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The Air That I Breathe – Product Review

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Last year, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Kaz Mom Must-Haves event here in Toronto. The event featured a number of products aimed at making the home a healthier place for everyone, particularly during the winter.

Winters are a tricky time in Canada. The weather outside is, to quote the famous song, frightful, and the process of heating our indoor spaces to a point where we can live in them removes every last vestige of moisture from the air. Our skins get dry and itchy, and cold and flu bugs travel through dry air a lot more easily. In addition, we spend more time cooped up inside with little to no natural ventilation, so we experience an accumulation of dust mites and other allergens.

At the Mom Must-Haves event I got to chat with Dr. Dave Greenberg, who had a lot of great advice to offer about keeping families healthy when conditions aren’t great. He said that there are four keys to staying healthy during the winter:

* Make sure everyone in the family washes their hands frequently, with good old-fashioned soap and water
* Use humidifiers (preferably one in each bedroom) to replace the moisture that heating takes out of the air
* Supplement regular housecleaning with air purifiers to keep dust mites and other allergens to a minimum
* If someone gets sick, prevent bugs from spreading by eliminating sharing of towels and dishes and by using a vaporizer beside the sick person’s bed

Kaz was kind enough to give me an air purifier to try out in my own home, and it definitely made the air cleaner than it might otherwise have been. I have been using it for about ten months now, through all seasons, and I absolutely love it. The Honeywell AirGenius Air Cleaner is a tower unit that stands about two feet tall and fits neatly into any corner without taking up any space at all. Mine is tucked into a small space beside a door that I wouldn’t be able to use for anything else anyway. It is highly effective in a fairly large space that includes my kitchen and living room. Not only does it keep the air clean, it is close enough to the kitchen to help reduce cooking odours that could otherwise seem overpowering.

Some of the features of this unit include the following:
* The ability to capture microscopic particles 250 times smaller than the width of a human hair
* 4 speed settings, including a super-quiet one for night-time and a super-strong one for the benefit of family members who suffer from dust allergies
* The option to automatically turn the unit off after 2-12 hours
* A night light with two intensity settings that makes the unit visible in the dark
* A pilot light that indicates when the filter needs to be cleaned
* Oscillation that can easily be turned on or off
* A filter that can be cleaned just by rinsing it under a tap – and it takes no time at all to dry

The AirGenius control panel

The AirGenius control panel

After using the AirGenius for almost a year, during which time Toronto experienced the most extreme winter in recorded history, this is what I have found:

* The incidence of colds in my family has been dramatically reduced. I think we’ve had five colds between the four of us over the last year. Considering how much time we were forced to spend indoors last year, that is impressive.
* Colds haven’t been transferred to other family members, possibly because the number of allergens in the air has been so low, and our immune systems haven’t had to fight the effects of allergies.
* Vacuuming is a lot more effective than it used to be. Previously, carpet dust kicked up by the vacuum cleaner would kind of linger in the air. Now it gets captured by the AirGenius. The air in here has a crisp, clean smell that lasts from one vacuuming to the next.
* My husband has asthma, and he never has a problem with his breathing in the living room. He sometimes notices a difference just by entering or leaving the room.

I only have two tiny quibbles with this unit. First, when it’s operating on its highest setting, it’s a little loud. Second, when it’s operating on a medium to high setting, it blows a little blast of cold air right around the level of the lower legs. The first is something that you just get used to. The second, which was only an issue because my desk is right in line with the AirGenius, was rectified simply by putting the unit at a slight angle.

All in all, I’d have to say that this device has made a big difference to me and my family. I would recommend it to anyone, especially those who suffer from allergies or respiratory ailments.

The Honeywell AirGenius air purifiers retail for approximately $250 at major retail outlets, including Target and Canadian Tire.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, published in accordance with my disclosure policy. I was provided with a review unit of the Honeywell AirGenius in exchange for an honest review.

Photo credit to the author. The appearance of different models may vary slightly.

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A Myth About Running

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An important part of special needs parenting – indeed, of any parenting – is staying healthy. For a long time I didn’t do this. I had some mental health conditions that were going untreated, and probably as a side effect of this, I didn’t care enough to look after my physical health.

Then, during a visit for a foot complaint, my doctor started questioning me about this and that, and realized that I was suffering from post-partum depression. At about the same time, the Geneva Centre for Autism started its charity challenge runs, and that proved to be a marvellous motivation. And so I gradually got myself onto the path of better physical and mental health. Now I run races regularly, and I see a therapist once a week.

When I tell people I run, a surprising number of them respond by saying, “Really? But it’s so bad for you!”

“Um, excuse me?” I ask politely.

“Yeah!” says the naysayer. “Running can give you heart attacks, and it destroys your knees!”

Both of those statements are, in fact, false. Running in itself cannot give you a heart attack. Exerting yourself beyond your physical capability without due care and attention can, but that has nothing to do with running. Unfortunately, that myth has come about as a result of a few highly publicized sudden deaths during marathons and half-marathons. It is important to realize that those tragedies were not caused by running, but by underlying medical conditions. The people concerned just happened to be running, but they could just as easily have died engaging in any other physical activity.

It is also important to realize that the percentage of marathoners and half-marathoners that this happens to is so small that it cannot even be expressed in a meaningful way.

The thing about bad knees is a fallacy as well. Several studies have tracked runners and non-runners over the same period of time and found that on average, the runners’ knees were more robust than those of the control group. Runners with bad knees tend to have one of the following: a genetic or medical predisposition to weak knees, bad running shoes, or the symptoms of going out too fast in an unfamiliar activity or on an unfamiliar surface.

Far from being bad for you, running can provide many mental and physical benefits. Ironically, as I write this, I am experiencing the after-effects of an exceptionally hilly ten-mile race I ran today, for which I was definitely undertrained. As sore as I am feeling, though, my knees feel great and my heart is beating strong and healthy.

 

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Guest Post: If I Look so Healthy, Why do I Feel so Rotten?

I met Simona Rinfreschi through the World Moms Blog community, and it quickly became apparent that we had a lot in common. We share many character traits and have had similar life experiences, and there is a good possibility that our paths crossed over twenty years ago when we both attended the same university, majoring in the same subject. As I’ve gotten to know Simona, she has shared with me some of her medical challenges, and she has graciously agreed to write a guest post for me today.

Isn’t it dreadful that, recently, I found myself praying that they would find something wrong with me?
I can see you shaking your heads.  Why on earth would you want an abnormal blood test result?  In my case, it’s simply because I’ve been battling severe pain and fatigue for 8 years already and so far nobody has really been able to help me!
My symptoms, combined with an absence of positive test results,has led to a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. The medical dictionary definition of Fibromyalgia is:  “ a neurosensory disorder characterized by widespread muscle pain, joint stiffness, and fatigue. The condition is chronic (ongoing), but pain comes and goes and moves about the body. The disorder is often misdiagnosed or unrecognized and is often complicated by mood and anxiety disorders.”
I’ve encountered two main types of medical professionals so far, those who think that Fibromyalgia doesn’t really exist and is a psychosomatic manifestation of my clinical depression,
(Definition of psychosomatic:
1. Of or relating to a disorder having physical symptoms but originating from mental or emotional causes.
2. Relating to or concerned with the influence of the mind on the body, and the body on the mind, especially with respect to disease)
and those who are happy to have given me a ”diagnosis” even if they have no clue how to help me!
I actually find myself getting angry when they tell me I’m depressed, because I’m actually not depressed right now!  I did go through severe episodes of clinical depression as a teen and young woman, as well as post-partum depression following the birth of my son.  That’s how I know that this pain and fatigue is not caused by depression! I can remember quite clearly how I felt when I was depressed and I don’t feel at all like that now!
Ironically, psychologically, I’ve never been better!  Around 3 years ago I was hospitalised for 4 weeks in a psychiatric hospital. There I learnt how to get out of the pit of depression once and for all!
In the last 8 years I have spent a small fortune on medicines, blood &  other diagnostic tests, alternative therapies, supplements and consultations with a wide array of “specialists” including 2 psychiatrists, all to no avail!
I now find myself with a dilemma.  Do I simply accept that I have to live with this pain and fatigue for the rest of my life, or do I keep fighting and searching for a way to feel better?
Depending on the kind of day I’m having, I’m either willing to keep searching or I tell myself that it is what it is, and leave it at that!
So, this is how I’m dealing with my Fibromyalgia at the moment:
  •  I’ve come off most of my chronic meds (under medical supervision) because (since they weren’t really helping) I thought I’d save myself some money!
  • I’ve sent my medical records to yet another doctor for review, because it is possible to have Fibromyalgia and something else too!
  • I focus every day on all the things that I am grateful for
  • I do my best to listen to my body and eat what I feel I need to, rest whenever I can etc.
  • Ensure I have a good laugh at least a couple of times a day (luckily I have an amazing family & friends with a great sense of humour to help me with that!)
Like everything else in life, the diagnosis of a chronic disease or disorder per se isn’t what counts.  What counts is how you choose to live with it.  I know a couple of Fibromyalgia sufferers who don’t work at all and who are all “woe is me”.  I’d rather laugh …  and have my friends and family laugh right along with me!
Do you suffer from a disease or disorder which makes you appear perfectly healthy even though you’re not?  How do you deal with the fact that you get accused of being “lazy” or “faking” it because people can’t see the pain you’re in?
This is an original guest post by Mamma Simona (a regular contributor to World Moms Blog) who is the proud mom of two terrific teens.  She also shares her Cape Town home with a super supportive husband, 2 cats and 2 dogs. For more of Simona’s most intimate and candid thoughts,  feel free to check out her alter ego, Phoenix, at  www.blogbythephoenix.com
(Photo credit: Simona Rinfreschi)
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Body for Life: Week 2

I am two weeks into the Body for Life challenge, and considering that I was only able to get in one run this week, I am pleased with my progress.

First, the hard numbers:

* I have lost two pounds this week, and four pounds in total.
* I lost one inch from my hips and one inch from my waist this week (in total, I have lost two inches from my waist and one from my hips).
* My oversized boobs are just as oversized as they were two weeks ago.

I haven’t dropped a clothing size yet, but I have noticed that my current size is feeling less snug. There is a bit more wiggle room around the vicinity of my rear end.

This may seem somewhat paradoxical, but although I have my second cold in as many weeks, I actually feel healthier than I did before I reformed my eating habits. Yes, the snotty nose and sore throat aren’t great – me and my older son have been passing a cold back and forth like a football. But I have not had any cravings for junk, my energy levels have been a lot more consistent, and now that my body is getting used to smaller portions, I don’t feel hungry during the day and I’m not weighing myself down with large quantities of carbs.

Most of the recipes I tried this week were a success. Although I am following the Body for Life system, I am using recipes from the Precision Nutrition plan, and I love them. The recipes are reliable in terms of yield and cooking time (did you ever follow a recipe to a T, only to find that whatever you were cooking needed an extra 30 minutes in the oven?), and they are nutritious and tasty. There were a couple of misses this week, but they were misses because of personal taste rather than the recipes themselves.

As I said earlier, I only ran once this week. I had a high-pressure week at work, and then I caught a cold. The cold is on its way out, and work will be less intense this week, so I have high hopes for a more active week.

I still need to plan my time better and do more meal prep during the weekend. I am spending so much time on food preparation during the week that I am going to bed at a ridiculous hour. I’m afraid that if I don’t figure out a solution, this will not be sustainable. The time issue is definitely my biggest threat to this whole healthy eating plan.

How do you manage to maintain a healthy eating regimen? Do you have any tips on how I can save time during the week?

(Photo credit: Jamiesrabbits. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

 

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Teen Series Part 4: Time To Think

Three years ago, when I got fed up with being reliant on a transit system that kept raising its fares, I started car-pooling with a co-worker, Michelle. Through many commutes we shared laughs and stories, and became very close friends – so close that Michelle was my maid of honour. Because I am friends with Michelle, I have the pleasure of knowing her daughter, Megan, who is 16 years old. Today, Megan shares her brave and very compelling story with us. Here are her words, uncut and unedited.

My name’s Megan I am 16 years old and I live in London, Ontario. Seeing into the minds of people my age can be difficult for anyone who isn’t my age. My generation faces new problems, new social norms, and new expectations. The way teenagers thought 30 years ago isn’t how we think today and the way we think now won’t be how teenagers 30 years from now will think. And within that every teenager will have different priorities and different hopes and dreams so clearly you can never have a full understanding of every teenagers mind. I have been sick for the last 5 years of my life and have been removed greatly from people my age so I can’t tell you much about the way they think but I can tell you about the way I think.

The thing about being sick for so long is I had a lot of time to think.  Most people envy being able to stay home all day and relax but being that isolated can become boring and tedious; you can only check facebook so many times. For the first few years of my illness I found small things to entertain me, video games, books, television shows, but as I grew older I spent more of that time thinking. I thought about my future and if I would get the chance to have one, I thought about my family and if I would always be a burden on them and I thought about the world and would I ever be able to do anything for it. I started spending more of my time reading about what was going on in the world and I started seeing things that I couldn’t believe were happening. For example a couple months ago in Iran 70 university programs were closed off to women because they were surpassing the men within them. And in many places around the world, such as Uganda, it is legal to kill a person for being a homosexual. Reading all this I wanted to fix it but never thought I would have the opportunity to.  At that point in my life I didn’t let myself dream or hope for anything but sickness, after five years of nearly constant illness how could I? So I ignored these problems and went back to my tv or video games.

Something changed for me a few months ago, I got tired of letting my illness stop me, I got tired of not trying to do anything because no one thought I could succeed, and I got tired of accepting that I would live the rest of my life being ill. I don’t know what changed for me but I did. I started researching universities and looking at careers in human rights and I started working towards a future for myself. I started volunteering in the community and doing things to see if I could handle going back to school. And now after five years I’m fighting my illness so I can do something with my life. I have decided I want to become a human rights lawyer and be the person that helps solve the types of issues mentioned above. So this year I’m working my butt of to do well in school and to get more involved so I can get into a good university and eventually a good law school. It is hard, I get tired and I get sick but I keep working because I have to, because I’m tired of letting illness rule my life.

So that is how I think, it may not be how every teenager sees the world but those are the challenges I am currently facing and I hope this gives some insight on a teenagers brain even if it is just mine. One thing I want to add is a quote from novelist John Green.

“When adults say, “Teenagers think they are invincible” with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.”

― John Green, Looking for Alaska

(Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo & Video. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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5 Tips For Moms Who Want To Run

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Today’s post is also a part of the 2012 Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference Blogger Challenge, in which bloggers are invited to write about an aspect of women’s health.

James and I taking part in the Whitby Waterfront Races

At the time my older son was conceived, I was an active runner. I wasn’t as into racing as I am now, but I was in good shape and I hit the road regularly. Running was logistically easier in those pre-baby days, when I didn’t have to worry about whether I’d had enough sleep and who was going to watch the kids.

I had intended to continue running throughout my pregnancy, but my body had other plans for me. Pregnancy wreaked havoc with the fluid in my inner ear, so I developed the inconvenient tendency to simply fall over without warning. This obviously meant that running would be too much of a risk, especially during the tail-end of winter when there was still a lot of ice on the ground.

After my son was born, I started running again, but only for a few months before I got injured. That was when my six-year break from running started. There was always something that kept me out of it – injury, illness, post-partum depression, plain old garden-variety depression – before I finally found the right motivation to start running again in earnest three years ago.

Combining motherhood with running can be a tricky endeavour, especially when you add a full-time job and special needs parenting into the mix. But with a bit of practice and planning, it is possible to strike the right balance, and it is very worthwhile.

Today, I offer you some tips on how you can successfully combine running with being a mom. These tips do not come from any books or websites. They come from my own experiences.

1.       Lose any preconceived notions of what a female runner “should” look like.

Pregnancy and childbirth can really do a number on a woman’s body image. Our post-baby bodies include new wobbly bits (unless you are blessed with spectacular genetic material), larger-than-before breasts that now serve a practical purpose, and stretch marks that make our bellies look like a railway network. Some of us are self-conscious about the way our bodies look, and we are reluctant to go out in public wearing shorts and tank tops.

We tend to have this idea that in order to run, women have to be skinny and flat-chested. I get a lot of women telling me that they would love to run, but cannot because they are not built for it, or because their breasts are too big. From experience, I can tell you that those are not good reasons not to run. I am not skinny by any stretch of the imagination, and I am definitely not flat-chested. Barring any serious medical conditions, anyone who wants to run can run, no matter what size or shape they are.

Yes, it is true that the women who win the Olympic marathons are skinny and flat-chested, but you’re not trying to win the Olympic marathon. You are doing this for yourself. And if you have a post-baby body to contend with, wear it with pride. It serves as a reminder of the life you have borne.

2.       Remember that women have unique nutritional needs.

Women have to deal with all kinds of stuff that men never have to think about. Our bones start to degenerate after a certain age, and this increases our calcium needs. We have periods every month that deplete our iron stores and can throw our entire bodies temporarily out of synch. For the time we are nursing babies, our bodies are directing all of the good nutrients to our breast milk, leaving us with just the leftovers to live on.

There are scores of books out there that talk in general terms about what runners are supposed to eat and when. The material you read can be confusing and downright contradictory. I have come to the conclusion that different things work for different people. Whatever eating plan you end up adopting, you need to ensure that the nutritional needs unique to women are taken care of.

Here are a few basics:

  • Eat foods rich in iron and folic acid, particularly during your menstrual cycles.
  • Increase your consumption of Vitamin C: this has been shown to improve the body’s efficiency in absorbing iron.
  • As you get into your 40’s, start taking calcium supplements to compensate for the hit that your bones start to take in middle age.
  • If you are nursing, you need anywhere from 500-1500 extra calories per day, and that’s before you take into account the calories you burn while running. Make sure you are well fed on nutritional stuff, and take along an energy bar when you go running.

3.       Get the right support structure.

Whether you are small- or large-breasted, or somewhere in the middle, a good sports bra is essential. The last thing you want to deal with while you’re running is your boobs bouncing around like ping-pong balls. It is not only uncomfortable, it is downright painful. Although I speak from the standpoint of someone with large breasts, I have spoken to women who made the mistake of thinking that their breasts were small enough for them to do without a sports bra. With a couple of exceptions, they have bitterly regretted it.

If you are small-breasted, you can probably get away with getting your bra from a sporting goods retailer. Larger-breasted women could benefit greatly from being professionally fitted at a specialist bra shop that carries sports bras. No matter where you get your bra from, it is important to ensure a good fit. Not only can ill-fitting sports bras add to the bounce, they can lead to very painful chafing.

If you have just had a baby, be aware that the size of your breasts probably changed during your pregnancy. Don’t assume that what fitted you before will still fit you now. The same applies to moms whose babies have recently been weaned from the breast. As your body’s production of milk slows down, the size and shape of your breasts may alter.

Nursing mothers who want to wear breast pads should take precautions to ensure that they don’t shift during the run. When I ran as a new mother, I secured my breast pads with surgical tape and that worked well enough.

4.       Make it a family thing.

You don’t have to force your husband and children to go running with you, but at least enlist their support. Tell your significant other about your intentions to run, and let him or her be a part of the planning. You will need someone to watch the kids while you are out, and if that same someone massages your aching feet at the end of the day, so much the better! Most running moms I’ve spoken to report having supportive partners, and that makes all the difference.

For those with young babies, running can be logistically very easy. All you need, apart from your running gear, is a baby jogger – a three-wheeled stroller designed for motion. Look for a baby jogger that can be adjusted to have the baby forward-facing or rear-facing. These strollers do not have wheels like regular strollers, they have tires that look almost like bicycle tires. That makes them suitable for a variety of terrains and weather conditions. Not only is this a fun way to bond with your baby, pushing the extra pounds as you run is a great booster of upper body strength!

Running with older children can be immensely enjoyable as well. My younger son, now six, is showing an interest in running. He ran his first kiddie’s race last year, and he plans to more. I often take him out with me on a Sunday, just for a kilometre or two, and then I drop him off at home with my husband before heading out for my longer run

5.       Enjoy the me-time

People run for different reasons. Some runners are competitive, and are in it to win the races. Others want to get fit, or lose weight, or address some specific health issue. Some people simply run because they like it. Whatever your primary reason for running is, use it as an opportunity to switch off from the day-to-day business of parenting. Allow your mind to wander a little – bearing safety in mind, of course. Get an iPod and listen to some music. For a busy mom, it can be incredibly liberating to pound the pavement for a few miles. It is a great stress-reliever, it loosens the joints, and it refreshes the mind. When you get back home after your run, you will feel ready – and eager – to step back into role of Mom.

Disclaimer: The information given in this blog post, or anywhere on this website, is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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Leading The Food Revolution

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Today’s story starts with Megan, the 15-year-old daughter of my friend Michelle.

In many respects, Megan is a typical teenage girl. There are celebrities she loves and those she cannot bear the thought of. She enjoys going to the movies, has dreams about the future, and when the time comes, she would like to wear a pretty dress to her senior prom.

Except that if things don’t change for Megan soon, there may not be a senior prom. Because in order to go to senior prom, you have to go to high school. And Megan is too sick to go to school.

When Megan started experiencing severe dizziness a couple of years ago, her mom took her to a string of doctors who were not able to identify the cause. Even a week of tests in hospital did not reveal why this young girl was so off-kilter that she had to rely on a wheelchair.

The dizziness was not Megan’s only problem. She had a prolonged bout of respiratory illness, her periods were problematic from the very first day, and she became unable to sleep for more than two or three hours a night, in spite of being constantly exhausted.

Eventually, doctors were able to determine that Megan had Fatty Liver Disease. It became clear to her mom, Michelle, that poor nutritional choices had led to this outcome.

But Michelle, who has endured a lot of hardship in her life, is not one to be beaten down. Instead of simply accepting Megan’s condition, she decided to do something about it, not only for her own family, but for her entire community. She started by setting up a Facebook group for people suffering from Fatty Liver Disease.

Then she started making radical changes to her own and her daughter’s lifestyles.

While Michelle acknowledges her role in making less-than-ideal food choices for Megan, she points out that many parents simply do not understand the implications of the foods that they and their families consume. As a society, we are so caught-up in healthy-sounding labels like sugar-free this-thing or low-fat that-thing.

There is no denying the fact that food manufacturers hire very smart marketing companies who can successfully deceive entire segments of the population into believing that something is good for you when it’s actually leading you to an earlier grave.

Michelle decided that it was time for this to change, and so she has spearheaded the organization of an event in her community that will teach children and adults about healthy eating habits in a fun and engaging way. The Jamie Oliver Food Revolution Day is a global event being held in communities everywhere on Saturday, May 19th.

Michelle is organizing the event in London, Ontario. This day promises to provide entertainment and enlightenment for the whole family. Kids will enjoy such activities as making fruit or vegetable characters , while adults will learn how to make sense of those confusing nutrition labels and how to easily incorporate healthy eating into our busy lifestyles.

If you live anywhere near London, Ontario,  it is well worth attending this event. For details give Michelle a call at +1 226 234 4006.

And if you don’t live in London? Check out the Food Revolution website to see if there’s an event near you. It is going to be a global phenomenon on May 19th, with hundreds of public events and dinner parties in more than 300 cities worldwide.

Today’s children are the first generation who, on average, will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Michelle is determined to do what she can to turn the tide not only for Megan, but for other kids in the community.

Let’s all support the Food Revolution on May 19th. Together, we can truly change the world for our children.

(Photo credit: Denise Testa, JD Communication and Design)

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Goodbye WEGO Health Challenge, Hello Blogathon

In April I participated in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I published a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

I am now participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

When I first started Running For Autism a little over two years ago, my blogging was an airy-fairy kind of affair. My original intent was for this to primarily be a running blog, but it morphed very quickly into far more than that. Running is such an important part of who I am, and it is frequently difficult to squeeze it in with all of the other responsibilities I have, and I found impossible to write about it without adding the context of my life. For example, how could I write about running to raise funds for autism without trying to raise some awareness about the impact of autism on my life?

And so my subject matter started expanding to include posts about parenting and autism. As my wedding day approached and I started feeling the typical angst of a bride-to-be, my blog became a place for me to vent about my stress and toss around ideas for how to plan a wedding that both of my children could be fully involved in. At some point I started to try my hand at fiction in the Indie Ink writing challenges. A little while after that, I felt a little glimmer of bravery that allowed me to tentatively start discussing my struggles with depression.

Even as I cast my net of topics wider and grew my audience, I found it difficult to prioritize my blogging. I have a lot on my plate. I am a wife and mother. I have a child with autism. I have a full-time job outside of the home that involves two hours of commuting each day. I help my husband with his business and take care of making sure bills are paid and taxes are filed. I run. I have a commitment to write three articles a week for an ezine.

Inevitably, blogging took a back seat to all of this, and I was posting once or twice a week if I was lucky.

When WEGO Health sent me an email inviting me to participate in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to see it through to completion. I mean, we were talking about a blog post every day for a month. In the end I signed up, spurred on by the fact that the challenge coincided with Autism Awareness Month. This seemed like a great opportunity not only to give my writing a boost, but to spread the word about autism and offer some hope and encouragement to parents feeling overwhelmed by a newly acquired diagnosis.

We have now reached the end of what turned out to be a very successful challenge. The prompts that were provided offered new ways for me to think about the health focuses that matter most to me – autism, mental health and running. I had to really dig deep and be honest with myself and with the world – or at least, the corner of the world that reads my blog. I had some moments of soul-searching, and I found myself addressing questions that I’ve never had the courage to ask before.

There were two days on which the prompts just couldn’t work for me. Try as I might, I could not get past the writer’s block. The challenge rules allowed two “get out of post free” days, but I was loathe to use them. Instead, I turned to the list of bonus prompts that were provided just for occasions like that. As a result, I published a post every day in April.

Through this challenge, I gained some new readers, and some great new blogs to follow. I read some incredible stories of courage and perseverance. So many aspects of health were covered in this challenge: diabetes, cancer, mental illness, special needs parenting, and so many others.

When you read so many stories of people fighting to survive, going to the ends of the earth for their children, and using their own painful experiences to help their fellow man, it really gives you renewed faith in the awesomeness of humankind.

Thank you to WEGO Health for putting this challenge out there. Thank you to my fellow bloggers for taking me on journeys that I could never have otherwise imagined. And thank you to everyone who reads my blog, who leaves comments or clicks the “like” button, or who shares my posts on Facebook or Twitter. It means a lot to me to know that my voice is being heard.

I am compiling a list of fellow bloggers who took the challenge, and when my new website is launched, they will be on the blogroll.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mariareyesmcdavis/2890706354/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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In Defence Of Runners: Five Running Myths Dispelled

I have noticed a very strange phenomenon. When I tell people that I am a runner, many of them – all non-runners, of course – go to great lengths to tell me how bad running is for me. I’m never too sure why this is. The subject usually comes up in the course of natural conversation. It’s not like I walk into a room full of strangers and blurt out, “Hey, guess what, everyone? I run!!!” I make it a point not be all preachy about it, and I never criticize the lifestyle choices of other people. There’s no reason for anyone to get defensive about their choice not to run. So why do many non-runners feel the need to try and get me to give up my evil running ways?

There is a lot of misinformation out there where running is concerned. Today I want to dust off my soapbox and hop on, if not to convince more people to at least give running a try, then at least to set the record straight.

Myth #1: Running is bad for your heart.
This myth is undoubtedly fuelled by the tragic and widely publicized deaths of runners participating in marathons and half-marathons. In the last half-marathon I ran, a 26-year-old man in apparent good health collapsed and died on the home stretch to the finish line. It is beyond sad, and these incidents can be alarming. But one only has to take a look at the numbers to know that the risk is very low. Out of almost eleven million marathon and half-marathon participants in the United States from 2000 to 2010, there were 42 fatal heart attacks. This translates to one death for every 259,000 runners – about half of the death rate from heart attacks in the general population. In other words, from a purely statistical standpoint, people who run are less likely to suffer cardiac arrest than people who don’t.

Myth #2: Running is bad for your knees.
Arguments in favour of this myth seem solid. When you consider the fact that the knees take a force of about eight times a runners’ bodyweight with each strike of the foot, it seems reasonable to conclude that wear and tear would ultimately win out. However, a number of recent studies suggest that not only does running not harm the joints, it may in fact help them. A person’s chances of developing arthritis or some other problem with their joints does not appear to be connected with whether or not they have run. I know many people who are still running well beyond their 70th birthdays with no ill effects to their knees, and I know people who have never run who have had knee problems.

Myth #3: Running doesn’t actually help you lose weight.
This myth is driven by some scientific algorithm I don’t understand that dictates what intensity of exercise makes you burn fat and what doesn’t. Whenever I try to read the theories surrounding this, my eyes glaze over, so all I can really go by is my own experience. When I took up running again after a break of about seven years, I was tipping the scales at almost 200 pounds. I was heavier than I had ever been in my entire life – and that included either of my two pregnancies. From the time I started running again until the time I ran my first half-marathon for autism – a period of about six months – I managed to shed about fifty pounds. My diet did not change significantly during that time – it was all down to the running.

Myth #4: It’s not safe for a woman to run on her own.
This really depends on a number of factors, like location, time of day, time of year, and so on. It is true that runners – women and men – need to consider safety when they are running. This topic is broad enough to merit its own blog post, but there are things that runners can do to ensure their safety. Some basic precautions are: be aware of your surroundings, know the area you are running in, make sure someone knows what route you are taking, stick to the beaten track, and make sure you have a means of communication with you, whether it’s a cell phone or quarters for a phone booth.

Myth #5: Running is boring.
I suppose for some people it might be. For me – and I daresay for most dedicated runners – there is far too much going on for boredom to set in. There’s all the clichéd stuff about trees and birds and fresh air – and there is merit to that. Early morning running in particular can be spectacular from an at-one-with-nature point of view. I love the feeling of running before the rest of the world gets going, when it’s only me, the open road, and the sunrise to which I am invariably treated. The air is clean early in the morning, before the traffic comes along to muck it up, and the sounds of nature are pure and beautiful. And quite apart from all of that, when I run I can I focus on all that is going on with my body. My heart race, my pace, how my legs are feeling. I take stock, re-evaluate, re-strategize, decide whether to speed up or slow down or throw in a burst of sprinting. I can marvel at what the running is doing for my mental health – the endorphin rush that gives a natural high, the stress relief, the fact that unlike the times spent at home, when I’m running I can actually start a thought and see it through to completion.

Do you run? Do you have strong feelings about running, either for it or against it? Have you come across any other myths about running?

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January Goals: Laying The Foundation

launchpadSo, now that I have started 2012 off with a week of inspiration from guest bloggers, it is time for me to solidify my own goals for this year. In short, this year is going to be about me. That does not mean that I will ignore my children, refuse to cook dinner for my family, and let everyone go around in dirty clothes. It simply means that I will do a better job of taking care of myself.

Since becoming a mother, I have put the needs of my family first. Which is fine – the truth is that ultimately, everything I do is for my kids. The problem is that I have been taking care of everyone else at the expense of myself. This has led to me being overwhelmed, exhausted, and in many instances, frustrated and unhappy. In a way, I have allowed the essence of me to get lost, to be buried underneath all of the layers of responsibility that I have imposed upon myself.

And so, this year, I am going to find some balance. I am going to pursue some dreams that have been in the horizon of my mind for some time. I believe that being more balanced, less tired, and more in tune with myself will benefit everyone around me.

In 2012, I am aiming to make great strides in my running. With the help of my friend and coach Phaedra Kennedy, I am going to break 2:10:00 in my Run for Autism in October. I am going to make inroads in the world of writing. And come hell or high water, I am going to develop a positive relationship with food that allows me to build good nutritional habits. The old pattern of alternating binge eating with starving myself is going to come to an end. Sometimes I’m thin, sometimes I’m fat, sometimes I’m in between. I’m tired of the yo-yo, and it makes clothes shopping impossible.

My focus in January will be to lay the groundwork for success. This is my plan:

  • I will realign my sleeping habits to go to bed earlier, so I can wake up early in the mornings to run without feeling like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck. When I start my training program on January 30th, I will be used to getting up at five in the morning. My body will have already made that adjustment.
  • I will learn how to do the strength training exercises that Phaedra gave me, so I can incorporate them in my training program right off the bat.
  • I have ordered my Precision Nutrition kit (thanks, Phaedra, for the tip). When it arrives, I will not just dive into it like an overexcited puppy. I will take the time to look over it properly, learn how to use it, and plan appropriately.
  • I will contact a web designer about revamping my site to incorporate both my blog and a general writing component. That will make it easier for me to market myself as a freelance writer.
  • Since I already have a day job, I will start to use my commutes for writing. That’s exactly why Santa brought me this nifty little ’puter that I am writing this post on.

By the end of this month, I will have built myself a launch pad, and I will be able to spend the rest of the year in pursuit of my goals.

Hop on, it’s going to be a wild ride!