Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Block is Just a Block, and a Mile is Just a Mile

Okay, I see you bringing out your knives to stab me. But hold off for a second. When we were children, we were so excited at the opportunity to walk down the street, jump around in the backyard, and just do anything besides sit in the same position for hours. Today, as adults, we just want to sit. Yes, we work and all that. And we have more responsibility so we get tired at the end of the day. But children get tired too. They have to go to school, do homework, and argue with their parents all day. You get my point?

As a culture, we have to start changing the way we think. You might say that we can afford all the luxuries of life, so why should we give up our engines for a half hour walk when we could get where we are going in ten minutes? Well, so your body can thank you. That’s why. Growing up in the African culture, most of us had uncles, aunties, cousins, house girls, house boys, cooks, drivers, wash men, and whatever other form of help we could find. So we don’t even walk down the street anymore. Someone else makes the food, serves the food, cleans the house, drives you around, and if possible, they would wash us too. So it is difficult to start thinking that we need to start walking more. But yes, that’s what I’m trying to say in a roundabout fashion: We need to start walking more.

On days like this, where it is icy on the ground (depending on where you are) and all you want to do is stay home, I can understand your hesitance to even open your front door. But don’t you wake up in the AM to go to work, church, the mosque, and even grocery shopping? You get up to go to the club, visit your friends, do your laundry, and get your car oil changed. So why not start thinking of your body like your laundry? When all your clothes are dirty, you’d have nothing to wear. Or like your car? When you don’t change your oil, your car could go through serious problems. Your body is like a car. You have to fix it one way or the other. So it’s either you work with it now to keep it running right, or you try (emphasis on ‘try’) to fix it when it goes bad.

Walking for about half an hour every day helps us keep our engines running. Granted, it may not burn the amount of fat that running does, and it may not give us amazing muscles like yoga might, but it is a good start. Most of us are busy, but in watching people, I do not know anyone that I can really look at and say “This person cannot possibly spare half an hour today to take a walk.” People like to look busy, and so complain that they have no time to do anything, but when you look at their lives, they do have time. Even if they don’t, they can make time if it is important enough. So my question for you is why are our bodies not important enough???

Some of us really need to spend some time in hospitals or with dying people to realize that a little can go a long way. We cannot control everything, but we can control what we can control. We can control our legs, right? Make it fun! Walk to the mall, walk around with your little brothers, sisters, cousins, sons, daughters this Christmas. A little walking won’t kill you. It only takes about 3 minutes to walk a block, and twenty minutes to walk a mile at a regular pace. Just think about making it to the next street, and then the next street, and before you know it, BAM!, you’ve walked a mile.

So please take a walk today. A block is just that: a block.

Have the Merriest Christmas ever Eights & Weights!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It Is Cold! So Why Am I Running?

A few days ago I ran in the rain. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think it was raining that hard. But the stares I got on the street said otherwise. Or maybe that’s just because it was raining and freezing at the same time. So I guess this means people don’t like to run outside in the cold. Well, really, do you?

Since the winter is here, those who have to suffer through it would probably be looking for other ways to get their daily dose of calorie burn in. Here are a few great options:

Treadmill it: If you are privileged enough to have a gym close to you (and you are privileged enough to afford it), use it! It takes your body about 20 minutes to warm up when it’s freezing outside, so the treadmill doesn’t only keep you warm, it saves you time. Just remember to step up the incline to about 1 to mimic running in the street.

Workout DVDs: ‘Tis the season for workout DVDs! There are so many options out there now that are even more intense than going to aerobic classes. The only negative point here is that since it is just you and your telly, it takes a lot more drive to push yourself beyond your limits. When you go to an exercise class, it’s all about competition, but when you work out in your living room, you have the tendency to relax whenever you get a little tired. So just workout like there are people watching.

Attend a class: Which leads to the next point, go to an exercise class if you have one near you. The best overall workout classes are the kickboxing classes, the yoga classes, and the all-over aerobic classes. I know boys don’t usually like to go to exercise classes, but this is where you might benefit from working out like a girl. Exercise classes usually help with both the cardio and strength training portions of your workout.

Dance: I’ve probably said this before, but I really love people that can lock themselves up in a room, play a little music, and dance till they sweat. They are not trying to impress anyone, not trying to look cute, simply dancing to the music with complete abandon, and burning off some calories. Plus, you can do this at home so why not?

Indoor sports: One of the great things about a sport like squash is that it is indoors. Apart from squash, a lot of other indoor sports burn a lot of calories. Some examples are swimming and indoor basketball. And there’s no better way to burn calories than during a competition. Lower fat, higher ego. Sounds lovely.

Partner up: Talking about competition, you usually burn the most calories when you think someone else is taking notes on your performance. So whatever type of workout you choose, you would probably be making it more effective if you choose to hook up with someone else. If your friend lifts 10 pounds, you’d want to lift 15. If he/she does 10 pushups, you’d want to do 20. Partnering up just makes you push yourself a little harder.

How do you plan to stay fit this winter? Would you be incorporating any of the tips above or do you have your tried and true winter workout solution? Share with us.

Oh, and Merry Christmas in advance for those who celebrate Christmas. Remember to apply the Holiday Eating Rules this Christmas!

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Interview with Ngo Okafor: "I can be Anything I Want to Be"

The most downloaded black male model on the internet. And yes, he is Nigerian. I got a chance to catch up with him on his current projects, and how he keeps in shape.

E&W: I know you have your hands in a lot of things, but when people ask you what you do, what do you say?
Ngo: I tell them that I’m a brand. The reason why I do so many things is because I have the opportunity to, and it’s all part of my brand. Because what I’m trying to promote is the idea that you can do anything if you just work hard and focus. I started out doing Computer Science, which is what I studied in college, and was successful at it. And then I went into modeling, put my energy into it, got pretty successful. And then I got into acting, and then boxing, and I’m getting successful at that too. I don’t want to put myself in a box so that if say I wake up one morning and want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, I can do it without hesitation. I have no desire to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, but you know what I mean.

E&W: I laugh. I mean you don’t see too many Nigerian men climbing mountains and what not.
Ngo: Exactly! But if I wanted to do anything, I want to wake up and feel like I can do it. I want people to hear my story and feel like they can do anything they want, and not fall into one box.

E&W: Tells us a little about your history and how you got into boxing, modeling, and acting?
Ngo: When the economy was going up and down, I got laid off from my job as an IT Specialist. That was great because it got me thinking and I realized that I didn’t want to go back to the corporate world. I felt like I wanted to try something new. The arts were really always at the back of my mind, but growing up Nigerian, it was always about science, science, science. There was a photographer at my gym that had always said he wanted to work with me, but I ignored it because I felt I had a comfortable job and I didn’t need to venture out.
So after I lost my job, I asked him to take some pictures. We took the pictures to modeling agencies and they really liked the images, so they agreed to represent me, and started sending me for jobs. I was really lucky that I started working right away.

E&W: With boxing you were pretty bold though, right? You said you started doing it seriously in your thirties?
Ngo: Yes, I remember my first day at the boxing gym was October 2005. That was the first day I ever walked into a boxing gym. I was so mesmerized that I started training every day. I felt like this was my chance to play a sport. Luckily, I advanced so much and won the Golden Glove championships twice within three years.

Readers, if you didn’t know, the New York Golden Glove Championship is like the most prestigious amateur boxing championship outside of the Olympics. People come from all over the world to fight in the Golden Glove because it’s a great place to showcase your talent.

E&W: So are you planning to go further with your boxing talent?
Ngo:  Right now, it’s not my goal. My goal was to compete in the tournament and win, and I did that. But as a competitive person, I do wonder from time to time about how I would do if I took boxing to the professional level. But I want to focus my energy more on acting and producing films. I still train every day though, and the truth is that in life, you never really know how much your goals can change from one day to the next.

E&W: So you’re Nigerian. Can you tell me a little about your ties to Nigeria right now?
Ngo: I was born in Massachusetts while my dad was getting his PhD. But he always knew that he wanted his kids to grow up in Nigeria, learn the culture, the language, and get close to family. So when he was done, we moved back. I was probably about a year and a half when we moved back, and I live in Nigeria till I was 18. Half of my life actually. 

E&W: Where in Nigeria did you grow up?
Ngo: I grew up in Enugu, which is in eastern Nigeria. My parents live in Maryland right now, but I still have a lot of family back in Nigeria so I do maintain a lot of ties back home.

E&W: Okay. So I know you were working on a documentary about your life in Nigeria. Can you tell us a little about that?
Ngo: Yes, it’s called ‘Triumph of the Will’. I’m still working on it right now, but we’re hoping to have it done early next year.

E&W: You’re also releasing a calendar as part of the same project, right? 
Ngo: Yes, it will be part of the documentary because the funds that we raise from the sales of the calendar will go to charity in Nigeria, and the calendar sales will be shot as part of the documentary.

E&W: Can you tell us a little about what the documentary will be about?
Ngo: We’re basically going to try to show my life full circle. Coming from Nigeria definitely helped shape who I am. Nigerians are taught to be strong, tough, and proud from the day we’re born. The toughness has definitely helped me in the ring, but the pride was also what kept me from giving in whenever things got a little tough.

E&W: So when you say full circle, it’s your life coming from Nigeria here and how both cultures have affected you?
Ngo: Exactly. It’s just documenting what my life was like there, my life here, the modeling, acting, and boxing, and then going back and seeing things from a different perspective than when I was there.

E&W: So you’ll be shooting part of the documentary in Nigeria?
Ngo: Definitely. We’ll be shooting in Enugu, going to houses where I grew up, and the schools that I went to. I went to the University of Nsukka in Nigeria for a little bit as well. So we’ll also shoot out there.

E&W: Apart from the documentary, you also had a workout DVD a while back. Do you have any plans to release more?
Ngo: Hmmm… not right now. My focus right now is on acting and producing. I’m not a great multi-tasker. I’m the type of person that picks one thing to focus on at a time, excel at it, and then move on to the next thing.

E&W: For the documentary, workout DVD, calendar, or any other recent movies or projects you’ve worked on, have you had to do any special training? What was that like?
Ngo:For the DVD and the calendar, I had to switch up my training a little bit because the training for boxing and for modeling are very different. For modeling, you train more for leanness and the look. For boxing, it’s more about quickness and strength; a boxer is not too concerned about his looks. So for the DVD and calendar, it was a lot of lifting and dieting. I had to cut down my carbs. So my workout usually went like this: I would run for about 30 minutes and bike for 30 minutes in the morning. Then I would come back in the evening and do my strength training. For strength training, I usually split it into body parts per day. So arms one day, back and shoulders another, and then legs another day.

E&W: Wowee! That’s your schedule for when you want to build lean muscle. So if you were not training for your calendar, what would your normal workout schedule look like?
Ngo:Now my normal training is: boxing for about an hour, and then I would strength train. But one really important thing for me on a day to day basis is to keep my workout constantly changing. So I try to circuit train a lot with bits of cardio in between different sets when I strength train to keep my heart rate up. One thing I try to incorporate into my regular strength training is like six weeks of different body parts per day, and then six weeks of mixing up body parts each day. That is to make sure my body does not get too used to the workouts.
E&W: What about food? I think for most Africans, keeping our diet balanced is even more difficult than heading to the gym. What does your diet look like?
Ngo:Well, I can’t eat pounded yam and garri if I want to do a calendar. I would eat pounded yam and egusi soup every day for the rest of my life if I could. That’s my favorite meal. But to keep in shape, I wake up every morning and eat about four eggs and a bowl of oatmeal. For lunch, I usually do rice or potatoes with chicken or beef. I’m trying to eat my vegetables, so at night I usually eat some vegetables with some meat. I don’t do much snacking, so it’s three meals and that’s it.

E&W: What about supplements? Do you taken any?
Ngo: I try not to. Unless I’m training for a fight, I usually don’t do supplementation. I do the regular multivitamins daily and that’s enough for me. If I was training for a fight, I would take protein shakes during the day.

E&W: What’s your secret though? How do you keep so physically focused? Whether it’s exercise, food, or boxing, how do you stay on target?
Ngo: Fear. Fear of losing. The entertainment industry is not like medicine or engineering where there are thousands of positions. Instead, there are so few spots and so many people vying for that one job. When you rely on your body for your livelihood, that’s certainly good motivation.

E&W: Lastly, at Eights & Weights, we are very focused on the words ‘Healthy’ and ‘Happy’. What do these mean to you?
Ngo: Health and happiness to me is about freedom to think, freedom to do anything I want to do, and being able to do what I want to do health wise. I’m not talking about having a six pack. If I wanted to run up the stairs and not get breathless, I can do that. Health also consists of healthy thinking. Our minds control our bodies, and so whatever state of mind we are in usually reflects how we look. If I can control the way I think, I can get fitter. For example, if I am immediately inclined to take the stairs when the elevator is not working, that’s a sign that I’m thinking healthily. This is basically being mentally and physically ready and strong to do anything.

To learn more about Ngo’s projects, and to buy his calendars (ladies, you know you want to) and workout DVDs (guys, you know you want to), visit Look out for his documentary next year.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Modern Day Popeye's Spinach.

Well, I was chatting with a friend this week about how awesome Gatorade is. Let me give you a little background. It's not that I actually drink Gatorade, but I am an avid University of Florida alumnus, emphasis on 'avid', so I'll start by saying GO GATORS! And yes, just in case you were wondering, we did create Gatorade. Feel free to worship now.

Okay, okay, back to my topic. Energy drinks. What really is the difference between the various kinds? And do energy drinks really benefit the body at all? It's fairly easy to chug down an energy drink when you're about to head to the gym and your body feels tired. After all, it is called an ENERGY drink. But it's important to know what's in these drinks, and if they are giving you energy at the expense of something else. Here are a few highlights on energy drinks that I think are important to know:

Caffeine: When we hear the word caffeine, we automatically think of coffee, right? But caffeine is also in soda and energy drinks as well. Actually, the caffeine in energy drinks is usually just as much as that in coffee, and sometimes more depending on the type of coffee you drink (instant coffee usually contains less caffeine). So why is this bad? Well, caffeine stimulates your nervous system keeping you alert, but it also dehydrates you. So while the short term effect seems great, in the long run, you could be messing with your nervous system, especially if you become dependent on it for exercise. For a list of the caffeine content of energy drinks, check out this link: Caffeine Content of Beverages.

Taurine: This is an amino acid that helps to regulate your body's energy levels. The body already produces enough of this unless you are ill, but energy drinks usually contain more. So it is not certain if this ingredient helps the body in any way.

The 'Ades': Gatorade, Powerade, and all other sorts of electrolyte ades. There is a huge controversy about whether these are energy drinks or not. They are advertised as drinks that help replenish the body after a workout, and even give you energy before. And that's what energy drinks are right? Not really. These 'ades' help to hydrate the body where energy drinks actually do the reverse. They do not contain caffeine so they usually don't mess with your nervous system. What they contain is a proper blend of sugar, water, and salt to efficiently hydrate your cells. So they will provide you energy, but not necessarily in the instant way that caffeine does. Now even though I think Gatorade is fantastic (isn't the concept just genius?), be careful when you drink these because studies have shown that they may contribute to enamel erosion. In other words, you start getting grandma teeth at 25. Not a good look.

Ginseng: What the hell is Ginseng? Ginseng is an herb that helps to prevent fatigue. Right now, studies have shown no negative effects unless regularly consumed in very large quantities. So go ahead and have that ginseng. But remember that it's more about relieving stress and preventing fatigue than it is about giving you that instant energy that engorges your muscles so they start ripping through your shirt. Just saying.

Sugar content: Shocker! Energy drinks contain a lot of sugar. If you've ever been around a child that has just ingested way too much sugar, you know sugar gives you instant energy. And thus, it makes sense that drinks that are created to give you an instant energy boost do contain lots of sugar. So who cares? Why is tons and tons of sugar bad? For one, lots of sugar usually means lots of calories. Another demerit is that too much sugar intake has been linked to diabetes. And as we all know, diabetes is a disease that black people are already at risk for, so we should probably not be doing too much to push our bodies. Lastly, the more sugar your take in, the more sugar your body wants. Sugar is like cocaine really, except that it's legal and won't affect you if you take it in small quantities. The more you eat, the more you want. I think I'm in the wrong profession actually. I should have started selling desserts. Oh well...

In summary, energy drinks seem to help the body get that instant push, but should be taken carefully and infrequently. They do have some positive benefits, but the major drawback is the number of calories and the effect on your nervous system. Try not to get too dependent on them. Rather than take energy drinks, it seems better for the body if you eat energy boosting foods before you work out, and eat protein and carbs after you work out to repair your muscles and replenish your energy. And of course, if you play a lot of sports or work out a lot, the electrolyte drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are very useful because they help you stay properly hydrated though your game or your work out routine.

Are you seriously attached to your energy drinks? What's your drink of choice and why?

Have a lovely week Eights & Weights!
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