Free fitness resources I like, and a message from the Surgeon General

Walking feetHey there! I have pretty much recovered from con, and I am getting ready to go out to get some stuff accomplished and get some exercise. However, before I do that, I have some stuff I’ve been intending to share.

One of the wonderful things about the Internet is how much know how it brings to your fingertips. It also brings a lot of useless crap too, so you do have to be a bit discerning.

For example, one resource I cannot in good conscience refer you to yet is YouTube. There is a metric bungload of exercise videos up there but there is no way of telling — until you actually watch them — how good they are or whether following the instructions will get you hurt. It would be nice if some fitness accreditation authority would give a seal of approval to online videos, but probably that would raise the cost from zero to some sort of price, and you’d probably not find them on YouTube, but maybe on a place like iTunes or Amazon Instant Video.

What I can recommend is walk.walgreens.com . This has two cool features: a Google mashup which allows you to map your walk…there are others on the web, of course, but I find this the most straightforward. The other cool feature is that every step you log on walk.walgreens.com gives you “Balance Points.” Accumulate 5,000 of those points, get $5 off a purchase. Every mile/2,000 steps you walk earns you 10 “Balance Points.” It’s a bit like saving box tops or, if you are old-timey enough to remember it, Blue Chip and S&H Green Stamps. Only you never got points for your exercise regimen with those programs.

There are also apps that you can run on a smart phone with GPS that will keep track of your runs or your walks with GPS coordinates. The app will send the information to servers kept by the service and when you get home you get on the website and there’s your map of your walk or run. It can tell you your speed as well, and you don’t have to do like I do with walk.walgreens.com and remember your route and manually enter it when you get home. Unfortunately my phone has a pretty crummy GPS, so these apps don’t work very well. However, the next phone I get might be better where that is concerned, so stay tuned.

Here’s a list of apps for iPhone, and another one for Android.

When I have finished logging my walk, I keep my information in a fitness diary I built using a Google Docs spreadsheet. This is where those charts of mine come from. Google Docs is free, and all you need is a Google account to use them. There are pre-made fitness diaries, both online and application based. Livestrong has a good one, as well as food diaries and a smoking cessation program. But my Google Doc suits me fine, and I can get lots of information from the simple way I’m logging things.

Finally I do have another data source: the YMCA I go to has a system called FitLinxx that will read information about your workout directly from the machines you use. It’s pretty cool and pretty geeky. I cross-post data between FitLinxx and my Google Doc all the time. If your gym has this functionality, cool. If it doesn’t, maybe it’s time to shop around for a better gym.

OK, onto the other subject I want to cover…writing this took a lot longer than I thought it would so I’d better wrap this up. There has been some controversy about the current Surgeon General of the US, Regina Benjamin. She’s not a skinny minnie. She’s a big lady, probably about a dress size 18 as some have speculated. The question about her size comes up because of the concern about obesity in America, and whether Dr. Benjamin is a good role model for children and teens and will have the believability to advocate for better diet and fitness.

This has come up again because she recently announced that the Office of the Surgeon General will be encouraging people to get out and walk more. This is something that indeed Dr. Benjamin practices as much as she preaches. It’s good to have someone like her also talking about fitness in a non-gimmicky way. But again, the issue of her weight still dogs her.

You know where I’m at when it comes to this sort of subject. I am a firm believer that you do not have to be perfect when it comes to BMI charts to be healthy and active. I am realistic about where I will eventually end up with regard to my size: I am likely never going to have a “normal” BMI. But I can be healthy. I can live a healthy lifestyle. I can become stronger. And to be honest, having a perfect body is not a requirement for that job. Just look at Dr. C. Everett Koop. Big guy. I’m sure his BMI wasn’t perfect when he served as Surgeon General. Nobody complained about his size.

I think, actually, that someone who is big but who is also active and eating right can be a powerful example for good. Rather than seeing some beanpole or someone who is totally ripped advocating for physical fitness, and dismissing them out of hand, someone who is big but healthy can make health seem more attainable. Especially now that we know that science is saying that yes, people can be fat AND fit, I see no problem with this. The problem that people seem to have is more between their ears, and within their prejudices.

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