Reality Check

By: Shannon Shull

Lately I have been experiencing some major reality checks. My life stays so busy, and I am so stressed and overwhelmed that even when I sleep at night, I wake up exhausted from my crazy dreams. I have experienced major professional growth since I started teaching full time in the public school system. I wouldn’t take back any of the knowledge, experience and joy I have gained from my time teaching thus far, because I am a better person and certainly a better teacher for experiencing it. BUT – and here’s the big “but” – I’ve also gained about 10 pounds, sprouted way too many grey hairs, and feel like I’ve aged 10 years! I’ve only been teaching full time for a year and a half now! Folks, that’s sad! No lie, I have been more exhausted and overwhelmed than words can express.

time management

I know I am not the first person to declare that teachers are incredibly overworked and underpaid. I envy those that can go to work and leave it there – their work doesn’t follow them home, keeping them up during early mornings and late nights in an attempt to stay on top of everything. Those that think teachers have it made (thinking we get off work at 2 or 3:30 p.m. and get summers off) are clueless as to what the life of a teacher is really like. We don’t just show up, teach a few classes, and leave; it is way more involved than that! The required trainings, meetings, evaluations, and duties alone sometimes feel like a full time job.

shannon shull

What’s been so tough for me is that I was in the best shape of my life. I was teaching Zumba and Aqua Zumba classes throughout the week and getting tons of exercise, which resulted in me sleeping well, feeling good, and coping with incredible stress in my life without meds. Once I started teaching middle school full time, the health focus fell by the wayside something fierce. I had to stop teaching my regular Zumba and Aqua Zumba classes because I just flat-out did not have the time nor energy after teaching a full day. I have become a perfect example of not practicing what I preach! I know that if I could figure out how to squeeze in exercise, I would feel so much better on so many levels. Yet after an incredibly long day of being up since 5 a.m., teaching 170 middle school students within one day, making the long drive home, and then working to prepare lessons, the thought of having to add something else into my already-packed schedule seems to put my sanity levels at risk!

Obviously, my biggest challenge is time management. And I have absolutely got to figure out a way to make things work, because the utter truth is that I will feel better, sleep better and look better if I just make the exercise happen. So I’m asking you to hold me accountable! Email me, text me, Facebook me, ask me in person – “Shannon, did you squeeze in some exercise this week???!!!” If you have any tricks and tips on how you manage a busy career without losing focus on your health, please do share!

A Sea Change to My Exercise Routine

By: Mary Pat Baldauf 

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.

– Alan Watts

early workoutEarly morning exercise: I’ve blogged about it, praised it and lived it. But after three and half years of working out three to five days a week at 5:00 in the morning, my body has had enough. A few weeks ago, I switched my morning workouts to the afternoon to accommodate an early morning FEMA training workshop, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve been going to the gym after work ever since.

Morning exercise has lots of benefits, and the first few days, I actually felt a little guilty for missing it, even though I was getting it in after work. So before I permanently switched off my 4:17 a.m. alarm, I did a little research about morning exercise vs. evening exercise.

  Pros Cons
  • Increases daily calorie burn
  • Produces endorphins that starts the day on a positive note
  • Creates time for exercise with few to no conflicts
  • Increases daily energy levels
  • Improves your mental sharpness
  • Less than optimal energy levels
  • Cold, stiff muscles are more prone to injury
  • Hard to do for non-morning people
  • Early bedtimes and/or reduced amounts of sleep


  • Lower perceived exertion
  • Can help regulate evening eating
  • Can promote better sleep
  • Body temperature is ideal and muscles are at peak strength
  • Relieve the stress that has accumulated during the day
  • Evening conflicts
  • Limited access to equipment (after work is the busiest time for most gyms)
  • Can make it more difficult to fall asleep
  • Can increase evening hunger

The bottom line? The best time to work out depends on the best time for you.

“The best time of the day is when you will do it most consistently, because the benefits of physical activity are tightly linked to the amount you do on a consistent basis,” says Russell Pate, M.D., professor of exercise science in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina.

When I first started working out, I deliberately chose early mornings. I knew that incorporating exercise into my day would be a big enough challenge without having to juggle workouts with after-work meetings and social activities. There are no conflicts at 5 o’clock in the morning. I gave up some evening activities so I could get to bed earlier, and I often got less sleep, but establishing the habit of working out was most important to me. I also really enjoyed the energy surge and extra time I had after my early morning workout.

Now that I have established the habit of working out and have improved my health significantly, I find that I need more than six hours of sleep. I also feel like I’m missing out when I go to bed at 8:30 p.m. Now I can do some things around the house, enjoy evening activities and spend more time with my family and friends. Working with a new trainer provides me with a challenge, and I’ve enjoyed seeing some new and different faces at the gym.

I’m not sure how long this new phase will last; it could go away as quickly as it came. But for now, I’m not questioning it. Instead, like Watts said, I’m plunging into and moving with it.

And, just in the nick of time, I loved this post from Women’s Health: 10 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Hit the Gym After Work.

Do you have a preferred time to exercise? If so, why does that time of the day work best for you?

Cauliflower Alfredo – How’s THAT for Change?

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

A few weeks ago, my boss and I were coming back from a lunch meeting when he chimed in about change.

“Nobody wants change. They all want to keep doing things the way they’ve always done them,” he said. “I give you credit for changing from an iPhone to an Android, but you don’t much like change either.”

Hold the phone! Granted, my boss only sees me at work, but I would say that I, especially over the past few years, have embraced change. I’ve changed my entire lifestyle to add early and regular exercise to my life. I’ve all but given up processed and fast food, and I’ve learned how to cook clean and healthy. And even now that I’ve “taken the leap,” I continue to experiment with new foods, recipes and healthy changes.


Speaking of change, this weekend I tried a great new recipe from one of my favorite blogs Oh She Glows: Vegan Cauli-Power Fettuccine Alfredo. The base of the sauce is cauliflower, and it was delicious. I highly recommend it! Its a change you’ll love to try!

Sneak It In and Tone It Up

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Stuck Behind Your Desk

In a perfect world, we’d all schedule daily fitness activities, and we’d never miss a workout. But this isn’t the perfect world, and there are days that you just can’t make it to the gym or out for that evening walk.

For days like that, here are three great links:

  1. 12 Hip-Opening Yoga Poses (especially good if you spend most of the day behind a desk)
  2. Deskercise! 33 Smart Ways to Exercise
  3. 100 Tips and Tricks to Sneak in a Work Out at Work

For those days that you just can’t get out of the office, how do YOU add activity to your day?

Why I Love Working Out Before the Sun Comes Up

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Rise and Shine

Since adopting a healthy lifestyle, I’ve become an early morning exerciser. As I reviewed here, there are a lot of incentives to working out in the morning. but at the time I started, it was just the most convenient time. After the first week or so, it just became a habit, and I didn’t think much more about it.

This week, I was reminded how much I like working out first thing in the morning. I was enrolled in an off-site training workshop that didn’t start until 10 a.m., so I figured I had the luxury of sleeping in. I had a leisurely breakfast, drank my coffee in bed, checked email and even watched a few minutes of the morning news. I made it to the gym by about 7 a.m.

As I was doing my post-workout stretching, I looked out the window and said, “I really prefer to be here when it’s still dark.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind sleeping in every once in a while, but I do prefer to get to the gym when it opens at 5 a.m. or shortly thereafter, and here are a few reasons why:

  1. There are no distractions. When I get right up and get to the gym, there’s not a lot of time to think about it and/or change my mind. If I have extra time, even thirty minutes, I tend to lollygag and often lose track of time. Even waiting until 7 a.m., I got involved in the news, started replying to work emails and thought about everything I could do around the house with an extra hour. It took some determination to leave that behind for the gym.
  2. I get my water in early. Water is great for us, and I like to drink at least 64 oz. per day. With an early morning workout, that’s easy! If I get 64 oz. in, it’s a good workout; if it’s a great workout, I can get up to 96 oz. Yes, I’m going to the bathroom all morning, but I’ve also gotten my water requirement taken care of by 7 a.m. On days when don’t work out in the morning, I rarely get that much in.
  3. I have incredible energy to start the day. I may be tired when I get to the gym, and I may wear myself out working out. By the time I’m home, showered and dressed, though, my energy levels are soaring. It’s a great way to start the work day.
  4. I get to eat two breakfasts. Yep, and it’s nutrition counselor-approved. I eat a small breakfast before I work out – usually oatmeal with blueberries – and then have something after I get home, but before work – generally a smoothie. And it’s all guilt-free; I need to fuel up for my workout, and then have a little something to recover.
  5. By 7 a.m., my workout is done. I don’t have to think about it for the rest of the day. No matter what comes up during the day – a headache, a late work day or an invitation to happy hour or dinner – I don’t have to worry about fitting that work out in. On the flip side, there’s not much to keep me from working out first thing in the morning. Unless I’m sick or the gym is closed, there are no meetings, happy hours or other events that keep me from getting to the gym.
  6. I eat better. When you get up at 4:17 a.m. and workout for 60-90 minutes, you’re much less tempted to indulge in something unhealthy. I get up too early and work out too hard to blow it on a stale Krispy Kreme doughnut someone brings in to the office.
  7. It’s very empowering. Especially when I was out of shape, getting to the gym before the sun comes up and actually doing that workout was the hardest thing I did in a day. After that, facing a hard day at the office seemed a lot less daunting. Even now that I’m in better shape, I feel much better about facing the day after a good hard work out.

When do YOU exercise? Why is that time of day especially well-suited for you? What are the benefits of doing your workout at that time of the  day?    

You Are What You Drink

By: Katie Austin

While the saying goes, “You are what you eat,” the same goes for what you drink! I struggle every day to get in the recommended glasses of water. I give myself credit for drinking some water but I know the level is nowhere near what it should be. I love my coffee and it won’t be long before someone catches on to my reasoning that coffee has water, so it counts toward my daily total. 🙂


So, how much water do we need to be drinking each day? The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies made general fluid intake recommendations of 91 ounces for women and 125 ounces for men, which is higher than the 64 ounce (8 cup) rule most of us have heard. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to water consumption.

But remember – we get the water we need from a variety of sources, including food and other liquids, too.

So, why talk about hydration now? It isn’t hot yet, so why worry about it? Hydration, along with eating right, is the key to good health.  As we make changes to our diet and our Katieoutdoor activities increase, it is important to stay hydrated. Here’s an article from WebMD with tips to stay hydrated during exercise:

Do you have hydration tips that work for you? Suggestions? Share them here and we will learn from each other.

Katie Austin


House of Cards Fitness Plan

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

You read it right! I’ve had two great weeks in a row at the gym, and I have Frank Underwood to thank for it.

(If you’ve lived under a rock the past year, House of Cards is an American political drama television series that is available via Netflix. Set in Washington, D.C., House of Cards is the story of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), a Democrat from South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District and House Majority Whip who, after getting passed over for appointment as Secretary of State, decides to exact his revenge on those who betrayed him. And it is phenomenal.)

I was late coming to House of Cards, but finally jumped in a few weeks ago. One episode in the doctor’s waiting room, and I was hooked. I binge-watched nine episodes the following weekend and decided to use my obsession with the show to my advantage. That Sunday night, I wrote a challenge on my closet white board: Make Monday morning’s strength training to watch the next episode of House of Cards Monday night. And for the first time in several weeks, I made Monday morning’s training!

House of Cards Board

For the past two weeks now, I’ve used watching the next House of Cards episode as my incentive for completing a weekday fitness goal. The first week, it was simply to make it to the gym every morning. The next week, I upped the ante by also adding an additional challenge, such as eating breakfast at the kitchen table instead of back in bed or not turning on my iPhone until after my morning workout.

Not only has the incentive of watching helped motivate me, but watching an episode at night has also helped me settle down a little earlier, which is key to a 4:17 a.m. wake up call. After getting home, I do the usual things around the house, then start getting ready for bed around 7:30 p.m. I crawl in and watch House of Cards in bed on my laptop, and when it’s over, I’m ready to settle in for the night. If I don’t get on my iPhone or start playing on my laptop, I’m usually asleep by 9 p.m.

The trouble with this House of Cards fitness plan is that I only have six more episodes to watch before I finish Season Two. (And Season Three doesn’t start until February, 2015.) Hopefully by the time I finish Season Two, I’ll be back in the habit of full-on early morning fitness.

Since this has worked so well, I am hoping to find another series that catches my attention like House of Cards and use it in a similar manner. I’m thinking perhaps Downton Abbey or Scandal, but I’m still looking. Any suggestions?