Christmas! What a wonderful time it is! Christmas is really two things to me. It is the holiday season with all its decorations and hustle and joy. And it is the Spiritual season, the celebration of God's unimaginable love for us. It is the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh.
Sometimes we get the two Christmases jumbled together, but it is important to keep them separate. Don't get me wrong, I love the holiday season - the time spent with family, gift buying, gift wrapping, gift giving, and gift returning. I really do. I enjoy buying a Christmas tree on a cold night. We always wait for a cold night. And I enjoy decorating it with a big fire in the fireplace and Christmas music in the background.
This part of Christmas, the holiday Christmas, has pagan roots. Many of the traditions come to us from Babylon via the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. We celebrate Christmas in December because the Babylonians commemorated the death and rebirth of their sun god on the Winter Solstice during a festival they called Saturnalia. The Winter Solstice is around December 22nd or 23rd. It's the shortest day of the year, the day the Babylonians said their sun god died. They signified this event with the burning of a log, called a "Yule" log. The next day, they celebrated the rebirth of the sun god with a decorated tree. By the time the Romans assimilated Saturnalia into their calendar, the date for some reason had moved to December 25th.
So what does that have to do with the birth of Jesus? Nothing really. It's just that in 312 AD, when Emperor Constantine decided that Rome would embrace Christianity after centuries of persecuting its adherents, Romans were left with several pagan festivals which were too much fun to discard entirely. So they incorporated Christian events into the pagan feast dates, and Saturnalia became Christmas. It's been too many centuries to be concerned with the pagan roots, so I just enjoy the holidays.
The Spiritual Christmas is quite another thing. It is the birth of a baby in an obscure village in a troublesome Roman satellite country over 2000 years ago. A baby who just happened to be God. Think of how awesome that is! Talk about alien visitations. God's Son, present with the Father at the creation of the universe, became a baby, born to redeem man from his sins. The ultimate price of that redemption would be Jesus' gruesome death on the cross. But that is later. For now, it is the wonder and joy of His birth that we celebrate - a birth highlighted by shepherds serenaded by choirs of angels and visits from kings of faraway lands.
No, Jesus wasn't born on December 25th, but the exact date doesn't matter. What matters is that he was born and that the majority of the world still celebrates that birth.
Enjoy the holiday Christmas. Have fun. Share the season with your family and friends. But don't neglect the Spiritual Christmas. Meditate on its significance, and worship the baby of the manger who is the Savior of the world.
Functional fitness is a type of exercise that tones, strengthens, and lengthens muscles that are used for everyday activities such as walking, bending, lifting groceries or a small child, climbing stairs, or even getting in and out of a car. Functional fitness exercises concentrate on four areas: core strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance.
The core includes all the muscles that surround the waist. Without a strong core, every daily task becomes more difficult. Without a strong core, you are at risk for back pain as well. The plank is one of the best core strengthening exercises as are crunches, lower back extensions, and oblique rotations or side bends. Squats and deadlifts are excellent, but they are not for beginners.
It is also important to maintain your flexibility. Much of your flexibility is genetic. If your muscles, ligaments, and tendons are very tight, no amount of stretching will make them very flexible, but stretching will at least help maintain the flexibility you've inherited. Yoga is one of the best ways to improve your flexibility.
Coordination is basic to functional fitness as well. Any exercise that combines simultaneous arm and leg movements will help improve coordination. There are any numbers of these, including squats with biceps curls or lunges with shoulder presses. Jumping rope is one of the best coordination exercises which is why it's a staple in workouts for most boxers.
Balance is the fourth component of any functional workout. Try standing on one leg for thirty seconds. Then the other one. Using an exercise ball for any exercise will also improve your balance as will yoga.
Every year when it starts to get chilly, I write an article on dressing properly for cold weather running, so let's keep the tradition going. If you've been running for a long time, you've probably got your favorite cold weather attire, but for those who will be venturing out for the first time, here are some basics.
Some people run in shorts even in 30 and 40 degree weather, but I prefer sweat pants. I'm old school. I still wear cotton sweat pants with elastic bottoms, but most people now opt for synthetic moisture-wicking pants which can be worn under a pair of shorts.
You'll want to layer the upper body. A long-sleeve polypropylene shirt makes a good first layer. Polypropylene is a moisture-wicking fabric which will keep you dryer and therefore warmer. Depending on how cold it is, you might want to add a short-sleeve shirt over the inner layer. Make sure it's another shirt of a wicking fabric. If it's really cold, wear a heavier long-sleeve shirt or light jacket.
The most important articles of clothing for cold weather running are gloves and a hat. If your hands are cold, you will be cold all over, and the same is true of your head. If I'm wearing headphones, they act as earmuffs, and all I need is a baseball hat. If I'm using earbuds, I'll wear a toboggan hat that covers the ears. Wear warm socks, but you don't need wool socks unless you're running in Canada or New England.
Finally, don't overdress. You actually should be a little cool when you step outside. You'll warm up quickly. If you overdress, you'll be uncomfortable by the time you're a mile into your run, plus the extra weight will slow you down.
There you go. It doesn't get extremely cold in South Carolina, so there's really no excuse to relegate yourself to a treadmill in the winter. Honestly, it's a lot more comfortable running outside in Carolina winters than in Carolina summers.
Now here's a great idea! For more protein in your diet without eating more meat, try crickets. Crickets and other insects are staples in some parts of the world, including Asia and Central and South America. The trend hasn't really caught on in America, but some companies like Bitty Foods, Chapul, and Exo have experimented with the idea. They've disguised the product by making cookies and protein bars using cricket flour, which is dried, ground crickets. Another company, Marx Pantry, has gone one step farther and now offers dried crickets, ants, and even scorpions. Just pop one in your mouth and crunch away. What's next? Cockroaches?
For the record, an ounce of cricket flour has seven grams of protein. In case you weren't sure, I was being facetious when I called this a great idea.
Our winters are short in South Carolina. We'll get some cold weather in December, but generally January is the coldest month of the year, and by mid-February, temperatures are moderating again. But it can still dip into the 20's or even the teens on occasion, so with that in mind, let's examine some cold weather myths. Most of this information comes from weather.com.
Myth: Cold air gives you a cold. Not wearing a coat on a cold day will not give you a cold. We do catch more colds in the winter, but that's because we spend more time indoors where germs spread easier. Cold weather does dry up the nasal passages however, which might indirectly contribute to the development of colds, because the cold, dry air compromises the nose's ability to filter infections.
Myth: You shouldn't exercise outside when it's cold. Many people think running in very cold temperatures can "freeze the lungs," but there is no evidence of this. Personally, I have run in sub-zero temperatures a few times without any harmful effects. There are marathons run at both poles and so far, no frozen lungs have been reported. As long as you dress properly, you'll be fine.
Myth: You don't need sunscreen. The worst sunburn I ever had was when I was skiing in Colorado. Snow acts as a reflector of sunlight, so be careful.
Myth: You lose most heat thru your head. The saying goes that we lose 90 percent of our body heat through our heads, but that's not really the case. The head accounts for about 7 percent of the body's surface area, so we lose about that same percentage of body heat when we're out without a hat. However, a cold head can make you feel extremely uncomfortable. At least it does me, so I always wear a hat on cold days.
Myth: Vitamin C cures colds. Nothing cures a cold, but vitamin C and zinc along with regular exercise and plenty of sleep will boost your immune system which can help your body fight off winter infections.
Myth: Feed a fever, starve a cold. You can't cure a cold by eating, but one old fable that has some truth to it is that chicken soup helps. There are three factors involved here. First, there may be a specific amino acid released from cooked chicken that helps fight infection. Second, the soup's heat can break up some of the congestion associated with a cold, And third, salty soup broth replaces lost fluids from sweating caused by a fever.
Myth: Drinking alcohol keeps you warm. Alcohol actually decreases your core body temperature and as a result, increases your risk of getting hypothermia. Alcohol may make you feel better for a while when you're sick, but it won't have any lasting beneficial effect on a cold or any other wintertime infection.
An easy way to reduce the risk of death from all kinds of ailments is to eat more nuts. In a review combining data from 20 different studies, researchers found that people who ate nuts every day fared much better than those who didn't. In fact, the results are rather startling.
A handful of nuts a day reduced the risk of coronary heart disease by 29 percent, the risk of cardiovascular disease by 21 percent, and cancer by 15 percent. In addition, eating nuts reduced the risk of respiratory diseases by 52 percent, diabetes by 39 percent, and infectious diseases by a whopping 75 percent.
Most of these benefits were achieved by eating about an ounce of nuts a day which is about 24 almonds or 15 pecan halves. Nut consumption lowers triglycerides and cholesterol, and nuts are high in fiber, antioxidants, and polyunsaturated fats.
When you go to the grocery store, be aware of the marketing tricks of the trade.
For one, staples are spread out all over the store. Often bread and milk are as far apart as they can possibly be. If you go in to purchase a loaf of bread and a carton of milk, you have to cross the entire store, thus exposing yourself to an array of attractively packaged and beautifully displayed products.
Foods that are featured in displays at the ends of aisles are not usually on sale, although they may look like special offers. In many cases, they are actually items with the highest markups.
Shelf levels are important too. Products at eye level are the first ones noticed. Items marketed to kids are at their eye level. Notice in the cereal aisle that the kids' sugary cereals are on the lower shelf level. Candies are also usually placed on lower shelves.
High impulse items are placed at the checkout counter along with magazines you'd never think of buying unless you begin reading an article in one while waiting to check out.
Here are three simple rules for grocery shopping to make sure you won't become a victim of these wily marketing ploys:
1. Shop with a list and stick to it.
2. Never shop when you are hungry,
3. Leave the kids at home.
If you lift weights (and if you don't, you should), make sure that you vary your routine every 4 to 6 weeks. I know guys and gals who exercise regularly and haven't changed their workout in a year. Not good.
Your brain sends signals to your muscles via neuromuscular transmitters that program them to respond in a specific way to certain stimuli. This is a good thing when you're swinging a golf club. That's why golfers hit hundreds of practice balls every day, and it's why baseball players take batting practice every day. But programmed muscles are not a good thing when lifting weights. In order to get maximum gains, you've got to shock your muscles periodically by changing your exercises.
When you lift weights, you want to exercise your abs, legs (quads and hams), upper and lower back (lats, rhomboids, traps, and erector spinae), chest (pecs), and arms (triceps, biceps, and delts). There are many different exercises that you can do for each body part. By varying your routine, you'll get the most out of your muscles, and you'll stave off boredom.
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
Certified Nutrition Specialist
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Harbison Recreation Center
106 Hillpine Road
Columbia, SC 29212
The Harbison Rec Center offers more facilities for less money than anywhere else in town These are just some of the features:
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5432 August Road
Lexington, SC 29072
Wolf's is a total fitness facility offering some great amenities.
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