Cross-training to combat burnout, injuries

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Leimkuhler: Cross-training to combat burnout, injuries


Throughout the summer, I have written several columns about running injuries and various coping and preventative measures, including caring for injuries, acupuncture to alleviate knee pain, collagen to combat joint pain, and dynamic stretching to decrease injuries. But one of the best ways for runners to avoid injuries altogether is by cross-training.

As a multi-sport enthusiast, my cross-training go-to is triathlon. Not only do I enjoy swimming and cycling, but numerous sources site these activities as top cross-training alternatives for runners.


Put simply, to be a better runner, you have to run. However, in, running coach Nancy Howard says that “Cross-training should be part of every fitness plan because it helps reduce the risk of overuse injuries, improves muscular balance, targets your muscles in new and different ways, and aids in muscle recovery.”

Specificity, or how specific a certain exercise is to running, should be your top criteria when choosing an effective cross-training exercise, notes an article in Cycling, deep water running or aqua-jogging, cross-country skiing or using an indoor cross country ski machine such as a Nordic Track, and using the elliptical trainer are activities that utilize the muscles, connective tissues and joints in a manner similar to running but with lower impact on the joints.

Complementary cross-training activities such as swimming, rowing, stair climbing, plyometrics, and walking use the primary running muscles in alternative ways and engage additional muscles not typically used in running. This diversity allows athletes to build greater muscle strength and balance, which reduces the risk of injury.


Given that cycling and swimming are two of the best alternative exercises for runners, taking a break from a strictly running-based program to train for a triathlon would not only complement your running routine but it would also add variety to your workouts, keeping burnout at bay.


Weight lifting is another important piece of the cross-training puzzle. According to, lifting heavy weights uses more muscle fibers and increases strength, making athletes more impervious to injury, and allows the legs to apply more force to the ground in a quicker time frame, which improves running performance.


The article goes on to state that runners should “perform exercises such as dead lifts, pull ups, military press, bench press, squats, lunges, and overhead press that focus on multi-joint, compound movements that build functional strength.”


Adding yoga to your workout regimen will also prove beneficial in all facets of your life. This mindful practice increases flexibility, strength and balance, sharpens focus, fights fatigue, reduces stress, improves oxygenation and circulation of blood, builds a stronger mind-body connection, and fosters a sense of overall well-being.

In short, running too much — and pushing the mileage envelope — can lead to injuries. Adding alternative workouts to your schedule gives your muscles and joints a break from the pounding that’s associated with running while still burning calories and developing cardiovascular fitness.


By mixing cross-training workouts with running you can elevate your races to the next level and ultimately become a better runner. For best results, aim to add up to three cross-training sessions each week without compromising scheduled rest days, which are as vital to training as workouts are.


Motherhood morphs when kids leave the nest

For the Fun of Fit

Two weeks ago I wrote a column to honor my mother and reflect on how I used to celebrate Mother’s Day with her when I was a child.

But this reflection also got me thinking about how the meaning of motherhood has morphed and expanded for me over the years as I have gone from celebrating my own mother to becoming a mother myself. My oldest daughter is a senior this year, poised to leave the family nest as she heads to college and embarks on her own journey to adulthood and, probably someday, motherhood as well.

Recently, the high school issued caps and gowns to its graduating class. When my daughter got home from school that day, she tried hers on and the sight took my breath away. This is really happening. And soon. It was a swift reality check.

Despite my own mother being a near-perfect role model of motherhood, it wasn’t something I necessarily aspired to myself. Some kids envision following in their parents’ footsteps, pursuing a similar career path or taking over the family business. My husband, for example, graduated from college with a degree in engineering, as did his dad, his brother and four of his uncles before him.

I, however, wanted to run in the opposite direction. I couldn’t fathom being a stay-at-home mom. I wanted a career! I wanted to travel, see the world, drive — at the time — a convertible BMW Z3. Possibly never have kids. And I was on the path to do just that. I was majoring in aviation and, after graduation, my roommate and I were planning to move to Florida where I would continue working as a flight instructor, gradually building enough hours to become a commercial airline pilot.

But love has a way of changing things.

My husband and I met during our senior year of college and by the end of that year he popped “the question” that made me break into a sweat — do you want to have kids someday?

Before him, that answer would likely have been a firm “no,” or at least a “probably not.” After him? I think the answer I gave was along the lines of “Maybe. I don’t know.”

But I guess it was enough for him at the time to know that I was at least willing to consider it. He definitely wanted kids. I wondered how he knew, how he could be so certain.

We got married two years later and, though I was still working as a part-time flight instructor, my career path had led me to sales. And then to publishing and event planning before circling back to aviation and sales again. I was working as a corporate co-pilot when I was offered the opportunity to interview with US Airways.

I turned it down.

I thought about being away from home for days at a time, living out of a suitcase and sleeping in hotels. I thought it sounded lonely.

Choosing to forgo the airline interview was, essentially, choosing motherhood. The last full-time position I held was in a university alumni relations and annual giving office. Three weeks before my first daughter was born, I quit that job and never looked back.

Ultimately, motherhood provided the fulfillment and challenge that I’d been searching for all along. And it was, literally, a labor of love. Cars, and material things in general, quickly became unimportant to me, as driving a minivan and, later, an SUV, was far more practical for my growing family that a Z3.

And I’ve also been fortunate to travel often and widely — with my husband and family, but also on my own.

While essentially turning my back on the corporate world, I’ve cobbled together a career of sorts for myself as a writer and soon-to-be published author, as well as a freelance marketing associate and yoga instructor. I’ve done all the things I dreamed of doing and more, but motherhood has been the most rewarding, enjoyable path of all.

Now, in quick succession, my children will begin to fly from the nest and my job description will change again. I hope that my time “on the job” has been well spent, that I’ve given my kids everything they need to succeed in this world and find the happiness and fulfillment I have found.

I had no way of knowing what it was like for my mother when she experienced this transition — when I left home for college. But I’m about to find out. And while I will always be a mom first and foremost, I may no longer need that SUV.

Maybe it will be time to reconsider that Z3 after all.

Allergies shouldn’t eliminate exercise

Allergies shouldn’t eliminate exercise

For the Fun of Fit

Spring is my favorite season. The days grow warmer and longer, and the brown, dormant landscape bursts into color. The grass turns bright green, the trees bud with new pink and white leaves, and the forsythia bushes bloom vibrant yellow. It is a season of growth and renewal, a promise of the summer days to come. I open my windows wide, don shorts and flip flops, and greet the season with open arms and a happy heart.

But, for some, spring is “hay fever” season, when the abundance of pollen and other allergens results in a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, itchy throat, watery eyes and fatigue.

According to, “An allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a substance as harmful and overreacts to it. The substances that cause allergic reactions are allergens. When someone has allergies, their immune system makes an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies respond to allergens. The symptoms that result are an allergic reaction.”

For many, suffering from allergies has been a lifelong battle. However, those who managed to escape childhood and adolescent allergies are not immune. Some people — typically sometime between the twenties and forties, rather than later years when the immune system begins to weaken — will experience adult-onset allergies.

However, notes, “Most people who are diagnosed with allergies as adults probably had an allergic episode earlier in life that they don’t remember.”

But having allergies does not mean you have to ditch your exercise routine. According to, studies have proven that regular exercise can help contain allergies and manage the symptoms.

“Physical activity results in a strong blood flow. This allows allergens to be moved quickly through the body and eliminated via the kidneys and skin,” the site explains.

Workouts don’t have to be especially intense or challenging to get results; simply moving and getting the blood flowing can help to rid your body of allergens. In fact, The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology emphasizes overdoing physical activity could exacerbate symptoms rather than help.

Pre-workout use of decongestants, antihistamines, saline spray, or a neti pot can help with clear nasal-breathing during workouts, which is important as the nose is the body’s filter, preventing allergens and pollutants from entering the lungs and airways. Ten minutes of stretching and pre-workout warm ups can also reduce allergic symptoms.

Exercising indoors is an alternative for people who suffer from seasonal allergies or environmental irritants. Swimming, aqua jogging, water aerobics and water polo are ideal. In the absence of a specific chlorine allergy, the warm air associated with aquatic environments is gentle on the lungs and helps to clear sinuses.

Yoga and Pilates, which focuses on deep, proper breathing techniques is also helpful to strengthen the heart and lungs, and strength-training or interval workouts are particularly suited for those who suffer from asthma.

But if you love the outdoors and prefer to exercise outside despite seasonal allergens, check the daily pollen counts and avoid outdoor activities during peak times. Consider using a mask to filter pollen and pollution, and wear sunglasses to protect the eyes from allergens as well as harmful ultraviolet rays.

Finally, be sure to shower immediately after exercising outdoors to remove pollen and other environmental irritants from your hair and skin.

Best food to fuel workouts


Leimkuhler: Best food to fuel workouts

For the Fun of Fit

As my personal fitness routine has become less intense over the past few years, I’ve paid less attention to how I fuel my body prior to a workout. When I was in the thick of a competitive triathlon season or training for Ironman-distance races, nutrition was key. But after more than 10 years of training and racing, I was feeling burned out and my body needed a break.

I wanted to return to my fitness roots, to a time when I simply exercised for fun and to feel good. A time before GPS watches, rigid training schedules and liquid nutrition. I wanted to connect with a fitness community. When I was training, I rarely participated in group rides or runs because the distances were often too short, the pace too slow, or the timing didn’t fit my schedule. It was easier to simply go on my own. It was also lonelier.

I sometimes lamented the solitary nature of triathlon training and was glad that my husband and I often trained together on weekends.

With training no longer as all-consuming as a part time job, I’m not nearly as fit as I was a few years ago. Happiness is a trickier measure in this regard because, for me, fitness and happiness are directly proportionate.

I come from a long line of people with slow twitch muscle fibers and metabolisms to match. When I was training for Ironman-distance triathlons, I could eat whatever I wanted.

Now I have to be more conscious about my food choices — both in quality and quantity — and I’ve had to make peace with some of my clothes not fitting the way I’d like. The trade-off is that instead of spending long, solitary hours on my road bike, my daughter and I hit the trails together on our mountain bikes.

Instead of endless miles of pounding the pavement alone, I join dozens of fellow runners for Sunday morning trails runs.

Less exercise simply means I have to consume fewer calories. But eating is no longer the complex, calculated endeavor it used to be. Now, however, one of my daughters routinely comes home from school and asks, “What should I eat?” before she heads to track practice or begins a strength workout. For her, the short answer — for her quick, power workouts — is usually a bagel with peanut butter or a yogurt and banana.

For those who are where I once used to be — calculating the nutrition needed for multi-hour workouts, six days a week — the answer is more complex.

In general, the answer is this: A combination of complex and simple carbohydrates with a little protein thrown in is the ideal pre-workout fuel. The mix of carbs ensures a slow and steady release of energy throughout your workout and is easy to digest. Whole grains will help you go the distance, and a little bit of jam or honey adds more fuel and gives you an energy boost.

Ten-to-20 grams of quality protein, such as nut butter or eggs, helps to stabilize insulin levels and keeps you feeling satisfied longer.

My go-to pre-workout meal was typically a slice of toasted whole-grain bread topped with almond butter and honey. Adding a banana, “Nature’s Power Bar,” according to Dr. Louise Burke, head of Sports Nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport, “helps to keep nutrient levels high and increases potassium levels, which serves to maintain nerve and muscle function.”

And recommends adding a dash of cinnamon as well, noting that the spice “has been linked to stabilizing blood sugar and improving brain function.”

But on race mornings, or whenever I had more than an hour prior to a workout, “power oatmeal,” as I referred to it, was always my meal of choice. I’d heat a half cup of whole grain old-fashioned or steel-cut oats and one cup of water in the microwave and add blueberries, ground flaxseed, honey, cinnamon, turmeric, almond butter, almond milk and nuts.

According to, “Oats are full of fiber, which means they gradually release carbohydrates into your bloodstream,” keeping energy levels consistent. “Oats also contain B vitamins, which help convert carbohydrates into energy.”

Adding fruit, which breaks down quickly, helps to keep you hydrated and energized. And though a small amount of protein is recommended, it helps to remember that “protein doesn’t break down fast enough to become fuel for a workout,” the site notes, but it will be “used later to prevent muscle damage.”

These days, I often settle for a mug of tea before a workout and delay eating until after I finish. This practice is not recommended by which notes that eating before you exercise fuels your workout and maximizes your effort and results, and also prevents low blood sugar, “which leads to light-headedness and fatigue.”

Other recommended pre-workout meals include fruit smoothies, with a mixture of yogurt, fruit and almond milk or fruit juice, which are easy to make and consume, and rapidly digested; Greek yogurt with a fruit and nut-based trail mix; and bananas or apple slices, which are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, with almond butter.

However, be sure to avoid fatty foods pre-workout, which are hard to digest, leaving you feeling sluggish and prone to cramping. Raw sugar and candy are also ill-advised as the temporary sugar rush will inevitably lead to a mid-workout crash.

Finally, take care not to overeat, as eating too much can lead to “indigestion, sluggishness, nausea, and vomiting,” warns.

Pre-workout fueling is best regarded as a snack, not a meal.

Morning workouts not for everyone

For the Fun of Fit

A friend recently posted an article with the title: “What Happened When I Worked Out Every Morning.”

I clicked on the link, expecting the article to extol the usual early bird virtues of a morning routine, and the article did not disappoint. “One of the most common goals set by those hoping to improve the quality of their lives is to wake up earlier. So many people want their day to start off on a positive note, opening their eyes full of energy and motivation,” the article reported.

However, there were a few key words missing from the article’s title in the preview link that was posted. When I drilled into the site, I was taken aback by the full title: “What Happened When I Worked Out Every Morning at 4:30 a.m.” — 4:30 a.m.!

A highlight reel of what would happen to me if I woke up every morning at 4:30 am began to play in my mind: fatigue, irritability, insanity and chronic sleep deprivation topped the list.

But between work and school-aged kids, a 9:30 wake up time is little more than a pipe dream; something to aspire to, someday.

When left to my own devices, no matter what time I finally fall asleep, my body naturally wakes nine hours later and I feel rested and refreshed.

The other hurdle to my sleep requirement is that I need time to read before I can fall asleep. No exceptions. I could be bone tired or stressing out that it’s already late, with little left time to sleep before the alarm goes off, but if I try to shortcut my routine by not reading, I’m simply setting myself up for hours of tossing and turning or staring at the ceiling with the sandman nowhere in sight.

An article in explained that, “According to a study conducted in 2009 by researchers at the University of Sussex, opening a book before you go to bed can help you cope with insomnia. The study showed that six minutes of reading reduces stress by 68 percent, clearing the mind and preparing the body for sleep.”

If only six minutes of reading was a sufficient amount of time for me; I typically need at least an hour of reading before my mind and body is capable of rest.

That said, in the unlikely event that I were ever to attempt a regular 4:30 a.m. wake up time, lights out would have to be at 7:30 p.m. which would mean being in bed by 6 or 6:30 to give me enough time to read before being able to fall quickly and soundly asleep.

This time frame is absurd and laughable given that — at least at this time of year — the sun is still shining, and I am still routinely carpooling kids and cooking dinner at this hour.

Surely the naysayers out there will be thinking that, after several days of waking up at 4:30, my body would adapt and my sleep cycles would adjust.

To that I say, au contraire.

Many years of work that mandated a more rigid time schedule proved that my internal night owl clock is not so easily reset. Rather than falling asleep earlier at night, my body tends to adapt by learning how to survive and function on fewer hours of sleep.

The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that inadequate sleep is associated with numerous health problems including an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, diabetes, depression, forgetfulness and weight gain.

While I do enjoy checking exercise off my to-do list early in the day — especially as daylight hours and excessive heat rise as we move toward summer — sacrificing sleep to achieve this goal is counter-productive. Not to mention, many studies report that it may be more advantageous to work out in the afternoon or early evening when body temperature is at its highest and muscle strength, energy, endurance and testosterone levels peak.

But, the best time of day to exercise is a personal choice based on setting a realistic, consistent workout schedule that you are most likely to adhere to. recommends treating workouts as unbreakable appointments. “Find a workout buddy and keep a gym bag in the car or office to minimize excuses,” the site adds.

And, to stay motivated, suggests choosing activities you enjoy, taking group fitness classes, exercising outdoors, and exploring a variety of activities to keep from getting bored or burned out.

Relishing the longer days of spring

For the Fun of Fit

I’ve always loved the outdoors. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to curl up on the couch with a good book and a steaming cuppa but, generally, if I can be outside, that’s where I want to be. I think some people are just born that way, naturally gravitating toward the outdoors.

My firstborn, not so much.

As a preschooler, she would spend hours drawing, reading and solving puzzles with classical Baby Einstein music playing in the background. She was quiet, intelligent, thoughtful and mature beyond her years.

I always have — and still do — consider her a bit of an “old soul.”

When my second daughter came along less than two years later, she was a whirlwind of activity and emotion. Her highs were high and her lows were low, and one feeling could switch to the next in the blink of an eye. She was curious, energetic, and naturally drawn to the outdoors.

One cold spring day just before her first birthday, she stood at the window banging her chubby little palms against the glass. “Outside! Outside!” she demanded.

So I bundled her and her sister in coats and hats and we walked to a nearby tot lot. While I was helping my younger daughter down the slide, I looked up to see her sister walking down the sidewalk.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“I’m going home!” she replied, anxious to get back to her books and puzzles, much to her sister’s dismay.

Fifteen years later, and not much has changed.

As a child of the 70’s, I grew up in an era when kids not only wanted to be outside, but were expected to be. While my friends told tales of their parents demanding that they go outside and stay out until dinner time, my parents were less direct.

However, if my brother or I were found lounging around the house, we were sure to have a dust rag, vacuum cleaner, or dish scrubber thrust into our hands, so outside, naturally, was the place to be.

The kids in my neighborhood played tag, roller skated, skateboarded, climbed trees, explored the streams and woods, tied blades of grass into knots, rode our bikes all over the neighborhood, and caught frogs and fireflies until the streetlights came on.

Back then, being outside was synonymous with being a child.

Luckily, my parents preferred the outdoors as well. We spent many family weekends boating on the Chesapeake Bay, or camping at Lake Anna or Deep Creek Lake. We ate dinner on at our picnic table on the back deck, and my mother resisted a clothes dryer for as long as she could, preferring to hang our shirts and socks on the clothesline — not only for the crisp, fresh air smell of the clothes, but because she simply enjoyed being outside.

I took my childhood love for the outdoors with me to college. At Ohio University, I relished the warm spring days when professors opted to conduct classes outside on the college green. I routinely took my books and notes to the tiered lawn of the journalism school or the banks of the Hocking River to study, forgoing the stifling library setting at every opportunity.

As a group fitness instructor at the local gym, I convinced the owner to let me teach classes outside on the back parking lot, and I spent weekends exploring Stroud’s Run and rollerblading along the campus catwalks. Part of the allure of being an aviation major was that my classroom was often an airplane, the endless, open sky my teacher.

Even now, you won’t catch me running inside on a treadmill, no matter the weather. Rain or shine, hot or cold, wind or snow, I will be outside, breathing the fresh air, enjoying the elements, and simply feeling alive.

During the short, dark days of winter, I have reflective gear, knuckle lights and a headlamp to allow for running at night.

Thankfully, now that spring is almost here and the clocks have moved forward, daylight will become more plentiful.

Days will be longer, temperatures will grow warmer and, like a flower, I will blossom in these conditions, my happiness levels directly proportionate to the season’s extended daylight and warmth.


Tri gear to streamline transition times

For the Fun of Fit

If you are contemplating your first triathlon and are unsure what to wear, you are not alone.

In fact, a friend of mine told me that a customer recently came into her athletic wear store wondering what to wear under her wetsuit for a triathlon she is doing in June. It is a valid question, the answer to which is not always simple.

When I began competing in triathlons more than a decade ago, I had the same question. Trial and error was my teacher and I eventually found a solution that worked for me, but the journey was as long and windy as many of the roads I cycled and ran upon.

During my first few years as a triathlete, I wore a two-piece Speedo swimsuit under my wetsuit. After emerging from the water and stripping off the wetsuit, I struggled to tug a sports bra on over my wet skin and bathing suit.

Eventually, I progressed enough as a triathlete to become competitive. The turning point in my tri attire came the day I lost a podium spot because my transition times were too slow. If I couldn’t swim, bike or run fast enough to stand on the podium, I could possibly accept that.

But to lose out because it took too long to change my clothes? Unacceptable.

Like the customer who visited my friend’s store, I also went looking for answers. It was then that I learned about singlets and tri-suits.

A singlet is a triathlon-specific top thought to be comfortable for activities such as cycling or running.

A tri-suit, according to, “is a one-piece garment specifically engineered for triathlon, usually including quick-drying features, padding at the rear and zippers to provide you with a do-it-all suit that you won’t have to change out of while swimming, cycling and running.”

Image result for trisuit pics

The male sales clerk at the store I’d ventured into held up these two items and I laughed out loud. What might have been the perfect solution for a man or a prepubescent girl was no way, no how going to work for me. Most triathlons, after all, were family-friendly events, and no full-grown, fully developed woman — in my opinion — was going to do any running in those paper-thin getups without additional support, so I was on my own to figure it out.

Athletic apparel, in all its newfangled quick-dry, wicking microfiber fabrics, has come a long way since its humble all-cotton beginnings.

I decided that what I needed to wear under my wetsuit was the apparel I needed for cycling and running. In other words: cycling shorts and a sports bra, with a singlet on top. So that’s what I did.

With these items on under my wetsuit — and having upgraded to a tri bike with proper pedals — all I had to do was peel off my neoprene outer layer, whip on a helmet, slip my feet into cycling shoes and go.

Image may contain: one or more people, people riding bicycles, bicycle and outdoor

When I returned to the transition area for the second time, I simply swapped my cycling shoes for running shoes outfitted with elastic no tie laces and ditched the helmet. Streamlining my tri apparel shaved key minutes and seconds off my transition times, helping me to reach my goal of standing on the podium.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, tree, outdoor and nature

I was happy that sloppy, inefficient apparel was no longer holding me back.

But what works for one person may not work for every person, so I recommend trying different things to discover the solution that is best for you. Here are some additional tips and tricks that may prove helpful:

Anti-chafing balms such as Body Glide, Rocket Pure, and Chamois Butt’r are your friends. Use them copiously and often to reduce friction and prevent blisters. Applied to the wrists and ankles of your wetsuit, and to your feet and shoes, these balms also make wetsuit removal and putting on shoes much easier.

Plastic bags — while not good for the environment — assist with wetsuit application when the foot is placed inside the bag before being shoved through the wetsuit leg. Remove the bag once you have successfully squeezed into your wetsuit and use the bag to tote wet items post-race. Re-use the bag, if possible, or properly dispose of it.

Race belts are the best way to display your bib without having to pin it to your clothes, especially if the garment you pin it to might not be worn for the entire race.

For women with long hair, wearing hair in a low ponytail will allow you to easily transition from swim cap to helmet to visor.

Don’t waste time drinking water in transition; have liquids stored on your bike for hydrating while you ride.

Use no tie shoelaces and forgo the socks. No tie laces are the quickest way into your running shoes and you’ll never have to wonder if they are laced properly or worry that they will come untied. Socks are simply time-consuming and unnecessary on race day. Let your anti chafe cream do the work.

Most importantly, add transition practice to your training plan and time yourself. Always look for ways to shave seconds by streamlining the transition process. The time you save may be your ticket to the podium

Family fun while the nest is full

For the Fun of Fit

When our kids were little, my husband and I often sought opportunities for weekend getaways and mini-vacations for “just us.”

This quality couple time was essential to the well-being of our relationship as we fought to balance the demands of work and family life after having three daughters in the space of four years.

Fast forward a decade and our oldest was suddenly 15 and a sophomore in high school. That year, when my husband and I talked about planning a vacation for “just us,” the phrase struck me very differently — in three short years, our oldest would leave the nest and, before long, it would be “just us.”

All the time.

But before our daughters were born, my husband and I sought to get away and explore the world as often as we could, visiting far-flung places such as New Zealand, Thailand, and Japan.

With the realization that “just us” would soon become a permanent status and not just a desired respite, we made the decision to share our passion for travel with our daughters as often as we could, and to make as many memories as possible before the nest begins to empty.

To that end, in addition to our annual beach trip, we have upped the travel ante and — over the past three years — have taken our girls to Spain; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Punta Cana; and, most recently, Mexico. And while we realize how extremely fortunate we are to be able to do this, we have also worked very hard to earn it: saving, spending wisely, and passing on material indulgences such as luxury vehicles, shopping sprees, and the latest and greatest in cable and cell phone technology.

This year, we’d offered the girls the choice of a skiing in the Rockies, hiking the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park, returning to Punta Cana, or exploring Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

For our younger two, it was a toss-up between skiing and beach bumming, but our oldest was definitely in the “let’s-get-out-of-frozen-dodge-and-go-somewhere-warm” camp. As she is the oldest, a high school senior, and this could possibly be our last mid-year family vacation with her, we all rallied behind her choice and opted for Mexico.

We spent the first five days of February in Playa del Carmen, gazing at the turquoise waters and lounging under warm, sunny skies. Green Globe certified, our hotel grounds had been converted into a natural habitat for countless species of monkeys, birds, fish and turtles. On our daily walk to the beach, it was not unusual to spy preening peacocks and sunning iguanas. At night, we were routinely serenaded by the deep, territorial roars of male howler monkeys and, in the mornings, we awakened to the sight of their younger, more playful counterparts leaping across the thick, green treetops as they munched canopy leaves and buds.

Breakfast at the resort was a leisurely, ocean-view feast of made-to-order omelets; fresh, exotic fruits; pastries; breads and cheese; mimosas; and lattes from the coffee bar. And, unlike last year’s chilly winds and rain in Punta Cana, the weather in Playa del Carmen was picture-perfect. Every day we walked along the edge of the Caribbean sea — our toes sinking into the soft, white sand — and spent hours bobbing on the clear turquoise sea in one of the resort’s many Hobie Cats or kayaks.

Lunch was a casual affair at the oceanfront grill or salad bar — though our favorite midday meal was the seaside paella and sangria — and we enjoyed reading in the shade of thatch of umbrellas, playing volleyball, and daily beach Zumba at 4 o’clock.

Relaxing afternoons melted into festive happy hours poolside or on the cooling sand of the beach, before retiring to our room to shower and dress for dinner. Though the resort only guaranteed one à la carte dining experience for stays of four nights or less, we were able to book a specialty restaurant each night: Asian, Mediterranean, Tex-Mex and Italian.

Dinner was followed by a show in the main theater — typically musicals, dancing, or games — and though the entertainment was slightly lacking in comparison to what we’d experienced in Punta Cana, we still enjoyed the nightly antics.

Mostly, it was the family time we treasured. Though we realize it’s possible for these experiences to continue as our children grow older, there is no guarantee. Once our daughters have embarked on their college careers — and their adult lives — their mid-year, spring break, and summer vacations may not align with ours, and travel abroad, internships and employment opportunities may also hinder our ability to be together, all five of us, in the coming years.

Sooner than my husband and I would like, we’re going to blink and — once again — it will be “just us.”

But, for now, we are cherishing every moment we have as a Party of Five and hope to make as many memories as possible while the nest is still exhaustingly, wonderfully full.

Natural healing should be natural choice

Sherri Leimkuhler: Natural healing should be natural choice

For the Fun of Fit

Several weeks ago I read a column about a migraine sufferer who claimed to have developed ulcers from using Excederin Migraine to treat headaches.

A reader wrote to suggest that the sufferer try Aimovig — a new FDA approved injectable drug — because after the fifth dose, the reader’s migraines had improved.

 “The only real side effect,” the reader wrote, “is constipation, which can be managed with MiraLAX.”

Reading this column raised so many red flags I didn’t know where to start. But what immediately struck me was this: if taking one drug to fix a problem creates another problem that requires yet another drug to fix, then there’s still a problem.

I am not a medical professional and this column should by no means take the place of any advice received by a doctor. I am, however, a former migraine sufferer. I had my first migraine in college and, soon after, learned that my family has an extensive history of migraines.

Over time, my migraines became more frequent, severe, and debilitating. There was almost always vomiting. There was occasional vision loss. When I had three migraines in one week, my doctor ordered a head scan to rule out a tumor. I was offered a preventative drug that I declined because I was told it could weaken my immune system and make me tired. I had three young children to care for; I couldn’t risk being routinely sick and tired.

However, I’d read that some people had successfully battled migraines through massage therapy or acupuncture. When I mentioned this to my doctor, he laughed and wrote a “fake” prescription: take one massage two times per week. I decided I had nothing to lose by trying. I began regular sessions with a massage therapist and, within six months, I was migraine free.

That was 10 years ago.

While pharmaceuticals have undoubtedly saved countless lives, there are many conditions — in addition to migraines — that may be resolved using natural, homeopathic remedies, and good common sense.

“Being overweight,” for instance, “can cause high blood pressure because when there is increased weight it takes more pressure to move the blood around the body,” notes

As a result, an overweight person might be prescribed medication to treat high blood pressure. But blood pressure medications, according to, can provoke heartburn, and to treat heartburn, an antacid might be needed.

Briefly taking antacids to relieve stomach upset is not dangerous but, according to, “If taken in high doses, some antacids can cause bone loss,” and excessive bone loss may lead to osteoporosis. It can be a vicious cycle.

But this medicinal chain reaction might be avoided by simply adopting a healthy, natural weight loss plan to decrease blood pressure, eliminating the need to take additional drugs to treat the side effects caused by blood pressure medication.

“Regular physical activity — such as 150 minutes a week, or about 30 minutes most days of the week — can lower your blood pressure by about 5 to 8 mm Hg,” reports

Exercise alone, however, is not enough to achieve optimal health and well-being.

There is, after all, truth in the adage, “you are what you eat.” No one would dump bacon grease into their car’s engine; why would anyone willingly put similarly unhealthy fuel into their own bodies? Temporary fad diets won’t do the trick, either.

On a recent group trail run, I noticed a large stick of beef jerky in the pocket of a runner’s backpack.

“I’m on the keto diet,” the runner explained.

According to, “The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that shares many similarities with the Atkins [and other] low-carb diets. It involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat.”

Again, I’m no expert, but any diet that suggests I eat beef jerky instead of fruit does not seem rational or reasonable to me.

In my opinion, there is only one type of diet anyone should ever adhere to: a sensible, healthy one. Maintaining good health and fitness may not be easy, but it is simple: Eat well-balanced meals in reasonable portions that encompass a wide variety of food groups. And exercise.

As Hippocrates, the Greek physician who is traditionally regarded as the father of medicine, famously said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”