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Copyright Dennis Mitton
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 actively exercise. Back in the good ol’ days that we all talk about, 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. Losing weight takes a concentrated Herculean effort now that I’m pushing sixty. And that many miles will tire me out for a week.
I learned to give my body time to rest last summer in sunny, blistering, buggy, and drippingly humid, South Carolina. It’s glorious in April but by the end of May I will wake up to 85 degrees and the temperature will top at around 100. Running on paved roads adds another five degrees. I tried waiting until we had a brief shower but that drives the humidity up to where one can hardly catch a breath. 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 enjoyed the air conditioning and concentrated on stretching and yoga. I ran a three-mile loop one night a week when the temperature mercifully dropped to below 85 degrees. September here is as hot as August so I started back up in mid-September to get ready for a race in early October. I wasn’t sure what to expect and was truly shocked when I turned in my best times for both a 5k and 10k run. I felt smooth and comfortable the entire race. 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 living the good life is all about?
I have a new favorite story. It comes from Tim Ferriss’ podcast 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.
Don’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?
[This is an installment in a series I’m writing on living long and living well. I expect to take about fifty years to write it. Go here to read the introduction. At this point I have no plans for scheduled installments and I’m not following any couch to marathon plan. I write about fitness and food but am also deeply interested in more nuanced things that make life good. If you would like to know when I publish please enter your email address in the follow button at the top right of any page. Thanks!]
Copyright 2015, Dennis Mitton
Some of us are voluntary lonely soldiers when it comes to exercise and fitness. In all the years I’ve run I’ve only gone out once with someone else. I don’t consider myself overtly social and running is one way that I reset a little bit and let the dross of daily living wash down the road behind me. I guess I prefer to do this by myself. I have no real beef about running with someone else but neither do I have any real desire to do so. Now my wife? Exercise for her should be a group affair. Preferably with catered dessert and aperitifs. If there are other people involved then it’s a go. If not. Ugh. Not her cup of tea.
Whichever side of that line you fall on, if you are working on improving your fitness please consider signing up for a local 5k run/walk/race and play along. I can almost guarantee that you will find one near you on almost any weekend of the year. I use Running in the USA to look up races. Bring some friends along and dress goofy if you want. Walk a bit if you’re tired. But get a sweat going and get some oxygen pumping. You’ll have a great time and will feel better for it. (Note: ‘5k’ is shorthand for five kilometers which translates to 3.1 miles.)
Here are 10 reasons why you should run a 5K in a local race no matter your level of fitness:
It gives you a tangible and reachable goalThere will come a time when you enjoy your work outs. You will look forward to running. You will schedule your day around yoga. You might even pass up a date because it’s leg night at the gym. It took me about a year to come to that place. Until then? Well, it can be a bit of a grind. One way to get through the it’s-not-really-that-fun phase is to set small and easily achievable goals and this one is perfect. It’s easy, requires a minimum amount of training, provides a real benefit, and can be lots of fun.
You’ll see that there is nothing to be intimidated aboutShe that woman running on the side of the road? She how fit she is? That woman is just like you. She worries about all the same things. Some days she likes her workout and some days she can barely make it out the door. She will embrace you fully at whatever place you are. There is an almost universal attitude among the running crowd that ‘doing’ is the goal. The goal is to get off the couch. Walk, trot, or push a walker. If you show up you are one of the cool kids. You’ll be accepted and encouraged wherever you are in the continuum between couch and finish line. It can be nice to find a group like this.
You can walk that far if you can’t run – and no one caresLots of people walk at 5ks. Lots of 5ks are advertised as a run/walk event. There will be speedsters there but they’ll be so far ahead that you can ignore them. You probably don’t even need to train for a 5k. If you can work in the garden, or vacuum the house for an hour then you can walk 3.1 miles. It’s not that hard. And if you go with a couple of friends it will be even easier.
It is fun – dress up like a turkey if you like
A lot of local 5k races are themed. It’s entirely acceptable and encouraged to goof off, dress up, and have some fun along the way. So dress like a turkey or wear your Santa stockings. Put on a wig. Wear a tutu. Enjoy yourself! Why the hell not?
You will get a huge shot of confidenceHow many times have you set a fitness goal and felt lousy as it slipped right by you? This one is easy. Pay your entry fee, show up, have some fun walking or trotting, and mark it off your list. You’ll feel good, you’ll feel motivated to accomplish your next goal, and you had fun doing it. It’s a win all the way around.
It’s easy and not too time consuming to train forThis is one of the reasons I run 5ks. I know folks who start out with the goal of running a marathon. Running – by necessity and I’m not complaining – takes over their free time. It has too. They will learn all about toe nails falling off and just how stiff you can be the next day. They will either miss the birthday party or run laps in the dark around the neighborhood for two hours. “Gotta get my fourteen miler in!” This is why I don’t race over 5k. I have that kind of personality and pretty soon I will be weighing a nice lunch with my wife vs. a sixteen mile training run. And I’ll be in trouble for making the wrong decision.If you haven’t run before then you’ll probably want to do some kind of training plan. Even if you are fit enough to do the running it’s a good way to train your mind for the task of putting foot in front of foot for half and hour or more. There are too many good running websites to count but a good place to start is Runner’s World where they have advice for everything from diet to clothing to running plans. If you’re a more serious beginner consider reading Build Your Best Running Body. It’s a great book that covers the gamut of fitness running. Go here for my quick review.
It’s easy on the bodyThis is especially important if you’re just starting out. I suppose it’s possible to run marathons or half-marathons without undue stress and injury but it’s tough. Everyone I know who runs marathons deals with foot, knee, and hip aches that I just don’t feel when training for a 5k. Aches and stresses come with any workout but you just aren’t beating your body up on short runs like you would for marathons This is just easy math: compare possibilities for strains and stress between running maybe six miles a week vs. twenty or more. Probability is on your side.
You’ll feel like an athlete
There’s some truth to the adage that you start to look like the people you spend time with. If you do a bit of training and then run a race or two you just might begin thinking of yourself as an athlete. And if not an athlete then at least as someone interested in fitness. This will bleed over into eating habits, sleep habits, confidence, and might just make you better at conversation. Do it enough and you’ll start looking pretty good in your sweatpants?
Your brain health increases
Over the last couple of decades we see more and more research that shows how much exercise contributes to brain health. Your brain – that little eight-pound ball of fat in your head – is only a small portion of your body but uses over 25% of your oxygen and nutrition. The more clean blood you can get pumping through there the healthier it is. Strengthen your heart, clean your blood vessels, lose a few pounds, and oxygenate your brain and you’re on to a new you who can live longer and enjoy life more.
You can build new memories with friendsThe component of health that we rarely hear talked about is the importance of happy and meaningful relationships. Getting together for a race is a great way to enjoy each other’s company, do something a little bit difficult, encourage each other, and accomplish goals together.Maybe my wife is right? Maybe the best exercise is done in a group with fresh canape? rewards afterward?
Regular readers of Monkey Dance know that I write quite a bit about health and fitness. I’ve added a new tab to the web-page titled Fitness50 for fitness and longevity writing and information for old geezers and geezettes like myself. I wish this weren’t a real topic. I wish that my body worked exactly as it did when I was twenty when I could drop five pounds with a run around the block and a day without pie. Not so anymore. Pounds stick like skin. My eyes don’t work like they used to. I don’t recover as quickly from workouts. My doctor scours annual test results like they hold secrets to El Dorado. Roll all this up to say that I would like to live as long and as well as I can but age often gets in the way. I have young girls and younger grandkids that I would like to see grow up. Heck, for all I know my older kids would like me to stay around too.
Regarding my health I admit to having a bit of luck. My doctor calls me an American anomaly. I’m 57, in relatively decent condition, and have never been on medication. Apparently that makes me unique among my peers. I’m not sure what to credit this too. Family genetics? There’s plenty of mold in that gene pool. A good diet? As long as pastries are considered a food group I’m in good shape. Working out? I’m sure it helps. I love running though I’m concerned about the long-term effects of my two-hundred pound body pounding the pavement but I rest when I feel sore and take lots of breaks for yoga and stretching. One day I hope to include swimming and biking in my repertoire. Once you are able to lace up and run for the simple enjoyment of movement – and this seriously took me a full year to achieve – there is something energizing and peaceful about tromping through a few miles of countryside. Or even sidewalks.
I have no plans to schedule posts as I do for other series. Nor have I put together any master progression to march from the couch to a marathon. There are lots of good sites for those kind of goals. I expect to post regularly and kind of sort topics out as I go.
In general I see the following loose groupings and subcategories:
Fitness and exercise
Nutrition and food
Family and friends
Wonder and learning
And somehow I’ve got to get maple bars into their own healthy food group.
What can you expect from future posts?
I am programmed toward the logical and the scientific. Yes, I can laugh and enjoy a good guitar solo but when it comes to information I need it packaged just so. Maybe to a fault. I want evidence before I sign up and I don’t mean your Uncle Ed and his diet pills. I recognize – and explore – that as much as our bodies are the same they are different and that some things that work for me won’t for for you. But I won’t promote silliness like drinking charcoal milkshakes because that guy on the Internet who sells the stuff tells you that it’s a cure for all your ills. And so far I’ve never posted anything that I’ve been specifically paid for. I’ve had a few chances but I’m simply too afraid that my blog will morph into looking like every other blog based on SEO and content development.
Which brings me to fads. Not interested. Most current fads are just failed fads from the past repackaged for a new market. But solid advice for healthy living has hardly changed. We know how to eat, we know what makes us healthy, and we know that none of it is difficult. It might not be easy – but it’s not difficult either. The problem to sort through is that it’s tough to sell a million books writing about the power of broccoli and the family dinner. But pour some fermented mango rind in a bottle and sagging seniors will cash in their retirement for a year’s supply of the stuff.
I’m increasingly interested in the intersection between our genes and what is called epigenetics. For the last hundred or so years it has been believed that genes dictate our destiny, just like we have wrongly believed that your brain is fixed. There’s a lot of current work, though, that argues that our DNA often meets a fork in the road and that outside conditions (the prefix ‘epi’ means from outside or nearby) can dictate which fork it takes. This has tremendous potential ramifications for health. We don’t understand them all yet but I think this is one of the Next Big Things.
When I look at or read about people who have lived long, healthy, and engaged lives I have never once read about telomeric extension, or super-dosing vitamins, or esoteric medical practices. Mostly these people are active, eat sensibly, and enjoy lives of happy engagement with family and friends. Lots of these folks have some kind of metaphysical belief as well. Does this contribute to longevity or is it just a trait of their culture? Can one be mindful but not spiritual? I think so. Can this help us to life longer or more fully? I think so but it needs exploration.
I think much of what I read about longevity misses a main point – to live a lovely life today. I would like to live for a very long time but not as a crabby old man yelling at the kids to get off my lawn. (Though if that’s the only option I’ll take it!) Forget the poster that reads Today Is The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life – I want to remember that today is it. It might be all I get. Today my kids are seven. Today is the day with the wonder of rain. Or of blaring heat. Today I can read a wonderful book. As in all things we balance our future and present but in this case I think full engagement in the present helps us to live longer.
So let’s look at science based evidence when we can, stick with the tried and true when we can’t, and figure out how to live engaged and happy for as long as we can.
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Thanks so much. Now lets all help each other live so long and well that other people want to write books about us!