Ask the MisFits: Exercising Your Right to Vote

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, November 4, 2008; 11:00 AM

He's a veteran reporter, digging up the latest fitness news. She's an irreverent columnist with a knack for getting people off the couch and into the gym. No exercise question is too odd or embarrassing for them to answer.

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider are the MisFits, The Post's fitness writers. They were online Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 11 a.m. to take your questions.

The transcript follows

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Howard Schneider: Hi guys....Well there is no question how we can all get our exercise today: march to the polls....keep marching while you are in line...then march to Starbucks for free coffee...I hear they have to give it to you even if you did not vote, but you may as well excercise the franchise as well as your legs...

Open for questions....

Vicky Hallett: And everyone keeps talking about all of the food you can get with an "I Voted" sticker, but they seem to have missed the fact that you can also flash that baby at a Gold's Gym and get a seven-day free membership. Now that's exercising your right to vote. Okay, on with the show.


Southern Maryland: My exercise class is canceled since it is located at a polling precinct. I figure now is the time to use the treadmill in front of the TV.

Vicky Hallett: But, of course, all you'll be watching on TV are lines of people at polling places!

This seems as good a time as any to mention that in today's Express, we have an exercise game (like a drinking game, but with situps instead of sips). I'll get our fab producer Paul to post a link...

_______________________ Election Night Moves: Exercise Games (Express, Nov. 4)

Vicky Hallett: As promised...


Beachwood, Ohio: I do not sweat when exercising. I am doing 6 miles in 1/2 hour on a exercise bike? ( I am not a drinker of water and goes for days without drinking anything.)

Vicky Hallett: Well, you're quite the medical mystery! But I would say that if you're biking at a low resistance, you could pull off 6 miles in 30 minutes without breaking a sweat. And you can get plenty of liquid from food without specifically drinking anything out of a cup. But why would you want to? I say it sounds like you need to push yourself harder and chug a bit more.

And if you mean you really never sweat, well, that could be a sign that you have anhidrosis, which is potentially life threatening. Have you seen a doctor?


Undisclosed Location: Okay, this is kind of a weird question and might be outside your area of knowledge, but when a person loses A LOT of weight (like closing in on triple digits), is there some sort of surgery for, umm, dealing with excess skin?

Vicky Hallett: There is! And with the advent of bariatric surgery, it's a common problem. But I'll admit I don't know that much about it, other than it's a plastic surgery procedure. (And I think it's usually not covered by health insurance.)


Bellefonte, Del.: I have what may be a basic/naive question, but how important is "intensity" to fitness benefits? For example, if I walk a mile in 20 minutes, jog a mile in 10 minutes or run a mile in 6 minutes, do I get the same health benefit? What about calorie consumption.


Vicky Hallett: There is some disagreement about this, but I've read that the faster you go, you're burning slightly more calories. (It's very slight though.) The biggest benefit of going fast -- in terms of calories, at least -- is you have time to burn more of them. You're also using slightly different muscles when you walk or run, and there's a chance you're a super efficient runner but an inefficient walker -- those factors matter, too.

As a matter of just fitness, going faster gives you more of a cardiovascular benefit. And certainly, speed also helps if you want to get even faster, like if you're training for a race.


Vicky Hallett: Anyone got exercise suggestions for folks waiting in lines at the polls? I'd love to see a trainer get out there and lead a whole bunch of people through an aerobics class...


Herndon, Va.: What's the benefit of steady pace walking versus walk/jog intervals? I have a much harder time doing the former -- my legs feel tighter and I get tired easier -- so I do the latter. Should I really try to work in steady pace training?

Vicky Hallett: Steady pace walking is lovely (and great training for long walks on the beach), but walk/jogging is usually the healthier way to go -- most likely, you're covering more distance, burning more calories and getting more of a cardio benefit. You might want to try to figure out the source of that tightness though. Some stretching could help! And it'll probably make your walk/jogs more enjoyable, too.


re: excess skin: There is some info out on the Web about the removal of excess skin after large weight loss. Some folks who have this surgery donate the excess skin (it's an organ) to burn centers, etc. There may be some assistance financing surgery by this route. Please check it out!

Vicky Hallett: Thanks for the tip! And even if donating the skin doesn't get you money, it sure will earn you some good karma.


Washington, D.C.: I don't feel like I get enough exercise, or at least not enough cardio. I do yoga once a week, weights twice, tennis twice. And I live in a 3-story house, so lots of steps over the course of a day. But I can't get myself to the gym for the stationary bike or elliptical or treadmill, which is what I think I need. (I am healthy and do not need to lose weight.) How do I give myself a kick in the pants?

Howard Schneider: Morning D.C....So what is your goal? If you are working out five times a week -- that's pretty good, with a good diversity of different types of activities. How strong is the tennis game? One thing to consider: since you are already at the court, do some cardio drills as a warmup to your match: has a partner hit balls side to side and you run to return them...sprint the lines, side to side, can make up your own routine, just keep moving...Point being: you dont necesarily need a piece of equipment to keep your heart in shape...

Vicky Hallett: Some people need motivation to exercise, but if you're just looking for motivation to get on a machine, you should probably consider other forms of cardio. Can you jog to yoga, bike to work or run up and down your stairs a few minutes each day? Make that something you look forward to, like these other activities you enjoy.


Runner Wanna-Be: Can you point me to some resources for a beginner runner? I'm all about new challenges and have decided to take on running. My goal is to work up to a 5k run and possibly 10 miles after that. I'm super out of shape these days, so I'm really starting from scratch!

Howard Schneider: Lots of options there. If you are in the D.C. area, there are lots of running groups in the area -- like Montgomery County Road Runners -- that have resources for beginners...Also, -- the Web site of the magazine by the same name -- as well as all have beginnger training programs...Best advice I can offer is: patience and persistence. Get yourself some good shoes. If you are really out of shape, don't even worry about running at first -- build up your strength by walking, then start with walk/run intervals. Doing too much too soon can lead to lots of soreness and potential injury...

Vicky Hallett: For next week's column, I did some research on area fun runs, and I think that might be a good option for you, too. The women's only group at Potomac River Running in Arlington on Thursdays, for instance, does a 2-5 mile walk/run. You'll have other people around to motivate you, new routes each week and (of course) safety in numbers. Plus, free stuff! (Read all about it next Tuesday...)


Chicago: Is there a way to tell the difference between muscle pain due to pushing yourself versus hurting yourself? I was in a sculpting class the other day and the instructor had us doing a lot of squats. My quads burned, yes, but as we continued to do them they felt strangely tight, a little bit like something was going to pop. I can't quite explain the feeling, but know that I sometimes get the same feeling in yoga when we focus on quads. I took a short break and resumed. I felt fine the next day, a little soreness, but that's it. Any thoughts? Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: Your body has a good way of making sure you can't overdo it -- your muscles fail you!

If your body can't do something any more, your form will suffer, other muscles will be recruited to do the work and that's when you're really asking for trouble. So I'd say that's the real boundary between pushing yourself and hurting yourself.

What you describe doesn't sound so good either, though. It felt like it was going to pop? I think it's probably smart you took the break.


Bethsda, Md.: Just found out I'm about two months pregnant! Good news, since I've felt like I've had a stomach flu for about a week. This explains everything.

However, in everything I'm reading, it says if you're already active (which I was until about a week ago) to stay active. Some sources say to keep your heart rate below 140, other sources say not to worry. Generally, even the idea of a treadmill makes me nauseous... taking a walk is pushing it...what can I do to stay active... that doesn't involve moving?!

Howard Schneider: I am going to pitch this one out to the crowd...Presumably the nausea will abate. What about just walking in the meantime? Any ideas from the audience about good pregnancy activities? Is the pool a possibility?

Vicky Hallett: Also, I think I mentioned this last week (or the week before?), but there's a new gym in Bethesda called Hot Mama Fitness ( They'll certainly have lots of ideas of what you can do now and after you have the baby. (Congrats, by the way!!!)


Alexandria, Va.: Hi guys - I'm hoping you can help me. After being diagnosed with borderline high blood pressure a month ago (at the ripe ol' age of 26) and hitting my heaviest weight ever, I decided that I need to do something to shape up and take back control of my life and my weight. So I've been working out with a personal trainer at my gym once a week for the past three weeks. This Saturday is my last session with him for a while because I simply can't afford any more sessions at this point (at $85 a pop, they're a bit expensive!). He has done great things for my motivation and I've lost 10lbs. I'm very concerned though that once he is gone and I'm on my own, that I won't be able to keep up my motivation to keep hitting the gym five or six times a week and my weight loss will stop. Any tips?


Vicky Hallett: Can you find a buddy to work out with you and split the cost? "Duet" training is gaining popularity because you get a ton of one-on-one time at a lower price. Same goes for "small group training" (or boot camp).

Or if your buddy's feeling pinched economically, too, the two of you can just make a standing date to work out together. Having someone waiting for you and holding you accountable can be an amazing motivator.

Howard Schneider: Cost is an unfortunate issue when it comes to health. I am not suggesting at all that you go into hock to keep up the training sessions...But do consider that what you do now in terms of exercise may help avoid decades of paying for blood pressure medicine, so do keep the cost of health versus the cost of sickness in mind...

As to motivation, one thing you can enjoy is taking the knowledge you've gotten from the trainer and working with it. Are there parts of the training or activities you learned that you liked? Take that and run with it...Do you feel you are in enough shape now to sign up for a running or biking group or to tackle, say, a 5K race?

Replace the trainer with another committment, and that may keep you on track...


Running in the cold: Hi Misfits, I've seen you recommend the couch to 5K for those wanting to start running. I'm a warm weather runner in that I generally run during the spring and summer. This not only has to do with the fact that its nicer weather but because I get up at 5 a.m. and during the summer it's light enough to run at that hour.

Now its getting colder and I'd like to keep running but am finding it hard to motivate past 4 miles. Ultimately I'd like to do a 1/2 marathon but how do I do that?

I know Team in Training and those doing the AIDS marathon have trainings but what about for shorter distances? I feel that if I have a goal such as a half marathon I can push myself to run more than 4 miles. Also, can you recommend good running gear to wear, especially as it gets even colder?


Vicky Hallett: Would you believe Team In Training also does half marathons? You should 'cause it's true...Also, I mentioned the running store fun runs earlier, but a few of them also have formal training programs (at least Pacers and Potomac River Running do), so that might be worth looking into.

As for what to wear, there are so many brands and so much stuff! But for the basics, you'll want to invest in some long running pants, long-sleeved wicking shirts, gloves and a hat. Stay away from stuff made of cotton because your sweat will stay on your skin and then that cold air will make you extra unhappy. Also be sure to get stuff that's reflective -- especially if you're running at 5 a.m.


Arlington, Va.: I remember reading somewhere that it doesn't matter "how" you get in your exercise, i.e. running Monday and Tuesday for 30 minutes is the same as running Tuesday for 60 minutes.. (1) is that true and (2) how far does that extend? My boyfriend is not a fan of running/anything at the gym -- but loves to hike. So in theory, if we were to go for 5 hour hikes every weekend, how does that compare to 60 min/5 days a week of strenuous activity?

Howard Schneider: Yes and no. Two thirty minute runs on two days is going to be about the same for you as an hour on one day -- unless you can do those two thirty minute runs at a higher intensity, which will arguably do more for you (in some ways) than the hour of less intense work...

As to the general point, the new federal recommendations are pretty agnostic on time -- they say to do SOMETHING for about two and a half hours a week, or an hour and fifteen if you work out at a more intense level. They talk about half an hour a day for fifty minutes three times a day or many ten minute workouts all being interchangeable. They do no specifically say that it works the same to do one superlong workout on one day, and nothing the rest of the week. But that is the implication. Personally, I think that for lifestyle and setting habits, there is something to be said for exercising more than one day a week. The problem with the one day apparoach is that if you miss that, then you have two sedentary weeks, which is not a great idea...

Vicky Hallett: You're also getting into weekend warrior territory with that approach. If you're totally sedentary most of the time and then really try to push yourself, you're more likely to get hurt...


Arlington, Va.: I know this answer is completely dependent on the makeup of the person, but I was wondering about my weight as I ramp up my running program. I've been a runner for awhile, but in the past six months have really tried to ramp up my distance and intensity. My question is with everything else staying nearly the same (health, diet, etc.) is it plausible that I've gained several pounds in muscle by basically doubling the amount and length of running I have been doing? I'm talking 3-4 pounds maybe?

I'm also worried now that I am not in my 20s anymore my metabolism has decreased and that I cannot eat like someone in their 20s that runs 3-4 times a week.


Howard Schneider: Quick answer is no -- the running won't add much muscle mass. Take a look at the photos of the NY or Marine Corps Marathon winners and notice the slender legs. Training for endurance changes muscles in different ways than training for size/strength/power...And yes, metabolism does slow with age, but exercise does combat that -- and particularly higher intensity workouts...


Anonymous: Hi Misfits,

I'm hoping you can help me out. I'm a 47-year-old woman who keeps a pretty strenuous exercise. I'm usually pretty strong and fit, although somewhat overweight. I do 1-hour weight training classes, where I'm usually the oldest and heaviest person, 3 times a week, yoga once a week and cardio 3 times a week. Some days I double up weights/cardio or yoga/cardio, so I have 2 resting days.

This has gone on successfully for about a year, but suddenly, I feel much less fit. I find myself sore and tired after workouts instead of energized. Nothing has changed in my life or routine. I'm wondering - should I ramp it up to get in better shape, take a break/slow down my routine, see a doctor? I feels like I've aged 5 years in the last month.

Howard Schneider: Probably a few questions to ask yourself...Are you watching your nutrition? If you consider yourself overweight, you're not trying to starve off pounds while keeping up the exercise? If so, that could be running you down...Have you been getting enough sleep? Did you take any sort of jump up in the weights you use or the intensity of the cardio? When you say you are getting sore, is it a general muscular soreness, or in a particular spot? If you injured yourself, that could be slowing you down...If you have been going hard and steady for a year, give yourself a break for a week and see if that refreshes...If you are still feeling sore and lethargic after you get back into your routine, then see the doc...


McLean, Va.: I am an avid exerciser. I do cardio 3-4 times per week, lift weights 1-3 days per week, do yoga, lots of gardening, etc. I am 5ft 3in and for the life of me cannot lose weight. My body must be changing because I have dropped clothing sizes (and people tell me I look great) but the scale wont budge. I eat about 1200 calories per day. Could there be any physiological reason why I just cannot lose weight?

Howard Schneider: Hi Mclean...More information needed, like...Do you need to lose weight? Is your BMI or bodyfat out of whack? If your clothes are fitting better, then to some degree you are trading fat for muscle (probably), which is a good thing. How long have you been exercising so frequently?

If you have had the same routine at the same intensity for a while, then it may be that your body has done all the adapting it is going to do to that volume of exercise. If you are sticking to 1,200 calories, you probably dont want to go any lower than that...In fact you might want to talk to a nutritionist about whether you need to eat more: if you exercise a lot and don't eat much, the body can start to cling to the calories that are available...But the first question to confront is whether your weight is really out of line...


Bethesda, Md.: I started a Pilates class once a week, and I really like it. I even think it is already making a difference. However, I would like to purchase a video so I can do Pilates at home. Can you recommend one for a beginner.

Vicky Hallett: I'm such a fan of Mari Winsor! Love that woman. And she just released "Pilates for Pink," which I thought was a great DVD, and a buck goes to breast cancer research with each purchase.

I'd say let's throw this one out to the crowd, but it seems we've just lost Paul (the wonder producer) due to some technical difficulties, so this chat may be ending. Like now. If so, happy election day everybody! See you next week.


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