The Art of Resting and Lolling About

Maybe you’ve noticed something now that you’re forty or sixty or eighty: your body takes a little longer to do what it used to do easily and effortlessly. Use this information wisely. Be nice to yourself. Take care of small scratches and cuts as they can take longer to heal. Be patient with others as they are moving a little slower, too.

This is essential advice if you exercise. Back in the good ol’ days, I could step on the scale on Friday morning, frown, run ten miles on Saturday and another five on Sunday, and smile at the scale on Monday morning. Not now. Now that I’m on the brink of sixty losing weight takes a concentrated effort.

I had an interesting insight into rest and healing and health last summer. I’ve lived in South Carolina  now for four years and am still not used to the sunny, blistering, buggy, and drippingly humid weather. It’s glorious in April but by the end of June I wake up to 85 degrees and a forecast of 100. Running on paved roads where you can see the steam rising as you run adds another five degrees. My wife loves this stuff. Natives complain less than I do but for this coffee-infused Son of Seattle, it’s a tough slog.

So, I quit running. I took August off and did yoga to the hum of the air conditioner. I ran a three-miler once a week just to remember how to run. September came and it was just as hot as August. I decided to start back up in mid-September to get ready for a race in early October. When I went out for my first Saturday morning run in six weeks, I wasn’t sure what to expect – and I was seriously shocked when I turned in one of my fastest three-milers ever. I felt smooth and comfortable the entire run. At first, I thought it was my new Lycra tights. They admittedly look pretty sweet but I don’t think they contributed to my times. I wondered if it was the cooler temps and I’m sure that helped. What I’m most convinced of is that the time off helped. Stretching and resting gave my legs time to repair from long runs in the late spring and it took a few weeks of rest to begin feeling the benefits.

Every fitness book and trainer talks about rest. It’s when our bodies repair and recharge but few of us really believe it. We’re athletes! We push through pain! We force our body to submit to our iron will! Well, maybe not. So I’ve incorporated indolence and sloth into my weekly regimen and I feel so much better for it. When my legs feel like lead on Tuesday, I listen to them and take off until Saturday. I stretch. I get a couple hours of extra sleep. I loll about and read.  Maybe even spend some quality time with the family! And I feel better for it.

So go work out. Work hard. Breathe hard. Pump your muscles. Feel your body work. And when you’ve worked enough – you’ll know when that is – take a rest. Maybe for a day. Maybe for a week. Or for six weeks like I did. It’s not the end of the world and will almost certainly make your world a little better. And isn’t that exactly what exercise and living the good life is all about?

She Hired a Track Coach at 77! Another post about older bodies.

How about you? What have you learned about rest and recovery?



Beware – Little Things Become Big Things

It was a Monday, and when I backed out of the drive for work, I felt an almost imperceptible rhythmic bumping from the front of my car. It was such a faint sense that if the road was too rough, I couldn’t feel it. After a week, it got a little louder but still not enough to alarm me. I grabbed a flashlight and looked under the car and couldn’t see a thing. Finally, I was driving home from work and – BANG! – I thought a SCUD missile hit the car. A tire blew out and I don’t mean started leaking air. I mean it shredded. It blew a hole large enough to shove a soccer ball through.

So here is my take-away: take care of little things before they become big things.

When I first felt that bump, I could have taken the car to a tire shop and had them poke around. They would have told me that the steel belt inside my front passenger tire is delaminating and, if I don’t replace it, it’s going to go on me. When I’m driving. Instead, I wondered about what was going for two weeks. Then the tire blew. But not at home and not near a tire store. I was twenty miles from home and pulled over into knee-high grass along the side of the road. I got out my mini sledge-hammer to remove the wheel from the car because it’s rusted on. And I’m hoping like hell that the donut I have for a spare will get me to the station. Then, I have to do everything I should have done earlier. Just take care of things, will you?

Closer to home, I remember when my Father’s shoulder began to hurt him. He was in remission from cancer so he was hypersensitive about anything odd with his body. If he dug hard, he could feel a little ‘BB’ rolling around deep inside the joint. He called a friend – a physical therapist who taught at a medical university – who said he had probably just pulled something. Had he attended to the small things, he would have gone to see his oncologist at the first sign of something amiss. He didn’t and we learned later that he had developed a treatable lymphoma. In time, his shoulder pain grew worse. When we finally went to the doctor, cancer had spread through much of his body. Would immediate diagnoses have changed the outcome? I don’t know. What I do know is that your best chance for anything to do with health from a cold to cancer is early diagnosis.

Big things start out as small things. Wisdom tells us to attend to those little things. Laziness tells us to ignore them. So, just like every journey starts with a step, and just like the road to better health can start with one decision,  the path to disease, illness, and injury can start with a simple scratch that goes uncared for.

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Goals for the Next Year…Updated

My birthday just passed and I forgot that I wrote this post last year. Let’s see how I’m doing…

I had a Happy Birthday call yesterday from my daughter in Japan. She surprised me and asked what my goals were for the next year. Huh? She said that I always taught her that we should be improving in some area of our life and keep goals to track our progress. I was surprised that these things stick. It’s good advice. Goals help us stay on track, keep us engaged in our own life, and remind us of a desired outcome. It’s common advice for anyone wanting to be happy and healthy. The goals don’t have to be big. They don’t have to be grand. But they should be specific and measurable.

Here’s a few of mine off the top of my head:

I want to ride in the Mt. Washington Hill Climb the summer of my sixtieth birthday. It’s considered the most difficult bicycle hill climb in the world and will remind me that sixty doesn’t have to mean decrepit. I’ll need a bike first. And bigger thighs. Not sure if I will make it. It’s still a goal…but not my wife’s goal. In her world “New Hampshire + cold +bike race + time off from work” does not equal “vacation.” And the time is a tough one. 

I want to pass my Certified Health Physicist exam next summer and would like to join Sigma Xi and The Society for the Study of Evolution. Am taking the CHP test next summer. Joined the Society for the Study of Evolution. Yet to pay up with sigma Xi.

Mal and I had our first date-night in about two years last Friday night. We played a little tennis and had a nice time just being together. I think we should definitely ramp up the romance to at least once per year. See? I like to set a low bar. Then I can pat myself of the back for achieving another goal. We’ve had a few more dates but not enough.

I have two papers I’m working of for publication, two longer projects that I want to have roughed out by next summer, and one other side writing projected to complete. LOL. I have no clue what this is.

There’s talk of going to Disney World this year. Have motel and tickets for November. Ugh.

I might need a new car if my New York Rust Bucket finally snaps in half. Purchased a 1990 Saab 900 Turbo. I don’t know if it’s true love or if I’ve just fallen for a cult but I never want to drive another car.

I am planning on running a couple of 5ks this fall and would like to break 25 min for a 5k next spring. I would like to break the famous (at least for Mittons) seven minute mile barrier this fall. Ran another 5K and will do another this Fall. 26:42 is still my best.

There’s a start. Thanks for the reminder,  Rebe!

There are all kinds of sites to learn more about goal setting. I like Brian Tracy quite a bit. Don’t get too bogged down in the planning but focus on the doing. And have some fun.

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Give Yourself a Break – with Caveats

Take a Break!

Whatever you are working on to improve, there will be days when it is the very last thing you want to do. It doesn’t matter if you are training for a marathon or a spelling bee.  So what to do?

You can always give yourself permission to duff. I do this with some of my workouts. On some days, I burn straight through these drills and the sweat feels great. Other days, not so much. So, I slow down. What they hey – I’m not training for the Olympics. And doing something is almost always better than doing nothing.

Or you can take a break for a day. Or a few days. Sometimes, a couple of days off helps you return with a vigor and enthusiasm that you had forgotten. Be careful, though. The key to improvement is mindful, incremental plodding toward a goal. There is a fine line – you will have to decide where it lays – between a rejuvenating break and giving up.


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Exercise? Some is Better than None

New Year’s Goals?

It’s April now, and it’s very likely that your New Year’s resolution to become the Most Fantastically Healthy and Best-Looking person on the planet has been dashed by a thousand pieces of chocolate, by croissants dripping with butter, and by voluminous glasses of ‘healthy’ red wine. If you are especially resolute, you made it through January on track with your workout routine. If you are one-in-ten-thousand, you actually signed up for a French class rather than just looking through the catalog. Oh well. It’s called being a human being and it’s not such a bad thing. We change in tiny increments that all add up to who we are today. It’s the very same way that we become who we want to be tomorrow.

There is a pervasive idea – a lazy excuse? – that if you don’t get outside and run for at least half an hour then you are wasting your time. Or that you need to visit the squat rack five days a week to crush your thighs into submission. Whatever you do, the myth is that you must do lots and lots of it to see results. Exercise science, though, tells a different story. We now understand that adding up ‘little virtues’ through the day totals up to a real and healthy exercise experience.

Real Value Adding Up Smaller Effort

What does this mean? It means that there is real value in parking your car in the next lot over and walking an extra two minutes to your office. It means that there is real value in taking the stairs. It means that you should turn off your instant messenger at work and actually walk over to talk to someone. Who knows? You might find the added benefit of having a nice relationship with another human being? It means that there is value in work. Mow the lawn. Take the dog for a walk. Good gawd – go have sex rather than watch other people do it. There’s a crazy idea! Find ways to let your body do work rather than machines.

Aside from the earlier onset of disease, our Great Grandads and their moms were typically in much better physical condition than we are yet they didn’t exercise. How? Their lives were filled with physical activities that added up through the day. Do you want a good night’s sleep? Go bail hay for a day. Imagine your great-grandmother dragging her carpets outside to hang them on the line to beat the dirt and dust out of them. And then dragging them back. Most folks today would need a glass of wine and an hour watching home remodeling on television after this kind of workout.

Let’s be clear: carrying your groceries to the car won’t build biceps that will get you on the cover of Muscle and Fitness. For that, you will have to live at the gym and inject steroids. But as a general boost to your health, adding up daily chores and using your body as a tool can reap real rewards.

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Health Care According to the French

When I turned fifty, my French doctor told me that it was time to have a fatherly chat.

“You’re fifty now,” he said, “let’s talk about the fork in the road.” I was used to his peculiarities but wasn’t sure of where he was going. “You’re healthy now and you have the choice to stay that way. But some of your numbers are starting to elevate. It’s normal but something we will want to address in time.”

“We can do this one of two ways. For most people, I just start giving them drugs. It’s the American Way. You start now with one or two and by the time you are seventy you’re taking fifteen twice a day.”

“The other way is to stay healthy. It’s the hard way. You need to drop about ten pounds and stay that way. You need to keep up with a good diet and with daily exercise. But you really have to do it. Everyone says they will but no one does. So it’s up to you.”

I’ve never forgotten this conversation and consider it the best medical advice I’ve ever been given.

Healthy Bodies And Victoria’s Secret?

Healthy Body Image? Not what Victoria’s Secret is selling.

Well, here’s good news for human beings. The MS Business Insider opines that market forces in women’s underwear are shifting away from pencil-thin models toward healthy looking bodies. They cite as evidence a strong uptick in sales of lingerie at stores such as Adore Me and Aerie who market primarily to the non-waif crowd. It seems that curves are in. Or at least getting there.

Part of this issues from the fact that Americans have grown fatter over the past decades. Once anything becomes a norm within a culture, it cycles back onto itself as the de facto standard. In this case, it’s mostly a good thing. People are coming to reject the marketing mantra that you must look like this or be shaped like this to be happy and attractive. And exercise research reinforces what is intuitive: fit and strong, as opposed to wan and weak, are important components of a healthy lifestyle for all adults. 

The Insider ties several marketing moves into the explanation including Sports Illustrated’s editorial decision to include different body types in their swim wear issue and a backlash toward Victoria’s Secret for putatively moving their catalog offerings toward soft-porn. They note Iskra Lawrence as someone who is ‘curvy’ and who is having success in modeling and speaking out against the unhealthy lifestyles of models forced to adhere to the ridiculous standards of advertising executives.

Keep a grain of salt handy. Popularity and fashion do and will change. What makes a healthy lifestyle doesn’t. There will be constant controversies about diets and health and sales people will continue to prop up something new as an essential for what-ails-you. But the science of health is steady: good food, moderate and consistent exercise, and meaningful relationships are what make you healthy and happy.

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