TidBit: Blowing Balloons Can Strengthen Your Lungs

My nemesis

My nemesis

Introducing TidBits, because frankly, sometimes I have something I want to share that doesn’t necessitate a whole blog. Today, it’s a revolutionary (insert some sarcasm) new idea I had about blowing up balloons to increase lung strength.

The idea came to me last week, as some coworkers and I prepped for a birthday celebration for a fellow RD. I bought an assortment of balloons, and as we blew them up we discovered that one particular kind was ridiculously difficult to inflate. We huffed, we puffed, we turned bright red and almost keeled over from lightheadedness, barely to inflate a forth of the balloon. It was hilarious to watch each other struggle. Eventually we figured out some tricks- if you stretch the balloon it helps, for instance- but in the meantime I started thinking about how this balloon blowing struggle was probably helping to strengthen my lungs….and what if it could be used on a regular basis to strengthen my lungs even more?!

Turns out it’s already a real thing. A quick google search yields several articles on the topic of blowing up balloons to increase your lung capacity and strength. Any balloon will do, but obviously the more difficult it is to inflate the harder your lungs will have to work. Why should you try it? Because blowing balloons forces you to use the intercostal muscles, which are responsible for spreading and elevating your diaphragm and ribcage when you breathe. Strengthening these muscles allows your lungs to expand and take in more oxygen, a clear benefit for any athlete, especially those of use who like to run at high altitude.

It’s quite simple too compared to the elaborate training schedules many athletes follow. Start by fully inflating 2-3 balloons per day (or the same balloon 2-3 times) and work your way up progressively to 10-15 per day. Working out was never so fun!




Navigating the Holiday Season

It’s that time of year again when dieters around the world tremble in fear: that’s right, it’s holiday time!  Even though I’m not into diets, I do get that the holidays are a time when we are bombarded with parties and social gatherings and food and drink flow abundantly. I believe this food and drink should be enjoyed, but I get that no one wants to sideline their nutrition and health in the process.  So below is a blog I wrote awhile on back on Navigating the Holidays.


YImageou’ve heard the shocking statistics: the average American gains 5 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s! (Or something equally shocking).  Do I buy it? Not exactly, as a person would have to eat an extra 500 calories every day to gain that much weight in that time frame.  I do believe, however, that the holiday season sets us up for possible weight gain.  Not only do the holidays tend to revolve around big family meals, but there’s also usually lots of goodies lurking in the break room at work.  Holiday parties and travel make it hard to stick to a regular workout routine and eating schedule as well.  Alcohol flows like water.  It’s a set up, I get it, but if you have a plan you can navigate the holidays without weight gain and still enjoy yourself! Here’s how:

At parties:

    • Scan the buffet.  Check out the options before you start filling your plate and prioritize what you really want to try as opposed to going through the line and taking some of everything.  Make sure there are some veggies on your plate too.
    • Don’t skip meals to stockpile calories for later.  This strategy almost always backfires as you will likely get so hungry that you end up eating more than planned.  Eat regular meals as scheduled and have a small healthy snack before the event so that you don’t arrive ravenous.
    • Keep a glass of water in hand.  If your hand is busy, you’ll be less likely to mindlessly reach for food when you aren’t even hungry.  If you plan to drink alcohol, try to drink a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage to slow yourself down and stay hydrated.
    • Choose your beverage wisely.  Eggnog is awesome but it’s a calorie bomb too.  Limit your intake of high calorie beverages such as eggnog (or anything with cream), margaritas, and white Russians.  Your best bet? A heart-healthy glass of red wine.
    • Dance.  If there’s a dance floor at the party hit it up.  Not only does dancing count as exercise, but it’s pretty hard to mindlessly eat while getting your boogey on!
  • At work:
    • Don’t eat just to be nice.  That’s so great that your coworker was kind enough to bring in that pie, cake, cookie, or whatever other sugar laden goodie that is calling your name, but you don’t have to eat it just because it’s there.  If you are getting pressured to try some and really don’t want to, you can always be polite and say “no thanks, I had some cookies earlier”.  One little white lie won’t guarantee you get coal in your stocking.
    • Enlist the support of a coworker with similar goals. A like-minded friend can help keep you in check when tempted to over-do it. Also, just telling someone your plan, say to only have 1 cookie, will help you stick to it.
    • Remove yourself from the situation.  Out of sight out of mind, right? If you know the staff lounge is full of treats don’t spend too much time there drooling over them.
  • At family gatherings:
    • Set boundaries and know when to say no.  Have a plan to set boundaries if you know you may encounter pushy family members.  Sometimes people will react better if you emphasize health and not weight, such as by saying “No thank you, I am watching my cholesterol” instead of saying that you are watching your weight. Your crazy aunt may think you are perfect and don’t need to diet and get pushy about trying her dessert, but she likely won’t want to raise your cholesterol
    • Bring a nutritious dish of your own such as a veggie tray or vegetable based side dish like roasted Brussels sprouts.  Then make sure it fills up a good portion of your plate (at least ¼ of your plate should be veggies)
    • Have a game plan.  As with regular meal planning, having a plan is important with holiday eating.  The plan can be general if you’re not sure what foods will be available (i.e. “I’ll leave space for one dessert”) or specific if you do know (i.e. “I’ll indulge in one piece of chocolate cake”)
    • If you’ll be traveling for the holidays bring plenty of your own healthy snacks (nuts anyone?) to stave off hunger and avoid potential cookie binges.At family gatherings: 
  • In general:
    • Don’t feel that you have to attend every engagement you are invited to.  Prioritize the parties you really want to or feel you should attend, and let the others pass by with a polite “Sorry, I already have plans”.  It’s okay if your “plans” include staying home and hitting the hay early.
    • As always, moderation is key. Don’t deny yourself the treats you really want as this often backfires and makes you want it more (and eat more when you finally do give in).  Enjoy the foods you really want, but do so in moderation.
    • Most importantly, if you do overeat, don’t stress.  Shaming yourself will only make you feel worse and may lead to emotional or stress eating.  Remember, one meal will not make or break you or your health.   Do your best to get back on track and don’t beat yourself up over it.
    • Lastly, keep your training schedule, at least as much as possible.  Don’t be an all or nothing person; a little exercise is better than none.  If you are limited for time focus on short intense workouts, such as 30 minutes of interval training.
    • Change your attitude.  Sure, it seems like the holidays are all about food, but really they should be about giving thanks and celebrating life with the people you care about.  Shift your focus from the food and drinks to the family and friends.  Start a non-food related tradition. Sometimes just changing your attitude is helpful with meeting your nutrition goals!

Happy Holidays!

Accepting my First DNF

marathon photo

Pre race photo stop

Running is an inherently selfish sport. We do it for us, whether that be for our physical health, our mental sanity, or just for our own enjoyment . I think most runners know this, and many even accept it. It’s not a bad thing, it just is what it is. But it’s come into play for me this week, as I struggle to accept my first DNF. Even though I know there are much bigger problems in the world then a failed marathon, I can’t help but feel sad about it. And then I feel bad about feeling sad, because it is such a minor thing in the grand scheme of things. So why doesn’t it feel that way?

I put in a decent amount of training for what was to be my marathon debut. Sure my training wasn’t perfect but it was overall good. I tapered right. I ate well. I had a plan for my pacing and race nutrition. I felt generally prepared and excited for it. I started to get nervous when I saw the weather forecast though. It was to be in the low to mid 80s the day of the race. I don’t like heat, and I certainly hadn’t been training in it. Mentally, this threw me for a loop. The morning of the race I felt more anxiety than excitement. Sure there was some excitement, but instead of my usual pre-race nerves (the kind that are actually helpful) there was a looming dread. Whether that was normal or an omen of what as to come I’m not sure. Did my pre race dread factor into my DNF? Who knows.

The race started off well enough. I started with the 3:55 pace group since my goal was to finish in under 4 hours. I felt good the first few miles and actually pulled a bit ahead of the pace group. I was going a bit faster than I had originally planned but it felt manageable. I wouldn’t say I felt good at any point in the beginning of the race, but I felt okay. Then around mile 6 or 7, as the heat began to sink in, I went from feeling okay to “meh”. By the half marathon check in I was struggling mentally with the heat and boredom but I was around 1:55 and still on target to break 4 hours. Somewhere in the next 3 miles things started going downhill fast. It got warmer and there wasn’t much shade (at least not comparatively for someone who likes to run in forests!). I continued to struggle mentally with not knowing the course or what to expect from the terrain. I felt incredibly bored and was questioning why I signed up for a road race. Around mile 16 to 17, two gels in, my stomach started to feel off. It wasn’t nauseated at first, but something was not right. Sick of not feeling well, after I crossed the mile 17 sign I started walking. The fact that I was walking morally defeated me and was the beginning of my true undoing. Although I had planned on just walking a bit, the next 3 miles turned out to be mostly walking. I tried to jog here and there but it made my stomach feel worse. I watched the pace groups pass me- 3:55, 4:00, 4:15. Soon even trying to jog felt pointless. I walked and contemplated how the heck things had fallen apart so badly. I had been prepared to push myself. Prepared to hurt. But not prepared to feel sick. And then, shortly after I passed the mile 20 sign, I started dry heaving. I pulled over to a patch of grass, sat down, and threw up. Luckily for me (but not them) I had gotten sick in front of a very nice group of spectators. They gave me a bottle of electrolyte drink, and a nearby race official called over the medics.   My vitals were fine and I actually felt a lot better after getting sick, but it didn’t seem like a good idea to try and continue, and frankly I didn’t want to. I was done. The very nice group of spectators gave me a ride to the finish where I met up with my friend who had done the half. She tried her best to console me by telling me how many times Paula Radcliffe and Kara Goucher have DNF’d, and it helped a bit. But when I called my family to tell them of my failure I was a mess. I felt as if I had let them down, in addition to myself. How could this happen? I can run a half marathon up a 14,000 foot peak with a decent time but I can’t finish a marathon at sea level?! I tend to pride myself on being a strong woman, both mentally and physically, but in that moment I felt weak. I felt dumb. And I felt sad. There was nothing left to do but cry.

I was pretty sad the rest of the day but with time, and maybe physical distance from the race venue, I feel better. Am I still bummed about how things turned out? Yes, but I think I’ve found acceptance. DNF’s suck, but basically every runner has one somewhere on their record. I’m hoping that months down the road I’ll look back at this as one of those situations that makes you stronger in the end.

And of course, there are always lessons to be learned. I’ve learned the importance of paying attention to electrolytes and hydration in the heat and humidity-which I already knew but for some reason did not apply. But mostly I’ve learned that I belong on the trails, not the road. I belong in the mountains, not on the beach. Will there be another marathon attempt in my future? I’m 99% sure there will be, but you can sure as heck bet it will be on the trails where I won’t be focused on time and pace…and I might even have fun!