Cold weather aggravating your asthma while exercising outdoors?

If you have asthma, there is a 90% chance that you also have exercise induced asthma (EIA). There is also a good chance that exercising in cold dry weather makes your EIA worse. But there are some simple ways to overcome these barriers so that you can continue to exercise outdoors all winter long!

There are three things you can do to prevent EIA from creeping up on you during a workout, whether indoors or outdoors, hot or cold, dry or humid. These are scientifically proven to be helpful.

  1. Warm-up: For people with EIA a high intensity warm-up (60% of your max) 15 minutes before your workout is a proven way to reduce EIA symptoms during your workout. This is of course complicated as most people don’t sit around after they warm-up. You could warm-up, then do some strength training for 15 minutes, and then get back to your aerobic exercise. Or, you can…
  2. Take your rescue medication 15 minutes before your workout: This quick acting medication ensures that your airways stay nice and open during an exercise session and is a great way to prevent EIA from compromising your workout. Of course, if you exercise 5-7 days/week, you may not want to take all that medication. So, number 1 may be the better option. Alternatively, you can reduce the frequency and severity of EIA by doing number 3.
  3. Increase your aerobic fitness: This is a bit of a catch 22. How do you increase your aerobic fitness if you’re constantly having EIA symptoms? Well, you can warm-up or take your medication when you first begin an exercise routine and then once your fitness levels improve, the frequency and severity of EIA should decrease quite significantly, therefore eliminating the need for a high intensity warm-up or medication 15 minutes prior.

These sure fire ways of preventing EIA of course are further complicated when you’re exercising outdoors on a cold-dry day. So, here are some things that I do to prevent EIA from creeping up on me when I run outdoors in the winter. I hope they work for you. FYI: these are not scientifically proven to be effective, but 9/10times, they work for me!

  1. Breathe through a face mask or scarf: I’m a scary looking person when I go for a run in the winter. I wrap a scarf around my nose and mouth nice and tight so that I am breathing through the scarf during my run. This allows for the air to warm up before entering the airways…which helps prevent EIA. It also moistens the air a bit since you are breathing in through a damp scarf (it naturally dampens after the first couple of minutes of running).
  2. Breathe through your nose: If you have asthma, you’ve likely heard this before. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. In the winter, this technique ensures that you are not breathing cold dry air directly into your airway, but are forcing it to go through the nasal passage (to warm up and get moist) before entering your airways. It also helps keep that scarf around your face nice and damp (I know, gross!).
  3. Chew gum or suck on candy: I find that having gum in my mouth or sucking on a hard candy forces me to continuously swallow saliva…this keeps the throat somewhat moist and helps prevent EIA symptoms; particularly if a sore throat is one that bothers you. This technique also helps with breathing in through your nose since your mouth is busy.

I am sure there are many other techniques to prevent the cold from ruining your workout. Please feel free to share them here as I am always looking for additional ways to overcome this annoying little barrier!

I hope these tips help you maintain your Healthy Active Lifestyle Forever!



Reasons we should be cautious of the new finding that being overweight reduces the risk of death

A recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association entitled “Association of All-Cause Mortality With Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories concluded that “Grade 1 obesity overall was not associated with higher mortality, and overweight was associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality.” In other words, based on body mass index, these authors found that being overweight was a good thing and that being obese is not a problem.

Well, here is the problem: the authors used body mass index (BMI). This is a ratio of one’s height and weight. It can be calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters-squared. A BMI of 18.5-24.9kg/m2 is considered to be normal where as a BMI of 25-29.9 is considered overweight and a BMI of 30-34.9 is considered grade 1 obese. The problem with this measure is that it does not take into account the distribution of fat. For example, let’s say I had a BMI of 28, but the majority of my fat was located in my thighs and arms. This may not be desirable, but it isn’t necessarily a health risk. It is when fat is located in the mid-section that we should be concerned. Specifically, fat located in the mid-section underneath the muscle i.e. visceral fat is of great concern. Waist circumference is therefore a better predictor of disease and mortality risk than BMI as it tells a more complete story. Let’s go back to my original example. If my BMI were 28 and I had a waist circumference of more than 88cm (102cm for males) then I would be at HIGH risk for death and diseases.

So, my quick take on this paper is that it should be ignored by the media and the general population. There is unequivocal data to show that being over-fat is a health risk. Granted, having a BMI that categorizes one as overweight or obese doesn’t necessarily mean the person is over-fat. It is because of these limitations that the Edmonton Obesity Staging System was created. Please read my previous post on this comprehensive approach here: and please stay committed to your Healthy Active Lifestyle Forever!



Five Tips to Stay Healthy this Holiday Season

Christmas is a special time of year.

It’s filled with presents, food, family and lots of holiday cheer.

But when it’s all over and there is nothing left to do,

We are often left unhealthier and feeling somewhat blue.

So here is a list of 5 things that you can do,

To make sure this season doesn’t leave too many New Year’s Resolutions for you!

  1. Get lots of sleep: If you want to ensure you don’t munch on goodies all day, stay cheery, have lots of energy and stick with an active lifestyle, it is ESSENTIAL that you get all the zzzz’s you can. There is a strong and growing field of research to indicate a significant relationship between lack of sleep and obesity. So schedule in your 8 hours for every night this holiday!!!
  2. Liquid Calories and Portion Size: ‘Tis the season of food and drink. And we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of our favourites, but remember, one or two bites should be good enough to satisfy your cravings! Keep portion sizes in mind and be aware of how many snacks you’re eating while waiting for the big turkey or ham. Try to avoid loading up on mashed potatoes, dinner rolls and gravy. More importantly, keep track of how many glasses of wine, beer and hot chocolate you’re drinking. Those liquid calories add up fast!!!
  3. 30 minutes to move:  Time is a big barrier to maintaining physical activity levels over the break, but all you need is 30 minutes, and  no one said they had to be a solitary 30 minutes! Go for a walk with your siblings or parents or cousins or in-laws or nieces and nephews. It’s a great way to keep moving and a great way to have meaningful conversations with your loved ones! Here is a little inspiration for those 30 minutes a day:
  4. Laugh Lots!: Laughter really is the best medicine. It’s a great stress reliever, and boy do we ever need one at this time of year. So either rent a good comedy or bring up old embarrassing stories of one another and get laughing. You might even get a good ab workout from it J
  5. Relax and Enjoy: Many of us work our buns off so that we can enjoy time off with the families this time of year. Some of us have worked really hard to ensure that our families have a great holiday meal, presents and the like. Overall, we lead stressful lives, and this time of year is no exception. Be kind to your mind and body by taking some time to rest, relax and enjoy the season. Do some yoga, take a nap or listen to soothing music. Whatever works for you!

If you’re happy, rested and relaxed, you’ll be able to stick with your healthy, active lifestyle forever!


These are a few of my fave fitness gifts to give…

Have a health conscience person on your Christmas list this year? Not to worry, there are some wonderful gifts you can purchase for your loved ones that range from inexpensive to pricey. Each one shows that you understand their commitment to their health and are happy to support it!

Here are some that I have given in the past and HIGHLY recommend:

  1. Resistance Bands: You can buy these bands in most fitness/sport stores but also in stores such as Walmart or Canadian tire. The bands can be used for in home strength training and provide an excellent workout if done correctly. You can buy a little book with exercise descriptions to go along with it, or search online for some good exercises and print a few pages off to create a customized booklet.
  2. Sarah Powers Yoga: I love my yoga, especially after a long, hard day. But I use yoga to relax and revitalize, whereas some use it as they’re primary workout. The Sarah Powers DVD ( gives you two easy and two hard yoga workouts that focus on functional fitness and mind-body wellness. She is amazing, and I highly recommend her DVD to people of all fitness levels.
  3. Nordic Walking Poles: Nordic poles are a great way to increase the intensity of your regular walk. If you know someone who is trying to lose weight, has diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure or is at a high risk for any of these conditions, a pair of Nordic Poles could really change their life. The poles incorporate upper body muscles and when done properly, Nordic pole walking can increase the number of calories burned during a walk and increase your aerobic fitness levels quite dramatically! Here is a website for an inexpensive but high quality pair of poles:
  4. Lifestyle and Fitness Consultation: If you know someone who needs to start exercising but is at a loss of where and how to begin, consider purchasing them a couple of sessions with a qualified exercise professional such as myself.  Sessions can involve fitness assessments, lifestyle consultations and one-on-one exercise sessions. Be sure to look for someone with the right certifications and qualifications for the job!  (Certified Personal Trainer or Certified Exercise Physiologist in Canada).
  5. Gym Membership: Depending on your budget, purchase a gym membership for a loved one for a few months or the whole year. This is particularly a great idea if you are already a member at the gym so that two of you can provide each other with the support and motivation required to maintain a healthy active lifestyle forever!



Ever see an overweight environmentalist?

When I was in grad school, I made my way over to the environmental studies building a couple of times so that I could recruit potential participants. Each time I was there, I noticed something strange. Everyone there was in the “normal” category for body mass index. Moreover, all the participants I screened from that program were ineligible because they were already physically active. It made me wonder, is there something about being an environmentalist, or an environmentally friendly person, that makes one healthier?

As far as I can tell, the answer is YES. I should mention that this article is completely opinion based (and somewhat observational). I’m sure there are overweight enviro-friendly people; I’ve just never met one! So what is it about being green that makes one healthy? My guess is two things; active transportation and local fresh food.

Active transportation means that instead of sitting in a pollution spewing car, enviro-friendly people opt to walk or cycle to work or school. If the distance is too great, they are more likely to take public transit, which also requires a bit of walking (to and from the bus-stop). There are several studies to indicate that those who engage in active transportation are more likely to be in the normal body mass index category. There is also emerging evidence that these individuals are overall healthier.

Eating locally grown food is known to reduce one’s carbon footprint, but it may also mean committing to eating fewer processed foods. Eating produce, breads and meat from local farms means more home cooking and consumption of fewer foods with added sugar and preservatives. Thus by eating local foods, one might be committing to a healthier diet as well as a greener planet.

Surely there are other behaviours that contribute to this “phenomenon”. But as a health and exercise scientist, these two are the most obvious ones to me. What is also obvious from writing this article is that a commitment to a green lifestyle might also be an important step in committing to a HALF!