Keeping Your Eye on the Prize

For most of my adult life, walking has been my “go to” exercise – whether it be walking with family and friends outside or taking advantage of my treadmill and/or various walk at home DVDs when the weather isn’t conducive to exercising outdoors. Like many walking enthusiasts, I jumped on the pedometer bandwagon in the early 2000s. After all, I needed to know if I was achieving the recommended 10,000 steps a day to help maintain good health. As an added incentive, the company I worked for offered a walking challenge as part of the employee wellness program and I could earn prizes based on my steps.

I recall becoming frustrated with the pedometer over time. I had the simple kind that just hooked on to your pants, but this posed a problem if I wore a dress or some other outfit without a place to attach the pedometer. Even if I wore pants, the pedometer often slipped off. And there was always the question of what to do with it when needing to use the rest room so as not to lose said pedometer down the toilet. Eventually, I gave up and stopped wearing one altogether.

Wearable fitness trackers: friend or foe?

Fast forward about a decade to the introduction of wearable fitness trackers. I recall a friend owning one of the earliest products, which was technically still a clip-on device, but it did more than just measure steps. These new products could also track and monitor calories burned, sleep activity, and floors climbed. I’ve never really been an early adopter when it comes to technology, so I took a wait and see approach. As the technology and design improved, I finally jumped in a few years ago and purchased one of the more popular band-style fitness trackers. (Note: I am not going to name which brand I use as I am not endorsing or criticizing any particular device or company.)

At first, I was enamored by the wealth of data this device could supply. The accompanying app was user-friendly and the dashboard was customizable, so I could set it up to include as much or as little information as I wanted. My primary interest was in steps taken, minutes of exercise, calories burned and sleep. I have to admit it was fun at first, monitoring my progress and hoping to see green icons at the end of the day, meaning I had met my goals. I invited friends to participate in step challenges, so that we could hold each other accountable with a little friendly competition.

Wearing the device has definitely made me more aware of my level of activity and it has helped me achieve some health goals. But recently, I have started to question whether the fitness tracker is as beneficial as I first believed it to be. For example, I aim to get 10,000 steps per day. On average, my normal daily activity typically adds up to about 5,000 steps and then with at least 30 minutes of exercise, I can usually make it to my goal. However, I sometimes find myself “gaming the system,” if you will. I use the feature that reminds me to get up and move each hour if I have been inactive…except more and more lately, I find myself ignoring the notification and staying put in my seat. Then, later in the day when I realize I am behind on steps, I may find myself pacing the halls to get to 10,000 steps before bed. This is not helping me sit less during the day, and it often drives my husband crazy when I pace the bedroom trying to get in those last 500 steps or so.

The other feature that I have started to second guess is the sleep tracker. At first, I was excited to have this information at hand to get a better sense of the quality and quantity of my sleep. I typically aim to get about seven and a half hours of sleep per night during the week and maybe a little more on weekends. I have never really had a problem with sleep. I usually fall asleep quickly and often wake up before my alarm even goes off. I am an early riser as I meditate and exercise in the morning before going to work. Because of my schedule, it’s important for me to get to bed at a decent hour. So, I aim to have lights out no later than 10pm and wake up around 5:15am, giving me between seven and seven and a half hours of sleep.

When I started looking at the sleep data, I was surprised to find that I was often getting less than that according to the tracker. Most days I was lucky to be getting six to six and half hours per night, and sometimes it was even less. In looking at the breakdown of sleep stages, it indicated that I was often awake for an hour or more overnight. I realized over time that seeing these numbers was actually stressing me out about not getting enough sleep…when in reality, nothing had changed about my sleep patterns. For the most part, I was not waking up for significant amounts of time during the night and I usually felt refreshed and alert when I woke up. It took me a while to come to the conclusion that having this sleep data was doing more harm than good, so I recently made the decision to stop wearing the device at night (it was never really comfortable to me anyway) and I removed the sleep data from my dashboard. It is the best decision I have made in a while.

A ha moment

I have been having mixed feelings about my fitness tracker for some time now, but the “a ha” moment happened last weekend when I was in the middle of Nia class. I glanced at the tracker to see how many steps I had and found myself disappointed that it was less than I expected. Then it hit me – I had totally lost sight of my true goal. The bottom line is I exercise to maintain good health so I can enjoy life. The most important thing is that I am active and that I enjoy the activities I engage in. Whether or not I get 10,000 steps a day is really irrelevant. I had taken my eyes off the prize: being active because it feels good and is good for me.

So, does this mean I am tossing out my fitness tracker? No, at least not yet. I do believe there are benefits to wearing it and monitoring the data, but I won’t allow the data to stress me out or dictate how I spend my time. I am also going to take breaks from it now and then so I don’t feel so tethered to this little device on my wrist. Unfortunately, it seems that fitness trackers have become one more piece of technology that we can become addicted to, so it’s good to unplug from them every now and then. Take it off, then go walk, run, swim or play…just for the fun of it.

Allergy Season: The Dreaded Yellow Haze

Itchy, watery eyes. Sneezing. Nasal congestion. Yep, it’s that time of the year again: spring allergy season. I stepped outside yesterday to grab the morning newspaper and our cars were coated with a yellow sheen. Pollen – ugh.

Those of you based in the mid-Atlantic or southeastern part of the United States know what we are in for – several weeks of this yellow haze, making it difficult to be outdoors just as we are yearning to bust outside after a long, drawn out winter. We were finally getting over a rather nasty flu season and now we have to deal with this? Doesn’t seem fair.

Prevention: Limiting exposure to allergens

Fret not as there are some things you can do to lessen the blow of seasonal allergies. After all, no one wants to be stuck inside as spring finally awakens, beckoning us to come play outside and bask in the sunshine and warm breeze. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends the following actions to help reduce allergic reactions to pollen:

  • Limit your outdoor activities when pollen counts are high. This will reduce your exposure to pollen and other allergens and reduce your symptoms. Your local newspaper and/or TV news station website usually have the daily pollen counts or you can visit the Weather Channel and use their Allergy Tracker.

 

  • Keep windows closed during pollen season and use central air conditioning with a HEPA filter attachment. This applies to your home as well as your vehicle. Removing as much of the allergen as possible is key to preventing or reducing your symptoms.

 

  • Start taking allergy medicine before pollen season begins. Most allergy medicines work best when taken this way. This helps prevent your body from releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause your symptoms. Consider it a preemptive strike and one of your best defenses against the offending allergens.

 

  • Bathe and shampoo your hair daily before going to bed. This will remove pollen from your hair and skin and keep it off your bedding. If you typically shower in the morning or prefer not to wash your hair every day, then consider at least brushing or combing your hair before bed (away from your bedroom) to reduce the pollen that does make it onto your bedding. You may also want to shake out clothes worn during outdoor activities if you don’t want to run a load of laundry every day.

 

  • Wash bedding in hot, soapy water once a week. This will help remove any pollen that does make it onto your sheets. And whether washing your sheets or your normal laundry for the week, be sure to dry items in a dryer, not on an outdoor line. The goal is to eliminate exposure to pollen, especially during peak blooming season.

 

  • Wear sunglasses and a hat. This will help keep pollen out of your eyes and off your hair. This can help you avoid having to wash your hair every day. Just be sure to brush off your hat outside to avoid bringing pollen indoors.

 

  • If you have pets that spend a lot of time outdoors, be sure to brush them or even give them a quick rinse to help remove pollen and other allergens before they come inside for the night.

 

Treatment: When prevention isn’t enough

Preparation and prevention are the best approaches to surviving allergy season, but if you do find yourself suffering, there are several over-the-counter and prescription medicines that may help reduce your symptoms. Note: Please be sure to read all medication packaging and/or consult with your health care provider before taking any new medications, either prescription or over the counter.

Antihistamines come in pill, liquid or nasal spray form. They can relieve sneezing and itching in the nose and eyes. They also reduce a runny nose and, to a lesser extent, nasal stuffiness. They include over the counter options such as Claritin, Allegra and Zyrtec as well as prescription options such as Xyzal and Clarinex.

Decongestants are available as pills, liquids, nasal sprays or drops. They help shrink the lining of the nasal passages and relieve nasal stuffiness. Decongestant nose drops and sprays should only be used on a short-term basis though as they can have a rebound effect and cause more congestion. Some common over the counter decongestants include Afrin (nasal spray) and Sudafed (pill).

Nasal corticosteroids are a type of nasal spray. They reduce inflammation in the nose and block allergic reactions. They are the most effective medicine type for allergic rhinitis because they can reduce all symptoms, including nasal congestion, and have few side effects. There are several options available over the counter including Flonase, Nasacort, and Nasonex.

Leukotriene receptor antagonists block the action of important chemical messengers (other than histamine) that are involved in allergic reactions. The most common option is Singulair, but it does require a prescription.

Some people with pollen allergy do not get complete relief from medications. They may be candidates for immunotherapy, or long-term treatment that can help prevent or reduce the severity of allergic reactions. The most common treatment is allergy shots; however, there are newer therapies including tablets that are placed under the tongue for 1 to 2 minutes and then swallowed.

For those who prefer a more natural approach to dealing with sinus symptoms, consider a nasal irrigation system such as a Neti pot. The basic explanation of how the Neti pot works is that it thins mucus and helps flush it out of the nasal passages. It involves the use of a saline mixture that you pour into one nostril, that flows through your nasal cavity and out the other nostril. In studies, people suffering from daily sinus symptoms found relief from using the Neti pot or other nasal irrigation system daily. Neti pots are available over-the-counter at many drug stores, health food stores, and online retailers.

If you are not sure what the best treatment approach is for your allergy symptoms, make an appointment to discuss it with your health care provider. Although seasonal allergies may be a part of life, they don’t have to stop you from enjoying the beauty of spring and its outdoor pleasures.

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