Archives for May 2009

Iceland’s Massive Decline in Coronary Deaths

From 1981-2006, mortality rates from heart disease went down by 80% in Iceland. Yes, that is 80%. In an era when we hear about chronic disease rates going up, how in the world can Iceland have such a massive reduction in heart disease?? Researchers recently studied why this happened, and they have concluded that 3/4 of the reductions were due to lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise, eating healthier foods, and quitting smoking. That is it, basic lifestyle changes that are pretty simple (although admittedly often difficult to implement, because of addiction, habit, etc).

It is really unbelievable that a disease that is largely preventable takes so many lives in the U.S. each year, and causes our health care costs to skyrocket. Maybe U.S. citizens should look to the good people of Iceland for direction.

Workout Tip #1: Do What Works

I used to think that running, especially over long distances, was the measure of a person’s athletic and fitness abilities. I’m not sure why exactly, perhaps because it seemed that good runners looked athletic. So, I would force myself to run and get bored out of my mind. Then, I’d quit running. And since running was exercise, I also quit exercise.

From a logical perspective this is called “fallacious” thinking, specifically a “straw man” argument. I setup running in my mind as the only proper exercise and when I couldn’t run, I thus, couldn’t exercise. It was silly thinking, but it truly hindered my exercise. I had to create a “clean slate” with exercise and working out and you may have to as well.

First, exercise is simply burning calories. Granted, it can be intense, moderate, or weak, but burning calories is burning calories. So, while you may burn more calories playing an intense game of squash than walking for thirty minutes, if you hate squash and don’t play it, the 100 calories you burn from walking is better than the 0 calories you burn from not playing squash (even if those who do play squash would burn 400 calories in the same amount of time).

Second, remember your age. Just because you were a basketball stud in high school doesn’t mean you need to run out and join the nearest pickup game at age 48. While that may be an excellent way to get in shape, it may also be an excellent way to get so sore the next day that you give up exercising for another 30 years. Basically, you may need to reinvent what exercise means for you. I say “may” because perhaps you can exercise the way you used to. Most of us probably can’t; if anything we don’t have time for 3 hour practices 5 days a week with games on the off days.

Finally, and related to one and two, keep an open mind. Trying new exercises will keep your routines more interesting and you’ll stop your muscles from getting used to the same old stuff (this is a good thing, btw). Plus, you may find something you actually love to do. For example, I never knew how relaxing and and exhilarating cross country skiing could be until I tried it.

Today, I actually enjoy running, at least outdoors (treadmills still bore me to tears). I admire those hardcore runners, but realize that I don’t need to be one myself.

Learning About My Calorie Intake…

I have been keeping Fitday records for almost 2 full years now, faithfully, and in pretty good detail. One important thing I have observed is the effect that eating a certain number of calories has on my weight. I can look at my 7, 14, or 28 day averages, and if I see certain numbers, I can almost always predict the result. Below are some calorie range averages, and what they tend to mean for me. Bear in mind that I am consistently active, getting intense aerobic exercise and lifting 4-5 days per week (and a high level of activity other days).

1800-2400 calories – I lose weight in this range. If my initial weight is high, then I can lose about 1-2 pounds a week. I may lose some muscle in the lower parts of this range, so I typically avoid going below 2000 calories when I am active.

2401-2900– I pretty much maintain my weight in this range. In fact, when I was in this range a few months ago, I don’t think I gained or lost a pound for 3-4 months (although I was gaining muscle, so I was probably losing some fat).

2901-3400 – In this range I gain. I gain slowly, but I gain. Basically, I have learned that if I start seeing a calorie figure in the low-3000 range, it is time for me to reign my eating in. If I am in this range, it usually means I am eating out too much or snacking too much at work.

3401+ – I don’t have Fitday records for a long-term average in this range, but I am guessing based on past observations that I would gain pretty quickly if my calories were averaging this range. Needless to say, I am not volunteering to be a subject in this experiment!

I am certain that your numbers will be different, but this is the beauty of Fitday and other diet tracking programs, in that you can observe trends that may be unique to you. I have pretty much carried out a nearly 2 year case study related to my diet and activity. While I admit that for most people, keeping a detailed diet and activity journal for 2 years is the height of tedium, I actually enjoy keeping such records, and the rewards are more than just intellectual inquiry: weight loss, health, and fitness!

Introducing Workout Tips

Previously, I posted my series on twenty changes that I made that made me healthier and led to my weight loss. I’ve decided that, with summer coming up, I would start to focus specifically on my workout tips. Let me give you some background.

I was a very active child, but with the advent of the Nintendo Entertainment System that all stopped. I went from active to sedentary very quickly. However, in high school I decided that being fat and slothful wasn’t the way to popularity, so I started lifting weights and joined the football team. Football and training for it kept me in good shape, but I didn’t exactly love football. So, after high school, I lost a lot of my motivation for working out.

In college I was only a short walk away from a gorgeous state of the art workout facility. Yet, I rarely used it. Classwork and other stuff kept me busy and one of my biggest regrets is being near my heaviest weights during my college years. It seems to be fairly common since the freshman 15 (pounds) is a stereotype. I had the freshman 15, the sophomore 20, etc. My senior year, I finally got motivated and lost a lot of weight and got fit and was thin throughout most of graduate school. Still, after I got into the “real world” I let myself go again and was back on the yo yo train. It’s not a pleasant ride!

In  2005, I started at my current job as a high school teacher. Although teenagers are gaining weight at dangerous levels, by and large they are thinner and fitter than the average population. You gotta love youth! This was a constant reminder of my own fitness shortcomings and also how far I’d fallen (I had been in great shape in high school and grad school). On August 6th 2007, I decided I had had enough. I was done with the yo yo dieting and tired of being the overweight guy. A switch went off in my head and I started eating healthily and working out. And, I haven’t looked back nearly two years later.

That time has been successful, but also filled with hits and misses, especially with fitness. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out what worked for me. For the next couple of weeks, I am going to share my fitness tips on this blog to help others follow in my path. I went from a soft 169 pounds to 150 pounds of almost solid muscle. I’m not saying this to brag, just to let you know that I do have some wisdom to share. Don’t look back in five years and regret that you wasted a large chunk of your life by being fat and unhealthy. Start getting fit today. Check back here to get practical tips.

Struggling to Lose Weight: Winter

frosted window

Winter is a rough time for me all around. As I get older, I hate winter more and more. Growing up, winter was almost magical: Christmas (and all associated content, including lights), snow days, warm fires, and so forth, stoked my imagination. Even though this past winter was cold and dreary to a large degree, the “greeting card” winter of my nostalgia still shapes my view of winter. These days, outside of Christmas, I can do without the winter. Seriously, the less winter, the better. I often joke that I wish the cold and snow would end at Christmas: I would like a cold and snowy Christmas, and by the middle of January, the days can warm up to the 60s as far as I’m concerned. Let me say that I can appreciate the winter on certain levels, and I will always love the “four seasons,” but winter is just too limiting.

In high school, I usually lost weight in the winter, not because winter provides any kind of real advantage (it actually may provide a disadvantage to weight loss because it drives our body into a kind of “hibernation”), but because, as I have mentioned in previous posts, winter is when my social life, which began in the fall, was revving up. I had already begun losing weight in the fall, and this continued, and even increased, in the winter. This, and the new year, provided a strong motivation to get the Y, and eat right.

These days, winter doesn’t cause me too many weight-related problems. I sometimes struggle with infections and mild mood issues, but this doesn’t directly relate to my weight. During winter, my main issue is that I have to make my exercise interesting. This is always the struggle for me in the winter. Usually, there is one effective solution to this problem: music. In high school, I had a cassette walkman. I discovered “oldies” during this time, so I would make mix tapes of oldies I got off the radio and various CDs, non-creatively titled “The Exercise Collection” 1-2. I upgraded to a discman around 2000, and in 2008, I finally got a MP3 player. Right now, I am listening to The Airborne Toxic Event, which is upbeat enough to make exercise easier. Basically, to lose weight in the winter I need to:

– Make effective use of music, to keep exercise interesting

– Vary my exercise routine enough to keep interested

– Not let winter blahs negatively affect my weight loss

– Get out on the few good days that the winter offers

Image of a kind-of-nostalgic looking photo taken by me

Struggling With Weight: Fall

fall barn

In high school, I loved the fall, and I still do, although not as much as I did in high school. In high school, football ended the first week of November, which meant I was thinking about my social life again, and ready to lose some of the weight I couldn’t shake during football season. In the latter part of the autumn, I finally had free time, which meant there were more temptations to be lazy and eat too much, but the possibility of a new social life almost always motivated me to lose weight in the fall. Football kept me pretty busy, so I tended not to date as much, or even concern myself with dating, during the season. After football, I was ready to re-enter the social scene, and I knew then, as I know now, that being fit provides a social advantages, so I took my weight loss seriously. It is a shame that just as my diets were beginning, Thanksgiving and Christmas were coming up. It was bad timing on my part, but I managed.

In high school, I recall going to the Y a lot during the fall, and it was during the tail end of the autumn that I usually resumed weight-lifting. Since graduating from all schooling, the fall doesn’t have the social significance it once did, so I haven’t begun many health programs in the fall lately, but I typically do pretty well at continuing them in the fall. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and December festivities provide some temptations, but there are strategies to help me avoid putting on the pounds during holidays (for example, see my tips for losing weight). To lose weight in the fall, I need to remember to:

– Keep my Halloween, Thanksgiving, and December eating under control

– Make good use of the sunny, warm, fall days, when I can get out and run

– Get out and hike and/or walk on days when it may be too cold to run, but perfect for bundling up and hiking

Image of Southern Ohio fall barn taken by me

Struggling to Lose Weight: Summer

summer hill

I have great memories of recent summers, but in high school, it was hardly my favorite season. Why would I not like a sunny, 3 month break from school? In a word, football. I enjoyed football, but it was very tough, and required a lot of commitment. We began weight-lifting and running in June, practicing in July, and we began full practices (including “two-a-days” from 7:30 AM -3:30 PM) by August. Hence, I basically had no summer “break.” Football got me in shape that is for sure, but because it was stressful on my body and mind, I tended to compensate by eating. After a 7 hour practice, nothing satisfied like a huge, greasy, meal of 2 ham-and-cheese subs, french fries, and loads of pop. For this reason, I rarely began diets or health programs in the summer during high school. The only exception is the summer before my junior year, when I continued an exercise program I began with spring bike riding. I exercised diligently with my brother Jonathan, and friend, Mike. We lifted every other day, and ran outside at the school track afterward. By the end of July, I worked my way up to running 6 miles. I continued running on Sundays (my football off-day) once school had started. I still look back fondly on those Sunday runs, as times of relaxation in the midst of busy, 12 hour, days.

In recent years, my summers have been very healthy. If I keep myself busy running, golfing, walking, swimming, and so forth, I do well in the summers. I could run every day of the week outside at local parks, whereas running inside at the Y in the winter is a huge struggle, in part because running in a circle indoors isn’t exactly my favorite situation. Summer provides so many opportunities for exercise, and the social motivation is huge because everybody wants to do stuff in the summer, including going to the beach! Summer presents its own challenges to weight loss, so to lose weight in the summer I need to:

– Get out and enjoy the weather; since I am on break as a teacher, some days I get lazy in the morning. While I love running outside, some days I need a mental kick in the pants to get out

– Get in a routine related to eating. Since I am on break, I often travel a lot during the summer, which means the eating routine I am naturally on (lower calorie, high fiber, etc) is out-of-whack. Because of this, I am tempted to eat poorly.

– Not let social times distract me from staying on a plan. I always need to remind myself that things like going to the beach, etc, are more enjoyable when I am in shape!

Struggling To Lose Weight: Spring

spring 1

As I was thinking about weight loss yesterday, I realized that I often notice seasonal patterns in my weight gain and weight loss. It is difficult to notice overarching seasonal patterns, because I have been fat in all seasons, and thin in all seasons, but there are a few observable patterns. Over the next few days, I will share some of my observations related to each season. I hope that they can help you identify your patterns and confront some of your seasonal issues. Today, I will look at spring.

I have memories of gaining weight in the spring. The reason is simple: I often am successful in losing weight in the winter, and by spring, I become complacent. Common sense dictates that I should actually lose weight in the spring: the weather is getting nicer, and my body is getting out of hibernation mode. However, spring brings complacency for me, and while I am not sure why, I always seem to get really hungry in the spring.

Spring weight gain started in high school. I remember lifting weights a lot my sophomore year in the fall and winter, yet I regularly skipped weight lifting in the spring to hang out with girls. I gained about 15 pounds that spring because I spent most of the time sitting on my butt. My junior year in high school was different, when I started training for a 100 mile bike ride. I spent many nights and weekends riding that bike, and got in great shape!

Nonetheless, spring has more often than not brought complacency. Last year, tortilla chips were my weakness. Man, from March until May, I ate tons of them, with meals and as snacks, often with fresh salsa. I finally had to just get them out of the house, and we rarely buy them to this day! When I go out to eat, I still put them away…but that is another post.

This spring I have had various weaknesses, mainly eating too many meals out because of all the special events I have been involved in lately: prom, the school auction, the New York City trip, honor society induction, spring break with the parents, National Speaker Association meetings, dinner with the visiting retreat team tonight, etc. It seems like there are so many special occasions this spring, and so many occasions for eating too much! It is also harder to exercise regularly when my evenings are busy. I should be able to deal with this, and I have by saving calories certain places, and by exercising more, but this spring has been a real battle.

Below is my special plan to avoid weight gain in the spring:

– Avoid eating too much (since my appetite seems to grow in the spring)

– Get out on the days I can. I love running outside, and since it rains a lot in the spring, getting out often requires some planning

– Connect to the symbol of spring as a time of renewal, and use it to “spring clean” my health

Want a Smart Kid? Exercise

Research from psychologists has indicated that mothers who exercise 30 minutes a day during pregnancy increase their child’s IQ by as much as eight percentage points. The study  also noted an increase in IQ associated with breast feeding and other positive factors.

We have been discovering over the years that having healthy children is more than just early childhood parental decisions, but even the woman’s behavior while pregnant. While we have known that drugs, alcohol, and smoking were bad, it’s nice to find positive things we can do to help our children while even in the womb. Fortunately my wife exercised and took DHA while our baby was in utero and breastfeeding. I hope it makes a difference.

Adequate Rest Prevents Infections

The answer to preventing the flu – swine or otherwise – may be as simple as getting a good night’s sleep. A new study found that those who slept an average of less than 7 hours a night had a 300% greater incidence of virus development than those who got 8 hours or more.  Those who lost sleep were 550% more likely to develop an infection than those with adequate rest. So, according to this research, something as simple as 8 hours of sleep a night has a profound effect upon our health!

I love to sleep. Not in a “I’m depressed and love the world of sleep” type thing, but in the sense that after a full day, I look forward to sleeping. I have never been the type to brag about only getting 4 hours of sleep. In fact, if I get that little sleep, you’ll hear about it, but it won’t be bragging. I admit I need 8 hours a night, or I can sense that I am not quite at my full potential. America is basically sleep-deprived, and since studies show that tired people are also more obese, maybe we should serious look at our country’s lack of sleep as part of our healthcare crisis! Note to politicians: Instead of throwing more money at health care, throw sleep instead.