A Little Pep Talk

(Note…this is intended to be more motivational than informational.  If you need some “fuel” for your “fire” I hope this helps).

TW-bike-2014

Yes, that’s a selfie.  Never thought I would post a selfie, but hey, I also never thought I’d have a website either.

Sunday afternoon

I went for a solo bike ride this morning.  Nothing too crazy.  Just over 20 miles…about an hour and 20 minutes.  It’s August in Texas so, no surprise, it was warm but there was a mild breeze and it actually was pretty pleasant.

During a long straightaway I was passed by a car that had a “0.0” sticker on the back window.  I actually find those pretty funny.  I’m sure you’ve seen the 13.1, 26.2, 70.3 and 140.6 stickers.  Those let the world know what kind of athlete you are:  half-marathoner (13.1 miles), marathoner (26.2 miles), half-Ironman triathlete (1.2 mile swim+56 mile bike+13.1 mile run), and then full Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile ride, 26.2 mile run…”amazing!”).  Those numbers sorta represent an insider code for endurance/extreme athletes.

The “0.0” sticker announces to the world, “I’m a couch potato and proud of it!” It also might be sending this message:  Hey, all you self-absorbed Lance Armstrong wannabes…get over yourselves!

There’s an incredible difference between a “0.0” and a “140.6.”  While I certainly admire and respect anyone who has done an Ironman I also know that if your goal is to improve your health and immunity, lower risk of chronic disease (including dementia and Alzheimer’s), sleep better, feel better, look better, manage stress, have more energy, and push back the onset of disability then you don’t have to spend hours upon hours in the water, on a bike, or running on a trail, street or treadmill.

Basically, you need to get off the couch…on a regular basis!  Another way to think about it is, “Walk the dog…even if you don’t have one!”

Hard to Watch

I spend a great deal of time in airports and recently while waiting on a flight I was blown away by the number of individuals that were having problems walking.  Simply walking.  I could tell the incredible effort being expended just to walk a couple hundred feet between gates.  It was painful to watch but I suspect much more painful to experience.  It really made me sad.  Many of these people were in their 20s and 30s.

This morning on my bike ride I started thinking about all the benefits I was receiving.  First of all, my heart rate was elevated and blood was flowing at a faster rate than if I was just sitting home reading the paper.  Endurance, or aerobic exercise, has hundreds of benefits but one I tend to concentrate on is something called “collateral circulation.”  Basically, when you “stress” the cardiovascular system on a regular basis through exercise you, in essence, grow more blood vessels and increase the options to get blood from “point A” to “point B.”  That means if one vessel becomes clogged or “occluded” you have alternative pathways to bypass the congestion.  I think about this since my father died from heart disease.  I’d like to have as many “alternative routes” as possible.

But my heart was not the only organ receiving benefit during my ride.  Several large muscle groups, including my quads and hamstrings (front and back muscles of the thigh) and calves were being challenged.  Not so much that they burned but just enough to let me know they were working.  The human body is beautifully designed and will always do what you ask it to do…good or bad.  By pushing myself just a bit I was sending a message to “get stronger.”  Since the body responds to stress by adapting I was helping to maintain my strength.

Staying strong is important to me since my daughter and son-in-law just celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary and have a new puppy.  By my rough calculations that means I’ll be a grandfather within two years, probably sooner.  My goal is simple; I want to play with my grandchildren.  I don’t want to watch my grandkids play.  Big difference!

It wasn’t just my legs that were working this morning.  My back, abs, and triceps were also engaged so I was really getting a great overall workout.  Again, nothing crazy but just enough to feel “alive.”  I was breathing fresh air, enjoying the scenery, working up a sweat (much better than “cleansing” to remove toxins), and soaking in a bit of vitamin D…although it was still early and there wasn’t much UVB light yet (Remember, the longer your shadow the lower UVB light that’s available.  UVB is what triggers the synthesis of vitamin D in the body).

Bob Bowerman, the late, great track coach at Oregon, and co-founder of Nike, used to say, “If you have a body, you’re an athlete!”  I LOVE that quote!  It doesn’t matter if you ever competed on a team or in an event.  You were born to move!  To run, jump, play, fall, dance…all the things we used to do when we were young.  When we were, as Mark Fenton likes to say, “free-range kids.”  Yes, we can “get by” by avoiding physical activity but we aren’t going to thrive.  We aren’t going to be able to take advantage of all the great things our world has to offer.

Regular, consistent physical activity, a.k.a. exercise, is the single best investment you can make in yourself.  You don’t have to join a gym, buy an expensive bike, invest in all sorts of shoes, clothing or equipment.  You just need to move.  Invest in yourself!

When I finished my ride this morning I felt great.  I had just spent 80 minutes setting the table for the day.   I was back home before 9:30 and already had amassed the equivalent of over 10,000 steps (that’s for those of you with “wearables,” i.e. FitBits, Jawbones, Fuel Bands, Vivofits, etc.  By the way, the science says the true benefit of “steps” starts at 7,500/day…not the 10,000 that everyone assumes is the magic number.  More is always better but benefit starts at 7,500…Thank you Dr. Tudor-Locke!).

So, for the guy that passed me with the “0.0” sticker…I get it!  I know that there are plenty of folks like you that don’t like to exercise.  I also know there are plenty of people that are tired, hurt, depressed and struggling just to get through the day, or from gate to gate at the airport.  All I suggest is to understand that the only person that can improve your health is you.  The answer is not a pill or a procedure.  The answer is to recognize the awesome gift of life that we have and to get moving.

Stay well.

Walk This Way!

walk-this-wayI like smart people.  Folks that spend years and years becoming expert in their chosen field.  It’s especially appealing if they are, what I call, Switzerland, i.e. neutral. If they don’t have a book to sell, a product to push, or an axe to grind then I find it all the more impressive.

Catrine Tudor-Locke is Switzerland.

Dr. Tudor-Locke is a researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton-Rouge.  She is recognized internationally as an exercise expert….specifically walking.  Dr. Tudor-Locke has published over 180 scientific papers in her career (that’s a ton!) but what I like most is her practical approach to physical activity.  She clearly understands how our environment influences our behavior and offers simple, targeted solutions for overcoming the challenges of today’s sedentary world.

Let’s start with the facts.  The average American takes 5,117 steps per day. Obviously the odds are you are not average.  If you don’t know how many steps you take in a day I highly recommend you get a pedometer or accelerometer and start getting a feel for what your average is.  There are approximately 2,000 steps per mile so most of us are covering just over 2.5 miles per day.  Of interest, folks in Colorado average 6,500 steps a day and residents of Tennessee and Arkansas average 4,500.  By comparison, a 2004 study of 98 Amish in Ottawa, Canada found that the women in their community averaged about 14,000 steps per day and the men over 18,000.  Of note, their rates of overweight and obesity were a fraction of what we see in America.

So how many steps do we need to get a return on our investment?  Often you hear the magic number of 10,000 steps per day.  That’s almost double what most Americans are currently getting.

Dr. Tudor-Locke has a different take.  Her total steps recommendation is less but she also addresses intensity since walking briskly confers more benefit than just a “window shopping” pace.

Here’s Dr. Tudor-Locke’s Walking Recipe:

  • Avoid less than 5,000 steps/day
  • Strive for at least 7,500 steps/day
  • At least 3,000 of those steps (representing at least 30 minutes) should be taken at a cadence of >100 steps/minute.

Dr. Tudor-Locke also recommends we sit less.  Many Americans spend the majority of their waking hours sitting in front of a screen, at both work and home, and there is a growing body of evidence indicating that’s a significant problem.  A study last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine indicated that 10 hours of sitting is as harmful as 30 minutes of exercise is beneficial. If your job requires you so sit for most of the day try setting the alarm on your phone to prompt you every hour to get up and take a short little walk break.  There are many benefits to this, not the least of which is it will help clear your head and improve what’s known as “attention to task.”

Bottom line is we need to sit less and move more….and now, thanks to smart people like Dr. Tudor-Locke, we know exactly how much more.

Is it True that Birds of a Feather Flock Together?

There was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal  (1-21-2013) I found very interesting.  It was about “mixed-weight couples” where one partner is overweight and the other isn’t.  Researchers from the University of Puget Sound and the University of Arizona studied 43 heterosexual couples and found those in the “mixed-weight” category experienced more relationship conflict, including resentfulness and anger, than so-called “same-weight” couples.  The results were published in the December, 2012 issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Results also indicated that those couples with the most conflict involved a healthy-weight man and an overweight woman.  When just the man was overweight it wasn’t much of an issue.

Hmmmm!

It’s not news that men and women are different.  John Gray made that very clear in his famous book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex.   Weight is a very touchy subject and when it comes to relationships, one should always tread lightly.  However, while they certainly exist, “mixed-weight” couples are not the norm.  We know that those in our “warm circle,” which obviously includes spouses, have a huge influence on our behaviors and habits, and ultimately our weight.  A study in the July, 2007 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found that if your spouse is obese then you are 37% more likely to be obese.  It might be surprising to learn that if your friends are obese you are 171% more likely to be obese!  As I often say, when if comes to your health, which includes your weight, you are NOT the Lone Ranger!

In the Cooper Wellness Program we don’t often see “mixed-weight” couples.  Usually those that come with their spouse have similar BMI’s and their overall health is fairly comparable.  What we do see quite often though is a spouse motivated to improve his or her health that comes through the program solo.  Then, after they spend six days getting “Cooperized” they leave campus completely convinced they will return home and “motivate” their spouse to hop on the wellness bus and embrace a healthy lifestyle.  “Whoa, slow down!”  In cases like this you need to be careful.

The last lecture of the Wellness Week is called “Managing Expectations” and its placement is intentional.  We know that if you are willing to invest a reasonable chunk of change and six days of your life to come through the Wellness Program you are most likely in a “stage of change” that vastly improves your odds of success.  More simply, you are ready to change.  Remember, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  But ONLY when the student is ready.

It’s human nature that once you participate in a positive experience you want to share it with those you love.  The problem however is if your loved one isn’t ready to change then your unbridled enthusiasm will most likely not be received as you intend it.  In fact, it might completely backfire which could then potentially extinguish your flame.  I’m not saying this always happens…. just don’t be surprised if it does.

Change is difficult and when a spouse or close friend decides to change, even if it’s a positive change, then it often is viewed as a threat to the one being “left behind.”  “What’s wrong with the way we’ve been ____________(fill in the blank….living, eating, exercising, etc.) for all these years?  Am I suddenly not good enough for you?”  It can lead to some very difficult, but necessary, conversations.

Stanford’s Dr. BJ Fogg teaches that as humans we are lazy, social, and creatures of habit.  Overcoming the status quo is often very hard but relying on the experience of experts can dramatically improve your odds of success.  Human “energy” can be phenomenally helpful but remember that we are all unique and when it comes to change, those we love don’t always move at the same speed.

Run Proud

I ran a 5K this morning.  Actually “jogged” is a much more accurate description than “ran.”  It was the Run Proud race to help raise money for ALS/MDA.  The race started and finished on the campus of the Cooper Aerobics Center and is named after our former running pro, Diane Proud, who passed away last year from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  She was 59.  Diane was one of the nicest, most sincere individuals I ever met.  She loved helping all runners and triathletes but she had a special fondness for beginners.  Sharing her passion for fitness allowed Diane to impact the lives of hundreds of people in a very positive way.

Today was a perfect day for running….temps in the low 70s with a cool, steady drizzle. Wet, but not enough to get in the way. Just enough to let you feel “connected.”

Before the race I saw Bob Proud, Diane’s husband. He was actually the reason I got up early today. During Diane’s extended three-year illness I often crossed paths with Bob and I was always awed by his unwavering, upbeat spirit. He knew, as did Diane, that a diagnosis of ALS is always, not sometimes, not usually, but ALWAYS fatal. That didn’t deter Bob. He knew that maintaining a high-energy, optimistic attitude was exactly what Diane needed most.

I had not seen or talked to Bob since Diane’s funeral last year and I wanted to shake his hand. I did that about 15 minutes before the race and we talked briefly. I would have liked to talk more but just about everyone involved in the race had known Diane and Bob and like me, they wanted to say hello. I didn’t want to monopolize his time.

At the starting line I saw friend who is a longtime member of the Cooper Fitness Center. We decided to run together although he warned me he was having issues with his I.T. band and wasn’t sure how he would hold up. Normally he wouldn’t have even considered running but, like many of us, he was there because of his love and appreciation of Diane. Sure enough, after less than a quarter of a mile into the run my buddy had to pull out. Doing that is never fun but clearly it was a smart move.

I continued on at a very comfortable (read slow) pace. Soon, as the course extended down a long stretch through a beautiful neighborhood, I looked up and saw Bob running by himself. His pace was right in sync with mine so I gradually began to narrow the gap and after a minute or two we were side by side. We started talking and it wasn’t long before Bob encouraged me to, “Feel free to run ahead. Don’t let me slow you down.” Little did he know I was delighted to be running at such a moderate pace. Even though I’ve been lifting consistently and cycling on a pretty regular basis my running mileage has been down so I was not in a great position to take Bob up on his offer. Besides, for me the opportunity to run with Bob and talk about life far exceeded the need to foolishly push myself to meet some arbitrary 5K time. From a very selfish standpoint, this was a great chance to spend about 30 minutes one on one with a guy that I had really come to respect but had not taken the time to let him know that.

As often is the case when running, we talked about all sorts of things; the radio business, The Rangers pennant race, why for some reason a relatively flat neighborhood suddenly felt like the Newton Hills in Boston! More than once Bob apologized for his slow pace. “My 5K time is now beginning to approach my 10K PR.” I assured him not to worry about it, “No need to apologize.” I reminded him that just the fact we were out running early on a Saturday morning, regardless of the speed, probably put us in the top half of one percent of most Americans as it relates to physical activity! All the research shows that the vast majority of benefit from exercise comes from just getting off the couch. A little bit, on a consistent basis, goes a long way in improving health and quality of life.

As we neared the end of the course and came back onto the Cooper campus there were all sorts of folks cheering us on; friends, family, volunteers, and many runners who had finished before us. Most recognized Bob and were very supportive and enthusiastic. Last year, less than a week before she died, Diane despite the fact she could no longer talk and was so weak she was confined to a golf cart, was at the finish line passing out cupcakes to every single runner that crossed the finish line. This year there was no Diane. I was glad it was raining hard enough to mask the fact I was tearing up a bit. Bob quickly was surrounded by a crowd of well-wishers so I gave him a high-five and began my post race recovery, which included all sorts of wonderful fare provided by the sponsors. That’s always one of the great treats of finishing an endurance event….all the great treats!

Afterwards I felt great. I had gone on a nice run, seen a lot of friends and co-workers, and it was still early enough so that most of my Saturday was before me. Most importantly though I appreciated the wonderful time I had spent with Bob and I promised myself I would reach out to him soon to schedule a dinner or a workout.

And guess what? This afternoon I got an email from Bob THANKING ME for running WITH HIM this morning! How great is that? I told him the pleasure was all mine…..and I meant it!

Wear a pedometer.

Try wearing a pedometer for three or four days and determine your average number of steps per day, then add 2,000 to that number. This is a great initial goal. There are approximately 2,000 steps per mile and the typical American averages only 5,000 steps per day. The ultimate goal should be right around 10,000 steps per day but don’t try and make that leap overnight… ramp up gradually. You can find a good, durable, accurate pedometer for around $15 to $25.