Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: Customized Jet Lag Program

Several months ago, I planned a complicated international itinerary that forced me to fly from New York City to London where I would stay for several days, London to Montenegro where I intended to hike for a week; Montenegro to London; London to Romania where I was scheduled to drive, hike and tour for five days; Romania to London; and London to back to New York City. Clearly, with the back and forth through multiple time zones, jet lag would be an issue. (Even though I already was quite knowledgeable about getting jet lag.)  A month before my trip, I received an email from Bill Ashton, the founder of the Palo Alto-based company StopJetLag.

The company devises personalized travel plans using very sophisticated software that relies on the immense body of research of Ashton's colleague, Dr. Charles Ehret, a well-respected scientist who worked in the field of circadian rhythm for some 40 years. Ashton -- who has plenty of experience with jet lag as  a former tour manager for a band and ski team coach -- offered me a complimentary personalized plan for my multi-leg trip. (The price of the program is quite reasonable at $35.)

I filled out an online questionnaire detailing my itinerary, what time I typically eat meals, go to sleep and wake up, as well as whether I drink coffee. ( I specifically mentioned that I don't drink coffee and I wasn't interested in taking melatonin supplements to help reset my circadian rhythm.) Then the custom profile arrived in my inbox.

 It was amazingly detailed and included what size and type of meals I should eat (high protein meals are energizers while high carbohydrate ones help promote sleep), and what time I should get some exercise and get exposed to bright light (which also helps reset your circadian rhythms). It was very easy to follow with a calendar that highlighted all the necessary strategies for different days of my itinerary. The profile told me when to reset my watch to my destination and how I should start preparing for my trip with dietary changes before I left home.

Even though I don't suffer from jet lag the way most people do and I'm quite familiar with many of the anti-jet lag strategies, I found the plan helpful, especially with when to be active and get sunlight.

If anyone suffers from jet lag, I think it's absolutely worth giving this program a try. And, for those who don't like caffeine or taking supplements, you can successfully combat jet lag without relying on coffee or melatonin. This program really takes the guess work out of the entire process of assuring that you arrive at your destination refreshed and that you're at your peak performance while you travel.
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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: Minimalist Shoes

I'm all for minimalism. (I adore minimalist fashion, interior design and architecture.) So when kigo footwear approached me about testing one of their minimalist shoes, I jumped at the opportunity. The idea behind their product line is that the shoes are very much in keeping with the barefoot lifestyle. In other words, these shoes don't have any of the cushioning or support you typically expect from a workout shoe, for example. But shoes like these that mimic barefoot walking -- and there are many products on the market, from the Vibram Five Fingers to the Nike Free -- claim that getting back to barefoot walking strengthens your legs and feet, improves your performance and reduces injuries.

Since I'm also an exercise physiologist, I'm quite familiar with this subject and, over the years, have kept up with the research on shoes that mimic barefoot walking. The trend towards minimalist shoes started years ago when people observed that the Masai in East Africa walk barefoot over great distances while carrying heavy loads. And the Taramuhara people in Mexico have long practiced barefoot running. Yet, I don't think the evidence is clear that everyone can benefit from this category of shoes. In fact, it could lead to injuries in people who have various biomechanical problems or who have a history of injuries to the foot, ankle, knee, hip or back.

But, this aside, I chose to test the kigo flit model. It's a very light (under 5 oz) mary jane-style shoe, which is billed, in their marketing materials, as a shoe "...that works well for everyday, yoga or Pilates, gym wear, hiking, paddle and more." The company's eco credentials are great: the flit arrived minimally packaged (just a recycled box and minimal recycled paper wrap) and the shoes, which are constructed from non-toxic materials, can be recycled. (You can just send them back to the Santa Barbara-based company.)

Since I have a very wide foot, I was happy that I chose this model which was plenty wide. Though I found that after just wearing them just three times, they seemed to get wider and wider. I noticed on kigo's website that they recommend just washing the shoe and letting it sun dry to deal with this. (I wasn't into doing that after using them for such a short time.)

I wore them all over the city and found that the sole had great traction on slippery surfaces. But, I am one of those people with a multitude of biomechanical issues (and plenty of previous lower extremity overuse injuries from all my sports activities). So I didn't find the shoes comfortable. In fact, my feet and back felt tired after walking just a few hours. Without any cushioning, I found the impact pretty hard. (I definitely wasn't going to try them for light hiking.)

In addition, as the savvy traveler, I find the idea of toting along a shoe that packs totally flat (like this one) to be an appealing one. But, I just didn't find the style with the obvious light-colored stitching all that attractive. And, as you may know, I've blogged about my favorite mary jane-style shoe made by Keen that I carry on all my trips. (I find it comfortable for an entire day of walking, attractive and it packs plenty small and has good traction, too.)

What I did like about the kigo flit is that it was a good shoe to take along to the gym. It's so slim that it easily fit into my slim bag along with all my other gear. Pilates, spinning and Zuma classes and it was fine. I didn't like it for any impact activities because I found it jarring on my feet, ankles and knees.

Overall, I'll definitely use the flit at the health club. But, the flit just isn't my thing for all the other suggested activities. You can try 'em out. You may like them, especially if you don't have any foot, ankle, knee or back issues that might prohibit their use. Plus, it's always good to find a green company.
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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Lodging in Washington's Methow Valley: Warm, Charming + Eco-friendly

The  rugged Goat Wall – with its massive icicles strung down its surface, like granite Christmas tree – looms over my trail as I cross-country ski over a snow-covered bridge. Below is the glacial-carved Methow River, its waters flowing below ground.  On the other side, naked cottonwood trees stand guard. The snowstorm blowing around me worsens, making it difficult to see the trail that's already dark, hemmed in by lovely Western red cedar and birch trees.

I'm on my way to the North Cascades Basecamp, a simple lodge turned ecology center that will become my most favorite accommodation in the Methow Valley, an unspoiled part of Washington state (it's four hours northwest of Spokane) and one that's renown for its network of well-groomed cross country ski trails.

Once inside, I gravitate to a cozy niche: a sunken lounge space in one corner of the living room with an expansive bay widow, thick carpeting and an amber-glowing wood burning stove. As I snuggle up with a cup of mint tea, I spot skiers gliding past the Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines outside. Then I wander to the myriad bookshelves and select a tome on birds in winter.  The vibe is calm, warm and welcoming. So much so that I find it difficult to get back on my skies for another 13 km before dinner.

Each of the six rooms in the main lodge – there are also cabins – are given regional names: Goat Wall, Rendezvous (a much loved nearby hut-to-hut trail system), Mt. Gardner (an almost 10,000-foot peak), Becky (a well-respected climber). I decide on Pasayten (a wilderness area) on the second floor with its queen size bed and large adjoining bathroom. By the morning, the new fallen snow has crawled up to the base of my second floor window!

Everywhere I look, I find local artwork hung on the walls, including a lovely landscape mosaic of stones in the dining room that's set for family-style meals. That evening, I sit around one of the long wooden tables along with two couples who are ultra-marathoners and the proprietors. The tangy goat cheese spread appetizer is straight from the nearby dairy. Then, we dig into the Africa spicy stew that's thick with squash, chickpeas, peanuts, tomatoes; a leafy salad and beets.

Kim and Steve Bondi, the new owners -- they're both wildlife biologists -- of this property, have upped the sustainability (and educational) factor by raising bees for honey, planting a herb and vegetable garden (their menus incorporate everything from homegrown cilantro to spinach), and leading naturalist tours. Every Saturday morning in the winter they bring in a naturalist who leads a two-hour complimentary snowshoe tour through the woodlands. During the year they also host other programs, including animal tracking,  art illustration in nature and a migratory bird festival. Their upcoming watercolor class in mid-February with noted painter John Adams is especially tempting.

Thursday is Bread & Soup night + an environmental presentation with experts in the field. It's a great time to mingle with the community -- and the Methow Valley has community spirit aplenty. And dozens show up each week. If the topic happens to be wolves, close to 100 people may pack into the wee room. This night -- we learn about the elusive lynx in the boreal forests -- I sit at a table sipping a flavorful potato, spinach and garlic soup along with two of the men who produced the goat cheese that I enjoyed the night before.

At the North Cascades Basecamp,  even the basement warming hut -- the focal point of the presentations -- beckons the skier: a stove is kept burning, hot chocolate and apple cider are available as is the ultra fresh Mazama water, and gourmet chocolate truffles (also from Mazama). There are plenty of eco lessons to be learned by reading the posters on the walls: how to distinguish lynx tracks and how the black-capped chickadees survive in winter.

The next morning, after a breakfast of homemade pressed apple cider, locally roasted coffee (organic and free trade) as well as a filling bowel of porridge consisting of farro, rye and flax, I'm not happy to be leaving the Basecamp. I know I'll my room with its snow coated forest views, the healthy wholesome cuisine, the sun splashed living room, and the friendliness of Kim and Steve Bondi. I'll just have to return, soon.
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