YMCA of Greater Louisville

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Choosing apples over chips

Chocolate and chips are a weakness of mine. I’m a snacker, and if I’m within six feet of either of these treats, there’s a good chance I’ll soon be munching on them. In trying to eat better these last few months, I’ve been looking for ways to make my snacking habits less hazardous to my health. Enter the apple!

This fall has been a great season for apples, and while you can find them at grocery stores year-round, it’s hard to top the taste of in-season fresh fruit. Apples serve as a great addition to breakfast or as an anytime snack–definitely a good post-workout snack to have in your gym bag. If you’re in a hurry or in a setting where crunching a juicy apple (apple juice running down the side of my mouth at work is something I’d like to avoid), then dried apples might be worth trying.

Using a food dehydrator, you can make sure your big bag of apples doesn’t go bad before you eat them by drying them out and making a tasty and portable treat. I’ve been carrying a little baggy filled with dried apples lately to munch on at work, and they’re just as addictive as chips! Dried fruit certainly does make a fine snack, but because some nutrients are lost and sugars are more concentrated, you still need to pay attention to just how much you’re eating. A serving of dried apples does still serve as a healthy snack in that one serving gives you 20% of your daily dietary fiber and 8% of your daily potassium.

So, if you’re a snackaholic like me, passing over the chips for dried fruit might be a good move for you. Home dehydrating is best, but if you don’t have access to a dehydrator, you can find a variety of dried fruits at most grocery stores.

What are your favorite healthy snacks? If you don’t have one yet, get to it!



He’s No Richard Simmons.

Bannon is an unusual dog. Unlike his fellow canines, when prompted, “Do you want to go on a walk?” his head lowers, he starts to shake, and he slinks away slowly hoping to disappear from the face of the earth. Although entertaining to show friends and family, it isn’t what I had in mind when I got a dog.

I had heard so many wonderful stories about how people’s furry friends had helped them get in shape! I was beyond excited when I got Bannon. His gigantic paws and, for lack of a less cliché image, puppy dog eyes, were ideal screensaver material. I immediately fell in love with him. I also fell in love with the idea of him keeping me on track with my activity. Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten a bulldog?

I quickly learned that Bannon, along with all bulldogs I assume, is not the exercise type. He spends his days sleeping. He sleeps in his cage. He sleeps on the floor. He sleeps on my bed. He sleeps on the couch. He summons the will to move sleeping locations about four to five times a day. Impressive.

So, here is the moral of the story. If you are looking for an exercise motivator and are thinking about a dog, do some research.  Upon Googling the subject, here is what I found. Some of the best dog breeds for activity, running in particular, include weimaraners, goldendoodles, standard poodles, vizslas, greyhouds, pit bulls, English setters, beagles, golden retrievers, and labrador retrievers.

My bubby, Bannon, as I call him, is adorable, sweet, and excellent at chewing my favorite shoes and underwear. However, I will unfortunately have to invest in a brother or sister for him if I’d like to exercise with a dog. For now, he’s just an excellent diet partner. Those puppy dogs eyes work wonders for him when getting table food. Thank you, Bannon, for helping keep mommy’s portions under control:)

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Biking to Work

I knew it was time to make a change.  For the past few years I’d successfully developed the habit of working out five days a week.  My time at the Y is excellent for relieving stress, I really enjoy the time I get to spend with my workout partners.  The benefits of a regular workout regimen were positive.  There was only one problem.  Lifting weights had become my workout of choice.  My muscles were getting stronger but my heart wasn’t getting to play along.  Even though I recognized the importance of a healthy cardiovascular system I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my time lifting for time swimming or running.  With only so many minutes in the day I wanted my workout to be devoted to weight lifting, not plodding along on a treadmill.

Discussing the need for a taxing cardio workout became a regular conversation between me and my workout partners.  The conversation changed when I learned my friends took the plunge and began biking to work in order to incorporate a cardio workout.  It was an excellent solution.  Biking to work was not only good for the heart, it was economical and utilitarian.  And for those who care, it was green!  If they could do it, I could too.

Initially the idea of biking to work was exciting.  I was going to join the ranks of the brave folks that take to the streets, powered only by their effort and endurance.  What an honor to join such an elite group of health seekers.  I would later learn biking to work is perhaps much more about being crazy than it is about being brave.

Deciding to ride to work is noble but not so practical if you don’t own a bike.  No worries, early Saturday morning my family set out with me in pursuit of a bike.  I naively entered a bike shop to look at the shiny bikes perched upon their racks.  They were shiny and sleek.  I really wanted one.  Soon I proposed the question to my friendly salesman, “how much?”  The beginner bike John directed me to was “only” $600.  Admittedly I hadn’t bought a bike since I was a teenager and even then it was by no stretch of the imagination a fancy road bike.  My wife encouraged me to consider alternatives, you know, in case I didn’t stick with it.  I was shocked that she would assume I wouldn’t be riding 5 days a week, back and forth to work, for the rest of my life.  I was committed to this new lifestyle.  Quickly I added up in my head how soon I would begin saving our family money by not driving to work.  The bike would pay for itself in just a few months.  Respectful of my wife’s wisdom we left the fancy bike shop and visited some used bike stores.  This actually was a much better option for me.  Louisville has many excellent used bike stores where you can get very nice, used bikes at affordable rates.  My problem, I wanted a shiny bike, not a used one.  I admit it was pride.  It was never my intention to buy a biker outfit and look like a sleek, trim rider, but I really did want a shiny road bike.  We returned home without a bike.  The reality of my situation began to sink in, if I really wanted to ride to work I was going to have to compromise and start out with a less than shiny, used bike.

My thoughts of riding to work began to drift; maybe I didn’t really need to ride.  I could find a different way to incorporate some cardio exercise into my day.  The biking dream was coming to a close until I shared my plan of riding to work with my father-in-law.  In what was a most serendipitous moment my gadget and toy-laden father-in-law told me I could borrow his bike.  We brought the bike down from the attic.  There it was in its shining beauty; a road bike that literarily had the word “Glory” written on the frame.  It was meant to be.  Glory and I were meant to be together.  My excitement returned.  I couldn’t wait for Monday morning to come.  I had instantly become a bike commuter!  Or so I thought.

Returning to the bike shop was different this time.  I needed to buy my safety gear, air pump and new pedals.  New gear in hand and $200 poorer I was now ready to ride.  My confidence was boosted when John took the time to give my “new” bike a look over to ensure it was road worthy.  John told me that my bike was a good bike, that was of course, music to my ears.  Returning home I couldn’t wait to get out in the neighborhood to become acquainted with Glory.  It was raining.  I didn’t care.  It was a good day.

Monday morning finally came.  I woke up early to ensure plenty of time for a healthy breakfast followed by plenty of time to digest.  Preparing for the first ride was invigorating.  My dream to bike to work was finally going to happen.  I dressed appropriately.  Work clothes in my back pack.  I donned my helmet, gloves and safety vest.  I admit I didn’t look like the sleek riders I admired but I was more concerned with not being hit by a car than I was looking like Lance Armstrong.  I kissed my wife and said goodbye.  Kim said a prayer for me.  As I rode up the street in my neighborhood my heart began to pound with excitement, I was really doing this!  I turned out onto Westport Rd to begin my 12 mile ride to Downtown.  It was still very early, and the road was nearly empty.  Picking up speed I made my way up the gears.  With each click of the chain on the sprocket I felt more confident.  I didn’t have a speedometer but that was ok, it felt like I was flying.  Why had I waited so long to experience this great pleasure of biking to work?  Despite the adrenaline I felt great peace.  That is, until I shifted the chain right off the gear!  Oh no, I hadn’t accounted for riding down the street with no power.  Reality set it, I was just an amateur, what was I doing biking to work?  I was still on Westport and not even a third of the way to the office.  Pulling over I found it was not too difficult to get the chain back into its proper place.  In a few minutes I was riding again, slightly humbled.

Transitioning from Westport to Frankfort Ave. I was again feeling excited and confident.  Moments later, there I was on the side of the road, fixing my chain again!  Lesson learned – I didn’t know Glory as well as I thought.  Thankfully that was the last time I shifted the chain off the gear.

Turning from Frankfort to Story Ave. I was being to feel the sense of accomplishment.  Downtown was nearby, I was still alive and enjoying the ride.  E. Main took me to 2nd St.  And soon I was turning into the Y garage.  12 miles for a first ride was a very long ride!  And it was behind me.  What a thrill.  After a full work day it was time to go home.  I realized I wasn’t ready for another 12 miles that Monday.  Thankfully TARC is very bike friendly.  I parked my bike on the front of the 55 and headed home.

Since that first ride I’ve commuted several times to and from work.  I still enjoy the ride.  After several months of riding, I’m still learning.  And I figure I’ll be learning how to be a good rider for many years to come.  Unfortunately I’ve learned Louisville is not a bike friendly town.  It would do us all a lot of good to change this over time.  In a small way I feel I’m contributing to a better community by riding.  Less pollution, less congestion and a healthier me; these are all good things.

I’m glad I made the change to incorporate cardio into my days.  I still enjoy lifting weights and my heart really enjoys when I ride to work.  The next time you see a bike commuter on the street, please be patient, please be safe and be sure to say hi, it might be me!

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Planning for Success in the New Year

As we are all gearing up for the start of the holiday season with Thanksgiving next week, we do so knowing 2012 is right around the corner.  Here at the Y, that means we’ll see an influx of new members ready to challenge themselves to sustain a healthier lifestyle.  As a Wellness Director, it’s inspiring to see so many new faces being active and pushing past their comfort zones.

However, we also see the inevitable decline in attendance during the months of March and April.  I believe this is a result of new members either coming without a plan or setting unrealistic goals for themselves.  One way those who are trying to take incremental steps to a healthier lifestyle can accomplish this is by developing a set of SMART goals.  SMART is an acronym for the following:

Specific – Going into a new program, one should go a little farther than saying “I want to exercise more.”  What will you do and how often?  An example of this would be “I will walk three days a week for 30 minutes.”

Measurable – At the end of the week or month, you should be able to look at what you’ve done and know if you reached your goal.  In the previous example, one can easily oull out their activity tracker and see if they met that goal.

Attainable – In looking at your life, is the goal you’re setting possible?  Setting a goal that will conflict your other responsibilities is setting yourself up to fail.

Realistic – This is one most fall prey to.  Many of us watch a certain TV show in which participants often lose 15-20 lbs a week.  Human nature is to think “if they can do that, so can I.”  However, those contestants are in a very controlled environment.  For those of us in the real world, 1-2 lbs a week is a realistic weight loss goal.  By the same token, if you’re currently inactive, saying you’ll work out 6 six days a week probably isn’t going to happen right away.  It’s important to start small and go from there.

Timely – Your goal should have a time frame attached to it.  If you’re looking to lose some weight, give yourself a realistic deadline in which to do it.

If you’re someone that plans on getting back in the swing of things after the chaos of the holiday season, think a little about what you want to accomplish and how you plan on doing it.  If you’re unable to come up with a clear plan on your own, schedule a wellness appointment once you’ve joined the Y.  Our trained staff is here to help you.

Happy Holidays from all of us at the Y and we’ll see you in January!


A Calorie-Counter’s Buzz Kill

Guys. Grab a stable seat. I’d hate for you to fall out of your chair in excitement. (Or off your exercise ball!)

Are you ready? Are you sure?

 …Starbucks’ red cups are here. You know what this means don’t you? It. Is. Christmastime. I am BESIDE myself excited. All good things come with Christmas. Family, friends, snow, vacation days, Christmas trees, fireplaces, PEPPERMINT MOCHAS.

…Did you catch that last one? Yep, I said it, and I’ll say it again.

Peppermint mocha.

peppermint mocha.

peppermint mocha.

16 ounces of minty, chocolatey, warm goodness. Oh, and chock full of calories and sugar. Ugh. Way to ruin it, I know, I know. I sort of hate that I decided to write a blog post about the deliciousness that is this particular Starbucks’ holiday concoction, as I was forced to look up the nutrition facts. Lets (unfortunately) break it down;

If you were to walk into Starbucks and ask for a Grande Peppermint Mocha, it would be made with 2% milk and would most likely have whipped cream (with chocolate shavings, of course, does Starbucks ever do anything half way?) on top too. Fair warning: nutrition facts in next sentence.  Look out! This bad boy carries with it a steep 400 calories, 15 grams of fat (8 saturated), 60 carbohydrates, and 49 grams of sugar. Yipes!

Lets shape it up; try ordering it with skim milk (or soy milk) and no whipped cream. Hey, even try ordering a tall (12 ounces) instead of a grande. Making these simple changes decreases the damage to 210 calories (for skim milk, 240 for soy milk), 2 grams of fat (5 for soy), 44 carbohydrates (47 for soy), and 37 grams of sugar (47 for soy).

See?! Proof! You don’t have to totally give up the goodness, just make small, smart changes to create a more nutritionally dense beverage!

Now, if only we could remove the icing from that lemon pound cake…

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Limited Options

I almost never eat fast food.  I say “almost” because there is one exception to my rule:  road trips.  After upwards of 3 hours on the highway my tummy starts to rumble.  The rumbling coupled with the agony of knowing I’m not even half way there inevitably leads to some very poor nutritional choices.  I’ll pull over for a quick bite to eat at any number of fast food dining establishments.  If I’m really in a hurry or daylight driving hours are quickly escaping me, I’ll go straight for the drive thru.  After inhaling my burger and fries (which, by the way, is never as good as I initially imagined) I’m ready to get back on the road. With a junior frosty in hand, I continue to make my way toward my final destination.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with this scenario, or have your own Achilles heel of an environment that breaks a healthy eating streak.  For some people, it’s a family get together.  For others, it’s a late night out.  For me, it’s driving East on I-64 where I go for the quickest, cheapest, and easiest choice.  But, the biggest reason I choose fast food isn’t because it’s quick, cheap or easy.  Between Charleston and Huntington, West Virginia, fast food is the only choice I have to make.

Back home I’m lucky enough to live in an area of Louisville ripe with farmers markets, grocery stores, and delicious independent restaurants.  When it comes to eating, I have access to a wide array of choices.  Even when I’m in a hurry or don’t have a lot of money to spend, I can find ways to eat healthy.  I know from my work at Y however, that not all Louisvillians share in this luxury.  12 neighborhoods located directly east of downtown and through much of West Louisville are considered food deserts, or areas with severely limited access to fresh and affordable food.  The problem is compounded further due to low access to automobile transportation.  It just so happens that residents of Louisville’s food deserts suffer disproportionately high rates of obesity, diabetes, and cardiac disease. Studies throughout much of the country have linked access to healthy food directly to health outcomes.  While environment only limits my ability to make healthy choices a couple of times a year, for others the problem is far more systemic.

The Healthy in a Hurry Corner Store Initiative aims to address this issue by helping existing corner stores get set up to sell fresh fruits and vegetables.  The program, which is funded through a federal grant, is a low cost way to change the food desert environment to one in which people have the choice to eat healthy.  An equally important step, of course, is education.  Changing habits is hard enough, but habits which have now been carried through generations resulting in a loss of cultural knowledge on how to even prepare and cook healthy food, well that’s really really really hard.  I’m proud to say we’re working on it though, and I’m also proud to say that I plan on skipping the frosty next time.

Check out http://www.ymcalouisville.org/social-responsibility/social-services/healthy-in-a-hurry-corner-stores.html for more information.



Seasonal Splendor

I love to cook. For a short time I even owned a restaurant in which I cooked everyday and I Veggiesstill love to cook. I am not an expert chef, I have never been to culinary school. I guess I should say that I love to eat, and I know what I love eating, therefore, I’ve learned to cook so that I can eat what I love. The restaurant featured fresh, seasonal, local foods; which, despite there being an abundance of fresh food available in Kentuckiana, seems to be a hard type of restaurant to find. So I opened my own. the restaurant did well, people enjoyed it very much and had I been as good at managing expenses as I am at dreaming up new dishes, I would be breaking into fresh arugula and braising butternut squash right now.

I believe in the power of good eating, for health and for life. I also believe that there is a culinary genius lurking in each of us waiting to be let out. We are all connected to the food we eat. The circle of life stuff. You know the song. Seriously though, we are a part of the food chain and this connects us to the biosphere and thus, to the earth. When we acknowledge that connection cooking becomes something ethereal; a part of our being.

How does one access their chef de cuisine? It’s simple; eat fresh, local and seasonally.  When its locally grown it is the freshest food available. It does not have to be boxed, shipped, driven, or launched to your supermarket. Food is not born polished, painted, fluffed, colored, waxed, or dipped. This is all a part of the packaging process. This is bad for the environment, the digestive, and the psyche.

Fresh, seasonal food naturally looks better, smells better, and yes, tastes better! We are lucky to live in a part of the country where the earth offers us a beautiful and bountiful harvest almost the entire year. There are several wonderful Farmer’s Markets available well into the winter. We also have several grocers who offer local produce throughout the year (if your grocer does not offer local food, ask them too!). There are many CSA’s that offer a wonderful selection of produce, herbs, milk, cheeses, and meat. My favorites include (we used these at the restaurant): Grasshoppers Distribution, Moonkist Gardens, Fox Hollow Farms, and Russell Veggies. These local farms produce food almost the entire year. The food is low in chemicals (like additives, antibiotics, and pesticides), and affordable on any budget. You can even visit the farms to really experience the human/food connection…

Right now Kentuckiana has wonderful squashes, herbs, lettuces, green beans, Brussels sprouts, greens apples, cheeses, milk, eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, pork…and so many types of these! The varieties of produce, cheese and meat through Grasshopper is enough to stock your fridge and freezer full. Foxhollow offers grass fed, free range beef that is humanely raised. You’ll be amazed by the variety of exotic, fresh offerings that Christine from Moonkist Gardens has.

The truth is, when you cook with the food that is grown in your own environment, which is as indigenous to the area as you are, and is among the freshest, highest quality products available; you start as a master chef. If you can wash, chop, salt, pepper, heat and serve; you are “one with the food” and the culinary guru is free. Because the food is just that good. Also, because you and the food must thrive in a similar climate; the food contains and provides nutrients necessary for us to adapt to the seasonal environmental.

I know that food becomes a matter of necessity in our busy lives. Opening a box and putting it in the microwave can sometimes seem like too much work. You can roast the vegetables ahead of time to make seasonal meals quick and easy. Here are some great websites for recipes and resources for local farms in Kentuckiana: