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Beat the Sugar habit

Beating the sugar habit, is tough in a world of processed foods, but a simple plan and a bit of commitment might just help, writes Nandini Reddy. 

Sugar is everywhere today. Even the most innocuous foods have sugar hidden in them. You don’t actually have to eat cookies and cakes to directly consume sugar. Your favourite hot sauce also is loaded with added sugars. The truth is that there is absolutely no health benefit from consuming added sugar. It damages all your diet efforts more than any other indulgence.

It might seem like a task to constantly monitor added sugars in everything that you eat but in the long run it really helps. Consider a few simple steps to remove sugar from your diet or reduce it to the levels that are good to satisfy your sweet tooth and not damage your diet.

Clean out the pantry and drawers

We all have stashed secret snacks in our office drawers and pantries. The first step is to clean out the stock of foods that are high in added sugars. Remember to check all bottled and packaged foods. Read your labels right and ensure that you get rid of the whole stock without exception.

Avoid adding sugar

Try a few days of avoiding sugar. A lot of things will taste bitter and unmanageable but it is a way to discover new tastes. Coffee and tea will be unbearable the first time but you might discover new flavours of tea that do not need sugar and unsweetened expresso might help you recover from tiredness a lot faster than a sugar binge.

Get rid of sugary drinks

Colas, packaged juice, iced teas, bottled frappes and energy drinks all are storehouses of added sugar. Most of the energy drinks and colas also have caffeine and the combination of a caffeine high and a jolt from sugar is comforting when you are stressed. But one moment of deliciousness is not worth year long health troubles.

Look for natural replacements 

There are several natural sweeteners that you can add to different food that might give you a more complex taste. Try adding vanilla extract into your coffee for that touch of sweetness. Avoid sauces in your salads and add caramelized onions instead. Salt tends to intensify the sweetness of pumpkins and fruit so sprinkle a little salt instead.

Kick refined grains

You need to eat carbs but they don’t have to be bleached white. Avoid white processed foods like breads, pastas , cookies and cakes. Your diet benefits from whole and unpolished grains. Get your starch from vegetables and pile on the protein from your beans and peas.

Being on a sugar high can feel wonderful. But breaking the grip of sugar can also be equally satisfying.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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Meet a young runner – Samir Zafar

Running is fever that can catch you young, Nandini Reddy caught up with 6 year old Samir Zafar who completed a 5km race. 

Samir Zafar, was one of the youngest runners at the recently concluded Madurai Marathon. For a 6 year old to take on such an arduous task of completing 5kms is indeed commendable. Talking to Samir was a pleasure because to him the run was something fun and he truly didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. A child whose days are filled with school, skating and cricket, Samir ventured into this new fitness event with equal enthusiasm and curiosity.

When asked what had inspired him to run the marathon, he said, “I just wanted to run.” It was as simple a motivation as that. Most adults run for a purpose – goal timings, fitness and even challenges. But Samir decided that he just wanted to run because it seemed like something he should try.

Watching your parents is what really gets one into fitness. Samir’s parents are both enthusiasts who ran the Madurai Marathon this year and this inspiration got him on board as well. Marathon usually requires training. Most of us employ virtual coaches, carry energy drinks and even train for months ahead. When asked if Samir underwent any sort of training or practice runs, he seemed puzzled and said, “No. But I do go to the park all the time with daddy.” It seemed rather matter-of-fact that being an active child he didn’t seem to understand the purpose of training. His physical activities on a daily basis helped carry him through the course.

The 5km race may be the easiest one to attempt as an adult but for a 6 year old with yet to develop muscles, it can be a formidable task. Samir did agree that it was a bit difficult to complete the course but he was so glad that he finished it. It was the first time he ran with such a big group of people and felt rather important to be participating alongside adults. “It felt very nice to run with such a big group of people,” quipped Samir with a broad smile.

Samir is all set to run his second 5km and in the future he might even make it to the 10km category with ease. But until then little runners like him continue to inspire us all to be fit and have fun while doing it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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Aging Gracefully with Running

Runners can keep going by adapting their techniques at each age milestone, says Radhika Meganathan

Age is just a number, as they all say. However, when it comes to running, the biology of aging cannot be denied, or ignored. As one ages, muscle mass decreases. Bone wear and tear over a period of years slow you down and makes you less flexible. Healing takes longer and stamina takes a hit. These are perfectly valid reasons to be vigilant and adjust one’s training and expectations from the sport.
The good news is, you can run the if you are prepared enough. At the Twin Cities Marathon in 2014, 59-year-old Christine Kennedy of triumphed with the astounding stat of 2:59:39.

Should you run when you are older?
Of course! As long as you don’t have any serious conditions that may hamper your running and you take proper care to run, running is good for all ages. Consider these pluses of running, especially if you are a senior:
1. Running can help you with a longer and healthier life.
2. Runners have less chance of suffering from clinical depression
3. Running improves blood circulation, and the brain benefits from improved circulation.
4. Running, and in general being physically active, can prevent you from cognitive decline.
5. Running reduces the chances of you getting colon or breast cancer.
6. Runners sleep better!
With all the above benefits, you are better off running!

But what about the ‘fall’ scare?

It’s a myth that you will fall and injure yourself if you run after a certain age. Injury happens to anyone who is careless or doesn’t take the necessary precautions. Age has nothing to do with it! In fact, most senior citizens experience falls in all walks of their life due to poor balance. Regular running makes muscles and bones stronger, and improves balance, which means – less chances of having a fall during running.

What if you are a senior and new to running?

Start with walking. Your neighbourhood park is the best bet, but you can walk in a quiet road too. Walk 10 minutes, and slowly jog for a couple of minutes. Alternate this until you feel slightly out of breath, and then stop. Repeat this consistently every day or every other day, progressively increasing the time to 15 and 20 minutes. Slowly venture into brisk walking, and eventually, sprinting. Set reasonable goals, look how your body’s responding and adjust your schedule accordingly. Take a companion if you are unsure attempting this alone. If you cannot run every day, aim for at least three times a week. Remember, the more you do it, the easier it will get.

What if I have a pre-existing condition?

Any sport requires a certain degree of caution when you attempt it with a pre-existing condition, and running is no different. As a starter, get your physician’s opinion. Get the right running attire, shoes and safety gear. Always have a mobile or a medical device alert with you, in case of emergencies. You can also hire a personal trainer who can help you get started with running. The advantage of professional help is that you will be under a monitored environment where you will be taught to gradually increase the level of activity.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A published author and an avid rambler, Radhika Meganathan is a recent keto convert who may or may not be having a complicated relationship with bacon and butter.

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Is Running Good for Children?

If your kid loves to run, or if you want to encourage your child to be a runner, read on to know about safe running practices for kids, says Radhika Meganathan

There is no doubt that regular exercise and an active lifestyle is good for kids. It’s easier for them to learn good habits when they are young, and what’s more, kids are natural runners. Running fortifies bones, musculo-lumbar co-ordination, and toughens muscles and tendons. Most importantly, it is fun. So little wonder that your little one loves to run!

Still, we should not forget that children’s bodies are not fully developed and they need special attention if they want to indulge in running as a dedicated sport. The Journal of Athletic Training mentions in one of its articles that:

  1. Children absorb the impact of running less effectively than adults. Less absorption means bigger impact to bones, joints, and soft tissue – all pointing to higher risk of injury.
  2. Kids bodies’ have not learned to acclimatize or climate control, so they won’t take to running in extreme heat or cold as well as adults do.
  3. Kids lumbar and hand-eye co-ordination is not as well developed as adults, especially in the beginning of their running phase.

So – should you train the little champ in your life? Or is it too risky? If your kid is already an enthusiastic runner, how much training is good for them? And what if they lose interest as they reach teenage or adulthood?

In general, medical opinion seems to be that runners under the age of 16 should not participate in any event longer than a 10K. That actually leaves plenty of distance for those little feet to cover! When young kids are concerned, the focus should be on enjoyment, rather than rigor or intensity. Here are some tips to get your kid run without missing all the fun:

  1. Get your child involved in running-related games, rather that straight line running. Opt for speed training, which will help them well into adulthood.
  2. Vary the running. Get your kid to sprint, hurdle, do track work and even cross country! This way, they will develop as an all-round runner.
  3. One size does not fit all. Some kids are active in the day, some in the evening, some can get going for hours while some get tired very easily. Figure out what works for your kid and let them practice around that.
  4. Kids being kids, might not remember to do the right warming up exercises, or drink enough water during running. Make sure they get trained in these pre- and post-run techniques as well.
  5. If there is a running club in their school, get your kid enrolled in the program. Your kid will get to run with his friends, under the supervision of the school coach who will make sure your kid follow the right running routines.

In case you really find a winning spark in your kid and they are also equally passionate about running, the best way forward would be to let them train under a qualified Athletics coach.

Can your child race?

For most marathons, the minimum age is usually between 16 -18. If your kid is younger, the you can include them in the fun runs or family run categories that range from 1km to 5km. There is also the option of introducing them to marathons through kid events like – Kidathons. If your child is just starting off but if a decent runner then use this reference guidelines to plan your races.

Under 4 years old – 400 m

Age 5-6 – 800 m

Age 7-8 – 1-3 km

Age 9-15 – 3- 5 km

Age 16+ – 5- 10km

Do not worry that your kid might lose interest later in running. The main objective now must be to imbibe in your kid the habit of physical activity a regular routine, giving them a solid foundation that they carry it well into their adult life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

A published author and an avid rambler, Radhika Meganathan is a recent keto convert who may or may not be having a complicated relationship with bacon and butter.

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Kilometre cubed

Juggling two of the toughest mental and physical challenges, Ranjith Vijayan has demonstrated the power of the human will. Capt Seshadri shares his fascinating story. 

A few years ago, before mobiles took over the gaming world, one could spot young and old alike, in any place at any time, twirling their hands around a six coloured cube, the brainchild of Hungarian professor and inventor Erno Rubik. Competitions galore have been held to see who could solve it fastest, who could break the puzzle blindfolded and many such innovative variations to make the solving tougher and more interesting.

But a probably lesser known fact is that there is a Guinness record featuring who can solve the Rubik cube the maximum number of times while running a marathon. While the elite runners of the world complete the gruelling 42.2 km in just over 2 hours, amateur runners place themselves in various pace categories, with some of the elder participants completing in up to 6 hours. And as if the mere running and completion weren’t effort enough by themselves, the Rubik cube solving marathoner has to complete the race in under 5 hours. And all the while, she or he has to be constantly solving the puzzle as quickly as possible.

The official world record holder for this unique feat is held by New Zealander Blair Williamson, who accurately turned the colours 254 times. Now, an athlete from another continent, our own Asia and quite close to home, is making valiant attempts to break this record. Ranjith, a runner from Singapore, could be spotted during the Tata Mumbai Marathon this January 21, with a Rubik cube in hand and a mini camera strapped to his chest to record his feat. His professorial look, augmented by a beard, probably disguised his athletic prowess; but his goal was clear: break the record.

Ranjith came to the finish line well within the stipulated five hours. In his estimation, he solved the puzzle 262 times, a feat which he reiterates he has achieved during practice runs. However, the world has to wait for the Guinness officials to read the images from his camera and count the number of times he solved the cube.

Whether he actually broke the record, time and the record books will inform us. But the fact will remain that he was the only runner in the Mumbai Marathon who attempted this feat. Of the 45,000 runners, few would know this fact; of the thousands of spectators who lined the streets to cheer the participants, even fewer might have noticed his hands constantly twisting the little cube.

While the athletes who won the events received well deserved accolades and publicity for their stupendous effort, the little known Ranjith deserves recognition for what he set to achieve. When there is no one to compete against, that is when the true spirit of the sportsman comes to the fore, to set personal objectives and to breach borders.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Overdoing Health Tracking

Wearable devices, fitness apps and a dozen more ways in which you can monitor your health, but when does it all become too much, ask Nandini Reddy.

So did you strap on your wearable device the moment you jumped out of bed? Logging in hours slept, monitoring water intake, counting steps, tracking heart rate, calculating calories and walking the extra mile to meal goals sets. Ever since wearable devices became a fitness trend. All of us have been guilty of doing this – even me! But when does it become too much?

I am not against the FitBits and Garmins of the world and I do know that they are a great way to track your health but when tracking becomes obsessions and if you are getting more upset than happy using the device then it cannot be a good thing right?

The Dark Side of Health Trackers

Have you ever run a marathon and used a different app to track your run. I did that once and noticed that even though both of us started and stopped at the same point, I had run 9.7kms and my friend had run 10.2kms. My app didn’t congratulate me on reaching the 10k mark and felt more than a little deflated. But it didn’t make sense because we had run the same track and in the same time and yet we didn’t achieve the same encouragement from the health apps.

The next victim of tracking was my sleep. I was so intent on getting the right curve and the congratulatory note for achieving the right amount of sleep that I couldn’t have slept worse. The stress of sleeping right overwhelmed me and if I slept deep woke up refreshed with 5 hours before, now I was feeling worse for the wear with 7 hours of shut eye.

Heart rate tracking became another obsession ever since I read that interval training can work wonders when you want to lose weight. But that meant constantly interrupting a perfectly good workout to check if my heart rate hit the goal mark.

How do you use them better?

Health tracking is not all bad if you know how to use them properly. They do help you get fit if you use them right. So instead of letting it rule you, make it a way to change habits.

  • Forget the calorie counting – Trackers have approximated calories and most may not store all the food options that you consume based on your local preferences.Also they never take into count that with regular movement you will be losing calories but they never get accounted for. So instead of counting calories set nutrition goals that you want to meet in terms of protein, carbs and fibre for the day.
  • Adjust daily goals –Do not use the preset goals. Your lifestyle may require different goals. Compare each week to see if you have found the right mix. It may take a while before you finalized on the set of daily goals that works for you, until then its perfectly find to make tweaks and adjustments.
  • Focus on movement – Avoiding being sedentary is more important than counting steps. Most of us have desk jobs that require us to sit for hours. So try and make it a habit to do desk stretches or just stand up and take a walk to water cooler every hour. The idea is to move for 5 mins every hour and your health tracker can be set to prompt you to do the same.
  • Work with small challenges – The fitness tracker should be used to create new habits that are good for your fitness regime. If you want to really make a change then instead of concentrating on recording everything try and set challenges for yourself. It may be about walking or running 10k three times a week. You can even set targets like the number of floors you will walk up every day.
  • Find a friend – Health apps generally allow you to train and track progress with friends. When you know others are watching your progress you tend to be less lazy. It also works as encouragement when they congratulate you when you achieve set goals.

Health trackers themselves are improving so it all works to syncing the device to your fitness requirements instead of the other way round

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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Slow down to speed up

Runners tend to train too hard and too often and that may not lead to the results you want, writes Nandini Reddy.

If you have ever seen elite athletes training the first thing you might notice is that they don’t run fast. In fact if you did accompany them on their training days you might even be able to keep up. If you think it isn’t possible then you haven’t been introduced to the benefits of low intensity training for marathons.

Why do runners need to train slow?

The answer is rather simple really. Runners run a whole lot more and when its training season before marathon season then they run nearly everyday. So imagine running at your full pace capability every day – what do you think would happen? You are more likely to burnout than get a better race timing. Increasing your average weekly mileage is more important than running faster. You are also less likely to burnout or be injured if you focus on number of kilometres run rather than how fast you run.

How do you distribute the intensity of your runs?

In an ideal situation, you need to run 3 moderate paced runs, one medium intensity run and 1 high intensity run in a week. The moderate paced runs should focus on distance and you need to ensure you make most of your weekly target kms in those runs. The high intensity run is about pacing and timing. Even if you run a short distance focus on on consistent pace.

If you were to measure the intensity of a standard runner, you will see that they never do low intensity runs. Most of their runs are distributed between medium to high intensity which means you are driving yourself to fatigue rather quickly. Elite runners run at low intensity nearly 80% of their training time and only run in high intensity for 10% of their training time.

So how can you control your run intensity?

Whether you are running in a group or alone there are ample wearable devices that you can use to monitor your runs.

Find a Coach

If you are serious about becoming a strong runner then signing up with a coach till you find your flow is a good idea. They will bring in a discipline into your training plans and will hold your accountable. Technically the coach doesn’t have to run with you. You can also have a virtual relationship where you get guidelines and report back on progress with statistics.

Heart Rate based plans

Try to plan your runs according to the heart rate training zones. Any good running coach can give you the basics of how this plan works and with your wearable devices (most of which monitor heart rate to a decent degree of accuracy) you can track your training intensity.

Monitor your work

Using the wearable devices and running apps, monitor your work. You can compare your before and after using these tools effectively. Most running apps store your runs indefinitely until you choose to delete them so they make for a great way to reference you performance as you train.

So if you have been pushing yourself to achieve your goal times everyday then you need to stop and re-evaluate your training program and also rest your over-stressed muscles.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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Going Non-Diary

Lactose Intolerance or becoming vegan, whatever your reason, non-diary products are making their way into your daily diet, says Nandini Reddy.

The diary market has faced many lows since early 2011 because of contamination and accusations of chemical enhancers in cattle feed. This has lead to a wave of people switching to alternative forms of milk including nut milk, grain milk and bean based milk. Fitness enthusiasts looking for alternatives without the fat content of milk and people switching to vegan diets have been the biggest adopters of the alternative milk trend.

Like every good food it is important to understand why their alternative milk forms are good and bad for us. Let us consider the various factors that you would need to weigh in before switching over to a particular milk alternative.

Nutrient Value

Nut milks are power houses of nutrients such as Vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, zinc, pottassium, phosphorous and calcium. They also contain flavonoids which are lower the levels of bad cholesterol.  On the downside nut milk and rice milk are low in protein and calcium and lack Vitamin D and B12 which are essentially found in animal milk.  Soy and Rice milk are also great sources of nutrients and have no saturated fats. They have have anti-oxidants that help in supporting the immune system.

Flavour 

Nut milk definitely taste better than any other milk even diary. Rice milk is bland so it blends well as it does not affect the taste. Soya milk has a specific taste that will grow on you. These milks can be added to most breakfast cereals and can also be had alone. For cooking, coconut milk has always been the favourite but almond and cashew milks are also finding their way into desserts as great alternative to cow milk.

Health Benefits

Alternative milks all have the right nutrient values to promote cardio-vascular health. Blood pressure and cholesterol are lowered because of the magnesium rich composition of these milks. Rice milk helps increase iron and copper in your blood thus boosting red blood cell production, and giving you better oxygenation and vitality. Soy is a good alternative if you want to add more protein but its continued use isn’t recommended for women because of its high phytoestrogen content. Rice milks are very starchy and are not suitable for diabetics.

Cost

Alternative milks are more expensive than cow’s milk. Most of them retail at nearly twice or thrice the cost. Most of them are hard to find and are generally available at specialty stores in big cities. Using online sources and buying in bulk might prove more economical in the long run as the shelf life of sealed packages is from 6 months to one year.

Whether its change in lifestyle or beat an allergy or just for overall health, alternative milks do have a space in our diets.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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Take the Stairs

You can elevate your running performance if you start using stairs, says Nandini Reddy

If you are movie buff then you need to borrow one piece of training advice from Rocky – make climbing stairs as part of training. If you have a shorter training window before  marathon then training on stairs is a good way addition to your training plan. As you power your way up the stairs, you legs become stronger and your heart and lungs are taxed more from the movement thus improving your overall stamina and strength.

So how do stairs help so much?

  • When you are climbing stairs you are moving against gravity and this helps build power and strength in a runner.
  • If you are trying to reach a goal time in a marathon you will need both.
  • Stair climbing also helps you stabilize your form as you work to stay on balance.
  • Stair climbing training also reduces the risk of injury
  • Climbing stairs makes your hearth pump faster and improves your blood oxygen

How they help your legs?

Strength training is a key part of runners training schedule. Body weight training routines recommend lunges and squats to train the legs and glutes. If you do stair training then you will get the benefit of both these exercises in a single move. With your heart pumping your muscles are also more oxygenated. Both your legs get equal amount of workout during stair training.

The oxygenation advantage

During an intense exercise your heart is continuously pumping oxygen to your muscles at a grueling pace. As the intensity of the exercise increase the VO2 levels rise. Stair climbing helps improve your Vo2 max levels and the greater the VO2 level the harder you can run. A British journal published that stair climbing was known to improve the VO2 max level by nearly 17% in women.

What if I choose a natural uphill terrain?

You can choose a natural uphill terrain also to train with but stairs come with a built in difficulty that most natural terrains do not have. Stairs are built at an angle of 65 degrees, while most hills will only have about 5-10% of this gradation.

How do you start?

If you are looking to get started on the stair training routine then like any other exercise ease into it. You can tired very quickly on stairs so do not equate your running capacities to your stair climbing abilities. Start by walking up 10 floors first. If your body is taking the strain then start jogging up 10 floors. If you are able to breath comfortably then move to running. If you need a bit of a challenge, try taking two stairs at a time. You can also use the handrail to pull your body up and get a complete workout.

A Sample Training Plan

Here is a sample training plan if you are ever considering using the stair climbing work out as away to train faster for a marathon

Warm-up – Jog for 10 minutes on a flat terrain

Main Workout – 10 floors x 20 times with a recover time of 30 secs between each set. Use the elevator to come back to a start point if you are able or run down briskly while using the handrail for support.

Cool-Down – Walk down  the stairs at a slow pace and then stretch out all the muscles that you worked.

There are a few stair climbing races around the world if you ever want to consider participating in one but until then use it as the perfect routine to get your strength up for running your best race.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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