August 31, 2011

FitBit Giveaway Winner!

The Random Number Generator has spoken:

And the winner of the FitBit is...#38, Princess Dieter!

Congratulations, Princess, and be sure to email (address in lower left sidebar) by end of day Friday Sept 2 to claim your prize, or sorry, we'll have to draw again!

(Wait, Friday is September already??!! Where did the summer go?)

August 29, 2011

Hurricanes: How to Prepare (or Not)

So now that we've all sung "Goodnight, Irene" and bid a fond farewell to the big news-making hurricane, Cranky Fitness is all set to tell you what you should and shouldn't do in a hurricane!

(Whoops, where did that naughty horse run off to? Guess I better go lock the barn door!)

However, since no one would take a bunch of safety suggestions from a blog dedicated to whining seriously anyway, I figure now is as good a time as any for a list of Do's and Don'ts of Preparing for and Surviving Hurricanes.

1. DON'T blow off hurricane warnings or evacuation orders. Hurricanes are often over-hyped, plus they generally take forever to arrive.  This can lead to an overly casual "screw it" type attitude.

What hurricane? Time for a nap.

I grew up in earthquake country (oh wait I forgot... now everywhere is earthquake country) so it seems to me like hurricanes are relatively luxurious, as far as natural disaster preparation goes.  When an earthquake hits, your house can crumble around you with no warning.  With a hurricane, you often have days and days to ponder your options, make preparations, and if it looks bad, get the hell out of the way. (Unless you are a heroic public health/safety worker, or are otherwise required to stay.) We learned from Katrina that things can suddenly turn ugly, so don't be so sure that every hysterically dire hurricane prediction is full of crap just because most of them are.

2.  DO gather supplies you might need in the event you are cut off from the outside world, and have no access to medical care, electricity, water, grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, coffee purveyors, personal trainers, child care providers, etc.

First Aid? Er.. vodka's an antiseptic, right?

3. DON'T leave loose objects around your house and yard; remove or tie down objects like garbage cans, lawn furniture, or family members you'd rather not lose to high winds.

I did untie the Lobster...eventually.

4.  If you actually want real hurricane advice, DO visit a site that has serious and practical tips, like or the NHC's hurricane preparedness website.

5. DO stay informed by checking in to the news as conditions change. But DON'T pay much attention to those bozo newscasters who go out into the middle of a hurricane, frolic playfully in front of the camera, oooh and awww over the big waves or bendy trees, direct the camera over to other sightseers enjoying the spectacle, and then tell us "But authorities say you must stay inside for your own safety--even though we get to be out here watching this amazing newsworthy event and you don't! Neener, neener, neener!"  They imply there's something both fun and heroic about standing outside like an idiot getting buffeted by high winds and make you want to come down and look too.

Instead of standing outside in slickers, perhaps they should just report the news from safe locations? And then just keep playing the clip of the eight hurricane Irene on-lookers getting washed off the pier, over and over and over until people get the message that it's not smart to seek out dangerous vantage points during natural disasters.

6. DO use hurricanes and other natural disasters as an excuse for not getting things done!  What else are natural disasters good for, except for tv ratings and bottled water sales? Might as well make the most of it. For example, this post was originally going to be way longer and a lot more informative. Instead of sending you elsewhere for real tips, it was going to have a comprehensive list of everything you might to know about hurricane preparedness! But, so sorry--I was writing it during hurricane tropical storm Irene yesterday and we lost power from 2pm to 10pm, which I never could have anticipated! That hardly ever happens in Provincetown, unless someone uses an air conditioner in summer or a heater in winter or sneezes. I swear it was going to be an awesome post. Curse you, cruel Irene!

So are you guys prepared for the next natural disaster? Got any thoughts, stories, or tips?

August 24, 2011

FitBit Giveaway!

For our next installment of Let's Bribe Readers Back to Cranky Fitness, we've got another great giveaway this week: a FitBit!

This one is sponsored by Stack Exchange Fitness and Nutrition, (more on them in a moment). They've kindly agreed to include readers from Canada and Europe in the fun, so they're eligible to enter too!

Plus we've got a winner to announce from last week's Jungle Gym XT contest.

First off, who won the Jungle Gym XT?

Wow, was that a tough choice! So many heart-wrenching pleas, hilarious comments, and even an awesome poetic Ode to Cranky Fitness! So many deserving winners, and just one prize! I actually began to miss the bossy old Mr. Random Number Generator--so he's back this week.

(And as a side note: I hate the human tendency to assign a male gender to almost every inanimate object or animal we encounter, especially those we're supposed to identify with. And don't even get me started on Disney, Pixar, etc and the "male is normal, female is 'other'" messages they constantly corrupt young brains with. Yet... in this instance, I can't help thinking it's a Mr. Random Generator. But maybe that's just me?)

Anyway, two comments came in that I had to flip a coin over:

Jackie O, who works in a hospital and would share the Jungle Gym with other midnight shift workers to work out between patients and stay alert and fit; and DPO, who wanted to include one in a care package to troops in Afghanistan. The coin flip came up Jackie O, so she's our winner!

And it would be really cool, Jackie O, if we could post a picture later of the Jungle Gym in use at the hospital! And as usual, please email to claim your prize by end of day Friday August 26th or it will go to another winner.

Now, onto our next giveaway:

So Who is Offering Up the Fitbit Prize?

That would be Stack Exchange Fitness and Nutrition!

So these folks host a Q & A type site for fitness and nutrition information. You know how you sometimes have questions, like, "how do you do a burpee without barfing?" or "how many minutes on the elliptical will it take to burn off one... two... three cupcakes?" And then you try to google that question and you find a bunch of lame answers by people who have no idea what they're talking about?

Well, the Stack site is different. It's collaboratively edited and offers advice and answers from physical fitness professionals, trainers, and other athletes. The emphasis is on quality, and they seem to get tons of really interesting questions, and it's FREE, so be sure to check 'em out!

Now About that Fitbit:

Isn't it tiny and cute and adorable?

If you go over to the FitBit site, you can read all about its awesomeness.  But basically it tracks your movements throughout the day and gives you instant feedback, and also comes with online tools to help you chart your progress. Oh, and it can also give you information about your sleeping (or lack of sleeping) habits. 

To quote from their website: "The Fitbit Tracker’s super sensitive 3-D motion sensor tracks your day down to details a pedometer can’t catch, giving you access to the exact steps you take, calories you burn, distance you travel, and even showing you how active you are throughout the day."

So, want to win a FitBit? Just leave a comment and Mr. Random Number Generator will pick a winner next Wednesday. Then be sure to check back before the end of the day Friday September 2nd to claim your prize!

August 22, 2011

Don't Let Amoebas Eat Your Brain!

Killer amoeba photo credit: DPDx

Seriously, you can be minding your own business and an amoeba can eat your brain?

Yep, we're not making this up.  There are indeed brain-eating amoebas out there, called naegleria fowleri by more scholarly types. They've killed a number of folks; at least three Americans have died this summer of n. fowleri infection.

Is there reason to panic? Well, here at Cranky Fitness we always advocate panic, just on general principle. (We had some great reasons, for example, to panic over the swine flu epidemic. Remember that?)

But as much as we always enjoy inciting a good panic attack, perhaps you'd like some more practical information on brain-eating amoebas, like where they lurk, and how to avoid having them eat your brain?

So here are the most important things you need to know about brain-eating amoebas.

Where can I find a more reputable source of information on naegleria fowleri, aka, Brain-Eating Amoebas?

Well, one place to start is the Web MD FAQ on brain-eating amoebas. In fact, it’s where most of the information in this blog post is swiped from! The CDC also has a naegleria fowleri FAQ.

What are Amoebas and How the Hell Do They Get In Your Brain?

Amoebas are single-celled organisms. If water or dust containing the brain-eating amoeba gets into your nose, you can get infected. The little critters then travel through the olfactory nerve into the frontal lobe of the brain and start chowing down. (It’s nothing personal; they’d actually prefer to eat bacteria).

How Often Do People Get Their Brains Eaten by Amoebas?

Not all that often. There are usually less than 8 cases a year of the brain-eating disease, called “primary amoebic meningoencephalitis” (or PAM for short). They almost always happen from July to September. Worldwide, there have been about 400 reported cases, and 35 in the U.S. since 2001.

Where Do The "Bad" Amoebas Live?

They mostly hang out in warm water. Places where shrieking sobbing hysterical paranoia caution may be advised include: warm lakes, ponds, puddles, slow-flowing shallow rivers, untreated pools, wells, hot springs, aquariums. And for those adventurous enough to consider them recreation areas, watch out for “thermally polluted water, such as runoff from power plants.”

Oh, and they can also sometimes be found soil, including indoor dust, which means… um… they could be anywhere.


(However, since so much emphasis was put on their warm-water haunts, I’m just going to ignore that thing about indoor dust and pretend they didn’t say that. Anyone else with me?)

Can Brain-Eating Amoebas live in ANY kind of water?

No! The good news is that you’re safe in salt water and in properly treated swimming pools or municipal water.

Do Amoebas Hunger After All Brains Equally?

Nope. Most of the folks who have gotten sick were in Southern or Southwestern states. And over half the cases of infection have been in Florida and Texas. But they seem to be acquiring more of a taste for northern brains, as evidenced by a recent case in Minnesota.

The Killer Amoebas like male brains better than female, and they prefer young brains to old ones. Over 60% of U.S. cases are in children age 13 or younger. About 80% of cases are in males. However, it isn’t clear whether the amoebas are picky, or whether young males are more likely to expose themselves.

If I'm Not Easily Scared, And I Want To Go Ahead and Swim in Warm Untreated Water Anyway, What Should I Avoid Doing To Keep My Brain Intact?

Don't get water up your nose! Infection seems to happen most often when people are diving, water skiing, or horsing around doing something that forces water into their nostrils. Infections have also occurred when people have dunked their heads in hot springs or “used untreated tap water to cleanse their nostrils.” (Nostril cleaning, really? Is it suddenly all that popular a pursuit?)

Also, you know those nerdy nose-plugs? Maybe it’s time to think about wearing one.

What Are the Symptoms?

It’s much like a case of viral meningitis; symptoms include “headache, fever, stiff neck, loss of appetite, vomiting, altered mental state, seizures, and coma. There may also be hallucinations, drooping eyelids, blurred vision, and loss of the sense of taste.”

Just How Screwed Are You if Brain-Eating Amoebas Get Up Your Nose?

It can take from 2 to 15 days for symptoms to appear. Many people have antibodies to N. fowleri, so your body may fight off the amoebas. However, if infected, it's over 95% lethal. Death usually occurs three to seven days after symptoms appear.

So Then I Clearly Need to Panic, Right?

As much as we approve of panic as an all-purpose reaction to anything unexpected, you probably don't need to freak out unless you (a) spend a lot of time in warm untreated water and (b) you are spectacularly unlucky. With only 8 cases a year the chances YOUR brain will get snacked on by amoebas is very, very low.

(And note: this amoeba disease thing may be extremely rare and overhyped in the media, but this post is NOT intended to make light of deaths and suffering caused by those few cases. That part is really tragic.)

So what do y'all think about brain-eating amoebas, are you scared?

August 19, 2011

Lazy Links: Now, With Extra Enlightenment!

What's with the enlightenment? Well, in addition to the usual odd assortment of health news, links, and miscellaneous ramblings, Crabby announces a radical upcoming experiment in which she attempts to force-feed zen-style enlightenment into her stubborn, rusty, twisted neurotic neural circuits.

And let's see what else we've got this week...

Re-wiring Crabby's brain:

So a while back  I checked out a fascinating book from the library by Rick Hanson called Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom.  It's a well-researched blend of western neuroscience and psychology as well as pragmatic and spiritual Eastern Zen-style practices.  It was great! It had me totally convinced that ONCE and FOR ALL I was going to take stress reduction seriously, start meditating, look at life differently. There was all kinds of encouraging research about how we easily-stressed types can rewire our brains to be all calm, happy, and peaceful.  But then I took the book back to the library, forgot most of what was in there, remembered I suck at meditating and... Well, it was another self-help FAIL.  After all, Crabby's Epic and Unsuccessful Struggle with Relaxation and Meditation has been well documented here at Cranky Fitness.

So I'm trying a different approach this time. I'm taking Rick Hansons' six week "The Enlightened Brain" Online Course.  Check it out, it's pretty nifty! I've only just started but I'm liking it a lot so far. Rick is warm and personable like Mr. Rogers... well, a really brainy Mr. Rogers with a ginormous vocabulary and a fondness for research. In short: my kinda guy. And the course promises to help you learn to change your brain so it's not so f#*ked up, so, what's not to like?  I'll be doing a review once it's over and reporting back.   (Hmm, by then will I be needing to change the blog's name to "Mellow Fitness?")

We got other news around the web:

Is eating red meat linked to a higher risk of diabetes?  The primal folks at Mark's Daily Apple don't sound too worried.

Got slothful self-indulgent friends and wonder whether you should dump 'em? Scientist bicker over the question: are bad habits contagious?

Is "runners high" just an urban legend?  (Well, Crabby certainly thinks it's real, and in this vintage post, concocted her very own recipe for runner's high).

Should you buy your 6-year-old a diet book for girls?

Health Stuff Crabby Covered on Twitter:

MRI Techniques Can Detect Early Osteoarthritis:  Thanks, MRI, but my knees are already shouting it loud & clear.

Caffeine lowers risk of skin cancer. Scientists working on a java-sunscreen, but in the meantime, mmm, coffee!

Protein supplementation lowers systolic blood pressure! But don't get too excited, only by a couple of points:

Who knew? Girls with low vitamin D levels start menstruating earlier--which is linked to social & health problems:

Coffee and tea drinkers less likely to carry MSRA: Maybe we're too hyper to sit still and get exposed?

Like it spicy? Adding 2 tbs of antioxidant spices per serving can help mitigate evil effects of a high fat meal.

What kind of dietary fiber fights colon polyps? All-stars: brown rice, legumes, dried fruit, cooked veggies.

Wow. Tucked in article about teens who FB too much is this stat: Average teen sends out over 2000 texts a month.

Even mild traumatic brain injuries double risk of dementia.  I'm clumsy enough, I should probably wear a crash helmet all day.

350: Number of extra calories a day fidgety people burn compared to people who sit still.

Odd trick to control cravings: eat a bit of favorite Evil Treat WITHIN a meal, not before or after. 

Southeastern states: no longer just the "stroke belt," now they're also the "sepsis belt." Wow, jump on that, travel marketers!

More weird ways people find Cranky Fitness on Google: "fat men in spandex," "do koreans have nude coed saunas?" and "yoga pants cameltoe."

Did you enter the Jungle Gym XT giveaway yet?  It's not too late; winner announced on Wednesday!

So how 'bout you guys, learn anything interesting this week? Got fun plans for the weekend? Random thoughts or gripes?  It's all good!

August 17, 2011

LifelineUSA Jungle Gym XT: Review and Giveaway!

So what do I think of the LifelineUSA Jungle Gym XT? How does the Jungle Gym XT compare to a TRX? And what do you have to do to win one of these gizmos?

Find out all this and more in this week's attempt to bribe readers back to Cranky Fitness!

What is a Jungle Gym XT? 

It's a suspension trainer, very much like the TRX suspension trainer. You're basically dealing with adjustable straps that you can put your hands and feet in so that you can use your body weight for resistance.

Here are the two hanging out together before the TRX was unceremoniously banished from the Crab & Lobster's dirty basement gym Fitness Equipment Testing and Reviewing Laboratory for the duration of the review.

(Buh-bye, yellow strappies, see ya later! We already did a TRX Review.)

What are the advantages of suspension trainers?

They're lightweight, portable, and you can toss one in a suitcase to take on the road. You can do a LOT of different exercises, and the Jungle Gym XT package comes with a DVD and a wall poster to give you ideas. You can vary your angle and the length of the straps to make exercises either easy peasey or monsterously difficult.

You can do pushing-type exercises:

Pulling-type exercises:

Leg Exercises:

And all kinds of weird-ass hard stuff that I figured would only end badly if I gave 'em a shot.

Yeah, Right.

Can I Get in Decent Shape Using Just a Suspension Trainer?

I use mine mainly as a handy adjunct to other forms of torture exercise, but sure! Just make sure you challenge yourself and take the time to craft increasing difficult cardio and strength training routines as you get more fit.

Uh, Crabby? Maybe just a little more challenging?

Is the Jungle Gym XT similar to the TRX?

Yes! When you compare the the Jungle Gym XT and the TRX, the workout experience is pretty much the same.

One difference is that the two Jungle Gym XT straps can be hung independently, which allows you to vary the width between them. The TRX straps form diagonal lines from a single point. The Jungle Gym has a dohickey which lets you hook both straps together so that they come from a single point like the TRX if you want, but it's not quite the same feel as the TRX. With the TRX you can quickly slide the connected straps through a central loop so if it feels like one side is longer than the other you can fix it quickly. I couldn't figure out how to do that with the Jungle Gym XT. But this is not a huge difference between the two.

Also, the Jungle Gym had firm plasticky foot holders instead of soft ones. Some folks may find this easier for getting in and out of.

Like the TRX, the Jungle Gym XT seems very well-constructed and solid; it seems like it's built to last a good long time.

What's the most obvious difference between the Jungle Gym XT and the TRX?

That's easy: Price! I don't know what deals can be had in various sales channels, but going to both websites, the Jungle Gym XT goes for $100 while the comparable TRX model retails at almost double that amount.

Curious to read another take? There's another review of the Jungle Gym XT over at the Fit Bottomed Girls!

How Can I Win One of These Babies?

So here's where it gets fun. The good news, for you guys anyway, is that the JungleGym folks went ahead and sent me both the review AND the giveaway samples. Which means I'm the one hauling my ass down to the post office and paying for shipping. So, guess what, Canadians? You're in! In fact, ANYONE can enter.

(And yeah, as I suppose I should remember to mention whenever I'm doing reviews, I got my Jungle Gym for free! If I weren't such a cranky and opinionated blogger, the freebie-factor could easily lead to a tendency to suck up to the sponsor. So it's something you should always be aware of when evaluating the credibility of a product review on the web, especially those by more cheerful reviewers!)

So anyway, leave a comment saying why you might want one of these things, and I'm going to pick a winner myself, based on... WHATEVER THE HELL CRITERIA I FEEL LIKE USING AT THE MOMENT! I'm giving that bossy old Random Number Generator a day off. I'll pick a winner next Wednesday, August the 24th, and you'll need to email by end of day Friday August 26th to claim your prize.

Note: if you are related to me, or are a good friend IRL, it might look a bit on the unethical side if I pick your entry. But next time there's a giveaway I'll go back to the old random number generator, who doesn't give a crap if I know you or not.

So, wanna let me know why would you'd like to have a Jungle Gym XT? Or heck, say anything you want!

August 15, 2011

Should You Panic If It's Not Organic?

It's not like you hit the grocery store thinking: mmm, what kind of yummy pesticides do I want on my produce today? If you're like me, you might actually prefer to fill your cart with wholesome, natural, organic fruits and vegetables. You want those fruits and veggies to be ripe, unwilted, locally grown, in-season, not full of bugs and worms, untainted by salmonella or e coli, and reasonably priced. Oh, and you'd like Alice Waters or Jamie Oliver to stop by your house and cook it all up for you, while you have a cocktail or two with your bff's Rachel Maddow, Ricky Gervais, Ellen Degeneris, John Stewart, Emma Thompson, George Clooney, and Michelle Obama.

Make Mine a Double, Willya Crabby? Been a Tough Week.

Okay, I'll admit, we're talking pure fantasy... that part about the reasonably priced organic produce.

So let's say, hypothetically, that there may be a few fruits and vegetables that have made their way into your kitchen that are not organic. Even worse, what if some of these items appear on the Environmental Working Group's dreaded list of most pesticide-laden produce, dubbed "The Dirty Dozen?"

How big a deal is it?  Well, I was just alerted to a study that may have some relevance.

Pesticide Researchers say: Screw Organic, the Regular Stuff is Just Fine!

A study of dietary exposure to pesticide residue in the Journal of Toxicology took aim at the EWG's Dirty Dozen list, criticizing their methodology and disputing their findings.

The researchers concluded that:

(1) Exposures to the pesticides on the "Dirty Dozen" list posed negligible risks to consumers; (2) eating organic versions of the "Dirty Dozen" didn't appreciably reduce risk; and (3) the methodology used by the EWG lacked scientific credibility.

For example, the study said that exposure to the pesticides on apples, which were number one on the 2011 Dirty Dozen list, were "well below levels of toxicological concern, with relative exposures between 20,000 and 28 million times lower than levels that do not harm laboratory animals." Even better, for 3 others of the tainted twelve, blueberries, cherries, and kale – the pesticide exposure was over 30 million times lower than those that cause no observable adverse effects in lab animals. (Bell peppers, on the other hand, were the worst at 49.5 times lower).

But Wait Crabby, Where Did You Find This Study?

Why in an email sent from the completely unbiased source, the "Let's Convince Folks That Processed Food and Agribusiness are Totally Awesome So We Can All Make A Crapload of Money Council" the International Food Information Council! How do we know we can trust them? Well, another conveniently highlighted newsletter article was entitled: "Is Industry Funded Research Trustworthy?" And while the article doesn't actually ever answer that question, by mentioning it in an article title you can be reassured that they're all over it! So no worries.

Shouldn't I Trust The Environmental Working Group More than Food Industry Apologists?

Hell, I don't know; they both have their own axes to grind. The EWG are the same folks who think the sunscreen my dermatologist urges me to use will poison me, and listening to them is always depressing. I'd prefer they be wrong, so I can go about my business like ordinary Americans, cheerfully oblivious to all the environmental dangers that may surround me.

Problem is, I'm not an scientist, so when advocacy agendas clash and both sides cite scientific research, I need actual experts to weigh in. Anyone got one handy? There were things about the Toxicology Journal article that sounded vaguely suspicious to me, like using a "probabilistic modeling approach to estimate exposures." Or this sentence: "Residue findings considered as nondetections were assigned a value of zero...rather than using the much more conservative approach of considering nondetectable residues as being to one-half of the detection limits." But again--what the heck do I know?

So Are You Going To Start Buying A Lot More Produce That's Treated with Pesticides?

No way! Not only because I don't want ANY pesticides if I can avoid them, but because I want to support the stores and suppliers that don't use them. Perhaps if there was more of a market, prices would go down! But I think when organic isn't available, and I'm contemplating a tasty looking carton of fresh ripe conventionally grown blueberries, they have a much better chance of ending up in my grocery cart after reading the above toxicology study, even if I don't entirely understand it.

What about you guys--do you try to buy organic when you can? Or the heck with that, who would you invite to your celebrity BFF cocktail party?

August 10, 2011

P90X Giveaway Winner (Plus Crabby's Secret Plot to Conquer the Health Blog Universe)

Did you win the P90X giveaway? And what's this about "secret plots?"

So here's the deal:

Hold Up Crabby, Not So Fast: Where the Hell is This Week's Giveaway?

Sorry folks, I'm afraid this week's planned giveaway got postponed! Why? Well, it's a combo giveaway/review, and I didn't actually get around to trying the product yet. Not just because of general laziness, or even the fact the product requires some simple assembly and the Lobster is out of town and she's is the only one in our household capable of assembling anything more challenging than a cup of coffee.

No, as it happens, the excuse... rationalization... really good reason for the delay is that a review post of a fitness contraption really should include demonstration pictures! And the Lobster is the Official Cranky Fitness Photography Department, and she won't be available for a few more days.  So the next giveaway post is just going to have to wait a bit.

Last Weeks Winner: So who did the Random Number Generator bestow with the P90X? That would be:

Commenter #8: Laura (akaWonderWife!)! Congrats, Laura! Please email me to claim your prize by end of day Friday the 12th!

And so what's this about a scheme to take over the Blogging Universe? Well, I'm hoping to get some help here folks.

Sneaky Conspiracy To Help Cranky Fitness (and all your Favorite Health/Fitness/Weight-Loss blogs) Get More Readers:

Here's a weird thing I've noticed from my blog statistics: If you google "best weight loss blogs" or variations thereof, often Cranky Fitness lands fairly high up on the list. Why? I have no idea! And not surprisingly, anything to do with "weight loss blogs" is VERY popular with search engines. (And just wait for all those New Years Resolution googlers.... mmm, fresh tasty newby blog readers who don't know where to go...heh heh heh... sweet innocent googlers just waiting to be snapped up by voracious audience-hungry health and weight loss bloggers, yumm... )

But the sad thing is: googlers who arrive here land on a vintage "readers choice" blog post that misses out on some of the best weight loss blogs, and includes a lot of blogs that no longer exist. Plus, there are no categories for health blogs, fitness blogs, humorous blogs etc!

But what if Cranky Fitness were to leverage this undeserved Google karma and host an updated list of all of the truly best current health, fitness, and weight-loss blogs? The ones that we all know deserve more readers but don't necessarily have advertising budgets or corporate sponsorship? (Though there will be a category for those, too!). Wouldn't that be better for the googlers, better for the bloggers, and, err... um... perhaps better for Cranky Fitness?

Problem is, Cranky Fitness needs to regain lost readership before mounting another Reader's Choice official poll, or it will be a pretty short list.  The big-deal poll (which will also include a giveaway inducement, I'm thinking) probably won't happen until fall.

So then, why am I announcing this now? 

Loyal Readers Get Extra Clout: People who are here now, in the health blogging world's deadest, dustiest, dullest summer season, are my favorite folks! You're the people whose judgment I trust the most.  I've been out of the loop for a while now, and I simply don't know which the best blogs are anymore.  So any of you that comment or email me with suggestions as a result of this post: these will count at least double. And they won't keep you from nominating or voting again later either! Also, this time I'm going to give myself nominating and voting power too, to make sure good blogs don't get left off because no one thought to nominate them, and your choices will be on my mind ahead of time. (Note: all these Nefarious Vote-rigging Schemes will be fully disclosed in the Official Rules of the Reader's Choice Poll, because whatever, who reads the rules anyway?)

So whaddya say? Anyone want to clue me in to the best weight-loss and other health & fitness blogs? A link and a brief description of the blog's awesomeness, either by commenting here, email, or on Facebook, would be most appreciated!

August 08, 2011

Bike Safety: Who Cares?

Bad doggy--where's your helmet?!
Photo: Ronn Aldaman 

If you ride a bicycle on occasion, or prefer not to run over bicyclists while driving, there are a few safety tips to keep in mind.

The good news: many of these suggestions, even the obvious ones, may help you avoid an accident! The bad news: even if you employ every safety suggestion ever offered, you could still get smooshed or wind up smooshing someone. Put bikes and automobiles together, and all too often you end up with injuries and even fatalities.

So who cares? Well, some folks do more than others. For example, research suggests the extent to which you care about bike safety seems inversely correlated with penis ownership.

But while gals may care more about safety in the abstract, we're also perfectly capable of dangerous dimwittery on the roadways. Plus, if you're like me, you may THINK you know what's safe and be missing a few pointers.

So whatever your gender, you may want to ponder, add to, or argue vehemently against the advice in this bicycle safety FAQ.

Q: Crabby, what are your qualifications for addressing bike safety, are you an expert?

A: Glad you asked! I am indeed an expert: in falling off my bike. This winter I managed to break my arm when traveling at about 1/2 mile an hour on a perfectly smooth roadway when something unanticipated crossed in front of me. This makes me extremely cognizant of the notion that you can't be too freakin' careful when riding a bike, especially if you're a bit on the clumsy side, which I am.

Q: Should you wear a helmet?

A: Eh, that depends. After all, helmets are dorky, they mess up your hair, and many of the cool kids eschew them. About the only time you should bother with a helmet are those days you'd prefer not to die of head injuries in an accident. Safety statistics, shcmafety statistics. (Although hard numbers on helmets and safety seem strangely elusive and even controversial; many of the sources citing statistics neglect to say where they came from, and some of the most cited studies have their critics, many of whom are anti-helmet-law activists. Whatever. Even just anecdotal evidence from doctors and nurses I've run into scares me enough that I never ride my bike without one.)

Q: Where should you ride your bicycle?

A: Preferably not on a freeway, through a busy department store, into a lake, off a cliff, or in the path of a runaway train.

More specifically stay as far away as you can get from clueless motorists, slippery surfaces, tire-trapping grates, broken glass, attack dogs, and land mines. Or, for that matter, land mimes.

Clowns too. Steer the hell away from mimes and clowns.

The problem? Sometimes in order to get to beautiful, spacious, smoothly paved bike trails and lanes, you may have to navigate through streets with cars on them. Or perhaps your destination is more practical, like your place of employment, and there are no handy bike trails to take.  In this case, it is best to do some investigating ahead of time so you don't inadvertently end up on the interstate getting rudely side-swiped by wandering Winnebago's or 18-wheelers hauling Hostess Twinkies.

Q: So how do you find bike trails and low-traffic bike-friendly streets?

A: Well, you can scout things out ahead of time in your car. You can pop into your local bike shop, where folks are generally helpful even if you're not buying anything. Or you can go online!  Many areas have cyclist clubs and forums, or local government agencies with bike route information.  Also, one resource I used heavily in San Diego was Google Earth. If your area is well-mapped, you can use this scope out potential routes, and actually SEE possible dangers and annoyances ahead of time.

Sadly, depending on where you live, often there are no routes without dangers and annoyances. In that case, your best bet is to move to Amsterdam.

Q: Wait, before I move to Amsterdam, I'm still wondering what the deal was about safety and penises!

A: Right! So over at Julie's Health Club, a very sensible health blog that I didn't know about because it's been hiding at the Chicago Tribune, I discovered there's a gender difference when it comes to biking and bike safety.  Men take twice as many bike trips as women do in the U.S.  Not coincidentally, studies show that women tend to be more risk averse, less reckless, and more concerned about bike safety than men are. According to Jan Garrard, an Australian researcher, women are more likely to use off-road paths than roads. “The real and perceived risks of cycling are enhanced among women, and this ranges from concerns about serious injuries to the everyday hassles often associated with cycling.”

Q: If you do have to share the road with cars, what should you keep in mind?

A: Generally, it is safest to assume that the motorists you see are all drunk, blind, experiencing medical emergencies, and yet simultaneously texting their friends to inquire about weekend plans.  In short, drivers may not see you even if you are RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF THEM.

So be as visible as possible! At night, don't ride without lights and reflective clothing. During the day, choose a colorful outfit so motorists are more likely to see you and pay attention.

OK, maybe not this outfit.
Photo: San Diego Shooter

Q: What if there are no bike lanes, can I ride on the sidewalk?

A:  Putting aside the fact that it's generally illegal, it's rare that it's any safer on the sidewalk.  Riding on sidewalks (or on the wrong side of the road), is actually more dangerous even though it may seem less creepy than having fast-moving cars coming up from behind you and whizzing by at close range. Not only is there the pedestrian issue, but also cars coming in and out of driveways or streets don't think to look on the sidewalk for bikes.

Q: Should I stay as far to the right as possible?

A: While it's generally a good plan to ride on the right shoulder of the road, there are times where it's safer to move a bit further left to avoid being "doored."  In addition, sometimes you may need to move even further to the middle and "take the lane." These and other situations are explained in detail with diagrams and dramatic headings like "The Red Light of Death," at a site called "Bicycle Safe." As someone who has on occasion passed cars on the right, stood in the wrong place while waiting for a traffic light to change, and yes, ridden on sidewalks, I found the warnings helpful if a bit sobering.

Q: What are some other safety tips for cyclists?

A: Don't be a butthead! This is harder than it sounds, because even cyclists who consider themselves careful sometimes get in a hurry and get a bit reckless or go too fast. We also tend to feel a bit self-righteous about our mode of transportation and take stop signs as "suggestions." I still think this is fine when you can see clearly that no one is coming from any direction, but too often cyclists act like their teeny tiny carbon footprint gives them the "right" to ignore all traffic laws and entitles them to cut in front of cars that have the right of way. Not only is it rude, it could get you killed.

Q: What other safety equipment do you recommend?

A: Personally, I use a rear-view mirror--I've got a tiny one that clips onto my sunglasses; when I finally get it positioned right (rare), it really does help to know what's going on behind me. Another idea is a horn or bell. It took me forever to buy one, probably because when I'm out walking on a path and some bike comes up behind me going "Brrinng! Briingg! Brrriiiiinggg" I immediately think: You Asshole. That's because I instinctively translate the sound of a bell ringing as: "get out of my way, stupid pedestrian, or I'll run you over!" However, when on a bike, I know that it just means, "Hi, I'm coming up behind you, please don't suddenly lurch right in front of me, ok?" And unfortunately calling out "on your left," however calmly, often causes pedestrians to hear "left," panic, and then leap leftwards right into your path. A bell, sounded well in advance, seems to get better results even if it does cause a bit of pedestrian harumphing.

Q: What should drivers keep in mind to avoid running into cyclists?

A: Remember to look for them, especially when making turns or opening doors. Also, assume that some of them will be the Butthead sort of bicyclists, who may ride recklessly and ignore traffic laws. Even if the bike is at fault, you do not want to hit one.

Here's a safety tip (again, from Julie's Health Club) to avoid "dooring" bikes. When opening the driver side door, always use your right hand. "This will force you to twist your body and look back, allowing you to see if any cyclists or walkers are coming by." (However, it seems like if you can remember to do this, you could also remember to take a look around, but hey, every little bit of caution helps!)

And finally, for those who like their bicycle saftey info straight-up, without any swearwords or mention of penises, here's a safety video with additional tips.

Anyone have any better suggestions, scary stories, grievances, or unrelated tales of weekend revelry? It's all good!

August 05, 2011

Lazy Links: Extra Lazy Edition

Photo: srosssd

So it's time for this week's half-assed compilation of health and fitness links. Does anyone actually read them? Er... well... not so much, from what I can tell. But who cares, it's the middle of summer! Crisp, busy, productive, back-to-the-grind autumn will be here soon enough. So in fitting with the sweet, sleepy sluggishness of the summer season, these links have been assembled with even less care than usual.

Oh, and as a Public Service Announcement, Cranky Fitness hereby urges everyone to do likewise: lower your standards, slack just a bit more, enjoy your Friday and be sure to go out and play this weekend!

OK, here's what we got:

In BlogLand this week:

Check out 19 exercises that women do better than men over at Shape. Those of you who, like me, are huge fans of Charlotte at The Great Fitness Experiment will be pleased to see her and her posse explaining, demonstrating, and generally being adorable.

The FitBottomed Girls give red wine drinkers another reason to celebrate: it acts as liquid sunscreen!

Our pal Merry over at Sheesh seems to need a remedial course in Slacking as she deals with her Unreasonable Boss.

And the New York times personal health guru Jane Brody explains the findings of a ginormous body of data on what influences weight gain. And no surprise (at least to some of us): it's a lot more complicated than just counting calories. What should you eat and what should you avoid? Some great research-based advice here.

Next, recent health news in the Twittersphere:

Any survey of "544 families entering a fast-food chain located INSIDE a Children's Hospital" has got to have bad news:

Not good news for self-indulgent people or hungry zombies: "Poor Health Habits May Shrink Your Brain!"

New study on effective parenting styles: Some kids need mega-structure; others thrive if you back the heck off.

More research says you need to get off your ass and stop sitting so much, even if you exercise:

Go nuts, diabetics! Swapping carbs for 2 ounces of nuts a day helps glycemic control & lowers bad cholesterol.

Swimmers: keep your mouths shut! Study shows swimmers absorb dangerous chemicals and researchers think 90% comes from swallowing.

Research review says colon cleansing useless, may be risky. Not that I was ever exactly tempted. Yuck.

In the continuing diet wars, low carb chalks up a victory re: satiety. Study says more protein keeps you fuller.

Sad: anti-gay hate crimes are RISING, not falling. And 61% of victims report police were indifferent or abusive:

Survey suggests internet explorer users have lower IQ's: Not exactly scientific but cracks me up. (Firefox here).

Smartphone users check 'em an avg 34 times a day: I'd act all shocked, but I've got a Droid: sounds about right.

Among this week's google search terms that landed folks at Cranky Fitness: "how do you know that you are addicted to chia seeds?"  And:  "fuck I'm old birthday"

Got even more time on your hands? Don't forget to enter the P90X giveaway (if you haven't already).  Or you could be a pal and "Like" the Cranky Fitness Facebook Page (if you haven't already). (And by the way, I'm SO grateful for those of you who already have helped out).

Thanks for stopping by, have a great weekend, and feel free to share any random thing you have on your mind!

August 03, 2011

P90X Giveaway!

So the next giveaway in this summer's "bribe reluctant readers back to Cranky Fitness" extravaganza includes male readers and Canadians for a change! This P90X giveaway is actually a two-part affair; the second giveaway will happen in a few months when the P90X2 comes out.

But, you may be wondering, what the heck is a P90X and why should you be excited that it will have a sequel? And wait, who is last weeks New Balance giveaway winner?

Patience, Grasshopper, all shall be revealed!

Last weeks winner: The Random Number Generator chose #41, which means that commenter "Sinner Ella De'Ville" is the winner of last week's prize. Congratulations! Now be sure to email me to claim your New Balance UV protective stuff by end of day Friday August 5th. The Random Number Generator is notoriously over-eager and loves to generate randomness whenever it has the opportunity.

So what's cool about the P90X? Those of you who watch infomercials do not need remedial instructions, and some of us have heard tell of it through blogs, forums, and other online gatherings of hard-core fitness enthusiasts. But for the unitiated, it's a set of 12 DVD's developed by Tony Horton that comprises a 90 day program to get you fit, fast.  From what I've heard, this series will kick your ass.  If you're wanting to transform yourself into a fierce, buffed, insanely-well-conditioned superhuman and have a fair amount of self-discipline, this is supposed to be pretty darn helpful.

Have I tried it myself? Not yet!  I may be reviewing the new P90X2 when it comes out. Tony's program uses the concept of "muscle confusion," which sounds promising in my case. I figure if my brain is so easily bewildered, my muscles probably stand a fair chance of getting confused too, and if that means better fitness, then bring it on! (Although, goodness, watching the new P90X2 video I have to confess it looks intense! Fingers crossed that this Crab has what it takes to hurl herself around a room like the hardbody fitness models do so enthusiastically.  I'm thinking caffeine may have to play a large part in pre-workout planning.)

Now on to the P90X giveaway! To enter, just leave a comment; winner will be selected by the Random Number Generator.  Then check back next Wednesday the 10th to see if you won; you'll only have until Friday Aug 12th to claim your prize or the RNG will pick a new winner.  And you'll need a US or Canadian mailing address to receive the DVD set.

Good luck!

August 01, 2011

Build Strength FAST: Two Incredibly Effective Tricks

(Photo: wolleydog)

So as I may have mentioned in the recent post on how to do pull-ups and push-ups, at one time I was able to eke out 3 unassisted pull-ups.

I was so damn proud I ran around telling everyone! But then surgery and a broken arm benched me for 7 months, and I had to start all over. I couldn't hoist myself an inch without 90 lbs of assistance on one of those gravitron contraptions.

And sure, over the past couple months, I made some progress, but despite prodigious amounts of cursing, pouting, and whining, my goal still felt miles away.

But then, about 10 days ago, I tried a new approach, and guess what? I can now complete ONE, count 'em ONE, unassisted pull-up!

For me, this was a huge jump in performance in a very short time.

So, wanna find out what the two secrets to FAST strength building were?

Strength Building Tip Number One: More Frequency, LESS Intensity

Does that make any sense at all? Of course not! And wait until you read the details, because it totally contradicts everything we've been told about how strength training is supposed to happen. I always thought the only way to make progress was to grapple with as huge and nasty a load as you could manage 'til exhaustion, then eat 27 cupcakes to restore your strength take a day or two off to let the muscles build back up even stronger.

But with this method, the idea is to do the exercise as often as possible, while staying as fresh as possible. I got this tip from Jen Sinkler in a post about pull ups over at Experience Life, and almost didn't try it because it sounded completely silly and doomed to failure counter-intuitive.  But it worked!

Apparently this technique came from a book by a dude with a difficult to pronounce name ("Tsatsouline"), and the Experience Life blog post above has more on that if you want to track down the source.  As is probably obvious, I haven't read the book myself and so my advice probably bears no resemblance whatever to how it's actually supposed to be done.

For those of you who like me, are nutty enough to want to try this, here are some step by step instructions:

1. Quit your day job.  (Note: if you are a personal trainer at a well-equipped gym, or you work at home within range of workout equipment, you may be able to skip this step). However, if quitting your day job isn't practical, you may want to use step #7 instead of step #5.

2. Translate your strength goal: What this works best for is dramatically increasing the number of reps of an exercise fairly quickly.  If you want to go from, say, a maximum of 4 push-ups to 10, then you don't need to do any translating.  In my case, however, the goal was doing unassisted chin ups and pull-ups, and I couldn't do any.  But what I could do was about 6 negatives (where you lower yourself slowly from the bar, rather than hoist yourself up).  So I figured if I could use this trick to double my negatives to 12, I'd have a pretty good shot of doing one "real" chin up or pull up.

My advice, then, is to try to find an exercise variation and an intensity that lets you do at least a few reps, but not too many--or this plan will drive you totally apesh#t crazy. (See below).

3.  Find your maximum number of reps.  Just do the target exercise as many times as you can with wrenching something apart or puking.

4.  Divide that number in half.  If it's odd, round DOWN. This is the number of repetitions you'll do in each set.

5.  Here comes the "quit your job" part:  Shoot for one of these half-max sets per hour, most of your waking day until you fatigue, 5 days a week.

6.  Pick your jaw back up off the floor.  Because (a) you can fall well short of this goal and it still works and (b) if you do happen to be at home, it's not nearly as awful as it sounds.  I did about 8 sets a day two days in a row, then took a day off, then repeated the cycle a couple more times.  The thing that's actually surprising?  Because you're not doing that many reps at a time, and you're "fresh" each time, the exercising itself is not even unpleasant.  Plus your muscles have that nice pumped feeling most of the day.

7.  Here's Jen's more practical variation, which you can do just 3 or 4 days a week: Start your workout with the half max set; rest until your heart rate returns to normal, then do another exercise that doesn’t use the same muscles. Rest again, then do another half-max set of your target exercise. Keep repeating. The goal? "Try to bag five to 10 sets with at least five minutes of rest between them."

And the second important Tip for Building Strength Fast?

This one is psychological, rather than physical, so I apologize in advance for requiring you to click an additional link. But just think you how strong your index finger will get as you power your way over to read the rest of the post over at the Cranky Fitness Department of  Life and Wellness Coaching!