Monthly Archives: November 2014

Fitness on the Go and a New Gadget

I recently was fortunate enough to have a lovely vacation; on a brilliantly sunny Autumn day, Don and I took a train through the German and Austrian Alps and the Dolomites, winding our way through what I think of as “Hemingway’s Italy” finally arriving in Venice. We had a few days of leisure in Venice before we boarded an ENORMOUS cruise ship and headed out for a week in Greece and Croatia. Having never before been on a cruise, I was uncertain what to expect where my fitness goals were concerned.

My understanding of cruises was that they were a 24-hour smorgasbord of all things that are lovely to eat with not much opportunity for exercise. Fortunately, the food on this ship was merely mediocre and, not only did we have the opportunity to do a lot of walking in the ports, but the ship also had a gym on one of its decks. Working out aboard a ship (if you’re curious, we sailed with Costa– what can I say, it was a bargain compared to the other cruise lines…) is an experience that took some getting used to.

Going up! Many of the sights in Greece are located conveniently on top of a hill.
Going up! Many of the sights in Greece are located conveniently on top of a hill. This is part of the old fortress of Corfu.

Since the ship belongs to an Italian company, the free weights were measured in kilograms (imagine my shock when I grabbed what I thought was a nice, friendly 20 lb weight and couldn’t lift it one-handed), so not only did I have to shop around for the right heft to be lifting, but the rocking of the ship often caused the weights to roll away from me in between sets. The first time this happened, I failed to notice until a nice elderly man returned them to me.

For a gym on a boat, I thought that this one was pretty nice, but what I found strangest about this gym was the placement of  the treadmills. They were facing toward the windows overlooking the sea, so that when you looked at the treadmills, you imagined a relaxing view of the waves while you ran; however, when actually standing upon the treadmills, the sea was far below your sight line and what you actually saw was a mirror above the windows that reflected your midsection. I’m not sure which practical joker hung those mirrors at that height, but there is little that I can think of that is more defeating than watching your stomach jiggle while you run. I’m not alone in this line of thinking, am I? Needless to say, I steered clear of the treadmills.

I don’t think any of my workouts on the boat were very high quality, but they were certainly better than nothing and they, combined with the walking I did while exploring the beautiful islands of Greece, helped me to offset the extra calories consumed (Italian hot chocolate, anyone?). A few weeks before the trip, I got a new gadget in the mail that makes keeping track of calories in and calories out much easier.

On one of my visits to the Wellness Center, it was mentioned that people usually overestimate the amount of calories they burn during a workout and underestimate the amount of calories they eat in a day. I’m sure you can see where this is leading? Burning fewer calories than you think + eating more calories than you think = not being able to button your jeans.

Ummmm… guilty as charged. I know that I do this. In fact, upon hearing this bit of information, my first thought was “someone has hacked into my MyFitnessPal account.” I’m guilty of thinking that, if I spent an hour and thirty minutes at the gym, I spent an hour and thirty minutes working out. We all know this is not true; some of that time was devoted to stretching, some of it was devoted to resting between sets, some of it was devoted to chatting with a friend about dinner plans, but, when I log 90 minutes of gym time on my app, it gives me credit for 90 minutes of hard work. My apps are so naive.

Similarly, sometimes when I’m logging a food into the app, I will see how many calories a serving actually has and instead of thinking “Gee, I guess I shouldn’t eat this any more” I will think “Gee, I guess I didn’t eat a full serving.” One serving of Nutella has 200 calories and I definitely do not eat less than a serving when I slather it on my banana. Who am I kidding?

To reconcile this discrepancy, I purchased a heart rate monitor that will tell me exactly how many calories I burn, and I’m also trying to warm up to the idea that not every single banana I eat must be accompanied by Nutella. So far, I’m finding my monitor, the Polar FT4, easy to use and easy to wear.

The monitor is worn on a band strapped around your ribcage and it transmits to a digital watch that you wear on your wrist. The watch tracks your heart rate during your workout and will beep at you if you aren’t working hard enough. You can also use the watch as a timer and you can compare your workout history. Not only does it give me an accurate count of the calories I burn during my workout, but the FT4 has also helped me be more efficient in my workouts; I think I used to waste a lot of time by resting longer than I needed to, and now that I can see when my heart rate returns to ‘normal’ I’ve shortened my rest periods and can fit more workout into the time I have. I wouldn’t say this piece of equipment is necessary to have, but it is fun and is certainly helping me get a better idea of how much I’m doing. If you have any Fitness Freaks on your Christmas list, this might be a gift they’d enjoy- think how happy it will make them to track the progress of their lean, muscular hearts as they casually sprint 26 miles, each beat another affirmation that they have reached a level of physical superiority that justifies the bloody toenails and the Paleo-diet. Cyber Monday is just around the corner…

To better track my calories, I’ve also stopped logging my activities into MyFitnessPal. I use the FT4 to make sure I’m burring about 500 calories in a workout (what was estimated by the Wellness Center when they calculated the amount of calories I should eat for healthy weightloss), and If I burn less, I try to eat less too. I use the MyFitnessPal app to track calories eaten, and then I keep in mind my goal for the day. The equation has become much simpler.

The Polar FT4, reminding me, after a 3 mile run, that I am not a fitness freak.
The Polar FT4, reminding me, after a 3 mile run, that I am not a fitness freak.