Sunday, October 31, 2010

You’re On the Go? No Problemo!

As an avid traveler, I have come to learn a few things about staying fit while you travel. What’s the biggest thing I’ve learned? That it is not easy! Therefore, I think those who have just started working out and those who have had trouble working out while on the road will definitely benefit from this. Whether you’re staying at a hotel or squatting with friends/family, there is always an option for you. But wherever you’re travelling to, and wherever you are staying when you travel, one thing is always clear: Plan your fitness regimen BEFORE you travel. Don’t assume that you’ll figure it out when you get there because, let’s be honest, when you daily routine changes, so does your inclination to work out and eat right.

Hoteling it
Exercise: Living in hotels is hard enough when you can’t wake up in the dark and figure out what part of the room everything is in (or is that just my OCD talking?). But it is important to choose a good hotel before you travel. While you are making a choice, try to ask yourself the following questions:
  • Is there a gym at the hotel? If there is a gym, your life just became a lot easier.
  • If there is a gym at the hotel, is it included in the room charges?
  • If there is no gym, is there a gym near the hotel? How much does it cost?
  • If the hotel can’t satisfy the two options above, where is it located? Is it near a park that you can run at? Is it in a major city? Is it in a safe neighborhood where you can feel comfortable running outside?
  • If you decide to work out outside, what’s the weather going to be like? 
  • What kind of workout clothes would you need to pack?
Yes, it is actually a little more complicated than it seems when you do think about it. One major thing I have learned while travelling is that sometimes a ‘Marriott’ or a ‘Holiday Inn’ is better than a ‘Hilton’ because they all have good rooms, but the Hilton would usually charge you to use the gym, while the others would not.

Food: There are usually good restaurant options in or around hotels, so at least you don’t usually have to drive miles and miles to find a good place to eat. But there are also questions you can ask yourself:
  • Are the restaurants within walking distance? Can I just take a quick walk?
  • What kinds of restaurants are around the hotel? Fast food, generic, or fancy?
  • Would I be eating alone or with friends/co-workers?
When most of your meals are determined by other people like friends and co-workers, it’s difficult to be picky about where you eat. But at least if you know what is around the hotel, you can prepare yourself to present some options. If you’re eating at Burger King every day, it is going to be extremely difficult to be strict about what you eat. But at the same time, Burger King is a chain, so you can figure out what your healthy options are and rotate what you eat based on those limited choices.

Now, if most of the restaurant options are smaller restaurants, not chains, and you have no idea what kind of food they serve, you can still make sure you ask the waiter about what is healthy. Waiters know everything on the menu so they’ll be quick to point out their healthy side or what compromises the chef can make for you.

Staying with a friend
Exercise: If you and the person you are staying with plan to lead independent lives while you are there, go back to the hoteling section because you’ll have to look around you to figure out how you can work out. But if your lives would be intertwined, consider the following:
  • Does your friend work out? Staying with someone that works out makes life easier for you. You have a partner to gym with, and you just have to ask them about their exercise schedule. If he/she works out at a gym, find out which gym and research their visitor options. For example, my gym allows members to bring in guests free on Wednesdays and $15 each other time. Ordinarily, a guest would pay $25 if they come alone.
  • If your friend does not work out, ask yourself the hoteling questions. What would your schedule be like? Is there a gym around his/her house? How much does it cost? Can you work out outside? What would the weather be like?
Food: Again, if you plan to lead independent lives, all the hoteling questions would apply to you. If not:
  • Ask questions! Does your friend usually cook? If he/she cooks, again, you life may be easier (or harder depending on who you are staying with) but your major focus would be portion control.
  • If your friend does not cook, find out where he/she usually tends to eat. And research restaurant options so when asked what you are in the mood for, you have an opinion based on what is nearby.
Hope this helped those that travel! I know how hard it can be to stay fit while on the road, but just like with anything else, don’t assume. Recognize that you’ll probably need to plan and make some changes. You can do it!

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Power of the Incline

Have you ever seen people on the treadmill? Most times, they just want to get on, look like they really know what they are doing, and get off. Nobody wants to look like that novice messing with the buttons on the machines at the gym. But because of this attitude, we may miss some great things we could implement into our workouts to burn mega calories.

One of these things is the ‘incline’. If I asked for a show of hands of how many readers use the incline button, I’m sure there would be only two or three. But just as little as a level 1 or 2 incline can burn so many more calories. Well, maybe if they could have come up with a more fun name for it, people would be curious enough to push the button. Incline seems a little blah to me.

But this is good news! This means you don’t necessarily have to increase your run time to burn more calories, just increase your incline! If you’re a workaholic like me who has a limited amount of time to hit the gym, this would go right on your list of things that make you happy. Where you would have burned 200 calories in 30 minutes, now you can burn between 250 and 300. That’s a major increase!

Now, if you’re not a runner, or if you are worried about hurting your ankles and knees doing high incline levels, the best way to start with inclines is to walk. So I put together a workout we could all try out to see if inclines work for us. Don’t hate me yet. I tried it myself with more intensity so I say in my slave-driver voice “You can do it!”

Treadmill (30 minutes)

Try this workout this week and let me know how it works out (yes, I rhymed). I’d love to hear your opinions. This can be a good start to your new found love for the incline button 

Have a fabulous week Eights & Weights!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Interview with Nneka: “I do it in a sweet way, but I sing to speak the truth”

Recently, I had the chance to interview Nneka. The crooner came on the scene in 2005 with her release of Victim of Truth, and has soared to higher heights ever since. Her most recent work? The release of her album ‘Concrete Jungle’ in the US earlier this year, and her amazing tour with Damien Marley and Nas. So what’s next for the singer from Warri? I caught up with her to find out about her next move, her current work, any charities she’s involved with, and of course, how she stays in shape.

Suzanne: Tell us a bit about your story and how you got into music. Who is your biggest inspiration?
Nneka: Well, I was born and raised in Nigeria. Living in Nigeria and seeing different things happening around me, both positive and negative, has made me the person that I’ve become today. I stepped out of Nigeria for a while around 1999/2000 to study in Germany. It was my first time being away from Nigeria, and it was initially difficult adapting to living in a different country. I was trying to cope with a different mentality and a different culture, and that pushed me to get to know myself better, and understand my passions. In all that self-discovery, I figured out that I had a passion for music. Music is something that I always felt connected to, but I discovered the difference between a mere connection and an identity. I found my identity, I found myself while I was out in a different world. And I started becoming more alert towards my history, my culture, my origins. And that had a big impact on how I wrote my music.

Suzanne: Was there a moment when you realized that this was what you were supposed to do?
Nneka: No, that moment never came. When people say things like that, it makes it seem like music is a job. I don’t consider music as just a profession. Of course it pays the bills, and gives me the ability to support my family and allow my band to have a life and support their own families as well, but I still do not consider it my profession. I studied biology and anthropology and had a passion for that, but that was in a professional way. With music, it’s kind of a bizarre feeling. I’m just doing exactly what I love.

Suzanne: From Lagos to Hamburg to New York, you are doing big things all across the globe. Where do you plan to hit next?
Nneka: We are doing a couple of things here in Nigeria, which is for now the major focus. We’re trying to push the message across in this country because this country needs a lot of love and a lot of focus. And you cannot really do it from outside. You have to be in the system, in the grass roots, to spread your message. We just did a free show in Computer Village; it was a free show, free CDs and everything. We will be doing about three more free shows around Lagos: Ikeja, Mushin, Ajegunle. It will be completely free. Free concerts, free CDs, just to show the people some love. That’s where I’m at right now.

Suzanne: So you just finished the Distant Relatives tour with Nas and Damien Marley, and earlier, you released Concrete Jungle, your first release in the US. What else do you have in store for your music right now?
Nneka: We should be releasing a new album soon. I am recording an album here right now. It’s the fourth album. My management and recording team are coming to Nigeria for the first time to work with me on this album. So this album is definitely going to be pure madness. There’s always some madness on my albums, but definitely some sanity within the madness. I have a couple of collaborations planned, but those will be a surprise.

Suzanne: We know Nigerians have been open to your music, but what has the reception been to your music on the international front?
Nneka: The Europeans have been very supportive right from the beginning. Without my start in Germany, I wouldn’t be who I am today. First of all, because I am so Nigerian, sometimes people forget that my mother is white and that mix can make people a little confused in the identity department. But releasing my music in Germany, I didn’t have a problem figuring out my identity. They did not try changing who I was.

Even in America, the fans and the record company Sony Epic were very receptive. We did have some differences because the American record companies have a different dynamic with their artists than in Europe. They require more control of the album and they like a little more commercialization of the music that is produced. But the fans, especially the African Americans, have been very supportive towards my music. So it’s definitely been very positive.

However, sometimes, black non-Africans do ask me why I’m so pro-Africa. They say there is also hardship outside Africa and I should consider that as well. I just answer and say that my music is not meant to segregate anyone. I’m simply writing what I know, from my own experiences and the experiences of people around me. I am in a very good position to judge both sides of the wall, both black and white, and so I write what I see. So definitely, when I say things like the white man needs to step down and stop taking advantage of our resources in Africa, I’m doing it very objectively. But I find that I always have to explain myself. That’s why now, before I perform, I always explain my songs, my position, and my way of thinking.

Suzanne: One of my biggest passions is health, fitness and true beauty for the young African. Can you tell you tell me what true African beauty means to you?
Nneka: True African beauty is about appreciating yourself and being proud of your color. That is very important. The other day, they just opened a beauty studio near my house with the sign “Lighten up your skin in 7 days”. I was like what the hell is wrong with these people? And when I spoke to the lady in the shop, she said, “Well, look at your beautiful skin. We want to be like you.” I looked at the lady and it was obvious she had bleached. Her elbows were much much darker than the rest of her body, and it was just so sad. It’s not very attractive to want to try to be like someone else. Another example is the weave-on plague in Lagos. There is nothing wrong with a little attachment, but when we are doing it and losing ourselves to become so much like someone or something else, it is a different extreme. We should let our true selves breathe once in a while. So it’s all about respecting yourself, seeing yourself, loving yourself the way you are, and taking care of yourself.

Suzanne: On that note, how do you take care of yourself?
Nneka: I eat right when I can. I try to eat a lot of fruits. I also jog regularly, and swim a lot. I try not to overdo the jogging, but I definitely swim a lot. I love to sweat it out. Sometimes, it’s good to sweat. It certainly does make you feel better. As for my skin, I just try not to use too many products on my skin at once. Because sometimes, in trying to prevent, you create more problems for yourself.

Suzanne: When you’re not working, how do you relieve stress?
Nneka: When I’m not working, I paint and work out. I don’t really go out to parties and I’m not too into the social scene, but I try to hang amongst every day people and just listen to what they are going through day in and day out. Hanging out in the real world really.

Suzanne: Are you involved in any charity initiatives in Nigeria?
Nneka: I have a small foundation called Rope. We’re still really small, and we’re not an NGO, we’re just a foundation. We are trying to raise awareness about certain issues. Some of the programs we are currently organizing are programs like workshops with kids in the slums of Nigeria. We have done Ajegunle and we are doing Warri over the next couple of weeks. The aim is to create change through creativity. For now, we are having workshops where we discuss the personal experiences of these children. One topic we just talked about was corporal punishment and the way it is presented to these kids in the slums. We want to empower them to give their own opinions and discuss their own experiences through writing, poetry, art, and music. So it’s kind of like therapy. At the end of the workshop, we do an exhibition of all the children have created and invite the press to give these kids a voice the right way. The next topic in Warri is oil, and we’ll do the same thing with the kids that we did in Lagos.

Suzanne: We all know you as the talented musician who shares what's in your heart. And fortunately, what's in your heart is a passion for Nigeria and Africa as a whole. So many young Africans are coming up today trying to find their voice. What advice would you give them?
Nneka: Finding your voice is important, but do it without stepping on someone else’s dignity. That’s the first thing I would say. Secondly, as you’re finding that balance, remember that you also have parents, a culture and morals that may actually be right. So listen to them sometimes, don’t lose everything in trying to find yourself. We are part of something, and although we are a curious generation, we need to remember where we came from. So I guess in summary, there’s no need to overdo your freedom. There’s always a limit and maturity should help you see that limit.

Suzanne: Is there any other initiative that you’d like to promote?
Nneka: One thing I’d like to promote is, especially for Nigerians in Nigeria. Go check it out, raise your voice, and register to vote before the end of October.

Suzanne: Lastly, in an effort to try to promote a true perspective of health among Nigerians, let me ask this. When you hear the words 'Healthy and Happy', what does that mean to you?
Nneka: Healthy means having a relationship with God. Happy seems like too much of an extreme to me. I would rather say balance. Balance is that middle between happiness and sadness that works for me.

There you have it. A little insight into Nneka’s world. For more details about upcoming tours, releases, and performances, visit I must say, I’m enjoying the interviews I’ve been doing lately because everyone seems so charged up and positive about Nigeria, and everyone’s doing something to help in a small way. Thoughts anyone?

Photo credit: and

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Breast Cancer Awareness Month Series: Part 2

Over the years, as more strange diseases come to light, we create more and more rumours on what we need to do (or not do) to prevent those diseases. Well, this month is about promoting awareness for breast cancer. So you know I couldn’t go through it without talking about some of those cancer myths and facts. Here are a few:

Cancer Myth: Wearing an underwire bra or a tight bra increases your risk of getting breast cancer.
Cancer Fact: I’m not sure where this started from, but I remember hearing it a lot as a child. There is no scientific evidence that supports this. It probably started this way:
Mrs. Big Boobs: “This underwire bra is so tight, man.”
Mrs. Little Boobs: “Hmm… that thing will give you cancer one of these days.”
Or maybe it was Victoria’s Secret that started the rumour with all their wireless bras. Whoever started it though, it has not been proven to be true. 

Cancer Myth: If you get implants, you’ll probably get cancer.
Cancer Fact: Sorry to burst your bubble (or maybe not), but studies have shown no link between breast implants and your risk of breast cancer. One thing that has been proven to be true is that breast implants make it harder to detect breast cancer through a mammogram so additional X-rays and tests have to be done. So maybe you’ll go ahead and increase that bust size now? I kid, I kid (before I start getting worried calls from my mother). There are still other dangers with getting implants so research carefully before you make any decisions.

Cancer Myth: Smaller boobies, less risk.
Cancer Fact: This is not true at all. Whether you are flat-chested or lugging major jugs, you have an equal risk of getting breast cancer. On the positive side for the less endowed ladies, smaller breasts make breast exams easier to perform and that may mean that you can catch lumps easier than with larger breasts. You know, some consolation...

Cancer Myth: Lump = Breast Cancer.
Cancer Fact: First of all, a lot of lumps are benign. In reality about 8 out of 10 of detected lumps are benign. You can let out a sigh of relief now. This is why when doctors find something, they tend not to worry until they have run further tests. If you find something in your exam, consult your doctor and get tested before you start to worry. On the other hand, lumps are also not the only indication of potential cancer risk. You may feel no physical lumps at all, and a mammogram could still catch breast cancer. So please keep an eye out for other symptoms like tenderness, discharge, swelling, pain, itchiness, or any other changes in your breasts. Report any changes to your doctor so you can catch it early! As I always say, your doctor wants you to report changes to him/her. It's what they get paid for.

Cancer Myth: Caffeine causes breast cancer.
Cancer Fact: As much as I'd like to lie and say that it does so you'll drink less coffee, no, it doesn’t. Drink your coffee if you please. But, you know, maybe come over to the bright side and drink some tea as well.

Cancer Myth: Mammograms themselves can give you breast cancer because of the radiation.
Cancer Fact: While mammograms do expose the body to radiation, it is a very minute amount compared to the potential benefits. Plus, you only get them once a year. Really, with that small a risk, just go and get it done. Imagine how much pain it could save you if it helped to detect cancer early.

Cancer Myth: Whether you are overweight or regular size, your breast cancer risk is all the same.
Cancer Fact: Actually, studies have shown that overweight women have a higher risk of breast cancer than regular sized women. Plus, being overweight also has a lot of risks for other diseases.

Cancer Myth: Only women over 50 can have breast cancer.
Cancer Fact: Every woman with boobs has breast cancer risk, independent of age. However, as you grow older, the risk increases. So depending on your age, there are different steps to take to make sure you are doing all you can to reduce your risk, as well as catch the disease early. Please read my post from last week to see what you can be doing based on your age group.

Cancer Myth: Deodorants and antiperspirants cause breast cancer.
Cancer Fact: We are all too familiar with this one. The circulated rumours have been that antiperspirants clog the lymph glands in your armpits, which increases the risk of breast cancer because your armpits are right next to your breasts. Now, this is the one rumour that I won’t totally shoot down, not because it’s true, but because there is still ongoing research. So far, there is no proof connecting breast cancer to antiperspirants. The myth started because less women in Africa compared to America were known to have breast cancer, and less women in Africa use antiperspirants. However, it has been countered with the fact that less women in Europe use deodorants/antiperspirants, but more women in Europe have breast cancer than Americans. So the summary is that so far no link has been found between deodorants, antiperspirants, and breast cancer. However, there is still more research being done on the issue.

I hope you learned something new. Please share if you have some more.

Cheers Eights and Weights! Ladies, remember, let's do all we have to do to save those tatas. And gents, remember, you could save a life by groping your wife.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Breast Cancer Awareness Month Series: Part 1

Time is flying by really quickly. It’s October of another year, and as we all know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Research has shown that breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. So as we take time out to fight this fight, remember those we’ve lost, and celebrate those that won the fight, I will be sharing a few tips on how we can get involved. This week, it’s all about the ladies. Whether you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or above, there are steps each of us need to take to catch breast cancer as early as possible.

Under 30:
When you’re in your twenties and younger, the first thought in your mind is not usually about how you can prevent cancer or even detect it. But the earlier we become aware of our bodies, the better chance we have to stay healthy into our old age. What can you do to remain aware while you are under 30? Go for a clinical breast exam every 3 years. More frequently, you can do regular self breast exams. But there’s no use doing them blindly. Get to know how your breasts normally look and feel. This way, you can easily report any changes to your doctor early.

In Your 30s:
When you’re in your thirties, the suggested rule for clinical breast exams is also once every 3 years. However, this is the age when it becomes important to consider all the factors that may contribute to having additional tests. If you have a family history of cancer, or any form of a genetic tendency, talk to your doctor about them because you may need to be screened more frequently, or have with MRIs as well as regular mammograms. As always, don’t forget the regular self breast exams.

Above 40:
There are different suggested rules for the frequency of mammograms (mammograms are simply breast x-rays) and clinical breast exams in your 40s and 50s. Some health bodies suggest beginning these breast exams annually at 40, while some other health organizations say you should start annual breast exams in your fifties. I believe it is all about a level of comfort. Do you have a family history of cancer? Do you take necessary health precautions? Then maybe you can wait till you’re 50. If you are uncomfortable waiting, and think you may have some genetic risk, definitely start the annual process at 40. But when you are above the age of 40, the importance of self breast exams increases even more. Note that there’s only so much a self exam can tell you, but at least you have a greater chance of catching any irregularities early.

Self Breast Exams:
Okay, so we know what we need to do at what age. Now how do we perform a self breast exam? Here is an awesome video that shows how.

A quick note for the gentlemen reading this. The statistics show that men make up about 2 percent of breast cancer patients every year. So please don’t think you are immune. If you also notice any changes at all, contact your doctor immediately.

Remember to get involved every way you know how this month, in honor of the people you may know that are fighting the disease. I will be in contact with several oncologists this month so please send me any questions you may have and we’ll get them answered.

Cheers Eights and Weights!
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