Archives for July 2009

Nice Change of Pace

The purpose of this blog is to not only have many years in your life, but also to help our readers have life in their (hopefully many) years on this earth. We often do this through health and fitness advice, but having a long and happy life is also dependent on doing activities that you enjoy. That was very true for me this week while visiting my family.

I live about four hours away from my mom and dad, so visiting them is always special. And, since they live so far away, it’s always necessary to find new things to do when visiting. This allows a nice change of pace.

For example, I enjoy target shooting a lot, but there aren’t any close places to shoot where I live. Although I live in the country, my land is flat and not ideal for target shooting. In addition, the nearest public ranges are at least 30 minutes away. But, my dad’s friend has over 100 acres of hilly land and lives 5 minutes from his house. So, my brother, dad, and I had a great time shooting. In addition to trying accuracy with our pistols, we also obliterated several pieces of wood with the shotgun.

Also, David and I are taking a health and wellness course and we wanted to do some studying together. So, we went to Tim Horton’s to have an evening coffee (no Tim Horton’s near Cleveland) and they had new blueberry flavoring. I love coffee and this seemed interesting. It was great and well, summery (if that’s a word).

It was also nice to do some pleasurable learning. Studies have shown that learning throughout life in beneficial to the brain’s health. Too often learning is not enjoyable, but a chore because it is required. In this case, I was very interested in learning about the topic (health and wellness), so it was a great experience. My brain got healthier and it also relaxed me.

Although I find comfort in routines and enjoy mine generally, a change of pace is nice too.

Same Crap, Different Toilet

I had a friend who used that phrase a lot, to describe, what Alcoholics Anonymous describe as “insanity.” Insanity, by the AA definition, is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Yet, how easy is it for us to be “insane,” to get into a rut, immersing ourselves in systems that destroy us, and yet the only “solutions” we seek are to move within the system itself. I can think of many examples, a few I have listed below.

Some friends I know find themselves very frustrated with emotion-driven charismatic churches. So, they shift from charismatic church to charismatic church, looking for the one that is not going to make them feel weird for not being emotional, all the while not realizing that it is the system itself the problem, because it is the nature of charismatic churches to be emotional. I went through this myself. Before I finally became Catholic, from 1998-2004 I attended many parishes, and was very restless. I think the reason was that I was not comfortable in the systems I was in (evangelical and Episcopal). For some people, these systems are great, but they weren’t for me, until finally it became obvious that shifting from church to church in the same system was part of the problem itself.

Another example is relationships. I have heard so many times “I only meet jerks; I can’t meet nice guys/girls.” In fact, I uttered this many times myself. However, when I eventually reflected upon it, I realized that if *I* only meet people that aren’t good for me, then something is wrong with the way I meet people, not people themselves.

Finally, I think of people who are deep into the party scene. I have some facebook friends whose status updates are a mix of “can’t wait to get drunk tonight” and “I hope life actually has some meaning this week.” The “solutions” they propose (and put into action) to this lack of meaning include partying more and hanging out with more “party people,” which basically get them deeper into the system that caused the problem to begin with. Finding meaning in this case involves something more difficult than getting drunk every weekend.

Of course, this is actually great news, not bad news. It means that even though it may seem that life isn’t fair, the reality is that our choices are what are limiting us. Although not always easy, we have the ability to get out of systems that limit us. Medical researchers have found that one difference between positive people and negative people is the way they respond to setbacks. Negative people consider a setback a personal attack, lash out at others while blaming themselves, and see no solution to the setback. Positive people see setbacks as unrelated to their character, and view unfortunate situations as problems that can be overcome through ingenuity and effort. In other words, negative people see endless quagmires, positive people see ways forward. While the negative person is moping about how life isn’t fair, and perhaps looking for a different toilet for the same crap, the positive person is replacing the crap.

Swimming Rocks My Butt (and Other Body Parts)

About 6 years ago, my brother, friend, and I, all in pretty good shape, decided that we’d add swimming to our workout routine. Before we went to the YMCA to swim, we discussed the details. My friend suggested that we’d swim 100 laps and my brother and I agreed. We eventually got in the water, swam a couple of laps and were totally exhausted. Swimming kicked our butt. Lately, I’ve gone back for more.

Our muscles can get into routines and this limits our ability to take our fitness to the next level. Just as we get complaisant, so do our muscles. I’ve been trying to mix up my workout considerably, adding running, biking, and other sports. After reading about the benefits of swimming in Men’s Health (not the exact article, but this one is good) I decided to give it another try. This time I went in with eyes open (with goggles of course), harboring no illusions about my lack of ability.

My YMCA only has 3 lanes for swimming and a limited amount of open swim time. So, I was working out in the gym section and would occasionally peer into the pool to see if there were openings. Finally, I found a free lane and rushed into the pool. I decided to do 12 minutes to start, using the crawl technique. It was hard, but not too bad. I was even able to do 15 minutes at a fairly vigorous pace, only stopping for a few seconds here and there for a break. When I was done, however, I was exhausted and finishing up my regular workout was difficult. I was also tired for the rest of the day. In short, it was a great workout and I’m going to keep it up.

I have some advice for people starting to swim. First, you need a place to swim. YMCAs generally have pools, but they can be of limited quality. Make sure to find out when open swim is because lessons, teams, programs, etc. take precedence over free swimming. Second, get the right equipment. Goggles are a must and get decent ones. You don’t want leakage or fogging up. Trust me, bad goggles are a huge distraction. Nose and earplugs may be helpful too. Finally, have fun and realize that swimming is tough; so start slowly.

Frugal, But Not Cheap

Before I went to graduate school, I never thought much about buying groceries and other everyday items. During high school, my parents took care of that for the most part, and in college, we had the dining hall and dorms to basically provide our needs (hardly for free, but I didn’t notice it). However, when I arrived at graduate school, suddenly I was responsible for buying groceries and having some money left over at the end of the week to do the things I wanted to do.

Some people call me cheap, and others tight. I prefer to look at myself as frugal, or perhaps thrifty, and my beliefs about money do not render me stingy, although I do like to save money. I tend to look at having and spending money like this: I like to save money on things I don’t really care about, so I can have money to spend on things I do. So, for example, there is no difference between buying eggs at Aldi, or eggs at Meijer. However, I save about 40 cents/dozen by getting the eggs for 79 cents a dozen at Aldi. At a dozen per week, I save over $20.00 a year. Twenty dollars buys a few books, which I do enjoy. Another example is generic pop. How much is a 2-liter of Pepsi? Somewhere around $1.25. The generic is $.75. Savings per week if I buy 2? $1.00 a week. In a year, that is $52.00. Chicken noodle soup is basically chicken stock, noodles, and a few chunks of chicken. I can get Campbell’s for $1.00 or Aldi for 50 cents. If I buy 4 a week, in the course of a year I have saved $104.00. I don’t really care enough about pop, eggs, or chicken noodle soup to readily distinguish between generic and name brand, but I do enjoy having an extra $176.00 at the end of the year.

Like I said, I don’t think I am cheap. I like to buy people gifts, and I always try to tip 20-25% when I go out to eat. I also make sure I give a fair percentage of my income to charity, including my church. In fact, one thing I save money for is to share it with others. However, I would much rather “share” my money with others than with the electric company, gas company, or grocery store. This is one main reason I also go to extremes to save energy, and this is reflected by the fact that our air-conditioning has kicked on probably 10 times this whole summer (it has been unseasonably cool, so we don’t usually save as much energy as we have this summer).

So what is my basic philosophy and challenge to you? Well, it could be summarized as “tighten your finances where it doesn’t really matter, so you can have more money where it does.” There are many creative ways to save money, and the way I look at it is that if you can put effort into whatever it is you put effort into (school, job, hobby, etc), you can put effort into saving money, since it will likely benefit you and those that matter to you!

What is Fitness?

Ask anyone, even those at a gym who look fit, what fitness is and you may get several answers. Most likely they’ll say being athletic, skinny, able to last at exercise, strong, or any number of answers. In fact, many people who think they are fit may actually not embrace the complete definition of fitness.

I’ve been taking a health and wellness course and my textbook defines fitness as the body’s ability to meet physical demands. And, it includes four components: flexibility, strength, muscle endurance, and cardiovascular endurance.

This definition challenged me in many ways, especially since I would consider myself “fit” yet do not achieve a four out of four. Let’s start from the back. I can run 9 miles, so cardiovascular endurance, check. I am able to do 20 pullups, 50 pushups, and over 100 crunches. Muscle endurance, check. I start at around 235 during my bench workouts and over 300 on leg press. Strength, check. That’s it, right??

Oh, wait, there’s also flexibility. That’s where I and a lot of others, especially guys, start to choke on the whole fitness thing. This is especially true for weight lifters, since we can often be very unflexible, or is that inflexible? Most guys couldn’t tell you, but it describes a good number of us. The RealAge doctors recommend stretching 5 minutes a day. It’s pathetically little, but we don’t often get it. I stretch about 10 minutes a week and that includes when I go to martial arts. I’ve resolved to get more active with stretching and will share what I’ve learned.

Here is a good link to get you started:

Basic Stretching Techniques

Now, I’ll share a good practice that I picked up from martial arts. You put your legs up against a wall while you’re upside down. Your torso is bent on the ground while your legs are on the wall in a splits position. Gravity brings your legs down like you’re doing the splits upside down. Over time it’s a great stretch and will help your flexibility in your legs. Try to do about 10 minutes. It’s easy to do while watching TV. Start slow and be careful, though.

Men’s Health on Seeing that Six-Pack

running hill

Do you want to see those six-pack abs? Well, they are probably there, but they are probably buried under fat. Even though we try and try to lose weight and gain muscle, the “six-pack look” seems elusive. First, be aware that seeing a six-pack may very well involve removing some excess water off of the stomach. This can be accomplished via Water Pills (another cheap one). Second, it takes a pretty low  body fat percentage to see six-pack abs, and even those of us who are healthy, aren’t quite there. The recent issue of Men’s Health provides a diet plan by Alan Aragon that just might work to help you see those elusive ab muscles. We’ll see. It takes discipline, and is different from my current diet, but I may give it a try. Below are the steps:

1. Calculate your calories:

Aragon suggests setting your calorie goal based on your ideal weight. To do this, he provides the following formula: if you exercise 1 hour or less per week, multiply your ideal weight by 10. For every hour a week over 1 that you exercise, add another 1 to the multiplier. For example, if you exercise 3 hours a week, and your ideal weight is 150, you would take 12×150, for a daily calorie target of 1800. Yeah, that’s low, but losing that final gut fat ain’t easy!

2. Adjust your fat, protein, and carbohydrates accordingly:

Here’s where it may get a little tricky, so pay attention. Aragon advises that you consume the same amount of protein (in grams) as your ideal weight. So, in the example above, our man would consume 150 grams (600 calories) of protein per day. For fat, Aragon suggests halving that number, so our hypothetical person would shoot for 75 grams (675 calories) of fat. Carbs make up the rest, and you can figure the exact grams of carbs allowed by adding the calories from fat and protein, and then subtracting from your calorie goal. In this case, it would be 1800- (600+675)= 535 calories from carbs. Now, divide 535 by 4 (since there are 4 calories in a gram of carbs), i.e. 535/4, and you get 131 carbohydrates a day.

3. Eat Good Foods

Avoid junk like refined grains, sugary foods, etc. A diet of only 1800 calories is pretty low for an active man, but if you eat the right foods, you should get the nutrients you need (including fiber).

4. Make The Diet Work

Aragon suggests eating plenty of fruits and veggies, as well as making sure that 1 hour before, and within 1 hour after, exercising, you eat, in order to make sure you have the fuel you need.

5. Forget About the Details

(apparently after you work out the aforementioned details!)

Image has nothing to do with a six-pack, but I did lose a lot of weight by running this very hill regularly!

A Simple Spice Might Prevent Dementia

And that spice is…Turmeric! Turmeric is a part of curry recipes, and is consumed regularly in India. It also so happens that Alzheimer’s disease is rare in India (only 1% of the over-65 population has it, versus 10% in the U.S.). Some researches have suggested a Turmeric-Alzheimer’s connection, i.e., the more Turmeric one consumes, the lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. Research shows that ingredients in Turmeric may act as, or trigger the production of, antioxidants in the brain, which prevents cell damage there.

Do I believe Turmeric is the answer to Alzheimer’s? It is much too early to tell, but I have added it to my supplement regimen. I have done this because it is cheap, and widely used, so I don’t see how it could hurt, but it very well could be very helpful, if it prevents dementia.

Earn Your Treats

We all know we should avoid bad foods, the stuff high in trans-fat, sugar, and empty calories. Basically, all of the stuff that tastes fantastic! I want to deal with this topic for a moment because my thoughts are a bit unconventional.

First, I don’t think we should avoid bad foods completely. Why? Because life is too short. And, desperately avoiding the bad stuff may just make you want it more. It’s the diet equivalent of a glacier: you cut out one cookie and eat three a few days later. It’s better just to enjoy the occasional treat, so long as it is occasional and a treat.

Second, I firmly believe we need to “earn” bad foods. It’s kind of like we did when (most of us) we were kids. If we wanted something a little pricey, we’d have to work for it, like helping out mom or dad at a special chore. I organized dad’s comic books to earn money for an Indiana Jones hat. Look at food the same way. If you’re going out and having dessert, then make sure to go to the gym and add a few minutes to your workout. If you’re dying for cheese curls, then do more curls at the gym.

This has its problems if you want to eat poorly everyday, but for once a week or so small splurges, it allows you to enjoy the food without the guilt and the gain.

Another Tip for Longevity: Have a Passion

I was in Denny’s the other night, hanging out (is there a better place to hang out?), and our waitress’ boyfriend was sitting at the counter, all while she was giving our table loads of attention, particularly one friend of mine who had known her for some time. She even sat down with us and talked for awhile, and clearly flirted with my friend. Her boyfriend just sat at the counter, looking bored, indifferent, except when he got a text, when he would quickly leave the building to make a call.  Afterward we had a good laugh how her boyfriend was probably just a placeholder for her, because he showed no visible passion for anything, not even his girlfriend. Now, by passion I mean having something that matters to him, something to get up for in the morning, and something that might show itself visibly on his face.  I suppose at least he was somewhat neutral in his passion, as opposed to trying to destroy the vitality, passion, and faith of those around him. Of course, I could be wrong about this. Heck, the guy could have a lot going for him. Either way, please pretend I am right, because it makes a good object less for what I am saying!

Jennifer was watching Oprah on the television at the Y today (otherwise neither of us watches it), and the show was pretty good, because Dr. Oz was on, the only part of Oprah I can pretty much stomach. Dr. Oz mentioned that having a passion of some kind can extend your life by up to 8 years. I reflected on my passions, and concluded that I am a pretty passionate person (as defined above), and most mornings I wake up excited about the possibilities related to my passions. I came up a few major passions of mine, listed below:

my faith in God

holistic health and exercise

my family

friends

I know people who love BMX bikes, others that are obsessed with rock music, and even a few that are passionate about Star Wars collectibles. I’ll let you decide about the nobility of these choices, but either way, unless you are passionate about consuming trans fats, playing with matches around gasoline, jumping in front of passing cars, or something similar, having something worth getting up for in the morning may extend your life significantly.

Facebook May Be Good For You

Studies have shown that friends, specifically a social network, can be good for your health. While Facebook and other online sites may not provide the same level of companionship that a “real life” relationship does, they, I believe, still could have health benefits.

My personal experience with Facebook has been that it allows me to stay connected with people I normally would not have kept in contact with. While it may be true that meeting regularly for coffee could be better than referencing someone’s status update, if that person lives in California and you live in New York, I think responding to status updates is still better than nothing. I have re-connected with numerous people from my past thanks to Facebook.

I’ve also been able to more deeply explore my interests by networking with other like-minded people. Doing things you love more often and with others probably has health benefits as well.