And if a longer, healthier, life, and feeling great about yourself, doesn’t motivate you, remember that you do deserve the biggest banana.

All the best, and thanks for reading,

Alix Florio

Beautiful Fitness

Losing weight

05/18/2006

Beautiful Readers,

After so much musing about everything other than Fitness–I thought it was time to start sharing some observations that might actually be helpful to those of you who are trying to get into better shape. Now, mind you, much of what I will be offering is subjective, and based on personal observation, as much as on science.

And just so that you know that my advice is worth taking–I have seen a fair number of people get in shape, and can guess someone’s fat percentage with eerie accuracy from pretty far away. I have seen a wide variety of examples of fitness and weight loss attempts that have worked, and plenty that haven’t

This, and the next five blogs will all be dedicated to advice that I have gleaned from years in the fitness industry, that can help you, Beautiful reader, get in shape, if you are willling to follow my somewhat no-nonsense advice.

Tip #1: Losing Weight

The only way to really lose weight is to eat fewer calories than you expend in a given day, and it is likely that if you do this you will be kind of hungry, and that may make you feel slightly panicky and irritable. Warn your friends and family.

Ever wonder why Parisian women are always in such a snit? It’s because they are dieting. Like, all the time. "Oh non non", they will cry, "Ce n’est pas vrai! No one is ever on a diet in France! That is only for self-indulgent Americans!" but that is bull merde. All women are on a continuous diet in France. At least by American standards. If a Parisian woman, gains a kilo, she drinks tea and eats meagerly until it is gone again. Really.

Now by doing this, French women rarely have to contend with the troublesome issue of having to lose large amounts of weight. When the numbers on their scales begin to creep even slightly higher, they nip them, with haughty Parisian outrage, in the bud. Immediately.

The advantage to this is that Parisians are never forced to go through that frightful period of still feeling quite fat and unhappy with their bodies, while trying despirately to lose large amounts of weight, that American women sometimes do. And also, they are never forced to restrict their calorie intake by half of thier previous eating regime, in order to accomplish this. Which has the differnce in terms of dieting anguish between a shot and surgery.

I recommend that you behave like the svelte women of Paris, and accept that it stinks to lose weight, and deprive yourself of food for the purpose of growing slimmer, but that you have to do it anyway. (Oh great, so now I’ll have the eating disorders folks trying to shut us down) but I swear, it is OK to be hungry sometimes. In fact, being hungry even for several days (mind you, I said days, not weeks) can be the only way that some people will in fact wean themselves off the too-high in calories diet that they have grown accustomed to. All that stuff about "lose weight without feeling hungry" is, essentially, a lie.

The good news is that, overall, studies seem to suggest that it is better for your body not to always be completely satiated. Having said that, it is also completely normal and healthy for women to want to eat all the food available to them, all the time–and in the modern world, that’s a damn lot of food. Yes, the whole plentiful food thing, is a minefield.

Women’s bodies are designed to be very efficient at storing fat–a thing that is quite important when you live in the wild, are active all the time, and high calorie food can be scarce. So if that’s your gig, eat up, whenever you can. But given that most of us like to watch Scrubs, lie on the beach, and sit at a desk a lot, that’s really not going to work out. And yet, our minds are cuing us the same way that they are our wilder sisters.

So really there is no way around a little suffering in the weight loss game, as we deny our very  correct and healthy urge to gobble up every high calorie morsel around, we will feel weird and annoyed. But if you decide ahead of time that a lower weight for the long run is healthier for you, even worth a little occasional deprivation (and all the ill feeling associated with that), then in the end you will be able to find a balance that allows you to choose on each occasion, whether you will eat your usual fill, or opt to lose a little weight.

Born to Run

05/05/2006

Beautiful readers,

Lately, I have been training with a client who has made fantastic strides in her cardio ability. I can still remember the first time she got on her treadmill. She turned a terrible grey-white color and nearly passed out after just a very short while. Bad. I was actually really worried about her. After she recovered, we tried it again the following week, and it was better, and she has been making spectacular progress ever since. In fact just yesterday (only three months later) she and I ran around the bridal path in Central Park together. A little more than four miles. Awesome.

Now, she is a particularly fantastic example of motivation and hard work. We see each other twice a week and I am officially ‘graduating’ her to a new trainer with a running background next week. I am very proud. But as we got to the end of the track yesterday, I found myself wondering, as I have so many times, why humans like to run, for essentially no reason. And I am convinced that it is not just because they need the exercise.The runner’s high is a very real thing, and nature doesn’t usually reward humans with such a good feeling without some evolutionary benefit.

As many of you know, I am not a huge fan of running. I tried it for a little while, just long enough to place pretty well in one 5K and get a medal. After the thrill of this minor victory wore off, I realized that I still really didn’t enjoy running. Also, years of pounding the pavement, can make your face unnecessarily droopy, aesthetics-minded dermatologists, and the very vain, caution.

Yet, I have always been impressed by friends who run long distances. And quite amazed by all the articles I have read that suggest that distance runners often improve their ability with age, and that distance running is something that even the quite aged can do very well.

That humans are such successful and intuitive runners always seemed a bit strange to me. After all, humans are certainly not the fastest animals, so I could not understand what force might be driving so many of us to run endlessly in the park even early on weekday mornings before work. And the passion with which such a great number of people do it, has always struck me as more than just the need for cheap and convenient exercise.

We know the bouncing up and down motion is surely no good for your joints, and almost every runner I know (especially those who run on pavement) can rattle off a list of injuries, most mild, but some more severe. But every serious runner I know, also loves running, with a passion. They describe feeling like they were born to do it, and, as I have just read recently, in fact, we all are, and it’s part of how we got to our prime spot on the food chain.

Humans are naturally great distance runners compared to just about every other animal on the planet. Now mind you, we are not at all the fastest runners. In short distances, we are quite slow relative to other predator-type animals, but we go long with a vengeance. In fact, over 20 plus miles, no other animals can beat us. This was news to me, and now the whole fascination with running marathon length distances makes a lot more sense.

Long distance running isn’t great for everything, though. Going the distance doesn’t help much with  outrunning predators. Think of cheetahs, or other fast cats. With their good eyesight, and incredible speed. Once you’ve been spotted by one of those guys, you’re lunch, unless, of course, you climb a tree (thank you opposable thumbs), but for hunting, long distance running is terrific. I have also read that sporting less body hair than the other guys also has it’s evolutionary benefits in terms of running. It means we stay cool better while we go those long distances.

So, while, I am no more convinced than before that I will be taking up running in any serious way, (I will instead, be jumping, up and down, shock-free, in my living room, on an Urban Rebounder trampoline, soon for sale through Beautiful Fitness for only $135) I feel all the more supportive of friends who need to run, despite it’s obvious flaws. Who would not be proud to see friends improving their skill at the thing that humans do best?

Reiki Rocks!

05/03/2006

Beautiful Readers,

Boy oh boy was that weird. As part of getting to know new staff for Beautiful Fitness I ask them to perform their service with me in my livingroom. Well some long time ago I came across a flier for a woman named Sharlene who did Reiki healing. The flier also mentioned something about her having a Maori background and channeling spirits at the same time. I was intrigued. And skeptical.

Several days later, I got Sharlene on the phone and talked to her about her service. For those of you who may not be in the ‘energy healing’ loop, Reiki is a japanese art that involves no touching, but allows the practitioner to act as a conduit for the client’s energy by moving their hands over the  body, releasing energy blockages (think, chi) allowing the client’s life force to flow freely. Frankly, it sounded like bunk to me, until a few really close and level headed friends told me they had tried it and said it was great. Like Tony the Tiger grrrrrreat. One had even taken a class.

So I was delighted when Sharlene sounded totally normal on the phone. She seemed smart, and down to earth, and had an adorable New Zealand accent. She also knew that Reiki (especially in her own special blend, mixed with a kind of Maori shamanistic healing) sounded pretty nutty to the uninitiated. (Ok, it still sounds pretty nutty). I had to meet with her. I asked if she might be interested in working with Beautiful Fitness.

It took over a month to co-ordinate our busy schedules, but I met with her yesterday. And now I am weirded out as can be. In a good way. A really good way. Whatever that means. All I can say is that you’ve got to call Beautiful Fitness immeidately to try this stuff for yourself. www.beautifulfitness.com. 718-576-2568. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the obvious advertising plug)

She asked me to sit somewhere I was comfortable, and very politely asked if I would like the regular, silent, Reiki or the kind that uses her family ‘gift’ that can involve vocalization, rapid breathing, and convulsive movements on her part, a thing she said was a sort of shamanistic channeling where she communicated with spirits.

So, of course, I told her that she should do whatever she thought would be best (hoping that that would be the whole Maori shebang) and now, after one of the most thrilling and powerful forty minutes that I can ever remember, I am blown away. I couldn’t honestly say that I felt more ‘relaxed’ afterwards exactly, like with a massage, but I did feel a sweeping, almost psychological, release. Like really amazing therapy, but intense, and all in a short time. After the session with her I felt more ‘myself’ than I have for a long while, more grounded.  I found myself being more honest with people, more direct. I would go as far as to say that I felt more secure afterwards. Weird.

The session itsself was really something–part seance, part prayer meeting. I closed my eyes, and saw rolling waves in front of me. Sharlene told me that I could ask any questions if I wanted. She snorted. She waved her hands around me. She put her hands on my shoulders, and rubbed my feet a little. She talked in a high pitched voice at one point and told me some very reassuring things,  she said it was a spirit communicating with me. I cried. Or at least tears rolled down my face. Amazing.

Now, I cannot honestly tell you whether or not Sharlene is talking to spirits, (though if anyone is, I believe she might be) nor can I say that any part of the experience in my livingroom involved something that was clearly from another realm of being. But I do know that the passion of the moment, and the deep emotion that welled up inside me, in that time, was very real, and offered one of the greatest, mind-expanding, escapist, releases, that I have felt in a very long while.  I felt somehow, recalibrated, in a way that does not happen very often in my life, and I think has helped me see things a little more clearly ever since.