The “good enough” workout

spring exerciseEver notice how much more active you are in the spring/summer? You’re not alone. Research has shown that energy expended during leisure time activity is significantly greater in the warmer months of the year – at least in areas where a distinct four seasons are experienced. In the winter, when you can’t see past the snow outside your window, you’re more likely to reach for the TV remote (and that box of cookies) than to go for a walk outside. Today, you may look at photos of yourself from last August and wonder what the heck happened over the past 8 months. Unless you’re particularly motivated and bucked the trend, you may find your current self but a pasty and pudgy version of last summer’s. For those of us living in southeast Canada, and northeast US – this winter has been particularly rough. Only the most intense of die-hards can muster the courage to go for a run when its -30 degrees Celsius.

Personally, when I haven’t been able to get a decent workout in a while, as time passes I become progressively less motivated to get back into the exercise routine. With every day of inactivity I sense as though the hurdle that I need to overcome to be active again becomes greater.

Part of the problem is that I enjoy intense workouts. When I take some time off, I know I won’t be able to bring the same level of intensity I did when I was regularly exercising for some time. And this very thought is what discourages me from getting back into it.

Alas, it is time to get moving again. But how to overcome your feeble motivation?
Continue reading »

Category: Physical Activity | 6 Comments

Will exercising during pregnancy cook the baby?

A few weeks ago Dr Zach Ferraro presented an excellent guest lecture via Google Hangout for my students on the topic of exercise during pregnancy.  Zach is no stranger to this blog, taking part in a podcast last year on the same topic.  He is also one of Canada’s leading experts on the topic, which was the focus of his PhD research at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (where we were labmates), as well as his current research.

Zach was nice enough to allow me to record the lecture, which I’ve now posted below.  In it, he assures us that exercising while pregnant will not cook the baby, among other concerns.  If you are curious at all about exercise during pregnancy, this lecture is an excellent introduction to the topic. Enjoy!






Category: Obesity Research | Tagged | 1 Comment

Exercise Physiologist Wanted

The University of Prince Edward Island is currently looking for an exercise physiologist to join the Kinesiology program in the Department of Applied Human Sciences.

From the posting:

Candidates must have a doctoral degree in Kinesiology or related field, with a focus on exercise physiology (applied or basic).  They should have, or show promise in developing, a strong research program. Candidates must be committed to excellence in undergraduate teaching and graduate supervision. Experience and ability in teaching courses related to the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology (CSEP) certification and/or the Health and Fitness Federation of Canada is required.  Preference will be given to candidates who can also teach courses in cognate areas of general physiology, and sport and exercise performance.

Our Kin program is young (this year will be our first graduating class, and the median age of the faculty is about 35), and Charlottetown is a great city (the job posting notes the low crime rate, although I am more partial to the ocean view outside my window). If you are currently looking for an exercise physiology position, or know someone who is, please check out the posting (closing date April 24).


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Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro: A Personal Account (Part 2)

Click here to read part 1 of this story.

Like a procession of overdressed zombies holding walking poles, we’ve been staggering uphill on this loose volcanic rock since midnight. My watch reads 4:14am.

Although our pace rivals that of a snail, my chest heaves laboriously as my lungs struggle to extract oxygen from the stingy air. The five layers of clothing are strangling me like a Gore-Tex, down-filled anaconda.

I can no longer feel my toes.

A full moon hangs overhead, but does little to illuminate the barren landscape before us. The headlamp I’ve been carrying for days has finally become more than just a fashion accessory, helping me to avoid lurching off a cliff.

Our Tanzanian guides – James, Julius, Alpha, and Cerafin – sing in hushed Swahili harmony as we plod along, delirious and exhausted.

“Wageni, mwakaribishwa! (Welcome guests!)

Kilimanjaro? Hakuna matata! (Kilimanjaro? No worries!)”

The blistering wind blows fine dust into my face but I keep my eyes squinted, focusing only on the turquoise backpack ahead of me.

That backpack belongs to Marina.

She seems completely unfazed by the altitude. Over the past seven days I’ve trudged behind her, I’ve become intimately acquainted with that damned backpack – so smug in its cleanliness, so taunting in its cheerful colouring.

It was Marina’s idea to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro – the highest peak in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world.

I was less than thrilled to head higher than I’ve ever been –5,895 metres – especially given the throbbing migranes and severe nausea I’ve experienced at lower altitudes. As a compromise, we took the long way up, which promises a higher chance of summit success, and a lower chance of vomiting.

Looking up in the distance, I notice dozens of headlamps bobbing up and down across the never ending series of switchbacks up the mountain.

There appears to be no end in sight to this torture.

With increasing frequency, we pass fellow climbers. Some are hunched over on the side of the trail forcefully emptying the contents of their stomach, others are stumbling around and babbling incoherently, while a few particularly unlucky souls are carried down the mountain, barely conscious.

To prevent my mind from entertaining ideas of sickness and failure, I ignore the fallen and regain myopic focus on Marina’s backpack.

As the sun starts to rise, nearly six hours since leaving our base camp, we finally step onto some even ground. Reaching Stella Point, on the rim of Mt. Kilimanjaro’s volcano, we’ve completed the first section of the summit.

“Here, we rest,” declares our lead guide.

I sit on a rock, barely lucid, and try to catch my breath. For the first time since we started hiking over a week ago, I believe that I may actually make it to the top. All that remains between me and Uhuru Peak is a gentle walk around the crater rim that ascends the final 210 metres.

After a brief respite to gnaw on a hardened granola bar and to try unsuccessfully to drink water from my frozen hydration pack, I’m again shuffling my numb feet forward.

Peter's Kilimanjaro misery

That’s me in the red jacket. Don’t I look miserable?

Not only is Marina once again in the lead, she’s actually jogging ahead to snap photos of me in my misery. Fortunately, I’m much too detached and numb to feel humiliated.

Before long, the two of us are standing on the roof of Africa, posing for pictures. As I summon all my strength to look more excited than exhausted, I confess to Marina; “This was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

“Oh, really? I actually didn’t find it that difficult,” she says, beaming.

And with those words, the greatest physical feat of my life became just another leisurely hike.

At the top

At least one of us looks happy!



Note: An edited version of this story was published in the Globe and Mail on March 10, 2015

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Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro: A Personal Account (Part 1)

IMG_3655When most people think of vacations, they envision themselves lounging on a sunny beach, sipping a drink out of a coconut, while hotel staff tend to their every need. Although there is nothing especially wrong with this type of holiday, my wife and I tend to favour something more adventurous and active.

This past summer Marina and I took some time off to travel in Africa, visiting Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Namibia and South Africa. One of the highlights of our time in Africa was our summit to the top of Africa’s highest mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro. In this two-part post I will summarize the 8 day hike using notes I made each evening in our tent.

Day 1 – final altitude 2650m (8694 ft)

Despite our best efforts, Marina and I got severe food poisoning two days ago. Personally, I’ve never been that violently ill. I’ll spare the details, but at one point, when I fainted, fell over and threw up on the floor, we both thought we’d be heading home much sooner than expected. Luckily, after holding down some water mixed with rehydration powder, and starting antibiotics, we both began to recover. Last night, when everyone was enjoying the last regular meal prior to the hike, Marina and I were struggling to eat plain white rice. Great start, to be sure.

Our group consists of 10 hikers: a father and son from the US, two couples and a girl from the UK, one Aussie, and the two of us. Our support staff consists of 40 Tanzanian individuals – porters, cooks, guides, etc. This fact makes me somewhat embarrassed and uncomfortable. We learn later that for the locals, getting a stint on a Mt. Kilimanjaro expedition is one of the most lucrative gigs around. This eases some of the guilt, but I still feel a bit like a spoiled tourist. The porters carry most of our stuff – clothes, tent, sleeping bags – while we carry our day packs consisting of water, change of clothes, snacks, and medical supplies. Also, one of the porters gets the honour of carrying our portable toilet. (For over a week we either did our business behind a bush [when available at lower altitude], behind a rock, or using the limited-capacity portable toilet.)

Today was an “easy day”, consisting of about 4.5 hrs of walking up a moderate grade. I certainly noticed the increased effort required to walk even at this altitude. My heart rate during the hike was approximately 117 bpm, as we were constantly reminded by our guides to walk “pole, pole” (slowly, slowly). Since we’ve been told to drink as much water as possible, I managed to drink about 2L during the walk.

As we’re still in the jungle at this altitude, a ranger kept watch over our camp during the night. A couple of times during the night, the sounds of monkeys up in the trees woke me up. As did the sharp pain in my stomach.

Day 2 – final altitude 3550m

Packing up in the morning is a major pain in the butt. We’re woken up very early in the morning, at which point we have 30 minutes until breakfast. During this time, we change out of our pyjamas into our hiking clothes, pack our daypacks, pack the rest of our stuff in another bag, pack up the sleeping bags, get cleaned up – all the while inside of a 2 man tent.

The highest altitude we reached today, while trekking for about 6 hrs, was 3700m. So, we gained about 1km in altitude since yesterday – and you can certainly feel it. As soon as we got to our camp, I developed a pretty bad headache. After a couple of Tylenols and some water, the headache was largely under control. Throughout the hike, I managed to drink 4.5L of water, which meant I was running to the bathroom every 5 steps.

As we arrived at camp, having walked above the tree line, we caught our first glimpse of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It’s quite motivating finally being able to see the challenge we’re facing.IMG_0284

Day 3 – final altitude 3840m

The temperature is starting to dip – we had frost on our tent over night.

Today was billed as a “short day” by our lead guide, Passian. However, it actually ended up being the longest and hardest day thus far. Part of the reason for this is that we went off on an acclimatization walk after making our camp for the night. This walk got us up to 4000m, and added another 2.5 hrs to our day’s walk. Once again, I developed a headache that was mostly alleviated with some Tylenol. The discussion around the dinner table in the mess tent now revolves around if and when people will be taking Diamox – the medication that is supposed to help you acclimatize to the altitude. So far, no one has admitted to taking any, but a few are now complaining of headaches.

In the middle of the night, I woke up to go to the bathroom. As I unzipped our tent, I looked up to see the moon overhead, and more stars than I’ve ever seen dotting the sky. The glaciers on the face of Mt. Kilimanjaro appeared to be illuminated. With everyone sleeping in their tent, the world was perfectly still and silent. Despite the biting cold and the beckoning of my warm sleeping bag, I stood there for a while, captivated by the beauty and the serenity.

Day 4 – final altitude 3900m

In the morning all the tents were covered with frost; getting out of the tent was an even greater struggle than usual.

Today we walked for approximately 8.5 hrs, from 3850m up to 4600m and then back down to 3900m to our current camp. At the highest altitude it was freezing – despite layering all the clothes in my pack, I was still shivering as we ate our lunches, leaning against the rocks.

Later that day, as we sit in our tent, listening to Patrick Watson on our iPod, a thought crosses my tired and foggy mind that I must share with Marina:

“For the first time since we started walking, I actually feel that I can do this. I can make it to the top.”

“Do you have tears in your eyes?” asks Marina.

“This music is making me really emotional…”

“Me too.” Marina’s eyes also get watery.

Clearly the altitude is making us delusional and emotional.

But in truth, until this very moment, I had been counting down the hours until I got so sick, my headaches became so severe, that I’d be taken down the mountain prematurely to wait in a hotel for Marina to finish the climb. From prior travels in South America, I was well aware that while Marina deals quite well with altitude, I do not.

On today’s walk, I got to chat quite a bit with our assistant guides – Cerafin, James, Julius, and Alpha. They’re such gentle and encouraging souls. I can foresee them being vital in keeping us all focused and relaxed on summit night.

As we were having dinner this evening, the mess tent suddenly started flapping around violently. As if someone flipped a switch and turned on the wind, a dust storm had fallen upon our camp. As we left the mess tent to get to our individual tents, we could barely see through the sand blowing around in the dark. Once Marina and I got into our tent, we quickly realized we wouldn’t be sleeping tonight as the sides of our tent were being battered by the wind and dirt. To make matters worse, fine dust was getting blown into our tent, getting into our eyes and mouth. It was becoming uncomfortable to breathe. We both covered our mouths with t-shirts, using them as face masks, closed our eyes and tried to weather the storm. Every few minutes the condensation from my breath and the swirling dirt would clog up the fabric of the shirt, forcing me to find a new patch of fabric to breathe through. As if breathing at ~4000m wasn’t challenging enough…

Eventually, despite the dust, the noise, we both drifted off to sleep.

Day 5 – Final altitude 4000m

When we woke up in the morning, shirts still wrapped around our mouths, we were relieved that the dust storm had passed. Unfortunately, everything inside of our tent was covered in a film of fine reddish-brown sand. That stuff got in everywhere. Normally, being covered in dirt wouldn’t be too much of a problem, since you could easily clean it off with a quick shower. However, there are no showers on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Our daily “wash-wash” consisted of 400ml of warm water in a shallow pail. There is only so much you can do with that little water, hunched over inside your tent. Thus, we’d be carrying much of this dirt with us all the way to the top of Africa.

Today we climbed the Barranco wall – one of the harder parts of the trek, which required the use of hands and feet. At sea-level, this would have been quite easy, but at this altitude, when every step forward makes you gasp for air, it was a bit more challenging.IMG_3647

Again I developed a bit of a headache today – seems to occur when we go up and back down again numerous times.

Tonight will be our last “wash-wash” for a couple of nights, as there is no more water source above this altitude. All the water that we will need has to be carried up. Not surprisingly, the priority is drinking water.

Around midnight, as I headed out to the bathroom, I came across a woman walking alone in the dark.

“Do you know what time it is?” she asked me.

“Not sure – around midnight I think…”

“In the morning?”

“Ummm… no, at night.” It was clearly pitch black outside.

“Oh, cause I’m packed and ready to go,” she continued, staring at me with wild eyes.

“Well, its midnight, so you might want to get back into your tent and get some sleep.”

She looked puzzled, as I continued past her towards the toilet. When I came back, she was gone.

Day 6 – final altitude 4600m (base camp)

Today we walked for only a few hours until we reached our base camp at 4600m.


We had an early dinner, followed by a debrief about our summit attempt starting at midnight. We headed off to bed around 6:30pm, sleeping in the clothes we’d be wearing as we made the final push to the top of the mountain – some 2 kms higher in elevation. At 11:00 pm, we were woken up by the guides. It was go time! We quickly got dressed, checked our bags, topped up our water supply, and headed off to the mess tent for a cup of tea and a final pep talk from our head guide.

The mood was tense. Some people seemed groggy and tired, while others were running high on adrenaline. It felt like we were going into battle against a formidable foe.

As the clock struck midnight, and our guide gave us some final words of wisdom, our group of 10 set off into the darkness towards the roof of Africa.



Category: Physical Activity | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Happy Unplug and Play Week


March 23-29 is Unplug and Play Week (hat tip to Dr Jamie Burr for posting to twitter). I’ve gone on and on (and on) about screen time here on the blog, and the damaging effects that it has on everyone, but especially kids.  The current guidelines suggest that kids under 2 get no screen time, that kids 2-4 get less than an hour a day, and that school-aged children get less than 2 hours. But keep in mind that these are upper limits, and that less seems to be better.

I realize that these goals are not necessarily easy, especially when you have been stuck inside for most of the past two weeks due to snowstorm after snowstorm, as we have here in PEI.  But whether or not you can meet the actual guidelines, being conscious of your screen time and cutting back on unnecessary screen time is one of the simplest things you can do for your health, or the health of your kids.

This week, I challenge you to fill out this simple screen time log for each member of your family.  Maybe you’ll be happy with the numbers, or maybe it will give you something to think about.  For ideas on ways to reduce your family’s screen time checkout the ParticipACTION Unplug and Play page.


Category: News, Sedentary Behaviour | Tagged , | 4 Comments