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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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 Advice for a Long Life

Okay. I Was Wrong and Healthy Advice

I admit that I’ve been wrong. I’ve long argued that people know what healthy habits are and that we just don’t do them. So I was shocked, recently, when a friend told me that he traded his cake and candy snacks for a jar of peanuts each day. “I’m trying to eat healthy”, he says. “Huh? You’re eating a jar a day?” “Yeah”, he said. “Better than donuts, right.” Now he was shocked. “Probably not,” I said. “Good gawd. Do you know how many calories are in a jar of peanuts? Probably more calories than you need in an entire day. Dude, you’re going to end up weighing 300 pounds.” He didn’t believe me and grabbed the jar. Sure enough, the suggested serving size was one ounce or ‘about 29 peanuts’. That amount conferred 170 healthy calories. Multiply that by sixteen servings in the jar and you are inviting serious health issues. So don’t imagine that everyone knows the things that Agus writes about. They don’t. And few who do know what healthy means actually live by it.

We need good health advice but where to find it? The fact that my local Barnes and Noble bookstore reserves about fifty feet of shelf space for books offering conflicting advice isn’t a help. So when I find a book offering sane advice consistent with other sane advice, I’m happy to endorse and recommend it. A Short Guide to a Long Life is such a book.

No Fads or Magic. Just Healthy Advice

The book isn’t sexy and makes few promises. You will not be a skinny rich movie star pooping golden eggs after reading this book. But, even better, if you choose to do so, you can embark on a path to increased health and longevity. The book is small and short and this bothers some reviewers. I like that the book can be read in a couple hours. It makes it easy to grab from the shelf for a quick reminder o the path you’re on. In it Agus lists sixty-five tidbits under three headings: What to Do, What to Avoid, and Doctor’s Orders. I’m sorry but there is nothing new, novel, or earth-shattering here. No magic pills or secret Chinese bulbs that will keep you in perfect health until age 150. What you will find is very excellent advice in all areas of health and well-being. Advice that is time-tested and accurate. Advice that actually will help you live longer and happier.

There is a good bit of Grandma’s advice here – grow a garden, don’t skip breakfast, have children (!) – but lots of new stuff, too, like scheduling your life on computer or getting a DNA screen. I especially liked the What to Avoid section where he slays a host of health myths: forget juicing (“Does your body really need ten carrots all at once?”), ignore `detoxes’, and no, GMOs are not going to kill you and your children.

I think this is a wonderfully handy little guide that makes a useful reference. Two thumbs way up. Read it all the way through or read a chapter and then work on it for a week. Either way will lead you to better health.

Purchase here on Amazon.

David Agus at the Aspen Ideas Festival: Look At The Data
David Agus, MD homepage here
More good advice here from Monica Reinagel, The Nutrition Diva


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Exercise to Overcome the Onslaught of Luxury

 The Onslaught of Luxury

I talk to my children a lot about luxury and the lives that we live as everyday-run-of-the-mill Americans. I don’t want them to imagine that our lifestyle is anywhere near normal for most people of the world. And though we are able to mask the effects of our luxurious lifestyle using drugs, we suffer from high rates of ‘luxury diseases’. These are ailments that appear to stem from our diets and from our lack of exercise. The number varies, but it’s commonly said that up to eighty-percent of aging American’s health issues are related to weight and diet.

I thought about this while I lolled on the couch watching the television show Mountain Men last night. My favorite is an old fella named Tom who lives in Northern Montana. It’s been a cold winter in Montana, and Tom’s meat stock is low. He sets out for a hunt, and to use as much of a deer as possible, he hunts with a homemade bow and arrow. A rifle, he explains, destroys much of the meat of an animal while it explodes through the body. But an arrow, if shot correctly, kills as quickly and makes the entire animal usable. I have my own qualms about hunting but this attitude is refreshing compared to people who hunt elk or antelope for trophies from a mile away using high-powered rifles. On the day of the hunt, Tom drives into the woods, loads up his pack, and walks into the trees looking for deer tracks. There is fresh snow so he is able to follow the tracks easily. Finally, he comes upon a group of does and tracks them for a mile until he spots a buck. Just like humans, he laughs: when there are fertile females around a stag won’t be far behind. He approaches the buck, takes his shot, and then tracks the animal until he finds it dead. He ends the day back at his house butchering the deer in the dark as the temperature drops to less than zero.

How Did Humans Evolve?

Evolutionary psychologists refer to the EEA or Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness. There is controversy about the environment that humans evolved within but it certainly includes much of the lifestyle that Tom enjoys. His day begins with splitting wood for warmth and for cooking. He walked miles in the snow and cold hunting a two hundred pound deer which he then drug out of the woods. Not bad for a seventy plus year-old man. His waking time, just like our ancestors, is spent burning calories – it’s easy to see why the body wants to hold on to fat.

Do you live like this? I don’t either.

And that’s why I exercise. I spend my working days in an ergonomically adjusted chair at a desk with no sharp edges. I force myself to get up to talk to people rather than use instant messaging all day. I buy fattened cow at the grocery store where they give away free cookies just for gracing the front door. My wife and I prefer clean and healthy food but our schedules often make it easiest to cook up something from a box that is laden with fat, salt, and sugar. Nothing in my evolutionary history has prepared my body for this onslaught of luxury.

It’s no wonder that we suffer from such high rates of heart attacks and cancers and obesity disorders. And without opting out of the normal rat-race, I see no organic way to circle around this. (See here for a book review of someone who did opt out – good stuff!)

So try to mix in a little physical hardship in your day. Do something that makes you sweat. Push the mower. Carry the garbage can to the curb instead of using a cart. Chop some wood. It’s how you were made to work and your body will respond with a thank you of pleasantly achy muscles.


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Live it up for the holidays – A little

I have a new favorite story. It comes from an interview of Tony Robbins (here).  Robbins talks about being on his honeymoon in Italy and about how his wife – just as health conscience as he is – spends her day downing pastries and tiramisu. He forgives her for a day or two and then asks her what in the world she’s doing. Her response – and I’m paraphrasing here – is priceless and a reminder for everyone. “What? Hey! Listen up.  I’m on my damned honeymoon and I’m in Italy and I’m surrounded by the greatest food that’s ever come this near to my body. Damn! I’m going to live it up and you should too.” Robbins laughs and agrees that his wife has reminded him of something important. We live long and healthy and stress-free to enjoy and long, healthy, and stress free life. There are times when the enjoy should be the focus.

Remember this for the holidays. Remember that diet and exercise are parts of an entire lifestyle that promotes the best you. As important as they are, fun and family have a place too. Eating together, laughing, and watching the game together are all activities that strengthen relationship and create great memories. Some healthy things are plain simple fun in and of themselves.

FF-Fam2Don’t be trapped into thinking that you body is so finely tuned that one taste of a sugar laced butter cookie will do you in. It’s only vitamin and diet salespeople who argue that one grain of wheat will ruin you and shave years off your life. The real fact is that your body is wonderfully flexible and able to adapt to almost any mix of carbs, protein, gingerbread, and fruitcake for a short time. Eat away. Have ice cream on it. Sip a nice vouvray. It won’t hurt you.

This isn’t carte blanche permission to pack on an extra ten over Christmas vacation. But it doesn’t have to be an either or proposition. Live a little. Then run tomorrow. But live it up for once. Enjoy what you have earned. Isn’t this what the good life it all about?

High-Intensity Exercise And Your Heart.

Can your exercise routine kill you?

Can your exercise routine kill you? Maybe. But lots of things done poorly can kill you. Water can kill you: 6 liters will kill half the people who drink that much (called the Lethal-Dose 50 or LD50). Like coffee? 120 cups will probably put you under. But what about exercise? Isn’t that supposed to be good for you? It is good for you. At least most kinds of exercise. There is evidence, though, that high-intensity exercise can have negative health effects over time if done to extremes. Before the bad, though, let’s focus on the good.

What is high-intensity exercise?

High-intensity exercise is typically defined as exercise that brings your heart rate up to or

close to 85-90% of your maximum rate. There are as many ways to figure your maximum heart rate as there are websites but the standard formula is to subtract your age from 220 and multiply that number by 0.85 to get beats per minute. View that as a good starting point that will change as you exercise more and train your heart and your body. I maintain a heart rate of about 148 beats per minute for a 5k running race and have pushed to over 170 for brief workouts. Done properly and infrequently these workouts exercise your heart, which is made of muscle, expand and scrub your blood vessel walls as blood surges to feed your muscles, and increases your lung’s ability to process oxygen and carbon dioxide.  All good things.

So what’s the down side? The downside comes when people think that if one day is good then two must be better and a whole week will turn me into Superman by next Friday. Once a week or so is good. And depending on your age and fitness level, maybe several times a week is fine. But at some point, prolonged and constant high intensity exercise can have negative benefits. What are they?

High intensity work outs can exacerbate existing conditions

We’ve all heard stories of someone who started running and dropped dead of a heart

attack. I knew a family of brothers who lost their youngest brother from an aneurysm while running. Doctors guessed that the problem was pre-existing and triggered by exertion and that he was dead before he hit the ground. But other, more benign, problems can crop up. Knee and foot problems are common. Muscle soreness can linger and make even walking painful. Pulled muscles and torn ligaments can occur. If you start a regiment that includes high intensity workouts then expect to find any chinks in your armor. This is just the nature of machinery. Slow and easy is usually painless but add some stress and you start finding the weak spots.

High intensity workouts can contribute to poor rest

It seems that you would sleep like a log after these workouts but the opposite is often true. Your body is either too amped up or too sore to rest. Yoga and meditation can help as can baths. An aspirin helps me relax. And poor rest can contribute to a compromised immune system as well.  And make you damned crabby. Who wants that?
This is age and condition dependent but I’ve had to learn to leave lots of room for rest healing. I need just about a full two weeks of easy stuff to recover from a really hard work out.

What is the real killer?

Prolonged high intensity training becomes a problem when your heart begins to deform. Remember that your heart is just a mid-line pump that pushes blood around your body. During times of intense exercise when your cells and muscles scream for every bit of energy, they can get your heart does two things: it starts pumping faster and starts to pump more volume. It’s the volume that can hurt you. At those levels of exercise, the heart expands more to gather up more blood to push. When it expands, the heart muscle, especially on the right side which tends to be smaller, can become thin and stretched just like a balloon will when you blow it up too much. And just like that balloon, it can become weakened and limp when you maintain that pressure. It’s known, too,  that very high heart rates can skew your heart’s electrical circuit and develop into arrhythmias or heart rhythm disorders.

What to do?

Don’t be scared – be smart. For most people doing intense workouts once a week or a couple times a month is fine and adds to your health. Your heart will thank you, your lungs will thank you, and your cholesterol will thank you. More than that is fine for short periods. I’ve done a couple cycles of Power90 workouts but tone them down a bit and make sure I get plenty of rest if I feel tired.

High Intensity Exersize
Take it easy and enjoy.

Remember what you are exercising for. Most people running on the side of the road aren’t Olympic athletes. They run for fun and fitness, and maybe to fit into a new bathing suit. There just isn’t a need to work at such an intense level. For most people slow and steady is the best road to improved health.

If you want to try it out start slow and let your body adjust. Ramp it up if you feel good. Slow down if you feel tired. Remember that the whole purpose of exercise is to live better and feel better today. And I recommend stopping after ten cups of coffee.


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She hired a track coach at 77. You think you are old?

What Makes Olga Run?

My Grandfather and then my Father died at 67. A hop and a skip from where I sit. Both from cancer. Best guess on my Grandfather’s was granite dust. He was a stone cutter as a young man and turned stone pillars for government buildings all over Washington State. He didn’t smoke and had no history of cancer so granite is the only guess the doctors had. No one is sure about Dad. He smoked but never had problems with his lungs. His mom died at 92 and lived the life of Annie Oakley until the Saturday morning she died. Twice a week she drove her golden boat – a 1967 Ford Galaxy four-door – from Milton to Tacoma for organ lessons. Wise drivers pulled over as she went by. Only the top of her head peaked from above the steering wheel and she took up two of the four lanes along the road. Trouble was no one could be sure which two she would take. And she didn’t much care. There were organs to be played!

Living Well is the Goal

We are far from figuring out aging though we are learning much. Exercise is essential. A good diet necessary. Good friends and healthy relationships help. The right genetics are necessary but not as much as we once thought. But living long is only half the calculation. I want to live well. I want to be engaged in life. I want to learn. I want to race my Grand Daughter in he first 5k. And beat her. I want to watch my girl’s guitar recital. I want to hug my wife when the twins move to Paris to live out their dreams – Reagan to be a great artist and Madison to design clothes for pets.

Living well is the goal. One person who lived long and well was Olga Kotelko. She began competing in track and field at 77, about thirty years after most people have died inside. By the time of her death at 95 she won hundreds of gold medals and held almost every master’s record for her events and age groups. How? What was unique about Olga? In many ways, the author of What Makes Olga Run?, finds, nothing. Most of her medical metrics were normal or close to it. She ate a healthy but not exotic or rigorous diet. She exercised daily. She maintained a positive outlook. But certainly she was unique. Somehow all those normal parts added up to an extraordinary whole. The book offers no magic. No crazy diets. Only good advice that is easy to follow for healthy and happy living. Following is my review of the book. It’s an interesting and provoking read.

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See the book at Amazon

Book Review – What Makes Olga Run?

Olga Kotelko was an elite masters track star who, upon her death in 2014, at age 95, heldolga hundreds of gold medals in track and field, none of which she earned prior to her 77th birthday.

In What Makes Olga Run? Bruce Grierson jumps head first into the life of Olga to try to understand what makes her tick. What he finds is that this extraordinary woman is, by most metrics, not very extraordinary. There is no magic here. Readers looking for super foods, esoteric yoga mantras, or exotic training regimens won’t find them here. Olga’s story is remarkable in how unremarkable it is. Grierson follows Olga through just about every test one can think of: stress tests, DNA analyses, diets, psychological examinations – in every case she comes out normal or close to it. But somehow, in Olga, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Olga is extraordinary. At 77, when most people are dead or dying, she hires a Hungarian track coach and begins a daily training regimen. She eats a nutritious but not remarkable diet. She loves competition. She loves to win. She was upbeat and refused to dwell on the dark side of things. Somehow all of that added up to an uncommon life of steady and satisfying accomplishment.

The book is not meant to be a text book. There are passages, especially concerning biology, that – in my humble opinion – could have been written more precisely. But precision in a book like this usually translates into boring. And the book is not boring. It is well written, reads easily, and is adequately documented.

There are three main take-aways:

  1. What you already know about good health is true. Eat well. Exercise. Sweat a little every day. Enjoy friends a family.
  2. Maintain a good attitude. Embrace optimism. Eschew pessimism. Keep a good perspective.
  3. Your bad habits can be reversed. You can improve your heart health. You can enjoy time with your family again. Every decision, every step, every bite represents a fork in the road that leads to an end that you chose.

The author ends with Nine Rules for Living that summarize simplicity and health. But for him, ‘Olga’s biggest gift’ is a change in perspective. He records her advice:

Look around. These are your kids. This is your wife. This is your life. Its awesomeness is eluding you. Pay attention. Yes, there will come a time when you have genuine, life-threatening ailments. But, for now, stop your kvetching. And stop dreading birthdays that end in zeros. Those zeros can pull you under, like stones in your pocket. At your age, your story is not ending: you know that.

An uplifting read.

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