Go Take A Hike!!

I mean it, “Go take a hike!” Last weekend, my husband, Jay and I took our pug, Max on a fabulous hike. The dirt trail started in the quaint, one-block town of Cold Spring Harbor, NY. The trail is actually located in Cold Spring Harbor State Park, part of the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail, located at 83-141, 25A in Cold Spring Harbor. Parking is easy and there is no entry fee. The adjoining Cold Spring Harbor Library has bathrooms for hikers’ use.

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The views are beautiful on this very steep hike. I have heard that if you go in the summertime, you won’t see much of a view through the trees but you will enjoy the benefit of a cool, shaded hike. The hike itself is only 1.25 miles in each direction but it felt like twice that far. Maybe the hike felt longer because we stopped periodically to give Max water or because Max stopped to play with every dog we passed on the hike. Little Max, only 19 pounds with short legs, had to be carried twice uphill on the way back. Although he loved the hike and even ran ahead (on a long leash) in certain spots, the steep hills became challenging for him.

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We saw several people using hiking sticks which may be useful for the steep inclines. We also saw a few people jogging the trail which I thought would be really fun until I realized that the steep, jagged path may be a recipe for disaster for an accident-prone person like me. Instead, next time, Jay and I came up with the idea of each of us wearing a 20 lb. weighted vest during the hike.

It sounds like a great idea now- extra cardio- but wait until we are actually trying to walk uphill with our weighted vests. I’m sure there’s a funny blog post in there somewhere.

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We ended our hike at the bottom of a hill where the trail met Lawrence HIll Road. If you cross over this road you can enter into Trail View State Park and hike it all the way to Bethpage State Park.

Jay and I will probably hike further next time, wearing our weighted vests, without Max, as the longer hike may be too much for him.

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Check out the Long Island Greenbelt Trail online at ligreenbelt.org for hiking maps and trail information. The Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference is a non-profit organization that has created more than 200 hiking trails on Long Island. A few years ago, I bought an informative book, “Hiking Long Island: A Comprehensive Guide To Parks And Trails” by Lee McAllister. The book features hiking trails and nature walks throughout Long Island.

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Happy Hiking!

(view from the parking lot at the base of the trail)

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What’s For Dinner?

We have all uttered those words, “what’s for dinner?” or “what’s for lunch?” at some time. And we all know what healthy foods to eat when we go out for lunch or dinner. By now, you probably even know the healthy choices to eat at fast-food places. Yet sometimes the healthy food choice is not staring at us in the face. Or maybe we are bored of the traditional healthy choices. Sometimes we are short on time or cash. I have compiled a few healthy food options that I turn to when I am short on time or money. Maybe when you are stuck somewhere without the typical healthy food choices, you will remember this post.

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When I eat a hamburger, I order a whole wheat or whole grain bun because I must eat half a bun with my burger. It’s strange because I eat meatballs and steak without bread but I can’t go bun-less with a hamburger. However, for the carb-free eaters, two new (new to my area) hamburger fast-ish food places; Dirty Burger and BurgerFi offer hamburgers wrapped in lettuce. My husband loves the burger-wrapped in lettuce alternative. Occasionally, after I eat a hamburger at these places I find that I am still hungry. Sometimes I order another hamburger but other times, instead of eating french fries or onion rings, I order a hot dog (without the bun). I know I may get negative feedback about this but I have spoken with two nutritionists who said that if its a choice between french fries, onion rings or a hot dog, at least the hot dog provides protein.

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Sometimes I find myself near a pizza place and although I really want the slice of pizza (my favorite food ever!), instead, I order a side of meatballs.  A side of meatballs is usually two or three meatballs and at times I order it with a little bit of melted mozzarella cheese. I find that the protein in the meatballs keeps me satisfied for hours. Again, a better alternative than eating two slices of pizza.

For many reasons, it’s always better to plan meals ahead of time. However, sometimes life gets in the way; maybe you had to work late, or an unexpected deadline came up or you were stuck in a last-minute meeting at work and there’s no way you want to start grilling chicken after the day you’ve had. It’s times like that when I pick up a cooked, rotisserie chicken at my local supermarket or prepared foods store. In my area, I can buy a whole chicken for less than $7.00 at Shoprite super market or Iavarone specialty foods store. I ask the person in the meat department to please cut the chicken up for me and it lasts for days. If you do not eat the skin, it is a very healthy, cheap option for dinner and the next day’s breakfast, lunch or dinner.

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When dining out, if you are craving something other than the typical salad with grilled chicken or broiled fish, I have a suggestion for you. I found a wonderful restaurant, Hill Country in New York City. This meat-intensive, Paleo-friendly, barbecue restaurant has locations in New York City, Brooklyn, N.Y. and Washington, D.C. Their dry-rub style ribs, sausage, brisket and other meats are slow-cooked and served on butcher-paper, counter-style by the pound. Yes- you order and pay by the pound! Portions are ginormous. Their spare ribs are like the brontosaurus ribs Fred Flintstone ate. I’ve been to the New York City location many times and I’ve ordered one rib and a piece of brisket and then went back up to the counter and ordered more ribs. Their chicken and side dishes are also excellent but truthfully, I go there for the meats. Vegetarians will like the mac n’ cheese, green bean casserole and white shoe peg corn pudding.

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Be creative with your food choices. It’s fun to come up with fresh ideas for eating healthy. Honestly, I have a limited palate and I tend to get bored eating “salad with grilled chicken.” If anyone has any healthy eating ideas they would like to share, feel free to comment on this post.

Biking- You CAN Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

When I see a group of multi-colored cyclists riding in a giant herd, engulfing one side of the street or the service road of a highway, I am sure that I’m not alone when I say that I am both intimidated and in awe of those athletes. At this point in my life, I’d like to change my feelings of intimidation into feelings of confidence and try to become proficient in cycling.

I am proud to announce that I am now an ambassador for The Bicycle Planet located at 340 Robbins Lane in Syosset, NY. For years, my family and I have purchased our bicycles from The Bicycle Planet so I know first hand about their top quality bicycles and accessories. I received a free “triathlon kit” from The Bicycle Planet, which is comprised of bike shorts and a matching tank top, both emblazoned with The Bicycle Planet logo. I plan to wear the cycling clothes when I participate in the triathlons, bike races and rides.  I also received a 10% discount on a new road bicycle that I bought to use in the competitions.

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The Bicycle Planet has a wide variety of Road, Mountain and BMX bikes from companies like Trek, Gary Fisher, Specialized, Pivot and many more. They carry roof racks, hitch racks and trunk mounted racks from several companies, including Thule. The store also has a top notch service shop and a large selection of clothing featuring Pearl, Izumi, Castelli and Champion System, just to name a few.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Morry Edelstein, the owner of The Bicycle Planet. A true cycling enthusiast, Morry and I discussed the benefits of me joining one of the store’s group rides in order to get more cycling experience. I have always enjoyed bike riding and years ago, I competed in several triathlons and duathlons (run-bike-run). However, I never specifically concentrated on my cycling. I plan to change that.

My first order of business was to purchase a new bicycle. Other than the 10- speed Schwinn I rode in eighth grade, I have never ridden a road bike. Morry set me up with Paul, one of the managers and expert bike fitters at the store. I met with Paul twice. The first time I came to the store we discussed all of my road bike options. I told him that I wanted a model in a lower price point, with the understanding that if I continue to race and improve, I would eventually trade-up to a more advanced model. Paul was extremely knowledgeable about all of the different models. He was a pleasure to work with because he worked within my budget and didn’t try to sell me a more advanced model that I felt was cost prohibitive.

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Paul and I discussed that I would wait to buy the clip-in shoes and pedals until I become more comfortable with the bicycle. I know that I will eventually purchase the clip-in shoes and pedal system because of the overall efficiency but I wanted to wait until I rode the bike a few times. Paul understood this and in no way did he pressure me to change my mind. Paul said that if I eventually purchase the clip-in shoe and pedal system, I can bring my bicycle back to the store and pedal my bike while I watch the instructional video which explains how everything works.

When I returned to the store to pick up my bike, Paul did the bike fit in the fit studio. I never realized the importance of a proper bike fit. When I used to ride my old bikes, I always made sure that my feet could firmly touch the ground. With the road bike, my feet barely touched the ground until I took one foot out of the strap-in pedal. This is an entirely different concept and a change that I will have to get used to. A proper bike fit is crucial for optimal performance, injury prevention and comfort. Paul took three-dimensional measurements with a specialized tool and adjusted the seat and pedals to ensure that the bike fit me properly.

It was difficult not to get carried away with the bike accessories but at Paul’s suggestion, I did purchase a flat kit.  The flat kit has all the necessary items to enable me to change a flat tire- once I attend the informational class to learn how to change a flat tire.

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So now I’m all set to join one of The Bicycle Planet road rides which start at the store every Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. Morry assured me that the Sunday morning ride group encompasses all cycling levels; from beginner to elite. I am excited to go on my first group ride armed with the knowledge that I will most probably be at the back of the pack. Since I thrive on challenges, I fully expect to be at the top of the pack, with the leaders, in no time.  Anyone want to join me in a few weeks?

Morry mentioned that they will soon be resurrecting the “women only” rides that used to be very popular.  I will keep you posted on my cycling progress and report back after I go on my first group ride. I hope to ride with my husband, Jay, as soon his back injury heals. I also plan to start swimming soon- to prepare for the triathlon.

So listen, if I can start cycling at 48 years old, you can too! Seriously, what’s stopping you? Are you nervous? Afraid? Intimidated? Don’t be! Trying new things keeps us young, fit and interesting. It’s always good to change things up- work new muscles and reach a new level of fitness. Get started today!

Disclaimer: Although I did receive a free triathlon suit, a free bike fit and a discount on my road bike, I was not pressured to write a positive review and all opinions expressed in today’s post and all future posts are mine alone.

What Happened To Good Ole Peanut Butter?

When I was a kid, the choice of peanut butter was between Skippy or Jif and maybe some supermarket brand that no one ever bought. Then years later I remember going to a health food store in my neighborhood where you could watch your own peanut butter being made fresh. You would scoop the peanuts and then pour them into a gargantuan machine where the peanuts would be pulverized right before your eyes. No additives, no sugar. Yummm fresh peanut butter- what could be better? Other than the fact that it didn’t last more than a few days?

Fast forward to the present day and there are apparently a plethora of peanut butter options that are a heck of a lot healthier than what we ate growing up. A walk down the aisle of a regular super market will give you the old standards like Skippy and Jif, yet these days you will find low fat and chocolate flavored options along with Smuckers “natural” peanut butter. Some supermarkets carry almond butter- peanut butter made with almonds, not peanuts.

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Health food stores and stores such as Whole foods or Trader Joes stock a variety of these new and improved, healthier peanut butter alternatives. My local Whole Foods sells almond butter, sunbutter, cashew butter, soynut butter and even powdered peanut butter.  “Just Great Stuff” is powdered organic peanut butter which when mixed with water has a smooth consistency and contains a fraction of the fat than in all of the butters just listed. And it is very tasty!

So what’s all the fuss about these new “alternative” peanut butters? Are they really healthier than our old peanut butter? What about the taste? What do the critics say?

Most of the consumer brands consist of Hydrogenated vegetable oil (to prevent oil separation), salt (to avoid spoiling), Dextros and artificial sweeteners (for taste). As an alternative to making your own nut butter (see my recipe below), I found a few healthy and delicious peanut butter alternatives in my local stores.

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Almond butter is made by grinding and smoothing almonds into a paste. By eating almonds or almond butter, you get fiber, protein, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium and phosphorus.  Both almond butter and peanut butter are high in monounsaturated fats, however, almond butter is a slightly better nutritional choice with 5 grams per tablespoon versus 3.3 grams per tablespoon in peanut butter. Foods rich in monounsaturated fats may help to lower cholesterol. Almond butter is also a slightly better source of fiber and has four times more vitamin E than peanut butter. Vitamin E is known for its anti-oxidant properties and may help to prevent heart disease and cancer.

Soynut butter is made from roasted soybeans. Soynut butter is ideal for people with allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Soynut butter is also gluten-free and dairy-free. Nutritionally, soynut butter is slightly better for you than peanut butter. In a 2 tablespoon serving, soynut butter contains 170 calories per serving, while peanut butter has 190 calories. Soynut butter has 100 calories from fat while peanut butter has 130. Both soynut butter and peanut butter are high in protein. Yet peanut butter contains more vitamins and minerals than soynut butter.

Unlike many other nuts, cashews and cashew butter do not contain omega-3 fatty acids which may reduce the risk of heart disease and prevent high blood pressure. However, cashew butter does contain high amounts of other heart-healthy fats and essential minerals and is a good low-carbohydrate, high protein option.

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Sunbutter or sunflower seed butter is peanut-free, tree-nut free and gluten-free. Followers of the Paleo diet usually opt for almond or sunflower butter. Sunflower seeds contain a number of essential vitamins and minerals. They supply B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, A, D, E and K and minerals such as calcium, potassium, zinc phosphorus, magnesium and selenium. Sunbutter is low in saturated fats, high in protein and low in sodium and has no cholesterol.

Personally, I think sunbutter is tastier than almond butter and soynut butter leaves me with a strange aftertaste. I also enjoy the taste of cashew butter, especially when it is homemade. This recipe for cashew butter is very easy to make and tastes delicious.

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Homemade Cashew Butter

Ingredients

2 cups unsalted roasted cashews
2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil

optional 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

In a food processor or blender, combine cashews and 2 tablespoons of the oil (and salt and sugar, if desired). Process on high speed for 30 seconds and then scrape down the sides with a spatula. Continue to process until you reach desired smoothness, adding 1 teaspoon of oil at a time, depending on how smooth you want the cashew butter. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Endurance Athletes and Older Athletes- Impressive, Crazy Or Both?

Endurance is defined as “the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress or other adverse conditions; stamina.” This post was supposed to be about how we endure as athletes. Unfortunately from when I started writing this post to the time it was published- just a few days- my family was rocked with devastating news. A man who has been like a father to my husband and a wonderful person in my life for almost 30 years- has been suddenly diagnosed with what looks to be a significant tumor. We continue to be hopeful for better news. My friend at work just buried her 19 year-old son who died in a car accident on his birthday. Each of these families must dig deep to find the strength to go on, to endure, despite the insurmountable pain in their lives.

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How do athletes endure the physical and mental pain as they push themselves to the brink? Ultra marathons are distance events which are longer than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. Were these ultra marathons created out of necessity? Maybe after a particularly grueling marathon, a group of athletes were standing around asking, “Is that it?” “Shouldn’t there be more?” – to the disbelief of the rest of the runners who were collapsed on the ground gasping for air like fish out of water and wiping up the crime scene cut-out of sweat imbedded in the pavement.

Typically, ultra marathons are 50 miles and 100 miles. Seriously? Training for these races can be a grueling process. Yet the number of new participants to this sport is increasing rapidly each year. Why are competitors being drawn to these events? One of the reasons is for bragging rights. The most common appeal of ultra marathons is a desire to complete an event which so few competitors even attempt and even fewer accomplish. That is the main reason why I am considering training for an Ironman. I think it would be very cool to say to myself that I finished an Ironman race. Most athletes are constantly challenging themselves. A typical distance runner may grow bored of their usual running regimen and will look to train for an ultra marathon to shake things up.

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Endurance athletes, like all athletes, must be both mentally and physically tough. Athletes must be tough not just to endure the many races they run or the length of the races, but their goal is usually to triumph. They must be tenacious, patient, persistent and effective problem solvers.

Recently, my 17-year-old son who plays ice hockey at an elite level, woke up in the morning of a play-off game with a stomach virus. In the car ride to the rink, my husband told him about Michael Jordan’s “fever game.” It was 1997 and the Bulls/ Jazz series was tied 2-2. The day before game 5, Jordan, suffering from 104 degrees fever, stayed in bed with the medical team watching over him, doubting that he would be in any condition to play game 5. Suffering from fatigue, dehydration, nausea and dizzy spells, Jordan missed two team practices as the doctors pumped him with fluids hoping to flush out the intestinal bug.

During the first quarter of the game, Jordan was essentially useless, but in the second quarter, something clicked for him, mentally, physically and emotionally. He scored 17 points in the second quarter. Later, he told the media, “It was all about desire…somehow I found the energy to stay strong.” At halftime, Jordan was given fluids and cold towels. In the third quarter, nausea and fatigue returned and he was useless. In the fourth quarter, Jordan somehow found the strength to turn it on again. Jordan scored the winning basket with a total of 38 points for the game. The Bulls won 88-85. After the game, Jordan said, “that was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.” It was an epic performance by Michael Jordan, just one of the many reasons why he is referred to as the greatest basketball player of all time. It’s about dealing with adversity and finding the strength to persevere when we think that we can no longer go on. That day, my son managed to have a spectacular game and afterwards when my husband asked him how he did it, he said, “I just tried to put the pain out of my mind and I thought about how the team was counting on me, I just dug deep.”

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The power of the human spirit can be very strong.  What about those athletes who choose to compete at an age well beyond when the rest of society calls it quits. Why would a 94-year-old woman still want to run track? Because she can. Olga Kotelko is a 94-year-old track star from West Vancouver. She took up running at 77-years-old. Almost 20 years later, she still does aqua training three times a week, bowls, gardens, lifts weights at the gym and trains for track-and-field competitions- including 100- meter races, javelin and shot put. She is the center of a study focusing on exercise and gerontology at the Montreal Chest Institute at McGill University.

What drives 83-year-old Australian Ray Moon to be the oldest competing body builder in the world? Moon has won four Victorian and Australian body building competitions and is considered by Guinness World Records to be the oldest bodybuilder in the world. Moon has had polio, open-heart surgery, suffered cardiac arrest, two minor strokes and was once declared clinically dead. He has had a pacemaker and a hernia, but instead of giving up, he found the gym. “Giving up never won a race,” he said. He began bodybuilding only eight years ago and does five strength and cardio sessions a week, including approximately 4 miles on the treadmill and 45 minutes of weight training.  After taking two years off to battle bladder cancer, Moon has returned to competition. “I’m nowhere nearly as good as these fellows who are 50 or 60. But age is no barrier. Life is what you make it.” A strong message- “Life is what you make it.” Take control of your life.

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“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility”- Eleanor Roosevelt

Why Should We Eat Fruit?

I was talking to a friend recently about new food ideas as we are both sometimes bored with our food choices. I mentioned that sometimes I eat breakfast for dinner- healthy french toast made with whole wheat bread dipped in egg whites with fresh fruit. She was amazed at the notion, never having thought of eating sweet potato pancakes for dinner. We discussed how fruit can be eaten as a snack or as an accompaniment to any meal and how sometimes its health benefits are underrated.

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Eating fruit provides many health benefits, including potassium, fiber, vitamin C and folic acid. Most fruits are naturally low in fat, sodium and calories. Fruits do not contain cholesterol. Fruits that are rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Fruits sources of potassium include bananas, prunes, cantaloupe and honeydew melon. Dietary fiber from fruits helps reduce cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber-containing fruits help provide a feeling of fullness which can help reduce calorie intake. Vitamin C is important for repair and growth of all body tissues, it helps heal cuts and keeps teeth and gums looking and feeling healthy. Folic acid helps the body form red blood cells.  Folic acid is especially important for pregnant women because it reduces the risk of birth defects and aids in fetal development.

The Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health recommends eating least 2-3 servings of fresh fruit every day. Eating fruits rich in blue pigment have anti-oxidant properties, remove free radicals from the body and offer many health benefits, including protection against cancers, aging and infections. These blue fruits include purple grapes, acai berry, blueberries and blackberries.

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So who thinks fruit is unhealthy? People who follow a low carb diet tend to shy away from fruit or limit their fruit intake. Fruit tends to be fairly rich in carbohydrates, primarily the simple sugars- glucose and fructose. Consuming a lot of fructose may be unhealthy for people who are inactive and eat a high-carb diet. However, those who are healthy, lean and active can afford to eat some fructose. Instead of being turned into fat, the fructose will go towards replenishing glycogen stores in the liver.

The bottom line is that fruits are healthy, unprocessed foods with fiber, vitamins and minerals. However, fruit juice is a totally different story. There is no fiber in fruit juice and it usually contains the same amount of sugar as soda. Avoid it!

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For a little variety, try these sweet, delectable recipes.

Pan Seared Banana with Maple Syrup

1 banana
1 teaspoon maple syrup
cinnamon to taste
canola or any type of oil for pan

Peel banana and cut lengthwise into two pieces. Heat frying pan on medium heat and add canola oil. Drizzle maple syrup on cut side of bananas and sprinkle cinnamon to taste. When oil is hot, place bananas cut side down. Turn the bananas once every 2-3 minutes until each side starts to brown. Enjoy warm with fat-free whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or fresh berries.

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Baked Peaches

1 peach, cut into 8 pieces
2+ tablespoons of maple syrup
cinnamon to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place peaches in a ziploc bag add maple syrup and sprinkle cinnamon. Mix well. Place peaches on aluminum lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until peaches are tender. Enjoy!

Experiment with fruit in your cooking. I found a recipe for pork chops with sautéed apples that looks delicious. Mix things up, don’t think outside the box, think like there is no box.