It's been quite some time since I wrote a blog post, but this is the perfect time of year to do it. Why? Because this is when you are most likely to read it. In the past, I've written quite a bit and there's no reason to rehash anything I've done before. So, I'll write this one as a list of quick hits with links to my old stuff along the way.
November is upon us and unless you haven't been to Target, Home Depot, or Lowes, you've noticed that the Christmas is not far away. This season can be the best time of the year to enjoy friends, family, and fun. Those are three things that we just can't have enough of. But there is one more part of the holiday season that can be a bit too plentiful... food.
In our culture, and perhaps many others, we have this strange correlation between celebration and food. We celebrate through food. Have a birthday? Bake a cake. Go to a ballgame? Have a hot dog and a beer. You want to thank someone? Give them food. You invite friends to dinner? Make them food. A friend invites you to dinner? Bring them food. Start a job? Go to lunch. Quit a job? Go to lunch!
Don’t get me wrong, those traditions are great. I love a hot dog at the baseball game, a slice of cake for a kid’s birthday, and a some ham at Christmas. The trouble is when we link greater celebration with more and more food. Somehow, we get into a mindset that you can't celebrate something without food being involved. Someone at a Christmas party doesn't want seconds? They must not be having fun! Stuff another cookie in their mouth. That'll show them how to have a good time! The real celebration should come through the people we are with.
I'm a numbers guy. There are two numbers that you should think about today.
Today is May 29, just a few days after the unofficial start of summer. For those who care, we still have 23 days until the official start of summer. The sun will beat down on us even more than now turning those walks down the beach into walks in the water.
And because I'm going number crazy today, you have 96 days between now and the unofficial end of summer 2013. 96 days to get to the beach, hang out by the pool, and enjoy the sun. And now is the time to prepare yourself to look as good as you can and feel as energetic as you can for all of those 96 days.
It's been quite some time since I posted anything new to this blog and this picture to the right is the main reason why. This picture, or the injury that it shows, caused some significant pain, discomfort, and fatigue that started just after the holidays and has been slowly improving ever since. Have you spotted the problem yet?
I see this black and white picture and I think pain, discomfort, and some meds that I really don't need to see again. In this, my first post back from the long hiatus, I'll write a bit about the body, I'll write about the effects of injury on the body, and what all of this can teach us about keeping the body healthy.
If you are in this business long enough, your calendar becomes littered with heath observances throughout the year. Every health-related association chooses a day, week, or month to be the primary focus of their outreach. There's Hemophilia Awareness Month, National School Breakfast Week, National Poison Prevention Week, and World Kidney Day -- and that's just a sampling of observances in March.
Like just about any other week, this week marks another one of those awareness periods. This one is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, by the National Eating Disorders Association.
Normally, this observance would be relegated to back along with poison prevention and kidney health. That's not to say that they aren't important -- they all are -- but I'd don't see any reason to chime in on all of them. This time, it did jump out at me. Here's why.
Last week, news circulated that an article had been published in the New England Journal of Medicine about myths in the world of obesity treatment. The article summarizes seven myths that, it says, haven't been proven.
The journal article was reported in a number of places including ABC, NBC and others. One of the many other places it was reported was the British site called Medical News Today. MNT has slowly become one of my favorite places to get news like this, so I'll use that as my baseline in a moment.
But first, let's take a look at what we should all learn about myths -- particularly those in the fitness and health world:
No one and no time of year are immune. Summer travels, family illness, a
stressful time at work, and -- the holiday season. You are probably
getting back into your regular routine now that the holidays are over
and I want to make sure your fitness routine is a part of it.
Injury is another possible setback -- and that is the one I'm dealing
with right now.
This weekend, I’m making a trip back home to visit with friends and family. Among others, I’ll be visiting my 2 (and a half!) year old niece. The last time I was home, I learned a very valuable lesson -- be careful what workouts you do before visiting a kid that age. I knew I was going to be away from my gym for a few days, so I squeezed in tougher workouts before I left. I hit my arms the day before the trip and legs on the morning I flew out of town.
And then there was that first evening with my niece. Any parent will see this coming... I sit down on the floor with her. --- She runs to the other side of the room: "Uncle Dan, come here!"
(Okay, on second thought maybe it was something like "Unca Dan, comeer!".) I get up and go over there...
A number of weeks ago, I wrote a post focused on being fit to really enjoy time with family. I was getting ready for a weekend visiting (among other family members) my two year-old niece. That weekend was great -- thanks for asking! This time, my legs weren't sore from a tough workout the day before and I could keep up. And I just couldn't imagine having been held back.
That post was about having the physical ability to keep up with -- and enjoy -- your time with family. For this one, I want to turn that around. I want to talk about the impression you give others as you stay -- or don't stay -- physically fit and healthy.
With that visit as my inspiration, I'll focus only on the impression that you have on your own children. I'll leave the rest to you.
Once you've made all of your preparations, use this time to relax and decompress. The wild weather outside has shut us down, so you might as accept it and relax. Maybe you can get caught up on some reading or watch that movie you haven't had time for.
Most people realize that no one really looks their best in the gym. But, a lot of people don't realize that looking really good outside the gym requires enough hard work that you can look really sweaty and worn out in the gym.
Now, let's realize that the idea of looking really good means very different things for different people. For a supermodel, it means looking like the woman on the left. For a guy in his mid-thirties like me, it's a bit different. For a woman who wants to keep up with her growing grandchildren, it is something entirely different. But, still, there is a direct correlation between looking like the girl does on the right to looking as good as she does on the left. There's a similar pair of photos for each of us, even if we have drastically different goals. So, let's dig a little deeper...
Fitness magazines are overflowing with lists of little things you can do that will improve your health and fitness. Those lists are great. No particular item takes that much time or energy or planning on your part. You can mix and match the items that are easiest to do and you start to reap the rewards. The rewards aren't huge, but they're meaningful.
But, let's step back and look at the big changes you can make that will bring you big results. The downside is this: these could be meaningful changes to your lifestyle. They could mean meaningful changes to your approach to the gym or to your day-to-day schedule. The good news is that, on the surface, the changes are surprisingly simple. The real complexity comes when it is time to actually make these changes into your lifestyle. That isn't something you can be guided through in a magazine. You have to figure that stuff out on your own anyway. Don't get me wrong, fitness professionals like myself are here to help. But, you have some heavy lifting to do -- figuratively and literally.
Change #1: Strength training
There are a lot of people out there doing "strength training" and then there are people who are actually strengthening. The goal here is to lift enough weight that the weight is a challenge. You are looking to get stronger than before and add muscle to your body. If you are a woman who is worried about "being too bulky", I'd encourage you to give it a try and see what happens. Worst case, you ease off for a while and lean up. But, as I've said before, the "bulky" concern shouldn't be a concern at all. In fact, I'd put the idea that women should not lift right up there with the idea that women belong in the kitchen. It was wrong from the beginning.
To drive the point home, I'm not talking about the 15-repetition you-do-the-same-routine-every-week thing that you see everyone doing in the gym. This is the 10-repetition I-may-not-finish-the-set version. The difference between 15 repetition and 10-repetition may not sound like much, but the feel of the workout is very different - and very unfamiliar to many. That's not to say that you have to lift mountains of weight like the models in fitness magazines, but you do have to lift weights that you don't realize you are capable of today. And sometimes, you fail to finish a set. And that's just fine. You have to take some time to get accustomed to this kind of workout, but it really pays off. And don't waste your time with isolation exercises -- although I've said that before.
Change #2: Interval training.
The thinking about cardiovascular training has slowly been changing over the last 10 years or so. In the past, we told people to aim for an intensity level that you could maintain over time and then stay there for an extended period of time. "Slow and steady wins the race" was the thinking. The problem is this thinking has been proven wrong. The best knowledge now says that the more effective form of cardiovascular exercise is interval training. To take that analogy, the tortoise might just win that race, but the hare looses weight and is healthier. The basic idea is to push well beyond an intensity level that you could maintain over time for shorter bursts with recovery times in-between to catch your breath.
High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, can be pretty serious stuff. The most elite athletes out there push themselves to an extremely high level to be able to perform. Instead, you should do a version of interval training that is right for you. You are pushing well beyond the point that you could maintain over time. I wrote a post a while back giving you a basic introduction to intervals. Just like the heavier weight training, interval training takes some time to get used to but the pay-off is well worth it.
Change #3: Eat the ChooseMyPlate diet.
Take a look at your meals and aim to make them look like this plate:
This is the system that replaced the food pyramid last year. I've liked it from the beginning -- here's why. Okay, maybe you don't organize the food on your plate like this, but you're aiming for those proportions. Half of your plate is fruits and veggies while the other half is split between grains and protein. On the surface, it sounds easy. But I've got some news. It isn't. We tend to prefer a carbohydrate-rich diet and skimp on veggies and the lean protein. (As a side note, that's why diets that restrict carbohydrates have been successful at times. It's not that carbs are bad, it's the fact that many of us just eat too much.)
The piece that's implied here is that you shouldn't be eating all of the high-sodium processed foods that dominate our culture. This is another change that is very easy to describe but very difficult to follow. This is the lifestyle change that you hear so much about. The change is tough, but well worth it.
There are your three big changes that will get big results: challenging weight training, interval training, and the ChooseMyPlate diet. And..... You're starting all three of these tomorrow, right? ;-)