Category Archives: Health

A Terry Fox Legacy: Terry Fox Run 2013

1-IMG_1839One of the first things every school child in Canada learns is that Terry Fox is a Canadian hero. The Terry Fox Run every year in mid-September also draws crowds from every city across the country to raise funds for the Terry Fox Foundation, set up in memory of Fox to support cancer research. This event has also become worldwide, and millions of participants in some 60 countries come out for the Terry Fox Run.

Terry Fox’s story has become a legend. When he was only 19 years old, Fox’s right leg was amputated after he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. He was a distance runner and continued to run with an artificial leg. In 1980, he embarked on a cross-Canada Marathon of Hope to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. His noble endeavour to run a marathon distance every day was sadly cut short when it was found that cancer had spread to his lungs. He had reached Thunder Bay, Ontario, after walking for 143 days from St. John’s Newfoundland . He died nine months later. His effort has resulted in the establishment of the Terry Fox Foundation in 1981 to carry on his dream.

I was with a group of friends in the recent Terry Fox Run. We power-walked a 5 Km distance in memory of a walking buddy who lost his battle to cancer. It was a beautiful day, and everybody at our walk location, Coronation Park in Oakville, ON, was upbeat and excited about the walk.

There were a festive atmosphere around. Stores were selling souvenir items. The cheerleaders were all already to go. The first group to head out at the start line were children on their bikes.

Then came the runners and walkers doing 1 Km, 5 Km and 10 Km, and of course our pets could take part too!

As the Terry Fox Foundation website has put it, this is a “non-competitive and all-inclusive” event. We can run or walk at our own pace, and the most important part is to remember our loved ones who have lost the battle to  cancer, pray for those under treatment or in remission, and to cherish the hope that one day the disease will find a cure.

Nothing was better for our team at the end of the walk than to enjoy a snack at our team table.

We shall see each other again next year!

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Tips For An Icy Dicey Winter Walk

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The weather this winter has not been friendly for athletic training here in southern Ontario. In January we had very cold weather with negative double digits (Celsius) temperature and windchill.  In February, we have had a few days with snow followed by a couple of warmer days to melt some of it, and the ground re-freezes again. This has made the roads icy and slippery. However, this does not deter those of us who prefer to exercise outdoors. There is nothing that can match the fresh air when you exercise in the open. It is only when it is absolutely necessary that I would get onto my treadmill or elliptical machine and plod away watching the Food Network, which is my only incentive to exercise at home.

As my coach has said, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” How to equip oneself for a training walk on an icy dicey day is an important lesson to learn.

1.  When it is icy, the prerogative is safety, and this means making sure that you don’t slip and fall. A walking buddy who fell earlier this year and sustained multiple fracture on her humerus was too sad a reminder that we must not take safety for granted. The essential equipment: Tracks.

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For me, walking with tracks is analogous to driving with snow tires. They give me better traction and holding to reduce the risk of slipping or skidding. I have two pairs of tracks. I just put one on each of my shoes for this photo illustration. The one on the left has wires and it provides very firm footing. However, the downside is that it is also harder on the feet especially on asphalt or cement when there is not enough snow on the surface. I use this pair only on the day after a snow storm and before the plows are out. The one of the right has spikes and they are kinder to the feet on landing. I have been wearing them for many winter walks.

A word about my shoes too. They are trail shoes that have deeper grooves. I find them good for winter walking even when I am not on the trails. They are slightly heavier than my other all season training shoes and racing shoes and higher on the heels, yet for long winter walks, they provide me  with safety.

2. I need to protect my face when I walk outdoors. The biting wind and wind chills can take a lot of pleasure away even when I  have dressed appropriately. First I put some Vaseline or Shea butter (any cream as long as it is not water-based) on my face. Then my hat and my face mask. The is how I look when I go out—looking like a Ninja or a bank robber. I do not put my sun glasses on to remain incognito. The glasses or goggles are good to shield the glare of the winter sun or the wind that makes the eyes watery.

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Besides my balaclava, I also have two other pieces of face covering.

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The neck scarf is like a tube that I can pull up or down as desired to cover my mouth and nose and it is versatile for the slightly warmer days. However, the down side with any face covering that goes over the nose is that my glasses will fog up easily. The solution is the face mask with a nose beak and perforations around the mouth area.

3. When it comes to clothing, layering is the key. Technical fabrics air better and when I am out for a work out walk, I do not want to overheat and trap the heat inside my clothing. I can survive the cold without a down jacket when I train.

4. In the summer, I freeze my drinks before taking them out. In winter, I make it warm or hot. Don’t be surprised to find your water or sports drinks turn into slush. It has happened to me when the walk is longer than three hours. Even though it seems unnecessary to replenish water in winter training, the body may exert more without our knowing, because it has to work hard to balance the body such that it does not fall.

5.  Always aim for safety rather than speed when training on an icy, snowy day. You cannot tell what lies under the snow. Adjust your speed according to the condition of the road surface and footing. Although you are walking slower, the amount of energy output during winter training does not alter much from normal training, because the body is working harder. This is good to know if you are counting energy output or calories.

6. Taking smaller or shorter steps also helps to reduce the risk of slipping, and still keep to good walking form. You may need to look down more, but do not bend your head down, because it tilts your balance.

7. The muscles become stiff easily in winter training. Make sure you do a good stretch afterwards.

8. You are one brave soul and should be very pride of yourself for completing your outdoor training in winter. Do not forget to reward yourself. I become hungry faster on an icy walking day. What’s waiting for me and my walking buddies after the distance walk (usually 14 to 18 Km) is breakfast at our favourite haunt near the university in Hamilton. The Pancake House serves decent breakfasts and it is frequented by the local athletic community on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

1-IMG_0524 I rewarded myself the other day with a ham and eggs breakfast. I ordered sunny side up (normally I ask for poached eggs) and home fries (my rare treat, for otherwise I only have tomatoes). The extra dessert was a chocolate coffee rice crispy brought in by a friend. Well, I exercised on an icy, dicey morning; therefore I could indulge.

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8. Finally, the pleasure of walking outdoor is to enjoy the scenery around us. The same route can look different with the variation of the weather and the seasons. Hamilton Harbour welcomed me on this icy wintry walking day.

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Winter Training: Bring It On!

I went for my first weekend walk this year with my walking group. The walk also marked the beginning of the winter training season in preparation for races upcoming in the spring. We chose to train on part of the route of the Around the Bay, a 30 Km race around the Hamilton Bay. (This race has a long history, which is older than Boston.) Our walk included walking up and down two most challenging hills and also the most scenic sections in the grounds of the Royal Botanical Gardens.

In spite of the cold outdoor temperature, the sun had come out. Many runners and walkers were out training too, and it was always nice to meet some familiar faces.

Another familiar sight of winter training was the snow. The paved roads were normally salted or plowed, as in the section near the Royal Botanical Garden car park. However, by the time we came to the foot bridge, which was closed to traffic, a good 150 metres was snow-covered and icy underneath.

It was beautiful nonetheless. On one side was the frozen Hamilton Bay.

On the opposite side was the trail of the Garden.

We made our way up the “killer” hill as it was generally known to the athletes and we looked back down at the CN rail beneath.

It was an invigorating 12 Km walk and a great way to comply with my 2013 walking resolution. This year, I have committed to the 2013 Walking Challenge recommended by my walking coach and this is to walk 2013  minutes each month.

Cheer Leading At The Boxing Day 10-Miler, Hamilton

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Who would like to participate in a race on Boxing Day?  There were over 800 runners and walkers out there in Hamilton, Ontario to take part in the Boxing Day 10-Miler, organized by the Harriers. Races in Hamilton had a long history, and this race was in its 92nd year. Three Olympic runners also signed up for this race.  I had chosen to  support my running and walking friends, including my husband by cheering in the race, and I could enjoy the race from a different perspective.

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It had snowed the night before, and the temperature was minus 1 degree Centigrade when the race started. There was a head wind giving a wind chill of minus 10 degrees Centigrade. The Start Line was on Hunter Street, next to the GO Station. The organizers were supportive of a walking division and gave the walkers a half-hour early start.

After seeing my husband and other power walkers off, I walked down to Bay Street in the city centre, bought myself a coffee and waited for the runners to come by. The police cruiser led the way for the front pack who took off way ahead of the others.

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The route was familiar to me since my walking buddies and I often trained on this route. At the end of Bay Street, the race course turned into the trail along the Lake to Princess Point. The racers would go up a hill of 500 metres (Longwood Drive), went through Westdale and turned up another hill at the Chedoke Golf Course to walk along the Niagara Escarpment  (I took this photo during our training walk last week.)

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After cheering the runners past, I walked back towards the Finish Line. What a change of weather we had, and this morning, the streets were wet and slippery. I took a picture from the bottom of the hill–up there in the background was the trail on the Escarpment and the racers would come down this hill, knowing that they were close to the finish, because literally, it’s all downhill from here.

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The route passed the back of the Hamilton City Hall.

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Further downhill and the GO station came into sight.

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Around the corner was the Finish Line, and there I was fortunate enough to get this candid shot of the snow plow clearing a path to lead to the Finish.

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I was well in time to see the first runner come in and it was a strong finish of 51:42, given the not so favourable climate and route today. Look at the awesome form the athlete maintained at the end of the race:

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I waited for my husband and my friends to come in, and we all enjoyed the generous treat of hot soup, fruits and cup cakes inside the YMCA building.

The finishers were awarded a snowman medal (so cute!), and there were really nice souvenirs available for the race this year. All the people I cheered on enjoyed the race in spite of the weather. Maybe I should contemplate walking it next year.

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The Interconnecting Trails in Dundas Valley

The first thing I noticed when I set foot on McCormack Trail in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area this morning was the snow from overnight on the fallen trees trunks. It was a good reminder that before too long, we would be hiking with our snow tracks. The McCormack Trail was a gentle trail which went through open fields and it had an incline at the top of which, we could enjoy the panoramic view of Hamilton.

Flanking the roadside and meadows were goldenrods which had turned silvery white.

After doing a loop on the McCormack Trail, we took up part of the Main Loop of the Bruce Trail, and hiked on the John White Trails, joined the Sawmill Trail before ending our hike from Spring Creek Trail after hiking for 14 Km.

The fun of hiking in Dundas Valley was that the trails with mostly interconnected and under the guidance of an experienced hike leader, we could customized our distances. Today we returned to the Trail Centre of the conservation area from the back, just a different view from the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail. 

From Hamilton to Dundas: End to End with the Bruce Trail Iroquoia Club (Day 3)

We had five days to rest after Day 2. Came Saturday the following week, we were up again to meet outside Dundas Golf Club at 6:30 a.m. for Day 3. It had been raining the past few days, and it was still raining when we headed out. We had to wear our ponchos, which despite keeping us somewhat drier, also made climbing uphill more dangerous.

We had done almost 70 Km so far walking from north to south on the Bruce Trail. The organizers planned it such that the hike was in a south to north direction this weekend.

Day 3

The bus took us to Mountain Brow Blvd. on Hamilton Mountain. We entered the trail by the Red Hill Creek Side Trail (following blue blazers) and joined the Main Bruce Trail (following white blazers) at the bottom of the hill. The hike today was to walk across Hamilton Mountain, enter Dundas Valley Conservation Area to return to the golf club. We were hiking on the same elevation in the beginning, but because of the rain, footing was slippery, and we had to be extremely careful not to  step on the moss.

We hiked through King’s Forest and soon found ourselves on the Escarpment Rail Trail. The rail line was below us and Sherman Access, a thoroughfare, was above us. We heard the sound of trains and traffic, and this was a different experience from just hearing the sound of wind and rain splashing in the forest. On a day like this, I much preferred the feeling that I was close to civilization. The first check-point was at Beckett Drive.

The next lag was on the Chedoke Radial Trail and the paved surface was a reprieve in the rainy weather. Soon after passing the car park of the Chedoke Golf Course, we saw water rushing down from the mountain above. The rain had brought the waterways and waterfalls to life. However, it had also caused flooding. There was an area where we had to wade through a rushing torrent and our shoes and socks were all soaked. Fortunately, we had hiked on this section of the trail before, and the knowledge that after crossing the bridge over Hwy 403 we should be arriving at the second check point at Filman Road motivated us on.

The next section of the trail should also the most scenic. First we passed Tiffany Fall and its bridge.

Then there was Sherman Fall and we had entered the Dundas Valley Conservation Area.

Canterbury Falls soon appeared.

Then we crossed the Sulphur Creek.

Had it been a sunnier day, the Dundas Conservation Area would have been ideal for photography. Meanwhile, we focused on our hike and what a wonderful feeling it was to arrive at the third check-point at the Dundas Valley Trail Centre, where bagels with cream cheese were waiting for us.

We had less than 5 Km to go, and we knew that the end would soon be in sight when we were hiking along the perimeter of the Dundas Golf Club.

We were very wet and soaked at the end of the hike. It was a relief nevertheless that we had completed almost 30 Km on this third day. The feeling was more of anticipation than fatigue, because we only had one more day to go. We must rest well this night.

Reference: The Bruce Trail Reference Maps and Trail Guide, Edition 27 (2010). Maps 7 and 8.

From Burlington to Dundas: End to End with the Bruce Trail Iroquoia Club (Day 2)

After Day 1 and the Epsom salt bath when we got home, there was little time for recovery, because Day 2 followed immediately the next day, Sunday.

Day 2

The meeting place was at the entrance of Dundas Golf Club at 6:30 a.m. and the bus took us to where we finished the hike the day before on Guelph Line and No.1 Side Road in Burlington to begin the hike. No sooner had we entered the trail, we had to climb over a stile which demarcated private property line, and because the Bruce Trail was passing private property  the Bruce Trail Conservancy had an agreement with the owners for hikers to walk on their land. In fact, we climbed over several stiles on this day’s walk.

The sky was clear and the sun has come out.

It was a pleasant hike through open fields and farmland and we were hiking south-west passing Kerncliff Park and City View Park Side Trail (one of the newest Bruce Trail side trails). We reported to the first check-point on King Road and we continued on through Waterdown Woods. It was mid-morning and what a glorious day! The most spectacular sight came into view at the Great Falls of Smokey Hollow.

However, we had to slow down, partly to enjoy the scenery, but more so, to avoid colliding with the numerous photographers who had set up their tripods to capture the beauty of the falls. There was only a very narrow footpath to get by. We were essentially squeezing by with a  hanging cliff on our left and a ravine on our right. One faulty step and one could fall off the ravine.

The trails eased off along the banks of Grindstone Creek.

When we came out of Clappison Wood, there was a tunnel to cross under Hwy 6 to avoid the heavy traffic, and we arrived at the second check-point. Time for a quick lunch which went down well with hot apple cider, and up the hill we climbed again. We entered the grounds managed by the Royal Botanical Gardens.

A creek flew serenely on the lower grounds and on the higher grounds, the lookout onto the city was equally peaceful.

I was excited to see Borer’s Fall, one of the “punchbowl falls” on the Bruce Trail. The name “punchbowl” came from its semi-circular shape, which was formed by the erosive turbulence of the whirlpool of melting ice when it came downstream many years ago.

From the escarpment here, we looked out to the city near the horizon.

The Bruce Trail continued on Sydenham Road and we were walking on paved road again, down the city streets of Dundas, into its residential area and uphill to King’s Street West to our cars outside the golf club.

It was a day blessed with nice weather, breath-taking scenery, and great comradeship walking with other hikers. We looked forward to resting our feet in the next five days before Day 3. We did almost 70 Km so far in two days.

Reference: The Bruce Trail Reference Mpas and Trail Guide Edition 27 (2012). Maps 8 and 9.

From Kelso to Burlington: End to End with the Bruce Trail Iroquoia Club (Day 1)

The Bruce Trail (Ontario) runs a total of 885 Km along the Niagara Escarpment from Queenston in the south to Tobermory in the north. It is divided into nine sections, each managed by a local Bruce Trail club. The Iroquoia Club takes care of the section of the trail that runs between Grimsby and Kelso, and it is my home club. Every year at late Fall, the Iroquoia Club organizes an End to End hike which spans four days over two consecutive weekends. The total distance is about 130 Km. A badge is awarded at the end of the four-day hike. My husband and I were first-time participants in this year’s event.

Day 1

The first day started at 7 a.m. and we parked our cars on the shoulder of Guelph Line, Burlington, just north of Hwy 5. It was still dark. The morning air was cold. However it could not chill the excitement of the hikers who were in full gear for a one-day hike of about 40 Km. We were taken by two school buses and were dropped off at the northern-most point of the trail in Kelso near Hwy 401 for the start.

The organizers had planned out check-points en route. This was to make sure that everybody who signed up reported there and to get some refreshments,or other assistance. The volunteers who came out brought juices, water and hot cider, as well as cookies, muffins, granola bars and cheeses.

Dawn had just broken as we set foot on the Bruce Trail in the Kelso Conservation Area. We hiked through the Glen Eden ski area and got to the top. Here the ski lifts looked forlorn while they waited for their time to wake up with the winter skiers.

The trail was covered by fallen leaves. It had rained the night before, and we had to watch our steps, because there were often slippery rocks under the wet leaves.

Even so, we took time to take in the view of the Carolinian Forest at this time of Fall.

After the first check-point at Appleby Line and Steele Avenue, the trail entered the Crawford Lake/Rattle Point Conservation Areas. This was a very rocky section which involved climbing up rocks faces and this brought us to the Nassagaweya Canyon. The view was spectacular once on top of the gorge.

Although the elevation flattened out slightly, the trail was rugged and footing was poor, and then there was a rocky downhill, reaching the second check-point at Twiss Road.

We crossed  a couple of creeks, up and down hill again, before reaching the third check-point at Blind Line and Britannia Road. The feeling that we were over half the day’s designated distance was very encouraging.

Mixed in with the rugged trail were a few paved road surfaces which also formed part of the Bruce Trail. Given the long distance of the day, it was nice walking on flatter surfaces but extra care was necessary because there was passing traffic. The flat stretch of Collin Road led us to the entrance of Mount Nemo Conservation Area. My heart leapt, because the city of Burlington was in sight. The Brock Harris Lookout provided a panoramic view of the city.

A steep climb down from Mount Nemo took us to the fourth and final check-point at No. 2 Side Road and Walkers Line. We felt re-energized after drinking the hot cider served by the volunteers. There was a long stretch of paved road along Walkers Line, and turning into No.1 Side Road, but we still had to follow the white blazers (for the Main Trail) of the Bruce Trail. It started to rain, and we picked up our pace. We turned into the unpaved trail again and soon emerged into an open field. We followed the path which took us to where we parked our car in the morning on Guelph Line. We checked off our names and enjoyed the cheeses and the drinks before heading home for the day.

Our legs were tired, but we were very happy that the longest lag of the four-day hike was done. Day 2 would be a shorter day.

Reference: The Bruce Trail Reference: Maps and Trail Guide, Edition 27, (2012).  Maps 9, 10 and 11.

Road2Hope: Racing for Hope in Hamilton, Ontario

This was the Sunday when the New York Marathon was cancelled and I think rightly so, because New York City definitely needed to devote its focus and effort to the recovery measures after hurricane Sandy. The races in Ontario were not affected. In fact, as soon as the news of the cancellation of the New York Marathon was announced, many disappointed athletes who had signed up for the New York race immediately switched over to this side of the border to do the Road2Hope in Hamilton. It was very important for them, because they had been training and preparing for this race day, and this would also be their last chance this year in North America to qualify for Boston. Even though I am not a runner, I have been meeting and talking to people in the athletic community long enough to appreciate how much this means tho them.

My friends and I participated in the walking division of the half-marathon at Road2Hope. The was the first time I attempted this race course.

This race is ranked #1 Boston Qualifier in Canada for a good reason. The course is relatively flat and has a significant downhill component, which favours a fast run. However, for the power walker, it poses a different challenge, because the form of a good power walker requires a straight leg heel landing. It demands good technique to maintain the form and achieve the desired speed.

We arrived at 7 a.m. to board a school bus which shuttled us to the start line at Dofasco Park. It was a well-chosen location because we could wait inside the building of the F.H. Sherman Recreation and Learning Centre away from the below seasonal average temperature. There were sufficient toilet facilities both inside and outside the building for the release of some nervous tension.

Anticipation at the start line, and off went the crowd.

It was indeed a fast course: the route was flat leaving the Park, going along First Road East to Mud Street. The wind picked up on Mud Street and it remained windy after we turned to go downhill along the Red Hill Valley Hwy. Half of the highway was closed to traffic for this race. We left the highway ramp at about 12 K and raced along Bartan Street East. There were many volunteers along the way to direct the athletes and police were out to direct the traffic. We joined the Red Hill Trail and there was a short section of unpaved trail, but there was enough room to pass. It did not bother me since I often trained on trails. The route flattened again when we went eastwards along Van Wagner Beach Road, and turned to join the Hamilton Waterfront Trail at Dynes Park. We only had 5K to go. It was a straightforward finish at Confederation Park.

There were bands and drummers along the race course. They always pumped up my spirit and my speed. There were many water stations on the way.Cheering crowds perched on the over passes of the highway to  lend support. More people came out from the local neighbourhood to cheer in the final section on the Waterfront Trail. There were a few mascots on the way too to add some light-hearted components to the day. One could tell who were the hardcore racers and who came out to enjoy themselves, because only the latter would stop for their photo-op with the mascots or take a shot of themselves on the way.

The medal, a bottle of water and a sheet to keep warm were handed out at the Finish Line, and it was only a short distance from the refreshment tent, where bananas, apples, cookies, muffins and drinks were waiting. I headed straight to the hot soup station and found my vegetable soup with a piece of foccacia bread an absolute delight.

The Road2Hope is a worthwhile race in many sense. It is a race to raise money to build schools in Haiti, and to support a Hamilton charity, City Kidz, whose mission is to inspire hope in children who live in low-income families. Hamilton is the city with the largest number of families living below the poverty line, more so than Toronto.

This year’s race had a special meaning on top, because Hamilton played host to many athletes whose hope to qualify for Boston would have been dashed as a result of the cancellation of the New York Marathon. As a Canadian, I felt proud that they had come to such a well-organized race. Everything was seamless–from the transportation to the race, race course support all the way to the finish. Many volunteers came out and they were battling the cold weather just as the athletes. They did it with such grace and generosity of their time. This is a race I would recommend to both runners and walkers. I have no hesitation doing the race again.

My Gym in Hong Kong: The Botanical and Zoological Gardens

I miss my trails when I am travelling. Now that I am in Hong Kong, I am fortunate that I stay at a hotel close to the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, the oldest park in Hong Kong and it has turned out to be my gym.

There is a fountain in the middle of the park. People gather at the crack of dawn for their exercises. Tai chi is popular and a group gather at the inner circle that surrounds the fountain every morning.

The outer circle is taken up by jogger and walkers like myself and one loop conveniently makes 200 meters for anyone who wants to know the distance.

The walks around the park is lined with trees, flowers and plants. I usually power walk around this loop for twenty minutes, followed by my drills on the steps several times.

At the top of these steps is a bronze statue of King Edward VI.

Then I proceed to my strength and balance exercises in a quieter corner.

The Botanical Garden is not a big park, but given the small size of Hong Kong and the density of the population, it has provided its visitors a green surrounding to rest and to exercise. I absolutely enjoy my moments working out there, followed by a cool down stroll to enjoy the greenery before continuing with my day.

Book Club Review: Wild Health, Cindy Engel

I would not normally pick a book of this genre, but thanks to my book club, I had this opportunity to educate myself on a topic outside of my realm of knowledge and awareness.

There was a lot of information in this book and everybody agreed it was a challenge reading through it quickly. Fortunately, the chapters were well-defined, and one could read the chapters in any order one chose. The topics spanned from how animals use poisonous plants to cure themselves of sickness, what they do to keep off mites, to how they deal with births and deaths.

It was apt for the host, who selected this book, to ask everybody what she found most interesting given all the information. The most vote went to the fact that animals eat earth to keep themselves healthy, and then they eat leaves with barbs to get rid of the worms that they have swallowed with the dirt. We were also amused by how animals get high with fermented fruits, that animals cover broken bones with certain leaves to help them mend, and that elephants put leaves over their dead.

I grew up in a culture in which herbal medicine was frequently used. The book revealed to me that the white powder that was put on my wounds after scraping myself when I was a child was discovered, according to a legend, by a farmer who followed a snake to discover what it ate after being wounded. I also related to the comments that even in the animal kingdom, bitterness was a measure of how effective the plants was for healing, and I remembered well the dark and bitter herbal drinks I had when I was young.

Given all the interesting facts, the book has also left us with many questions. The author is a biologist, and biologists are experts in documenting and categorizing factual findings. Engel undoubtedly has consulted many references, scientific or legendary, to write this book. However, after educating the readers with a lot of “what”s, we cannot help questioning the “how”s and the “why”s.

It would be educational to know to what the extent the animal behavior to maintain health is   due to evolution and how much it is a learned behavior, either from growing up with their parents or learning by trial and error. Another unsolved mystery is the author referring to the “minds” of the animals when she discusses how animals react to stress or seek for pleasure. Little do we know about the minds of human beings, let only wild animals. Conceptually, an explanation referring to the “brain” of the animals is more tenable, particularly based on available animal studies in the laboratory about the pleasure centers and biochemical changes in the brain under stress.

We also had a discussion on our reactions to zoos after reading about the richness and diversities out there in the wild for the animals to maintain their health and to heal themselves when they are unwell. There was a consensual feeling that zoos should be designed to reflect the natural habitat of the animals as much as possible. What we now know about health behavior of animals can help us provide a better diet and environment for them, even when they are kept in captivity by  man.

Mindfulness on the Longest Day

I woke up before 5:30 a.m. this morning. It’s daybreak. Just enough time to get to the lakeside where I knew some of my walking friends would come out for a morning workout called Strength and Balance. I saw the sun pop out of the horizon as I parked my car. This was a glorious start to my day. I felt inspired.

Being mindful of this feeling gave me a sense of peace and serenity.I let my mind relax and directed my attention towards myself. During the workout, my senses became more acute to the challenges my body was going through as I performed the physical drills. My mind went to my abs, my arms and my breathing. I felt strength channeling through my body. I also felt fatigue and the burning of my tired muscles. I acknowledged all these as they came into my awareness. They were all part of me.

As the day went on, I deliberately became mindful of my moments in between or during some tasks or activities, I allowed my mind to relax and let myself become aware of my thoughts and feelings.

My thoughts frequently drifted to those I cared for a lot in recent days. I had images and thoughts of JM, who was putting up a brave fight against terminal cancer. I thought about the friends and her family trying to support her. I thought about VL, who told me a couple of days ago his anguish and fear regarding the future of his career. I became aware of a few others who needed strength and confidence in their lives.

These were amazing moments when I allowed my thoughts and  feelings to “be”. I recognized them, briefly hang onto them and accepted them, and calmness prevailed.

Well, it has been a long day; after all, it’s the longest day of the year. It has also been a very meaningful day. Admittedly, I cannot remember any single longest day of the year in my sextagenerian existence that I would consider special. This day of the year has been significant only because it is the day before my birthday, the fond memories of which naturally overshadowed those from the day before. Today I have made a difference. I have shared this day with the people I care for and I love in a mindful way. In true mindful spirit, this is what it is, just a day, but I will always remember this day.

As I am writing this post, the sky has cleared again after a brief thunder storm. It’s calmness outside and inside me.

(My mindfulness exercise is more a western psychological version of the art, even though some claim that it can trace its roots to Buddhist meditation. I subscribe to a practice that directs my attention to the immediate or on-going experience, or the so-called “here and now” of my sensation, thoughts and feelings. Furthermore, the orientation is towards openness and acceptance of the experience on hand. )

.References:  Bishop, S.R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., et al. (2004).“Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition”Clin Psychol Sci Prac 11:230–241.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994) Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness-based_stress_reduction

Walking the Blue-Green Walk

The day after the much needed rain for my front and back yards in the past 36 hours, the question for me was: Where should I walk? The unpaved trails would likely be too muddy and even slippery. So I decided to walk on the paved surface of two of my favourite trails in Hamilton.

Desjardins Recreation Trail begins at Princess Point, Cootes Paradise, which is under the auspicious of the Royal Botanical Garden.

This trail is lit at night, cleared of snow in the winter, and there are three portable toilets strategically placed along the trail.

 

This is a very popular trail, but if you go out early in the morning,  you are in the company of  birds,  water fowls, squirrels, rabbits and chipmunks.

On this particular morning, the air was clean after the rain, and the vegetation looked greener as well. The water level had risen.

Some keen fishing folks were out as early as I.

I encountered a family of Canada geese. I generally do not mind sharing the path with Canada geese, but why do they deposit all these landmines on the trail?

I was very happy to see the beaver’s home that I saw last winter still there.

After about 5K, the trail joined the Hamilton Waterfront Trail.

There was a docking place for canoes.

There was a man-made beach.

The trail led all the way to Pier 4 in the West Harbour area, where I decided to turn around.

(In case you decide to start from the West Harbour and walk out to Princess Point and back, you can give yourself a treat at the William’s Coffee Cafe after this 8K walk.)

Throughout this walk, I was in surrounded by greenery and the water was by my side. This was a blue-green walk. According to  a couple of research reviews, this walking environment would led to a better sense of well-being, compared to an exercising environment that was only outdoor but without the water, and to exercising indoor. (Ref: see below.) Well, I have not put on my scientist hat to review the primary sources. I just let nature nurture me and it was the perfect start to my day.

Ref.:  Jo Barton, & Jules Pretty, What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for improving Mental Health? A Multi-Stiudy Analysis. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2010, 44(10), pp. 3947-3955

J. Thompson Coon, K. Boddy, K. Stein, R.Whear, J. Barton, and M. H. Depledge, Does Participating in Physical ‘Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review.  Environ. Sci. Technol., 2011, 45 (5), pp. 1761-1772.

Sports drink, health drink, Dr. Oz’s drink

It must be a coincidence that Dr. Oz appeared on my radar twice this week. (I must have noticed him more often from my right peripheral vision when I open my Facebook page, but usually I don’t register.)

As the weather gets warmer, more people carry a water bottle in our walking classes and in our distance training. Occasionally, the liquid in our water bottles becomes a topic of conversation. Besides sports drink of various colours and concentration, there are other drinks we experiment with.

My walking buddy Bobbie brought a drink that she said was inspired by Dr. Oz. The ingredients were tangerine, grape fruit, lemon and cucumber. How to make: Cut a few slices of each ingredients, put in a jug, add a few mint leaves and add water. Press the ingredients with a spatula. Refreshing, but may not have enough carbohydrates, sodium and potassium etc. for someone who sweats a lot.

I often carry an orange liquid, which is my own concoction of orange juice diluted with water (to taste, and I never like it too sweet) with  1/4 tsp  of salt to 1 litre of drink. There is too much carbohydrates in most orange juice anyway. I have recently added coconut water to my list of sport drinks. Some brands taste more natural than others. Again I dilute it to taste and enhance it with salt. Despite its recent popularity, some studies have disputed the superiority of coconut water to conventional sports drinks. (Check out Scott Garuva’s review in Skeptic North.) My rule of thumb is to choose the least artificial drink as long as it helps me hydrate and replace my electrolytes.

Green tea is an excellent thirst quencher. My husband simply steeps a tea bag in his bottle and brings it on his walk.

Imagine: Put together my husband’s green tea bag, Bobbie’s ingredients (cut into slices), add sugar (5-6 tsp) and  salt (1/4 tsp)  in 1 litre of water, and this will become a healthy sports drink inspired by Dr. Oz.