Who needs the gym?

Okay, so it’s the second week of January.  This is the hottest time of year for sales of gym memberships and fitness equipment.  Save your money and get a dog!

If you’re bundled up, the fresh air, sunshine and the crisp snow are more powerful stimulants than anything they’re pumping into the stale air in one of those windowless gyms.  Besides, you don’t have to listen to that droning disco music in the background!

I make a point of running around with Gus – up and down the hills, and across the snowy fields.   I get my leg exercises by kicking up clumps of snow for him to jump for.  To be honest, just tromping through the heavy snow with boots and snowpants often feels like I’m  wearing extra leg weights.

When we’re all done, I feel just as “worked out” as if I’d been at the gym.  The bonus is that it doesn’t cost anything, and I get a wonderful sloppy thank you from my workout buddy!

Just move

We always joke that Gus only came with two speed settings:  flat out and flaked out.

Flat out

It’s hard to say which one he actually spends more time in over the course of the day.  If you were to ask him which speed he prefers, I’d put my money on flat out.  Gus is truly happiest when he is in motion.  To see him running full tilt across the field, with his ears flapping wildly, is to witness pure joy.

I think the reason that Gus is so calm when he’s in the house has something to do with the fact that he gets so much exercise outside every day.  We figure that, on an average day, he spends over 2 hours outside; walking, running and playing ball or frisbee.  The interesting thing is that, if he’s outside, so are we!

There is no question that we are more active as a family since Gus came into our lives.  One of the commitments we made when we decided to get a big dog was to ensure that he was properly exercised.  It has certainly paid off, both in terms of his health and ours.

There are volumes of research on the benefits of physical activity at any age.  Just today, I heard a radio announcer discussing a new study in which the evidence seemed to indicate that older people with stronger muscles are at reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  That’s great news, and it can be added to the enormous list of benefits already attributed to being active.  They include: improving your mood; reducing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis; helping with weight management; boosting your energy level; improving your sleep; and even improving your sex life!  Wow, if someone said they had a pill that could do all that, people would be lining up for it.

A lot of people complain that they don’t have the time to exercise, or that they can’t afford to join a fancy gym.  That’s crazy.  In the end, you don’t need a swanky place or elaborate equipment to get active.  As far as I’m concerned, anything at all that gets you moving is better than sitting on the sofa!  Just put on your shoes and walk around the block – it’s beautiful out there!  As a bonus, you might just see something inspiring while you’re at it.

This point was brought to life beautifully for me this morning.  It was a cool and clear day, and the sun was sparkling as we strode through the neighbourhood.  At one house we passed, a grey-haired couple were out in front on the driveway. The man was wearing roller blades and a helmet, and he was helping his wife pump up the tires of her bicycle.  We passed them, and then I stopped and doubled back to say hello.  I wanted to take their picture, because it was such an inspirational scene, but they were a little camera shy.  Instead, we chatted for a bit, and I told them that I planned to write about seeing them today.  The woman piped up, “make sure to tell them that we’re seniors – 68 and 69!”  So now you know.  A few minutes later, once we were well down the street, they whizzed passed us with a smile and a hearty wave; she pedaling rapidly on the bike and he striding gracefully behind on his rollerblades.  It was a beautiful sight!

Watch out – they can really sneak up on you!

Gus and Lucky sneaking up

Uh oh.  I can’t believe it.  Today on our walk, Gus and I took a route that takes us past our vet’s office.  We often go that way just for a change of scenery, and also because we really love Dr. Sermer and her wonderful team, Amber and Sharon.  There’s always a friendly cuddle and a treat for Gus, and we usually have a little visit if they’re not too busy.  I also tend to take advantage of the opportunity to pop Gus on the scale while we’re there, to check his weight.  Today I did that, and I discovered that Gus had gained almost 4 pounds!!!! He’s actually nudged past the upper limit of where his weight should be.  I was horrified.

I feel like such a terrible mother.  How could I let this happen to my baby?

The truth is, if you’re not careful, it doesn’t take much for a few extra pounds to sneak up when you’re not looking.  I should know – I work with this stuff for a living!  I tell my students and clients that the secret to keeping a healthy weight is ridiculously simple:  You have to balance your energy in, and your energy out.  And, you need to get on the scale to check up on things on a regular basis.

So, what happened with Gus?  Well, because of everything that’s been going on, it has been a few months since I last checked his weight.  I think that we’ve just been getting a bit too casual measuring out his food every day.  We tend to eyeball the amount, and I think that we’ve just been gradually feeding him a bit too much, and that’s become the norm.  We didn’t catch it until he gained this much because it has been a much longer time than usual since I last checked it.

Of course, we’ll have to keep an eye on those bits of food that Gus “focuses” on at the table.  As I wrote, he does get mostly vegetables from us, but everything counts!  I guess that’s the other part of the message.  When you think about the “energy in” side of the equation, then you have to look at all the sources of energy – and be aware of those things that you’re not taking into account.  I remember thinking that the leftover bits of food I finished off my children’s plates didn’t count, and the same for any food eaten quickly, while standing over the sink!  But nope, as far as your body is concerned, it all adds up.

Then there’s the other side of things.  “Energy out” refers to all the energy you burn up, through daily activities and exercise.  If you’re trying to inch the scale down, then you can turbo charge things by simply becoming more active.  Of course, intense sessions at the gym are great, but research does show that multiple, shorter bursts of activity throughout the day are just as effective.  Personally, I look for any chance at all to simply MOVE when I can throughout the day.  Just like the nibbles and snacks, any type of activity counts, and is just plain better than sitting on your rear! It all adds up too, in a positive way.

Gus has no trouble with the energy out part.  He gets close to 2 hours of exercise a day, and he runs at full speed for a lot of that time.  In fact, if we’d let him, he’d run after a ball or frizbee until he dropped.

No, I think what happened was just a combination of getting a bit sloppy with his food and treats, and not monitoring it for a while.  In the past, I’ve caught it if he’s put on a pound here and there, and we’ve known that we have to watch out.  This time, I just let it go too long before checking up.

I’ve maintained a steady weight myself for many years now, and I’m convinced that one of the main reasons is the fact that I hop on the scale regularly.  I do eat really well, but I love food and I love eating!  I’m not obsessed with my weight, but I’ve been amazed at how quickly it can add up, especially as I’m approaching the magic “50.”  I’m always glad to keep an eye on things, and to catch it when it’s just an extra pound or two.  I always say that it’s a lot easier to prevent it than to lose it.

So, what about Gus?  Well, I’m actually not that worried.  I know that if we just pay a bit closer attention to the quantities we feed him, and keep him as active as he is, he’ll drop those few pounds in no time.  We’ll pop by the vet’s more often to make sure things are going in the right direction.  In the meantime, there’s just a bit more of him to love!