Slow and steady

Moving slowly through the UK countryside


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Stairs for fitness – or – I love graphs

I love playing with data.  This is a self-indulgent number-crunching post with graphs.  I’ve just been looking at some older Excel files from a while ago, and was really pleased to see how they show that doing all the running – even though it has been very much on/off over the last few months – has improved my health.

Doing stair circuits is pretty tedious, but a good way to do some exercise when you don’t want anyone to see you, because you’re embarrassed about how unfit you are.  I started doing ten minutes of stair circuits four years ago, when I was working more or less full-time and on my feet all day, but doing little other exercise.  One circuit is thirteen steps up, then a corner-step, across the landing, up one more and then all the way back down.  I used my phone to time each circuit.  The novelty rapidly wore off though, and I went back to doing very little exercise.

A year or so later, and I was working part-time, sitting down all the time, so I had another go.  The difference in my fitness showed.  After five circuits, I couldn’t manage to get up and down in less than 30 seconds.  That persuaded me to practise, and a month later it had improved quite a bit.

Then I forgot all about it again.  A year ago, I started running with the c25k programme, mixed in with yoga, more walking and Tai Chi.  I thought I’d see how I’d do with the stair circuits again, and was pleasantly surprised to see how much faster I was.  (28 circuits in ten minutes instead of about 20).

Stair circuit graph

Improving my stair circuits

I also found a ‘three minute step test’ a while ago on the sparkpeople website.  I signed up to track my diet, after I was diagnosed as coeliac, because the blood-tests also showed that I was low in iron and folate, and they are quite difficult to get enough of, if you don’t eat fortified cereals/bread.  (I ended up taking supplements as I struggled to get enough of them from my diet.)  I knew I wasn’t very fit, so I decided to use some of the sparkpeople trackers, so I could see if I got better at anything.

The step test involves stepping up and down for three minutes at a steady pace, then sitting and counting heartbeats for a complete minute after you stop.  To compare with the ratings chart, it should be a 12 inch step, but I just use the 9 inch bottom stair.  Cheating, but convenient, and it still shows me that I’ve got healthier.

Step test ratings

Women’s ratings for 3 minute step test on 12 inch step

When I first did it back in August last year (before I started running, and before I’d started taking iron and folate supplements) my recovery minute’s pulse was 117.  Today it was 75 – which is less than my resting heart rate was eighteen months ago!  So something is working, even if I don’t run fast or often.  This is the Garmin heart-rate monitor graph from today’s 3 minutes.  (I didn’t use the Garmin for the one minute count – I just liked the look of that steep drop back down to resting heart rate.)

Step test graph

Three minute step test and one minute recovery

I had thought it was down to the exercise, but looking at the sparkpeople tracker for the step test, maybe it is as much to do with having enough iron and folate in my blood, because there was a significant improvement before I began the running in December last year.  All good fun, anyway.  🙂

Step test graph

Three minute step test progress (US-style dates, month-day-year)


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A year of healthy changes

My year of health-based changes – a response to this health and wellness prompt.

Last summer I found out that I was coeliac, and needed to cut out gluten from my diet. No bread, pasta, pastry, cakes… Yes, I do miss them sometimes, and reading packets for ‘hidden’ gluten can be tedious. Some complete supermarket aisles are off-limits for me. It also make eating with others more complicated (Do I ask about ingredients or just eat lettuce and tomato?), but to be honest, I think I’m pretty fortunate. Someone else at work had similar symptoms at the same time, and had to have surgery for bowel cancer. All I’ve had to do is change my diet.

rice cakes

I discovered that I really like rice cakes a few months before being diagnosed as coeliac. Very convenient for lunches and on holiday.

Mrs Crimble's Jam Coconut Rings - gluten free and mmmmmmm!

Mrs Crimble’s Jam Coconut Rings – gluten free and mmmmmmm! I may have eaten rather too many of these.

In December I started the NHS couch to 5k running programme. It hasn’t all been easy – there have been some bumpy patches on the way, and weeks with very little running, but overall it has made me fitter, and changed the way I see myself. Most runners seem to run further and faster than me (and some dog-walkers are still faster), but I have repeatedly surprised myself with what I can manage, and that has made me stronger.

Along with running, I re-discovered yoga, after a 20-year break. Yoga has really helped me improve my posture, always pretty poor, and getting worse from too many laptop hours.

My most recent wellness move has been to find out more about mindfulness meditation. The yoga had started me off, and the web and various books have helped me on my way. I took some convincing that it could work for me, an obsessive-compulsive worrier, but I can definitely feel a real change.

I love being able to find little patches of calm and quiet – even a few seconds focusing on breathing or hearing the sounds around me can open up space when my mind starts whirling, and longer sessions give me time to catch up and slow down. If you’ve never tried it, go and read up on mindfulness meditation now!

So, what health changes should I try next?


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S-t-r-e-t-c-h

An hour and a half of yoga at our after-school staff session.  I almost ducked out, when I realised that it was going to be a very select class, with only myself and two others in the group, as everyone else was over-committed with end-of-termness.  However, I knew it would be good to stretch out after yesterday’s run, so I didn’t let myself run off home, tempting though it was.

It’s funny how much harder I found it to relax being in such a small group.  I like being able to hide in the background, and that’s not too easy when there are only two others.  The teacher is good at making us all feel we’re doing well though, so it was an enjoyable class, and I was so chilled in the final relaxation that I kept having to pull myself back from the fringes of sleep.

We learnt a different variation of the warrior pose that is apparently better for the knees than the one we’d done before, with knees kept straight instead of with a slight twist.  The reasoning seemed good, but it was hard work on calves that had been running yesterday.  I think I’ll need to practise it little and often to build them up a bit.

Now, I wonder whether I’ll go for a run tomorrow?

Bugs!

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My back was OK again today, hurrah!  Yoga rules.  I went for a walk to look for butterflies and dragonflies as it was sunny. I didn’t see many, and they were all camera-shy, so I ended up taking pictures of various other bugs instead. I used to be really scared of crane flies, or Daddy-long-legses (? dubious plural) but they can be quite pretty, rather like dragonflies.  Apparently there are loads of different UK species (hundreds!)  There was quite a range of colours in the insect world today.

I walked 2.5 km (in about 2 hours – taking photos is very time-consuming when bug-chasing) and ran a tiny bit, but it was on a sideways slope, and pretty uncomfortable, so when a moth distracted me, I stopped and didn’t start up again.

6-spot Burnet Moth

6-spot Burnet Moth

Bee-like fly

Bee-like fly – looks like a bee, but it has a fly’s eyes

Crane fly

A crane fly

Crane fly

A different crane fly with pretty wings

Red and black froghopper

Red and Black Froghopper – startling!

Blue-bottle

Blue-bottle – I have always hated flies with a passion, but have to admit that this is quite striking

This gallery contains 6 photos


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Juneathon day 24

I’ve dared to put Juneathon in the title as I’ve actually done some exercise today.  I didn’t have  too good a start this morning though, as I ricked my back somehow, while sitting in a chair…  No idea what I did, but it was pretty painful, to the extent that I had to walk very gingerly or it made me yelp.

Large White butterfly on Knapweed

Large White butterfly feeding on Common Knapweed flower

Thankfully, it had eased off a bit by the time I left work, so I stopped off for a short butterfly hunt on the way home. I only saw one common butterfly, but it looked as though it was quite freshly hatched, without any wing damage. Very handsome, sitting on a Knapweed flower.

Home again, thirty minutes of gentle yoga stretches, and my back feels much better. Hopefully it will be fully recovered by the weekend for my Race for Life. I certainly wouldn’t have been running anywhere this morning.


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Breathe

One and a half hours of lovely yoga.  I nearly didn’t go today, but I’m glad I changed my mind.  Really good unwinding, except in the final relaxation, when I suddenly got assaulted by a throat tickle, that refused to respond to relaxing thoughts.  I had to get up and leave the room before I disturbed everyone else.


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Oops

Yesterday was Day 11 of Juneathon – and the 21st birthday of my youngest child.  So now I don’t technically have children anymore – though I’m well aware I’m still a mum!  Felt old and cranky.  Didn’t do any exercise beyond walking to a friend’s house and back, which hardly counts (less than half a mile).  I think that’s the first day I’ve missed being active since I started 5×50, way back on 31st March, which I think is 73 days.

Still, that’s not such a bad effort.  Maybe doing Juneathon right on top of 5×50 wasn’t such a clever idea.  Anyway, I’ve done 15 minutes of yoga today and will do some more later on, after taxiing the other daughter to her archery – so still a mum.  (Skiing and taxiing and Hawaii – any more double ii words out there?)

‘Yoga’ included a bit of balancing on this silver ball.

Balancing ball🙂