AKTour. Ariel Hoffman’s Diary. Week 3.

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Tip #11: Getting Dirty!
That’s right. Getting dirty, as in having skin contact with dirt, is becoming a new craze of natural antidepressant. Studies have shown that a bacteria found in soil, can actually help alleviate symptoms of asthma, common allergies, stress induced illnesses, and mild depression. The studies show that when this natural bacteria comes in contact with the human body through the skin, it actually releases a set of serotonin-releasing neurons, which are the same nerves treated by Prozac. An article in Outside Magazine, reveals that in Japan, the government is currently working on a health initiative that regulates companies to make sure that their employees get contact with the earth, by sending them on full day retreats (or day hikes), as part of their jobs. The idea behind this is that interaction with the natural environment actually reduces stress, exposing employees to improved health and happiness, therefore making them more productive in the work force. Very clever.
I don’t know about you, but I find this really interesting. During this month, I have had the opportunity to go on some amazing tramps (in New Zealand, the word for hike is tramp), and have also conducted many of my workouts outdoors, therefore having quiet a bit of contact with dirt. I have to say, I feel different. Maybe it’s the fresh air, or it’s just because I have been out of a huge, crowded city, but after reading more on the above fact, and about being outdoors, it seems that getting dirty can actually have a positive effect on your overall well being. I remember being a child, and being so proud of myself whenever I got really dirty playing in the sand or the dirt, and having a relatively strong feeling of satisfaction when making my mother slightly angry by staining those cute kiddie clothes of mine. So why not get in touch with our inner child? If rolling in the mud, like kids and dogs (you don’t have to roll around in dirt, a simple touch with your hands and feet will suffice, because let’s face it, we are grown ups who don’t roll around in the mud), can actually make you happier, then I am definitely going to try to incorporate this into my life. So if by getting dirty, this means that you are getting closer to “finding your balance”, then it is right to assume that by having regular contact with nature and connecting with or humanity, you may in fact be on a path to optimum health and an overall better quality of life.

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Tip #12: A New Kind of Sore.
Being in New Zealand for the first time, I wanted to take advantage of some of the main outdoor attractions. One specifically that caught my eye was the Tongoriro Alpine Crossing, which is a 19.4km walk through the main volcanic region of the north island, and is considered one of the best Great Walks to do in the country. The trail asks for moderate to advanced fitness, so I thought, why not? If I can dance for 4 hours per day, then I can definitely walk between 5-7 hrs in one day, no problem, right?
Well, I of course did not take in to account the elements, and the amount of physical and mental focus it takes to climb up and over the summit of a mountain. With a bit of struggle (I emphasize “a bit” because I don’t want to come across as wimpy), and aside from the crazy fog and wind which made me feel like I was in fact walking to Mount Doom (Lord of the Rings reference, in case those of you are wondering if Mount Doom is actually real, it is, but it is actually called Mount Ngauruhoe), I made it over the summit, only to find a new challenge of walking down! I fell on my ass a few times, and quiet hard, but finally got the hang of digging my toes into the slippery rocks, to prevent me from falling off the edge of the mountain, and I finally reached the main attraction which is the crater lakes, and which a photo of the view on my dinky iphone camera cannot capture that which is the true beauty of this amazing place nor do it proper justice.
It felt like I was in a movie.
Anyway, I will get to the point now….after the Emerald lakes, the trail was pretty easy. However, it was around a 3 hour decent, and I had no idea how much my body was working without even realizing it. I did realize however, that by hour number 3, that my legs and feet were definitely aching, and by the end, I thought to myself, “I think I might be sore.”
The next day, I couldn’t walk.
I woke up the next morning, and could barely walk to the bathroom. When I say that my ass was sore, there aren’t words in the dictionary to describe it, my calves were screaming, and my quads hurt to the touch. I couldn’t walk (ok, I could walk, but I was definitely walking funny) or workout for 3 days, which drove me crazy. Even swimming was challenging. I think I need to incorporate some more trailhead training into our workouts, because that was no joke. Strength training is important and necessary, but sometimes, just being human and doing what our bodies were built for is also great strength and endurance training. It’s important to do both! Climbing that mountain was both grueling and therapeutic at the same time, and I now have a new appreciation for all of those crazy backpackers around the world. My advice after this experience: Know your soreness threshold, of when to push through and when to stop. Only you can be the judge of that. Most soreness can be good to work through, but others, such as this, when you really can’t move, reminded me that sometimes your body is telling you to take a break, so don’t push through it. I had definitely reached a new kind of sore.

Tip #13: Outdoor/ travel circuit #3
Ok. So, same rule as before with the previous 2 circuits already given. You can do ex’s 1-6, 3x through in row after a 30min run, or, you can do ex’s 1-6 after 10 min running intervals, and repeat 3x through.
1. Star Jumps 16x
2. Speed Skaters 20x or 30sec
3. Standing Tick Tocks (16x each side, 4x each side, 2x each side, 16 alternating)
4. Plank Heel Clicks (20x) right into:
5. Plank Frog jump ins (20x)
6. Standing Paralell Glut raise (24x each leg with last one holding for 5-10sec)

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Tip #14: Dark Chocolate Benefits Before a Workout?
Let’s face it. I am a sugar addict and I am not afraid to admit it. But I don’t just crave any type of sugar, it’s usually chocolate, and I have to keep it in check. So, this led me to think about when the best time for me during the day would be to satisfy this sweet tooth of mine. It turns out, that consuming cacao before a workout can actually reap certain benefits including a boost in energy, increased ability to breakdown fat and carbohydrates, and higher brain function. Many studies have shown other benefits of cacao that include:
· Healthier skin, improving your skin’s abilities to fight off UV rays (though, applying sunscreen is still necessary)

· Increased blood flow to your heart and brain, improving cognitive function

· Decreases anxiety by giving you a boost in phenylethylamine (PEA), the hormone that makes you feel happier!

· Lowers bad (LDL) cholesterol

· The cacao in chocolate (not the sugar) promotes healthier teeth

· May contribute to reduced food cravings

· Cuts down on post workout soreness due to the anti-inflamitory compounds found in cacao

· The antioxidents in cacao increase muscles’ ability to absorb catechins and epicatechins, the nutrients that create energy

Now just because there are benefits to eating chocolate, don’t go crazy eating Snicker’s bars, all the time and as much as you want. Always keep in mind portion control, because too much of any good is a bad thing. A small square of dark chocolate (100g), 80% or higher (the higher percentage of cacao, the better), will actually give you an increase in energy if consumed within an hour of your workout. Hooray for me! Next time you all take my class, and I seem to have an extra pep in my step, it could be because I had some dark chocolate before teaching!
All the above reasons listed above are reason enough for me to allow myself that piece of chocolate that I feel I need to satisfy my addiction! Also, consuming chocolate earlier on in the day is a great trick to reduce my craving for desserts later on in the evening.

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