Cold Hands, Warm…muscles? by Sam

One day last week, while I was making dinner, my hands suddenly turned bright red and felt as if I had poured bleach all over them. Thinking I must have come in contact with some allergen, I immediately stopped what I was doing, and thoroughly washed my hands. The redness and irritation greatly subsided in 15-20 minutes, but my hands remained irritated, and the skin was peeling, as if I’d had a severe sunburn. Over the next few days, the symptoms recurred, so I contacted my PCP via email, including a photograph of the initial reaction. I supposed there were three possibilities:
a) the CRPS was spreading to other parts of my body (rare, but not unheard of)
b) these symptoms, ‘though not like any I’d experienced with it in the past, might be related to Raynaud’s (to be fair, the symptoms were not exactly like CRPS, either, but it does involve both redness and burning pain)
c) this was something entirely new and unrelated to any of my previously existing conditions
     We played phone tag for a few days until I finally got a call from a nurse on Monday of this week. My doctor felt it was most likely that the symptoms were, in fact, a more extreme manifestation of Raynaud’s than I’d experienced in the past, and that, as my symptoms seemed to be getting more severe, it might be time to consider medication.  Hence, I was referred to a rheumatologist. That appointment occurred on Thursday of this week.
     As luck would have it, the medications used to control symptoms of Raynaud’s Disease are blood pressure meds; and, because my blood pressure is low, my doctor doesn’t want me to take them.  You see, unfortunately, they could cause my blood pressure to drop even lower, and this could result in dizziness and falling. Falling has already been rather a chronic problem for me, and it has been deemed an unnecessary risk, as has dangerously low blood pressure.
     So, I have been given recommendations to step up my efforts to stay warm. These include things that might seem obvious, like using hot water bottles and heated gloves/socks/blankets, warming creams, taking warm showers when I come in from being outside, making sure to keep my hands and feet covered and protected, even when I don’t feel cold, and keeping my core warm. They also include things that might seem a little less obvious, like increasing my salt intake, in hopes of raising my blood pressure, and building muscle mass. The challenge, here, my rheumatologist pointed out, will be striking a balance in which I work out to build muscle mass, but am careful not to accidentally lose weight. This will involve adding protein-dense calories to my diet, which means adding food to my diet.  (I know.  This doesn’t seem like brain surgery.  Stick with me.  It’s trickier than it seems.)  I started working on this as soon as I got home on Thursday. I immediately baked a loaf of peanut butter bread, replacing part of the flour with almond flour.  Then I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with it.  I figured, that way, at least I am getting lots of protein (and lots of calories ~ yay!)  Because that working out and not accidentally losing weight thing?  Believe it or not, that really is a challenge.
     I know. This all sounds sort of stupid. But…food is hard.  I mean, I have had food issues for a long time.  First and foremost, there are the lingering eating-disorder-related issues, which will always linger; but, on a more basic level, there are all of the food allergies and sensitivities.  I am allergic to milk protein (and elderberries, and echinacea, which don’t come up much, so that’s okay, really.  Oh, and shellfish ~ which never comes up, because I’m vegetarian, but does somewhat complicate eating at restaurants, or buying some prepared foods).  I also have IBS, and, while it seems to be fairly mild most of the time, it can rear its ugly head at any moment, and, at those times, it is triggered by: eggs, white/refined carbs (so, any bread, pasta, or baked goods made with that, white bread, white rice ~ basically, I do better with whole grains and more fiber in my diet), and fried foods.  Then, there are times when I think it is triggered by food.  Oh, also, stress.  It is also triggered by stress.  Then, add to that the fact that I am on a medication that makes it hard for me to keep on weight, even when I am not working out.  So, now, I am trying to eat the right things that won’t trigger my IBS, so I can be sure not to lose weight while doing PT, so my CRPS won’t flare up, so I can then work out enough to build muscle mass to try to keep myself warm ~ but not so much that I accidentally work off any of the extra peanut butter I ate.
     Because then, maybe I will be buff enough to haul in some firewood and build a big fire, and then we will all be warm.  By “we,” of course, I mean me, and all of my fingers.  And my toes. My toes are also cold, but I don’t see them often, because they are very far away, and usually inside several pairs of socks. I miss my toes.
     Ah.  But we have a gas fireplace.  So, forget about that firewood.  I’ll use my muscles to lift more peanut butter sandwiches, instead.
     On Friday, I didn’t manage to do much working out, but I ate pretty well.  I mentioned this to Hallie, adding my concern that, if I keep doing this, I won’t build any muscle, and all that extra protein will just be converted to fat.  “Well…fat will keep you warm,” Hallie responded, quite correctly.  And, so, I guess we’re good.  Because, the truth is, fat will keep me warm, and I really, really need to stay warm.  Nevertheless, I have always dreamed of being sort of buff.  Warm, and buff.  It sounds kind of dreamy.

     I guess I’ll keep working on the muscle-building thing.  To be perfectly honest, I was already working on that.  Which sort of makes me wonder if I should feel a little bit insulted at the implication that I need to build muscle mass.  Except…well, I really do need to build muscle mass, and I know it.

I guess I needed a New Years Resolution or two, anyway.  Y’all watch: by 2018, I’m gonna be stronger than I’ve ever been.  And warmer, too.


My Free “Gym Membership” ~ by Sam

For health reasons, it is important that I exercise every single day, even if it’s just a walk around the neighbourhood.  I guess we could all say that, really, but, in my case, due to a chronic pain disorder, if I slack off for even a day, I awake stiff, sore and unable to move around the house enough to do even the most menial of tasks.  So, no matter how I feel, I have to get up and get moving.  I found years ago that I was far more likely to do work out if I actually set aside time to go to the gym.  At home, I was too easily distracted, and it was too easy for something to come up to prevent me from working out.  Can’t put in the yoga or pilates video, because the kids are watching cartoons.  Oh, now I can’t go for a walk, because it’s time for lunch.  I’d work with the weights a little, but there’s so much laundry to do…  I am the Queen of Excuses.  

But, at the end of the day, I find that I feel better, get more accomplished and…well, I AM better when I make time to exercise.  It makes me stronger, healthier, and just a better person.  It’s meditative for me, and my brain really needs that.  I still have memory and concentration problems, but, when I take care of myself, I find I am better able to complete tasks (and finish sentences).  I am more focussed, more patient and happier.  And, since I am the mama, when I’m happier, everyone’s happier.  So, it’s worth taking the time out of my day to get up and get moving.  

That said, a gym membership doesn’t really fit in to our budget right now.  I mean, we could probably swing it, but why?  There are other ways I would rather spend that money ~ like, say, on banjo lessons!  and fabric!  and cool socks for Kaia to wear with her uniforms when she starts middle school!  and art supplies!  and music lessons!  and tickets to We Will Rock You at the Ahmanson!!

Sorry.  I digress.  Again.

As I was saying, the gym membership doesn’t really fit in to our budget right now.  Shane rides his bike to work so that helps him satisfy his workout needs, and I was doing okay with trying to do a little yoga every morning and taking walks around the neighbourhood, but I was looking for something a little more challenging and interesting.  I remembered a couple of great local parks (Beeman and Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks) at which I always loved to walk, because, along the track, there is gym equipment.  I have been driving to one or the other a couple of times a week, and it’s great.  I feel stronger than I have in a long time, and I am saving us the cost of a gym membership. Nevertheless, I was sure I could save even more money if I didn’t have to drive so far, so I went online to see if there were any parks with gym equipment located closer to my home.  Sure enough, I found this great list:

I am so excited to check out all of the nearby “gyms.”  I think visiting different locations will keep my workouts interesting.  Once school starts up again (in just a few weeks!), since my two old favourites are close and convenient to stop by after drop-off or before pick-up, my schedule should fall into place fairly easily.  If not, I will just make a new plan.  That fact is, I have to do this.  It’s important to me to stay as healthy and strong as possible, so I can live my very best possible life.

I wanted to share this resource, because I am sure there are a lot of local folks who would love to take advantage of these free outdoor fitness areas.  If you are not in the L.A. area, do a google search for parks with gym equipment in your area.  It might not be as “glamorous” as the gym, but it will save you a monthly fee, and, like me, you might find you prefer being outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine for your workouts.  

Have fun, be frugal and stay healthy.


Frugally Fit ~ by Sam

Years ago, I had a gym membership.  In fact, Shane and I both had gym memberships.  I can’t remember how much this cost us, but I am fairly certain it was one of those “just $29/month for the first 3 months…” deals, meaning that, after those three months, it went up in price.  I also remember that we had to first pay a “one-time fee” of a couple hundred dollars.  Then, there was the fact that I had small children at home, so, I either had to go to the gym late in the evening, after Shane was home from work, or check my kids in to the playroom at the gym, which they really didn’t mind.  The hardest thing about the gym membership seemed to be remembering to get in the car, drive to the gym, and use it.  I think , if I could have gotten past that, it would have been a much better deal for me.  Honestly, I did use it, but, ultimately, I decided it was costing me more than it was worth, and more than we could really afford at the time.  

Fast forward a few years.  The kids are older, and are interested in trying EVERYTHING.  I want a gym membership, but it doesn’t necessarily fit in to our budget.  YMCA to the rescue!  For a few years, a YMCA membership was an excellent choice for us.  The kids took classes there (art, dance, drumming, gymnastics, creative writing…) while I worked out.  They got to try a lot of different things, and we all got our exercise.  Shane seemed to have trouble finding time to get there, but, for the girls and me, it worked well.  With a family membership, all of the children’s classes were included, so it was easy to say “yes” to everything they wanted to try.  Eventually, the girls sort of outgrew the classes there.  It was a good place to try new things, but we found ourselves seeking out other opportunities for them as time wore on.  Nevertheless,  if you have kids, I highly recommend a YMCA membership as an inexpensive fun and fitness choice for the whole family. While we used it, it was invaluable.  

So, I dropped my membership down to the “individual” level, because I was the only one using it.  At that time, I had started running again, and having access to the pool, elliptical and weight training equipment was key to my training plan.  everything was going well, until I tore my meniscus.  This led to the discovery of an old ACL injury that had not healed well, months of physical therapy (during which we batted around the idea of surgery), and, ultimately, the decision that I really should not run anymore.  It was tough.  I love running.  But, considering that I could not walk without a huge metal brace and a cane, I am satisfied with just being able to walk unassisted, and I would like to keep it that way, so I will follow doctor’s orders.  For a while, I maintained my membership, using the swimming pool several times a week as part of my therapy.  I put it on hold in anticipation of surgery (which we ultimately decided against), and then, when it was time for it to kick in again, I decided to just cancel and save the money.  Honestly, I was not in a “work out” kind of place.  

Now, having settled in to the new house, settled in to the new routine of not working, recovered from a broken wrist, and having had a little time to get over the whole “no more running” thing, I am there.  I know that, in order to stay healthy (and in order to be able to keep all my my muscles and joints moving the way I should), I have to exercise regularly.  Because I have fibromyalgia, this is key to my continued good health.  It’s hard.  I don’t always feel like exercising.  In fact, I hardly ever feel like exercising.  But, when I don’t, everything stiffens up on me, my muscles and joints ache, and it is like I am starting from square one again when I do decide to get up and move.  So, I try to get a little exercise every day, no mater how I feel.  Some days, all I can manage is a walk to and from the mailbox and a few stretches.  Other days, I feel like I can conquer the world (which, for me, means ride my bike, or walk at the mall…oooh…ahhhh!).  Having had an exceptionally good workout week last week, I got to thinking about all of the things I am doing to stay fit for free, and I decided to share some simple ideas with our readers.  So, here they are:

1. WALK.  It’s excellent exercise, you can go at your own pace, vary your route to keep it interesting, or just walk in your neighbourhood, to keep it super frugal.  I find that the best times for me to walk are a) in the morning, right after I drop off kids at school, b) while Kaia is at ballet or trumpet lessons, c) right before I pick them up for school (arrive early, get a good parking spot, then walk around the block a few times).  

Because I have Raynaud’s disease, early mornings can be too chilly for me to walk outdoors, so I often walk at the mall near their schools.  This would work well for anyone who has seasonal allergies or lives in an area that gets very cold, too.  Many malls open their doors early for walkers.  If walking at the mall sounds boring, bring a friend or two, if you have a portable music player, bring it along and listen to some tunes (or an audiobook).  If your mall has escalators, score!  Free stair climber!  Here’s what my mall routine looks like on a good day:

1 easy lap around the mall, to warm up.  1 trip (walking) up and down the stopped escalator.  Pick up the pace for laps 2, 3 and 4, adding 3 trips (walking) up and down the stopped escalator (if your escalator is running, walking up and down it still helps) at the end of each lap.  Then, depending on the day, I might add 1-2 faster laps around the mall, without escalator walks, or I might go right to the cool down.  1 easy lap around the mall to cool down.  Done.  

When I can walk outside, I like to take walks in beautiful places, like around Franklin Canyon or Lake Balboa, or on the beach; but most of my walks are in my neighbourhood.  I save gas by not driving somewhere just to walk, and I can vary my route, check out the neighbours’ beautiful gardens, and, for a change, sometimes, cut through the local nursery to see the plants there.  It’s also a nice way to get to know the neighbours.  

2. If you can afford to, invest in a good yoga, pilates, or other work-out DVD you like.  Doing these things at home, instead of paying for classes, can save you a lot of money in the longrun.  If you cannot afford that investment, consider borrowing from your local library, or check out a book and photocopy your favourite exercises and collect them in a binder for future reference.

3. Beginning weight-training?  Use cans of soup or beans as light weights.  They may not be the ticket to the next body-building competition, but they can certainly be a good place to start.  Have you outgrown your soup-can weights and need something heavier?  How about a bag of flour gripped in both hands, a jug of milk, or a bag of potatoes.  I’m telling you, the weight-lifting possibilities in your own kitchen are endless.  

4. Got kids?  Play with them.  Chase them around the yard, walk to the park (and play there ~ swing, climb, use the monkey bars), kick around a ball, take you baby for a walk in the stroller.  Look up stroller workouts on the internet.  You might even be able to find ~ or start ~ a stroller workout group in your area.  As the kids get older, ride bikes with them (or attach a baby seat to your bike and ride with them when they are still babies), rollerskate, play tag, go for nature walks, hike…Instead of just watching your kids play, get in there and play with them.  Check thrift stores, yard sales, craigslist and freecycle for used bikes, skates, and other equipment.  

When our kids were little, Shane and I did all kinds of “baby workouts” with them.  You can curl a baby, press a baby, sit a baby on your feet, hold tight to his/her upper body (or hands, if they’re older ~ we did this well in to the preschool/kindergarten years) and do leg lifts (hmm…that’s probably not the right name.  Basically, sit on a chair with your feet on the floor, have the child sit on your feet.  Straighten you legs out in front of you, then lower to the floor.  For the kid, this is a ride like a see-saw or “horsey,” but it’s a great workout for your legs).

5. Turn on some music and dance.  By yourself, with a partner, with the kids, with a big group of friends at a party…it doesn’t matter.  Dancing is a great workout, and it makes you feel happy.  

6. There are lots of little things you can do every day to live a more “fit” life.  You can be “hardcore,” like my husband, and bike to work every day, or you can be a little more low-key, like me, and just find ways to work fitness in to your lifestyle.  If the mailbox or market is close by, walk, instead of driving (you’ll save money on gas, and get a free workout).  When you drive to the store, mall, movies, etc., park a little farther away than you usually would, and walk (be safe: do not park in remote areas when your are alone and it will be dark when you walk back to your car), take the stairs, instead of the elevator.  If you sit at a desk at work, bring along a snack and walk outside during your break.  Exercise, fresh air and the sun, for Vitamin D can all help you feel healthier and happier.  Whether your sit or are on your feet all day, remember to take time to stretch your legs, back and shoulders every day.  Plant a little garden and tend it (again, you are getting fresh air and sunshine, as well as exercise).  

Over the years, we have invested in few items that make working out a home easy, productive, and, for us, a much more frugal choice than a gym membership.  The items that are key, for me, include: a yoga mat, a good pair of sneakers, some light hand weights, one of those giant exercise balls.  Years ago, we spent about $100 on a very simple, no bells-and-whistles, elliptical machine.  It does have some kind of digital timer thing that requires batteries, but we never use that.  Because it does not need to be plugged in, we keep it out on the patio, and the girls and I use it when we remember it’s there.  So, I use it once in a while, but I wouldn’t call it essential.  If you will use something like that regularly, it’s probably worth the investment, but, most of the time, I would rather hop on my bike and tool around the neighbourhood.  Whatever equipment you require, remember to check yard sales, thrift stores, craigslist, freecycle, or used sporting equipment stores (we have Play It Again Sports, but I’ll bet there are other similar stores).  

So, those are my suggestions.  These are all things that work for us, but I am sure you have some great ideas of your own.  If you do, we would love to hear them.  Please share your tips and/or let us know what works for you in the comments here.  Together, we can start a frugal fitness revolution.