Combating the Effects of a Sedentary Career

Having an active hobby, like surfing, helps to offset the negative effects of sitting in front of a computer for long hours. Image: David Roscoe

During my years as a full-time fitness professional I always took pride in my physical health, and maybe even took it for granted a little. I was on my feet for most of the day, teaching fitness classes and instructing personal training clients. Even before then my summer job while at university was active; I led multiple daily hikes as a nature interpreter for Alberta Environment. I was young, fit – and I didn’t have a sedentary job. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand, that I didn’t have a firsthand grasp of, until I started sitting at a computer for the bulk of my work day.

I’ve always felt rather strong and invincible, and with a base of good genes, an active lifestyle, and a physical job, I didn’t get all of the complaints from my sedentary peers. I worked long, hard hours too. What was the problem? But I get it now. The eye strain, the hunched shoulders, the lower back fatigue, the tight hip flexors: painful reminders that the human body is absolutely not meant to sit all day, every day.

Even though it’s been a bit of a shock to feel weakness in the body I figured would always be strong, I feel blessed to now have inside reconnaissance to better help me help others.

There have been a few people that have added insight to the conundrum of why my body has disagreed with my gusto for taking on too much and being perpetually desk bound.

Take time to stretch and sweat every day

First on the list of helpful people is my wonderful husband. He never fails to have great advice, and I always trust that he’ll shed light on any predicament I come across. He's been a technical artist in the film industry for the past ten years – having worked on The Thing, Legend of the Guardians, The Wild, and more – which means he has spent a staggering amount of time in front of a computer. I’m the kind of person that jumps out of bed and switches off my alarm half way through the first beep – the exact opposite of my husband who could probably set a world record for lingering in bed. I used to wonder what the heck he was doing but was too busy getting my day started to notice. Well, now I know.

Just like a cat, he spends a considerable amount of time stretching and limbering up before grudgingly climbing out of bed. Smart. The other thing he does without fail is go to the gym nearly every day at lunch. He says it’s a great way to break up an inactive work day and it helps to keep his body in tune and his mind alert. I’ve adopted these habits and try to start my day with some stretching and take a midday walk with my dog, or head to the gym if I haven’t already done so first thing in the morning. And what a difference it makes to do some vigorous physical activity – or at least enough of something to break a sweat. Read more about my fit tip, “sweat once a day”, here.

Build regular movement breaks into your daily routine

Even though a morning stretch and midday break are a great start to combating the effects of a sedentary career, it’s just not enough to offset sitting all day. I recently signed up for the Publication Coach newsletter, a great writing newsletter created by Daphne Gray-Grant with tips on time management, productivity, and, of course, writing. I’ve been using a trick from a recent article, How to get more writing done, which involves using a timer to measure periods of time where you focus on one task to the exclusion of all others. For example, researching and taking notes on a subject you’re going to write about after closing your email, turning off your phone, and removing any other distractions. This idea is based on the Pomodoro technique, and involves working in 25-minute bursts followed by 5-minute breaks. Gray-Grant recommends doing little exercises during the breaks and it’s definitely helped to have a little stretch multiple times throughout the day.

Acquire physically active hobbies

Our best friends live in Whistler and are one of those irritatingly fit couples who just can’t seem to sit still. It makes it much less irritating, and actually quite inspiring, that they are joyful, positive and full of boundless energy. And their active lifestyle has definitely rubbed off on us. They welcomed my husband and I onto their soccer and volleyball teams when we first met, and they continue to be sports that we enjoy today. While I spent the past winter drinking hot chocolate spiked with fireball whiskey, they collectively hit the slopes over 120 times. When I am wrapping up my workday with a glass of Merlot, I’ll get a text saying they’re about to embark on a “little” 50 kilometre bike ride or 20 kilometre run.

My brother is another example of someone with itchy feet. He is a fish biologist and although he spends a fair bit of time in the field, and therefore being active, he also spends a lot of time at a desk, sorting through data, researching, and writing. But in his off-time you'd be hard pressed to find him sitting still. In the winter months he spends as much time in the mountains, telemark skiing, as he possibly can and in the summer he's either surfing, kayaking, hiking, biking, or skateboarding. And when it's not possible for him to be doing one of those things he's concocting inventive exercises that he can do in the meantime to become better at those things.

And the apple didn’t fall far from the trees because my parents, both avid walkers, walk me within an inch of my life every time we get together. Last time my parents visited me in Vancouver a morning walk turned into an entire day of in-depth walking tours of Yaletown, Gastown, Downtown, and the West End. I drew the line at Stanley Park and took a bus home.

So if you’re feeling the sedentary blues like I have lately, try starting your day with a stretch, taking time out to sweat, building in mini movements breaks, and taking on active hobbies in your spare time.


Health and Fitness Roundup: In the News

New research shows these gorgeous little numbers might put me at risk for arthritis.

My daily reads include a range of entertainment and celebrity gossip as well as real news like the Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun, and BBC News. Following is a roundup of interesting health and fitness news that I've recently come across.

Sorry, folks, but you have to diet - and exercise

Globe and Mail, June 12, 2011

This seems like a no-brainer to me, but one point I'd like to add is a benefit of a healthy diet and regular exercise regime beyond battling obesity (which the article is about), and even beyond overall physical health: improved mental health.

Arthritis warning to women who wear high heels

BBC News, June 10, 2011

Ack, why do things that look so good have to be so bad for you?

Exercise, diet, precautions are key in preventing seniors from falling

Globe and Mail, May 30, 2011

I worked in seniors' fitness for a number of years and, unfortunately, it's very true that "Falls often mark the beginning of a deadly downward spiral in the health of seniors." I also agree with Karim Khan of Vancouver's Centre for Hip Health and Mobility that "falls can be reduced through strength and balance training", and think that it's never too early to start. My oldest clients were a couple (one of the sweetest couples I've ever met) and were 102 and 98 years old. They were active their whole lives and it showed. Even at their age, they went for walks and played pool nearly every day. What an inspiration!

New study shows how caffeine might prevent pregnancy

Vancouver Sun, May 25, 2011

I seem to have a lot of girlfriends who are planning on starting families very soon, so I thought this was timely. According to the article, researchers have "discovered that caffeine prevents smooth muscles in the Fallopian tubes from contracting — and it's those slow, rhythmic contractions that shuttle eggs down the tubes, from the ovaries to the womb." So ladies who want babies, put the java down!


Fabulous Fitness Books

I’ve just been rooting around on my bookshelf for some fitness inspiration and look at all of the fabulous fitness books I have! These are all fantastic reads and full of great advice.

The Mars and Venus Diet & Exercise Solution by John Gray

Filled with insight on how diet and exercise affect men and women differently, this book delights with classic John Gray humour and charm. I had the privilege of hearing him speak as the keynote at a fitness conference in Toronto when this book first came out and I remember laughing so hysterically that my dear friend Aida and I practically had to hold each other up. After his talk, I rushed to the booth where he was selling and signing books and I was right behind the person who purchased the last book. I did, however, get to shake his hand, and it’s a moment I’ll never forget!

Fit for the Love of It by Uche and Kary Odiatu

I first became aware of this dynamic duo at the same fitness conference in Toronto where I met John Gray, Can Fit Pro, but the previous year. Kary is a former Ms Fitness Universe and Uche is a dentist, and together they are internationally known speakers, authors and fitness experts. They are one of my hero couples – an inspiring and vibrant team – and my husband and I have adopted their yearly practice of writing down goals (dreams with deadlines) at the start of each year. This is an inspiring book that I read again and again – and they’ve just published another fabulous book called The Miracle of Health.

Thrive Fitness by Brendan Brazier

OK, I know I can stop mentioning Brendan Brazier (as evidenced here, here, here, here and here) but this guy is good! This is a great book with great content (including a 6-week workout plan) from the vegan and former professional Ironman triathlete.

5-Factor Fitness by Harley Pasternak

I’ve also mentioned this fellow Canadian and trainer-to-the-stars a couple of times recently (here and here) but he is also very good. The 5-week plan from this book photocopies perfectly onto a double sided piece of letter-size paper and has been a frequent companion on my visits to the gym – it’s a great workout.

Your Best Body Now by Tosca Reno

If you haven’t heard of Tosca Reno, her story is truly inspiring. As a 40-something single mother she was overweight, out of shape, and sick and tired of being sick and tired. Then she found fitness and became a model (gracing the likes of Oxygen, one of my favourite fitness magazines), best-selling author (check out her Eat-Clean series), motivational speaker and wellness consultant.

Tracy Anderson’s 30-Day Method by Tracy Anderson

I’ve been adding the exercises from Tracy Anderson’s 30-Day Method to my workout routine (which she wouldn’t approve of because she implores her students to follow only her program, but I currently feel like doing a whole whack of things) and think her “Method” is pretty darn cool (and have recently mentioned it here, here and here). If it’s good enough for Gwyneth Paltrow, it’s good enough for me!

Body-for-Life for Women by Dr. Pamela Peeke

I loved Body-for-Life and Eating for Life by Bill Phillips so I was excited when Body-for-Life for Women came out, and it didn’t disappoint. Pamela Peeke is a great coach and addresses issues unique to women, especially as we age. Cindy Crawford is a fan and even wrote the forward for this lovely book.

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J Ratey

This is such a great book, and has inspired me to get moving many a time when the urge just wasn’t there. John J Ratey takes a fascinating look at exercise and the brain and gives lots of scientific backing to his discussion of the effects of physical activity on learning, stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, hormones, and aging. He includes this quote from Plato that I think nicely sums it up:

“In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.”

Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier

An absolute must for anyone interested in human anatomy, especially as it pertains to strength training. This is a detailed and thorough look at the muscles involved in a great selection of resistance exercises.

How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy by Paul Chek

I’ve been to a number of sessions with Paul Check at Can Fit Pro conferences over the years and he is one holistic health guru not to be reckoned with. He’s a very intense and slightly intimidating chap (I quietly and discreetly cower in the back of his sessions) but his “personalized 4-step guide to looking and feeling great from the inside out” is a very insightful, impactful and holistic approach to fitness – just take a look at this super-fit and feisty fellow in the video below and you’ll see what I mean! This book even has a section on bowel movements, complete with cartoons of "bowel bandits" and the great advice I like to share with clients (partly to see them squirm): "the sign of a healthy digestive system is excreting at least 12 inches of poop each day." Do you poop 12 inches a day?

Celebrity Fitness

Image: Flickr / petercruise

In a recent post, I mentioned a number of celebrities that follow the Tracy Anderson Method. After reading Movie Star Workouts on this weekend I was reminded of another trainer-to-the-stars whose philosophy I think is great: Harley Pasternak with his “5-Factor” approach (his famous clientele includes Megan Fox, Eva Mendes, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Jennifer Hudson).

I bought his book, 5-Factor Fitness, a few years ago and love the simplicity of the 5-Factor workout: 5 days a week, following a 5-phase program, with 5 minutes per phase for a total of 25 minutes. And in The 5-Factor Diet, he suggests eating, you guessed it, 5 times a day using 5 main ingredients per recipe that require 5 minutes of prep time.

He recently spoke to about his new book, The 5-Factor World Diet, which explores the reasons why many other countries, including Sweden and Japan, don’t have the same struggle with obesity that we have in North America.

Check out the video below where he talks about his alma mater, the University of Toronto.

Not Your Average Treadmill Workout Followed By a Tasty Vegan Recovery Snack

Image: Flickr / sashawolff It’s impossible to work in the fitness industry without some knowledge of or interest in nutrition. Not a day goes by without someone asking about what they should eat. What to eat for breakfast? What to eat for snack? What to eat before a workout? What to eat after a workout?

Shortly before or after a workout it’s best to eat something that’s easily assimilated – before a workout so you have energy to exert but your blood isn’t diverted to your stomach for digestion, and after a workout so your body can quickly regain energy and nutrients.

I recently had a fabulously intense workout on the treadmill and finished it off by trying a post-workout snack recipe from Brendan Brazier’s book, Thrive: A Guide to Optimal Health and Performance Through Plant-based Whole Foods.

The Workout: 30 Minutes of Cardio, 15 Minutes of Abs and Stretching

I like to shake things up so this workout was a thrilling collage of different things. Warming up is hugely important so I take at least 5 minutes to do so. I started by walking at 3.3km/hr and increased my speed by 0.2km/hr every minute until the 5 minute mark. Then I sped up to a slow jog at 4.5km/hr for 3 minutes and then alternated 30 seconds of side shuffling on the right, 30 seconds of side shuffling on the left, and 30 seconds of jogging, which I repeated four times. That got me to the 14 minute mark.

I got the idea of side shuffling a few years ago after seeing a video of Tracy Anderson doing it. I couldn’t find the same video but here’s a video of Tracy and Molly Sims doing a whole workout routine on the treadmill. Looks fun. I’m definitely going to add some skipping to my workout next time! See the side shuffles at 2:18 on the video. Be careful and hold on if you try them!

At the 14 minute mark I sped up to 5.5km/hr and then the fun began. If you’ve seen me, you know I’m built for speed, and my generous glutes and quads make sprinting fun. I like to alternate a minute of jogging at 5.5km/hr with a minute of something faster that increases in speed each time around, so it looked like this:

  • Minute 14: 5.5km/hr
  • Minute 15: 6.5km/hr
  • Minute 16: 5.5km/hr
  • Minute 17: 7.5km/hr
  • Minute 18: 5.5km/hr
  • Minute 19: 8.5km/hr
  • Minute 20: 5.5km/hr
  • Minute 21: 9.5km/hr
  • Minute 22: 5.5km/hr

I kept jogging at 5.5km/hr until minute 27 and then walked at 3.5km/hr until minute 30, and then I was done!

I always bring my own yoga mat to the gym because a) I like it better than the puffy gym mats, b) the puffy gym mats are most likely crawling with germs, and c) I like to take my shoes off and do some yoga stretches.

What you feel needs stretching is a very personal thing but since I spend a lot of time sitting at a computer, I mostly focus on stretching the muscles that take the biggest beating: hip flexors, core and chest.

Before stretching, I did some core work, 2 sets of 20 reps. I'll show you how to do them in great detail in an upcoming video, but for now I'll just tell you what I did:

  • Crunch with leg tuck and extend – this is a really challenging crunch from Tracy Anderson's 30- Day Method book. As you crunch up, bring your knees towards your chest and as you lower your torso, extend your legs out straight. I extend mine out at about a 45 degree angle because it's currently too much of a challenge for my lower back to extend my legs any lower. Repeat 20 times and then move straight on to the next exercise.
  • Medicine ball twists – sit so that your torso and bent legs form a V, and slightly lean back with abs fully engaged (the further you lean back the more difficult it is). With a medicine ball or weight in your hands, slowly twist from side to side, tapping the ball or weight to the floor behind and beside your hip. Repeat 20 times on each side and then move straight on to the next exercise.
  • Back extensions – lie face down on the mat (see, aren't you glad you brought your own mat?!) with legs straight and arms bent, like the floor is telling you to "stick 'em up". Focusing on using the lower back muscles to power the lift, slowly lift your legs and torso off the floor, pausing at the top, and slowly lowering back to the floor. Repeat 20 times and then rest for 30 to 60 seconds before repeating the cycle.

The Recipe: Chocolate Recovery Pudding

I’m trying to incorporate more plant-based proteins into my diet so I decided to make this recipe from Brendan Brazier because it contains tofu as the protein source. I didn’t have all the ingredients so I had to improvise a little. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out but it was actually quite delicious and I’m excited to have a quick and easy post-workout snack that is vegan and healthy (especially once I buy some organic cocoa powder instead of using hot chocolate powder mix).


  • ¼ pound medium-firm tofu
  • 1 banana
  • ½ pear (I didn’t add this)
  • ½ tbsp hemp oil (I used flax oil instead)
  • ½ tbsp cocoa powder (I didn’t have any so I used hot chocolate powder mix, better than nothing!)
  • Sprinkle sea salt (I didn’t add this)


Blend all ingredients together until the mixture is smooth.

Fit Tip: Sweat Every Day

With so much information available about exercising it can sometimes feel overwhelming to make a plan and stick to it. If you’re experiencing this frustration and are ready to throw in the towel, keep this simple tip in mind: sweat every day. That’s it. Simple.

Just do something, anything – whether it’s lunging across a football field, dancing your heart out, or running along the seawall – that get’s you perspiring. Not only is this good advice on the fitness front but your skin will thank you, too.

The Lululemon manifesto declares “sweat once a day to regenerate your skin” and in his book Thrive: A Guide to Optimal Health and Performance Through Plant-based Whole Foods, professional vegan athlete Brendan Brazier says, “In addition to its ability to instigate regeneration, exercise has another anti-aging attribute: sweat production. Sweating helps exfoliate the pores, a necessary component of skin health.”


Beyond the Weight Room: Gyrotonic, Zumba and the Tracy Anderson Method

I became a personal trainer because I wanted to share with others what fitness had done for me. I was relatively active in high school; I played basketball, did track and field, and was on the cross-country running team. But when I started university I became very inactive and started eating a lot of junk food. My gorgeous, svelte and very fit roommate suggested I come to the gym with her (with a nearly-imperceptible raised eyebrow directed at my expanding girth) but after a rather embarrassing incident where I fell off the treadmill, she suggested I get a personal trainer.

I did get a personal trainer and a few years later, after graduating with a neuroscience degree, I decided to pursue a career in fitness rather than the original plan of heading to medical school. Fast forward eight years and I was so tired of the weight room that I couldn’t bear to do another set of biceps curls or one more stinking push up. I needed a break. I love learning new things so it’s been a fun adventure trying different types of physical activity. Following are a few of my current faves. And, I'd like to add, now that I've had a little break I don't mind doing the odd biceps curl or push up.


I learned about Gyrotonic from Marta Hernandez, the owner of a beautiful fitness studio in Yaletown called The Space Vancouver, while doing research for a story. Gyrotonic is like nothing I’ve ever done before. The equipment, a cable tower and bench which somewhat resemble Pilates equipment, facilitates the circular, undulating movements that develop spine flexibility, strength and grace.  Drawing from ballet, swimming, yoga and Qi Gong, a Gyrotonic session will leave you feeling invigorated yet centred, and a little taller. Click here for the full story on


Something about Latin music makes me feel so alive and there is a very big place in my heart for dancing, so Zumba – an “exhilarating, effective, easy-to-follow, Latin-inspired, calorie-burning dance fitness-party” – is a great workout for me. I’ve been dancing along to Zumba videos on YouTube (and working on my shimmying and shaking at salsa classes) and am planning to attend my first class soon, but have been doing the ground work so as not to embarrass myself too much when I get there.

The Tracy Anderson Method

I first heard about Tracy Anderson a few years ago through Gwyneth Paltrow’s newsletter, GOOP. Say what you will about GP but that girl (who’s 38 and the mother of two young children) has a hot body and she credits it to her personal trainer, Tracy Anderson. The Tracy Anderson Method is a combination of dance-cardio moves and what Anderson calls “muscular structure work”, and other celebrity enthusiasts (and fabulous figures) include Jennifer Lopez, Nicole Richie, Stella McCartney and Madonna. Months after putting it on hold, it was my turn to check out Anderson’s new book, Tracy Anderson's 30-day Method, care of the Vancouver Public Library. I really like the unique moves and do my best to get through the challenging workouts (although some of them just make me laugh). And I'm expecting my very own copy, which comes with an exercise DVD, in the mail any day now.