For Christmas, I got 2 Groupon vouchers to play paintball. Eek! I obviously put this off for a while…

For one, I had never played paintball. I had never shot paintballs with friends running around the woods for fun. I had never even held a paintball gun, or a paintball for that matter.

For two, I had to convince more people to come with. I mean, my husband and I are up for anything and share a lot of laughs together, but just the 2 of us shooting each other didn’t seem right.

So, I finally got organized – in June. Let me go ahead and beg you to book your session in colder weather.

We corralled 2 buddies to join us and headed to Planet Paintball in Moore, SC. Once there, the passes covered a package with guns and paintballs, and the reps helped us pick caliber and protective gear suitable to our novice status. Last touch, in 90-degree weather, adding clothing layers for padding.

The facility was really cool. It was a set-off piece of property, full of obstacle courses. Nothing fancy. Very authentic and outdoorsy.  As professional paintball players, I expected the associates to be knowledgeable, but I was grateful for their kindness and non-judgement.

We did teams of 2 and were able to switch partners and play 4 games. We had Gatorade breaks in between and, oddly enough, took our dear sweet time getting back in action. In the end, we were sweaty, exhausted messes.

I kept telling them I would write a blog article about how much exercise this was. Physical and mental acuity – check! Burning tons of kcals in the hour – definitely!

Player highlight… During initial target practice, Aarika tags the head with the first 2 shots. Doot. Doot.


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Welcome to Doctor for Life

Welcome the newest member of our team – Fitness Director and Development Lead Aarika Johnson!

Doctor for Life is a medical practice specializing in Healthy Weight Lifestyle. With a unique and complex operation, combining Clinical, Nutrition and Fitness services to change lives, the right talent can be hard to find.

Aarika comes to us with diverse experience in communications and health and fitness. She is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Counselor, formerly the Wellness Director at the YMCA of Greater Spartanburg, and formerly owning her own marketing and advertising agency Brandfarmers. This blending of industries is an excellent fit for the future vision at Doctor for Life, where our main objective for the coming years is to raise awareness about who we are and how we approach holistic patient care.

From Aarika…

I’ve always wanted to help people. I used to say as a child I’d like to be a doctor or a nurse. But school and career took me down a different path in communications. My love for talking and writing was certainly utilized and honed. After many years though, I knew I was not fulfilled. I soul-searched and realized that I wanted to follow my passion for health and fitness, doing something that really matters to me, and to others. I mean, one has to work. Why not let that be work with such purpose? I suppose you could say I quick-started my “second career.” I believe I was so highly motivated and, thankfully, blessed with skills, that I just pushed forward to learn as much as possible, meet countless inspiring professionals and embed myself in a new field. Now, I can say with certainty, I have chosen to be here. Get ready Doctor for Life clients!

< As written for Doctor for Life >
AarikaWelcome to Doctor for Life
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You gotta love the Real Simple Meals Made Easy cookbook, especially the No-Cook Meals section…

This week, I made my very first panzanella. Panzanella is a Tuscan chopped salad of bread and tomatoes that is popular in the summer. (It’s April, but it’s warm in South Carolina. So, what the heck?)

I made this for lunch (because Joe does not like tomatoes!), and it took hardly any time. I even thought to take picture proof of how pretty it looked – and like the book photo.  🙂

Rating = Simple, indeed. Full of flavor. Go for extra Parm!


1) To enjoy panzanella like an Italian, set aside the prepared dish at room temperature for about an hour before serving to allow bread to absorb tomato juices and vinegar.

2) The recipe on Real Simple’s website DOES call for cooking – drying the bread for 15 minutes in the oven first.


  • 1 loaf day-old wheat or white bread
  • 6 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup parsley, minced
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan, shaved


  1. Tear bread into 1-inch pieces, for about 5 cups total.
  2. Place bread in large bowl with tomatoes, onion, olive and basil.
  3. In separate bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and parsley.
  4. Drizzle vinaigrette over bread mixture and toss.
  5. To serve, plate and top with Parmesan.


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Eating a Pomegranate

I don’t like admitting this… I had never eaten a pomegranate. You know, the buy whole fruit at the store and do it yourself eating. I have had plenty of dishes with dried pomegranate seeds or pomegranate flavoring. Yet, that bulbous thing on it’s own was intimidating.

During this week’s grocery store trip, beautiful ruby red fruits beckoned me. I picked it up and turned it about in my hand. Hmm… What would I tell a client? Try it!

At home, I was no less baffled. I had to find an article by searching “how to eat pomegranate.” So silly. But I’ll be damned if I was going to back down from this new idea and be daunted by this food forever because I was too lazy to Google it. (More info at Healthline.)

It looks good – exotic, enticing. It sounds good – sophisticated, cultured. It is healthy – vitamin C, antioxidants. It is versatile – seeds, juice, storage. Now, I must have a pomegranate!

Instructions for easy eating were as follows:

  • Cut fruit in half
  • Spoon out the tiny red “jewels” into a bowl
  • Eat entire seed

Notes after successfully eating my first pomegranate:

It was messy. Like wear latex gloves and an apron messy. And immediately clean your cutting board or counter, because the red juice stains awfully.

It was work. There are tons of jewels, and they are dappled throughout a thick white inner membrane. It took some time and was like a puzzle.

It was filling. Thankfully, I only needed to do one half the first day. Then, “performed surgery” and ate the other half the next day.

It was delicious. Eating the whole seed took getting used to, definitely different texture. But next thing I know I’m chomping away on nutritious nibblets – instead of chips.



AarikaEating a Pomegranate
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Coughing in the New Year

I’m fairly miserable at the moment. I have combination sinus and respiratory infections. I have all the symptoms of the flu, except the added facial pressure and wheezing. It is not the flu though, the nurse practitioner said, because my fever hasn’t been high enough. Go figure.

I’ve been taking every care to recover – visiting the doctor, resting, taking doses of pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, cough suppressant, breathing treatment, vitamins and more. I’ve had high-nutrient items – homemade bone broth, fruit and vegetable smoothies, lean protein, herbal tea with ginger, tons of water and more.

My first priority is to get well and not be a lump. My second priority is to return to work. They desperately need me. I’m at the turn of a revolution in the Wellness Department, and I am M.I.A. for the moment, and I feel terribly guilty.

I start to think about progress and plans for a New Year. Even if it is an arbitrary new beginning, I do like to make a resolution. As I sit sickly reflecting on my last 12 months, what I hope to focus on in 2017 comes easily.

I have pondered often the irony of me “being the most unwell I’ve been in a very long time since taking the job as a Wellness Director.” I have been in the position for nearly five months. The role is demanding. Yet I cop to a good deal of fault for the way in which I have done the job – to my own personal sacrifice.

Technically, this was the first full-time year of my health and fitness career. The larger irony is that I believe I have discovered that all H+F professionals are forced to self-sacrifice. Namely, I find pros running themselves ragged to serve others and make enough money.

They most likely…

  • Work random hours – supremely early mornings and late nights
  • Go through physical toll – repeated instruction and demonstration
  • Juggle employment at multiple places – for financial stability

For me, this has led to…

  • Unpredictability of schedule – little rest and non-routine sleep
  • Chronic cervical spine issue – with neural tension and back, shoulder and arm residuals
  • Lack of time and energy for my own exercise

Which leads to…

  • Discomfort
  • Sour mood
  • Frustration

But all of that is overshadowed for them and for me by one resounding truth… Loving what you do, or more so, why you are doing it

Herein lies my resolution. Not changing the what or the why. Changing the how. For 2017, I will change how I operate. I will keep some health and fitness for me.

I must. Because without being healthy and happy, I cannot expect to spread “healthy and happy.”

This means…

  1. Identifying boundaries and upholding them
  2. Engaging in new physical challenges to keep my own activity fresh and interesting.
  3. Meditating, being quiet and seeking serenity.
AarikaCoughing in the New Year
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GO Day

Saturday, June 11, 2016, was National Get Outdoors Day, or GO Day for short. This year marked the ninth annual recognized day, but it was the first time I had heard of it. Thanks, random TV commercial!

I talk all the time about the importance of getting outside more. The benefits of fresh air and sunshine are pretty obvious. Even more significant could be the variety of activity – moving your body in a new way, breaking a pattern of boredom, enjoying competition and company or just plain playing.

This special day gave me the perfect opportunity to pester all my training clients via text message, saying “Today is National Get Outdoors Day. Do something fun!”

I took this idea to heart, too. My husband and I were in Vermont that weekend for a wedding. The event was not taking place until 5:00 in the evening, so a group of family and friends and us went for a hike. Although it wasn’t an extreme excursion, it was on target, and may have been one of my most majestic experiences. (The Trapp Family Lodge scenery will not disappoint!)

I was also happy that we turned our whole long weekend into a Great Outdoors adventure by visiting Moss Glen Falls, the “most photogenic waterfall in the state,” and doing a trek along the above-cloud rocky trail of Mount Mansfield, covering about one-third of the trail toward the summit in 46 degrees and 40 mile per hour winds. (Don’t worry. We rewarded ourselves for this physical toll by touring the local Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory later.)

I heard back from my clients…

My shirt for the day! (with a photo of her wearing a “Celebrate the Great Outdoors” t-shirt)

Sweet. Fits my plan of walking to a lake […] and taking pictures.

Ok. Will do it!

I bought a huge piece of cake and ate it OUTDOORS!! (just kidding)

Incredible case study. I was a champion of GO Day as well as a good influence. ☺

AarikaGO Day
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Taken Aback

Recovery seems to be a neglected theme in a world of fitness. We cannot fault trainers too much, as their job is usually to correct a situation by adding activity to someone’s life because the lack of it has led to health and size issues. Yet, what about the clients, or trainers themselves, who are too active? Here lies my personal struggle and confession of late.

I have always been athletic and very physically capable. I did not realize until recently what it feels like to be limited, and the toll it would take on my psyche.

In January, I began to notice a recurrence of back pain, mostly surrounding my right shoulder blade. I spent a few months rotating through the following routine… Exercise. Pain. Aleve. Stretch. Ice. Discomfort. Exercise. Pain. Etcetera. Sometimes the pain was striking like a knife. Sometimes it was dull and achy. It would go away for a day or two. Unfortunately, that only prolonged me not seeking help sooner.

In April, leading up to my wedding, I finally decided to nix the “walk it off” mentality that had been engrained in me since childhood sports and see a highly recommended physical therapist.

A part of me was relieved to discover that I really did have a limitation on my right side, mobility problems with my first rib, pectoralis major, shoulder capsule and upper trapezius. I was not crazy or a hypochondriac. The pain was real. And, it made sense that the back was not the cause. The back, being very strong, and the body, being amazingly coordinated, was working overtime to assist the other muscles dysfunctioning. I was taken aback by back takin’ a beating!

With my therapist, I realized that my right shoulder had been chronically abused. Basically, I had been over-using and under-resting it. That’s definitely harder for me to bear than if I had some standout injury to point to as the source of my ailment.

For one, we worked together on movements to improve range and lessen pain and discomfort, in weekly sessions and assignments on my own. Foam rolling, down-and-back motions, engaging the lower back and tennis ball massages were all huge. The biggest goals were to not stress it with exercise and to rest long and often.

For two, aware of this ride side domination, I began thoroughly contemplating my regular daily activities. Unhappy to admit, I found that I was doing just about everything with my right arm – carrying my backpack, scrubbing dishes, using a computer mouse, weeding the garden, brushing my teeth. I also found that my sleeping positions rounded out the right shoulder, like sleeping on my right side a lot or when sleeping on the left still curling the right shoulder around hugging a pillow.

For the sake of recovery, in the last two months, I have not done any lifting or pressing. I have only officially worked out three days per week. I have laid on the couch in the evenings strapped up with ice packs.

I feel held hostage, and I hate that I didn’t notice all the small things building up. I am deflated by my condition and see my physique and power declining. Maybe no one else even pays attention. But I have to manage feelings of frustration and inadequacy. Now, I want to turn it into a learning opportunity.

Opposite of many, I want to be active so badly. However, my willpower challenge is not giving in to that desire and taking the time off my body needs. Like what I ask of clients, this means I have to adapt and behave differently for a stint. I have to recognize what’s best for me and do that, not just do what I am inclined to. In all fairness, it also means I would benefit from a lifestyle adjustment, balancing out my ratio of work to breaks more.

Going through this bind helps me closer understand my clients’ limitations. A hardship helps me relate to the hurdles they face when making behavior changes, how tough it can be to do something unusual. I can empathize and tell testimony.

It also pushes me to promote that lost theme of recovery, how important it is as a part of the cycle, especially for beginners or life-changers. Because an injury, illness or fatigue – all brought on by over-activity – will be the first thing to shred motivation and keep that person from the gym.

So as you are killing it with resistance training, cardio endurance, group exercise classes, hunkered at your desk, lugging your kids around or doing domestic chores, remember the two types of recovery – the very normal short-term period you take between activity bouts that keeps you from having to take the very excruciating long-term period you may find yourself in while climbing out of a hole you created by depleting your systems.

Continuing with rehabilitation then, June is my month of recovery. I am human. I have goals and a plan as well. It will not be easy. But I will be focused these next few weeks. I will get better. It matters that much.

New rotation… Warm up. Exercise. Cool down and stretch. Still ice and massage if necessary. Listen to the body. Get enough rest in between. Then exercise again!

P.S. Thank you, Premier Physical Therapy.  🙂

AarikaTaken Aback
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Kickin’ Bridal Booty

We are two weeks out, and I can hardly focus my brain on anything but wedding. My current to-do list is 22 items long, and that’s not including subcategories. It is fun. I suppose more planning for and looking forward to fun. But I am trying to enjoy the journey. On my bachelorette trip a couple weekends ago, the fortune teller in New Orleans said, “You are the most happy you’ve ever been. You are also the most anxious you’ve ever been.” Geez, did she nail it.

Part of preparing for the Big Day is attempting to look my best… Multiple dress fittings. Finding the perfect shoes. Figuring out somethings old, new, borrowed and blue. Another show-stopping factor there is physique.

Thankful to the heavens, I am a personal trainer and nutrition counselor. I know all the right things to do in a two-week countdown to maximize appearances. Same as other ladies, I am working on the need-to-be-accentuated areas. My number one is triceps, because of a sleeveless gown. I am also considering the honeymoon in Aruba to follow. I’ll be in a swimsuit every day, and some part of me does strive for the fantasy of outer body matching the inner glow on the most splendid vacation of my life.

So… I’m beyond excited. But what does this all mean for business?

I wanted to remind everyone out there that although I train and counsel a plethora of different clients, I also offer a wealth of knowledge as a bride. I definitely have a ton of experience shaping Aarika up – thinking muscle targeting, toning, various modalities and balance.

Maybe you as a bride need a push to get to your goals. Maybe you and your groom-to-be need couples training. Perhaps your whole bridal party needs a boot camp. Or even your parents might be aiming for improvements for that special occasion.

I have to admit, I’m not just considering your future bikini bod. I’m hoping this is an ideal platform to make healthy changes in your life and start to establish a real happily ever after.

AarikaKickin’ Bridal Booty
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Athletic Cows

Athletic cows. Let that sink in for a minute. I heard the term the other day while watching The Dr. Oz Show. It was an episode devoted to investigating beef in America, particularly looking into the category of grass-fed beef.

Per this exploration, beef produced from conventional industry is managed to meet a huge American demand and to produce maximum profits. Cattle must grow bigger faster in order to satisfy. To do this, cows spend time in feedlots before slaughter to fatten up. They are generally fed corn and grains to add bulk rapidly. A cow’s body is not very tolerant of this diet, so the cows can become ill easily. To combat sickness, the cows are given antibiotics, as prevention and treatment. To further increase mass, the cows are also given growth hormones and performance enhancers. Thus, cows are raised at an accelerated pace and able to be processed sooner, with meat becoming available to consumers sooner.

On the show, a Texas farmer was studied by a reporter and interviewed on-air. Being “disenchanted and disgusted” with many modern day beef industry practices, the farmer reverted his techniques back to those of his grandfather’s day, pre World War II, where cattle roamed in a large open pasture until naturally reaching full size. These cows do live an athletic life. They have lots of space and grass to graze and are tended with care and skill.

This type of straightforward comparison highlights stark differences between two systems. Yet questions may still remain regarding grass-fed beef. The show did a good job of answering my questions at least…

Why does it cost more?
Higher costs come from proper practices. It takes more time for cows to grow at a normal rate. It takes extra manpower to oversee animals. It takes additional land for cattle to be housed on. It requires humane butchering practices by skilled workers. The volume to sell at market is less, so price per item has to be more for a farm to see any financial gains and stay in business.

Are there more health benefits?
Grass-fed beef has a lot of quality nutrients for the human body. When analyzed against standard beef, fat content from grass-fed beef proves to contain more good-for-you omega-3s, vitamin E and carotenoids from plants. In essence, eating grass-fed beef is like eating a cow that has been eating salad (low calorie, nutrient dense food). Whereas eating standard beef is like eating a cow that has been eating tortilla chips.

Is it really worth it?
Taste testers, chefs and scientists agree that grass-fed beef actually tastes better. As explained, the beef tastes more like beef should. When cooking, it doesn’t need as much flavoring to be flavorful. So people would consume less overall added seasoning, butter, etc. in a meal also. Comments were made about the beef texture, that it is more ideal as fully formed muscle, and about the leaner meat leaving you feeling lighter after eating compared to standard beef because of more vitamins and minerals with less fat.

Okay then. Farmers with integrity seeking greater good. Free, active cows. Lean, high nutrient meat. Less chemicals and additives in and on top. Superior taste and texture.

I believe that you are what you eat. Now I’m convinced that you are what your meat eats too. Awareness is the beginning. I’ll leave you with this…

We often treat food like a one-night stand. We don’t want to know anything about where it came from or what happens after we’re done with it.

AarikaAthletic Cows
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The Power of Ex

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m writing an article about couples.

My fiancé and I are currently in the middle of a three-week fitness challenge. It requires being active seven days a week and adhering to an eating plan. So far so good. Day One was the worst, where he really had to make some mental adjustments regarding working out with me, put the pride aside. He was “anti,” but I’m nothing if not persistent. Day Seven has been the best. We’re in a groove now, falling in the floor dramatizing when we’re tired and cracking jokes mid-hustle about the people on the instructional videos.

I pushed for him to join me on this challenge. Our wedding day is coming up quick, and I do think it is nice for us to both be at our best for such a grand occasion. I also know how much it can increase our relationship success. Per expert analyses, laymen surveys and even lab studies, it has been proven that there are a lot of positives for couples that sweat together – namely they stay together.

Here are the biggest benefits of couples exercising from my perspective…

1) Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins into the body. People experience this natural high; elevating mood, decreasing anxiety, leading to healthy patterns for energy balance and sleep. Best of all – couples are experiencing this “good juju” together.

2) Many couples spend all day long apart. Each person has work, errands, meetings, kid shuttling, etc. These regular duties keep us so busy, we’re starving for quality time with our significant others. Exercise can be a way to kill two birds with one stone. You’re together. You’re in sync. You’re bonding. And heck, setting up a workout schedule is kind of like making dates with each other – “let’s get started around 7:00” – that can be reminiscent of the courtship past.

3) One of the biggest limiting factors that my clients are faced with is a lack of social support. You know it – how you have a fitness goal in mind but then others don’t really understand it or want to hear too much about it or join in on the good behavior. When couples are active together, that not only can ensure long, healthy lives for them but also creates a built-in partner for “cheerleading,” someone who completely relates and is rooting for your happiness. You may also logistically enjoy having a spotter or duo for certain moves and stretches.

4) People get comfortable. You feel settled in a relationship. You’re not on the market anymore. So you maybe don’t try as hard? However, physical attraction is still a key factor to a romance. Be real. Who doesn’t want to be seen as good-looking through his or her partner’s eyes? Exercise, similar to sex, triggers several physiological signs similar to arousal – sweaty palms, increased heart rate, shortness of breath. Use this phenomenon to your advantage. You may also find those yoga pants or fitted t-shirts to be visually pleasing!

5) Like my guy and I, you may find that fitness is fun. You may fall down together. You may pick each other back up. You may smile through the pain. You may push yourself harder because someone is watching. You may banter wittily back and forth. You may start inside jokes. You may realize a little competition creates a spark or fuels a flame.

6) I believe part of being a good person is seeking self-improvement. How productive and fulfilling could couple-improvement be? You set out on new adventures together, striving for a common goal. And when you reach that goal, it is a joint accomplishment. You have a reason to celebrate and cherish the victory. Then you take on a new challenge, and the splendid cycle continues.

7) Exercise equals physical adaptations. You can get stronger. You can get faster. You can last longer. Endurance, people. A magical thing. It’s essential to everyday tasks and managing your responses to everyday stress. It can have benefits between the sheets too.

8) Exercise creates new avenues for communication. You are learning skills and terminology, for sure. The experience alone gives you something new to talk about, chatting about what routines you like most, what is sore today after yesterday’s tough gym session. That sharing also generates trust and appreciation. You are able to be yourselves, potentially vulnerable up against new odds. You offer constructive input without judgment to each other.

AarikaThe Power of Ex
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