Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Being fat is (not) your fault

Check out the series of maps starting from 1985
I love having a fit body and feeling good about how I look.  I really want other people to experience this for themselves because I know they will be happier for it.  Happiness begets happiness and I want to help inspire such a positive feedback loop in others.  Unfortunately the trend, in this case, is not our friend.  We are getting fatter not fitter.  It is my challenge to help remedy this situation.

I was a fleshy kid in my youth but I was never really all that fat.  At the time, I felt fat though because I was thicker than my friends and my family told me that I was fat. I remember being encouraged to jog with my mom before class during middle school. This was in addition to gym class during school and outside play after school.  I don't feel like I ever made a personal decision to be active and lean; that decision was made for me by my social group and societal pressures during my formative years.
Circus "Fat Man" circa 1900.  You don't have to pay money to see people this size anymore.
I write this because I am conflicted about why it is that we have so many overweight people today.  Food and activity level definitely matter, but I am fortunate to have had a good body mass set point established for/by me as a youth.  I learned good habits early and to some degree my body continues to benefit from that.  Today I'm not fat, but I am aware of my weight and body shape.  I workout, eat, and sleep with maintenance of both of these in mind.  While I may have started at a good place, I now make a conscious effort to stay on path.

While personal observations may not translate well to other people or society as a whole, the fact is that individuals in the US are fatter today than ever before.  Obesity is undesirable on a personal level because it makes you feel bad about yourself and has negative impacts on your health and mobility.  Obesity is undesirable for society because it leads to higher health care costs and requires expensive modifications to public places and transportation among other impacts. Passive acceptance of obesity is a bad idea, and we should be encouraging ourselves to get and stay in shape.

It's hard to lose weight as an adult just as it is difficult to learn a second language as an adult (I continue to struggle with Spanish).  We learn patterns that become habits which are difficult to break.  While external forces might be working against us, internal forces are what really do us in.  You have to acknowledge that personal effort is essential to achieving the body that you desire or you will never get anywhere.  Here's how I suggest that you get started:

  1. Admit that you are fat and not at your ideal body shape.
  2. Commit to a lifelong lifestyle change; you aren't going to go back to the old way ever again.
  3. Set a specific goal (clothing size, ideal weight, visible arm muscles, etc).
  4. Tell other people your goal.
  5. Take a picture of everything you eat to document it as a food journal.
  6. Drink more water.
  7. Pick a low intensity physical activity and do it everyday.
  8. Try a new activity every few weeks and strive to accomplish something physically that you've never done before.
  9. Check in periodically by weighing yourself, looking at yourself naked in the mirror, and feeling how your clothing fits.
  10. Enjoy your progress or repeat #1
We may not have chosen to get fat, but we chose to stay fat everyday that we don't make an effort to change.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How to stay motivated to workout

Here are a couple of tried and true methods to stay motivated to workout:
  • Train with a friend
  • Get a dog to walk
  • Set a reach performance goal (marathon, 20 pullups, lose 30 pounds in 3 months, etc.)
  • Look at yourself naked in the mirror everyday (thanks Jack for this one)
  • Have a health crisis caused by lifestyle problems
  • See a friend or family member have a health crisis caused by lifestyle problems
  • Surround yourself with fit people and images of fit people
  • Surround yourself with fat people and images of fat people
Choose whichever image motivates you better to stay on track
All of these can and have helped people keep on track.  The one I find to be the most effective for me is to keep a training journal.  Having to log your workout forces you to do it, shames you when you skip one, and gives you an added sense of accomplishment when you get to enter in the details post-workout.  I've been using a Google Docs spreadsheet for the last 5 years.  I can share it with people and access it from my mobile device or any computer.  I track Date & Time (sometimes if I do 2 workouts per day or if I need to vary time of day for an event), type of workout (Run, Bike, Swim, Strength, HIIT, Skills/GPP, etc) and log the actual workout.  I count everything that I do that is physically active above my basic life and work requirements.  If you walk somewhere, log it.  If you're on your feet all day for a convention, log it. Not only does this motivate you, it becomes a record of performance that can help tune your training or weight loss plan to prevent burnout and injury.

My Training Log is a Google Docs spreadsheet
If you don't log it, it don't count.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Dying for Fashion

I love watching gymnasts do their thing.  I'm surprised we don't see more of these wunderkinds between the Olympics every four years. With all the TV coverage though, adults seem to forget that these are actually young kids for the most part.  We have major societal issues with this sort of thing across all sports but that's another topic for discussion. Gabby Douglas' amazing performance has brought up another societal issue that is equally ridiculous and even more deadly than pushing little kids too hard for adult enjoyment.  The issue is not working out at all or under-exercising just because it might make us look funny.

I'm probably one of the worst people to point this out.  I relish slinging sweat in the gym and grunting louding while throwing kettlebells & climbing ropes in public parks.  I wipe my exertion induced snot on my inappropriately tight shorts.  During runs, I belch constantly just to keep the pipes loose, and I'm sure I have such horrible grimaces on my face during my workouts that I'd give this dog a run for it's money:
Mugly loved the attention I'm sure
So I've established myself as not fashionable with respect to exercise but that's all beside the point. Many people (men and women) are way too self-conscious or concerned about their appearance to go outside and push themselves physically. The flap over Gabby Douglas' hair highlights this. Twitter was loaded with negative comments about how bad her hair looked while failing to mention how badass of a physical and mental performance she was laying down on the rest of the world. I pulled this quote from an article covering this non-issue:
"The last time I checked, when you play a sport, you sweat. I know I do. And when a Black woman who has chosen to wear her hair straight begins to sweat, her hair will (not might) begin to revert back to its natural coily, curly or kinky state," she wrote. "Some of us are sitting up right now with our hair done but suffering from high blood pressure, borderline diabetes, obesity and/or a lack of energy. Oh, but the hair is on point."
Gabby had enough judges in London

Of all the lame excuses for being out of shape, not wanting to mess up your hair has got to be one of the top 3 (fear of sidewalk cracks is up there too).  We want to look our best but do a quick google image search for diabetes ulcer and see how lovely you'll look with gangrenous extremities.  That's not even mentioning that fat is wack too.

This is hardly just a black woman issue.  I know many a former elite athlete who left their sport after university never to train consistently again.  The lassitude, bulges, and negative self-talk set in and eventually they have the body that they never wanted to have.  The common casual factor that I've seen in these cases is vanity--they can't be elite so they don't want to even show up anymore.  This all-or-none, sport-is-just-for-kids mentality kills me and is actually killing us as a society.  Don't quit on your sport because you can't win; quit with the ego and enjoy the activity for what it is--a healthy & enjoyable time that pays dividends throughout life.
You may call this a cheap shot since he is older but so was Jack Lalanne and Stallone
Health and wellness is a lifelong struggle.  Temptations to cheat, skimp, or skip are always present.  Family and friends can be huge obstacles (find some new exercise friends in this case).  Pain, fatigue, and stress mount with food and drink being a ready salve.  There are enough excuses to be fat and out-of-shape already. We don't need to add  fear of looking funny while exercising to the list.

Don't take yourself too seriously, but take your workout very seriously.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Exercise is better when you chose to do it

I love to make sweat angels after a good workout
An interesting write up caught my attention today.  At least with respect to longevity (one of the key components of fitness), choosing to exercise during leisure time is better than physical labor during work.  Maybe the fact that you intend to do exercise for your health makes the actual movements better for your health.  Even crazier, maybe just intending to be healthy and really believing it, will make you healthier regardless if you exercise or not.  In any case, moving your body makes you feel better today and will probably help you live longer and healthier than if you don't move.  I want people to enjoy exercise for what it should be--playtime!  Exercise by doing what you love but find a way to love exercising.  You'll do it more often and it may even enhance the benefits of it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Play Like a Child for Fitness

Playground for people of all ages
I visited a friend of mine a week ago at his new home in Dallas, TX, and he took me on a tour of his new neighborhood.  The picture above may look like a children's playground but look closer. It's actually an outdoor fitness center designed for adults and children to use for exercise.  My buddy and I ran over to fitness station and did a great routine involving monkey bars, pullups, muscle up progressions, skin-the-cat, bar rolls, parallel bar handwalks, and dips.  This facility is phenomenal because of the wide variety of exercises it allows and because the apparatus is appropriate for people of all heights.  The movements involved the total body and even tested our courage a bit as well as our muscles.  Almost everything we did could be done at most standard playgrounds for children found around the world with a little modification.  You also probably have an outdoor fitness facility near you like this or the ones designed by companies like Fitness Trails NA.

Fitness Trails station fitness circuit in Australia
On the run back, we talked about why is it that "play time" ends with childhood.  Most people never play an organized sport after high school.  Almost all of us think of daily exercise as a chore.  Breathless, sweaty kids running around a field, jumping on a trampoline, climbing on bars, or playing tag wouldn't want to be doing anything else while they're at play.  They are in the moment and they love it! Find some vigorous activity that you like to do and enjoy the sensation of a raised heart rate with sweat pouring down your face while you try to accomplish something physical.

Go out and play!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Core Principles for Exercise

Exercise science can be rather technical.  Kinesiology, while intuitive in many cases, can get rather scientific especially when someone is training with specific goals in mind.  If you just want to maintain general health and wellness, keep extra pounds off, and live longer & better, then the exercise formula you need is rather simple:
  1. Move every day
  2. Get outside often and in all weather
  3. Do a wide variety of activities focusing on the basic human movements
  4. Vary intensity and duration
  5. Spend time with others while you move
More is not better in exercise but consistency is key.  Just as you can't catch up once per week on sleeping, eating, or brushing your teeth, you have to move your body everyday.  I'll spend time on the other core principles in coming posts.

Move through life

Monday, June 25, 2012

Go for a Walk

Walking is one of the most essential human movements.  It's one that we really take for granted until we lose our mobility for some reason. Bipedalism is a defining characteristic of our species and probably contributed to our extraordinary success as a species.  When a baby takes her first steps, it's a defining milestone for her parents and a glorious accomplishment for her.  Walking is a great way to socialize with people along the way and in your neighborhood.  There's no need for special equipment or clothing to start a consistent walking program--you just have to go for a walk!  On top of all this, walking happens to be one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise that we can do with the least amount of downside health risks.

Here are few suggestions for making walking a consistent activity in your daily life:

Walk everywhere you can.  I live in a major city so I have the advantage of being able to walk almost anywhere.  If I get stranded, I can catch a train, bus or cab to make it back home.  If you live in the suburbs, find sidewalks and paths to walk on.  Walk through shopping centers, parks, around lakes or home from work.  When you play golf, walk instead of riding in a cart.

Walk outside. Don't worry about the rain, cold, or heat--just prepare accordingly.  We are so much more durable to the elements than we give ourselves credit for.  You'll benefit from fresh air and sunlight in addition to keeping abreast of what's going on in your town and seeing your neighbors.  Listen to music, audio books, or language lessons if you walk alone.

Walk your dog.  There's really no excuse for a fat dog because their activity and food is completely under the control of the human owner.  He'll thank you and you'll thank yourself.

Do errands on foot and carry you bags home.  Carry a backpack and pack reusable bags for your hands if your backpack isn't large enough for your purchases.  If you live far from a shopping center, walk 1 way and have someone pick you up or drop you off.  Check online for walking paths near you.  You might be surprised how many walking paths are connected to shopping areas.

Use a pedometer and make it into a game.  We all love games and getting your steps in each day or beating your family and friends is a great way to keep you on pace.

Count walks as exercise.  Give yourself credit for exercising any day you walk for more than 30 mins or so without stopping.  Exercise doesn't always have to hurt but it does need to be consistent.  A 130 pound woman burns 304 calories by walking 1 hour at a 4 mph pace; a 180 pound man would burn 421 calories.  What a great way to catch up with your spouse after work! 

Walk with a backpack to add intensity.  Carry around a 20 pound weight for a few miles and imagine how much better you will feel if you dropped any extra weight you might have on your body.

Make the effort to turn walking into a habit.  Daily walks consistently for a few weeks will make walking a lifelong habit that you'll benefit from in so many ways.

If you can walk, you can exercise.  What other excuse do you have for not working out today?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Basic Movements for the Modern Human

The bodies we have today evolved through a combination of genetic and environmental adaptations to the world around us.  Our ancestors, while not the fastest, strongest, biggest, or toughest animals, became one of the fittest creatures on the planet because of intelligent application of physical effort to achieve life's requirements.  Our minds were key to our success but we still needed agile bodies to put thought into action.  Both men and women had to perform the following basic body movements on a daily basis to stay alive:
  1. Walk with a load
  2. Crouch down and pick up a load
  3. React quickly and explosively to threats
  4. Pull yourself up
  5. Swim to shore

Fortunately for us today, we don't need strong bodies to sustain our lifestyle, but our bodies still need activity to stay healthy.  Metabolic systems and mental function improve with exercise.  My contention is that both mind and body will be optimized for the modern world by incorporating the basic movements that kept our ancestors alive.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What is Fitness?

I'm a big fan of the CrossFit methodology and incorporate many of the exercises and workouts into my daily exercise routine. The What Is Fitness? article is a brilliant introduction to what it means to be a fit person--I recommend that you read it.  CrossFit isn't for everyone though because I think it scares many people away from any sort of exercise program all.  With physical inactivity as a leading cause of preventable disease today, more people need to add some (any!) activity to their lives.  Fortunately avoidance of metabolic syndrome and other lifestyle diseases only requires a moderate amount of physical activity.  CrossFit is an excellent way to be active, but the competitive and intense nature of it may leave some exercise newbies feeling that exercise isn't for them if CrossFit is what it means to exercise.  Our societal epidemic of obesity is much more important to address than any epidemic of slow Fran times.

To me fitness is much easier to define.  Fitness is a long life with minimal disease, chronic pain, or unhappiness.  Jack Lalanne summed it up with longevity and quality of life.  This isn't achieved only through exercising but daily physical activity plays a role in this view of fitness in a number of ways.  Move your joints or they stiffen up.  Raise your heart rate to improve heart health.  Set and achieve physical goals to raise your self-esteem.  Being able to accomplish physical feats can get you out of dangerous situations.  A sound body contributes to a sound mind.  This is the foundation of my view of fitness and will be the foundation for all my subsequent musings on physical exercise.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jack Lalanne’s Self-Improvement Checklist

Jack Lalanne was a tremendously inspirational figure in the world of health and happiness.  Like Yogi Berra, he was full of witty nuggets of wisdom.  Below is one of his self-improvement checklists which is a great summation of his personal philosophy on life.  It covers much more territory than just eat right and exercise—both key parts of Jack’s message.  He also concerned himself with thinking positively about yourself and others while striving to be someone other people want to have around.  As a pioneer in the modern exercise and nutrition industry, his old school wisdom has stood the test of time.
I see my dentist regularly
I dress and look tidy and clean
I exercise my body regularly
I clean my teeth with care
I walk feeling vibrantly alive
I walk tall and carry my shoulders erect
I believe I am in good health
I don’t take sleeping pills or laxatives
I can, and will, do 10 half-situps or 10 push-ups right now
I want to look healthy and fit
Cigarettes aren’t necessary for my happiness
I pass up dessert if I’ve eaten enough
I am moderate in my alcohol consumption
I eat a healthy breakfast everyday
Meals are a positive part of my day
I keep fresh fruit and vegetables handy
I complimented my husband/wife today
I am pleasant to waitresses, cab drivers, etc.
I answer letters promptly
I give other drivers the right of way with courtesy
I never refuse to dance
People are glad to see me arrive
I am a cheerful person
I am comfortable listening while others converse
I am not critical of other people or age groups
I try to increase my vocabulary and use new words every week
I have read 20 of the world’s literary classics
I am getting everything possible out of my career
I am willing to work hard
I meditate on wise words I hear
I find it easy to say “I’m sorry”
I can say “I don’t know”
I don’t admit defeat easily
I don’t complain about my age
I can accept advice
My physical-marital relations are first-rate
I believe I have many productive years ahead of me
I believe life generally has gone well for me
I can be as romantic as I ever was
I welcome the start of each new day
I go to sleep easily at night and sleep soundly
It doesn’t embarrass me to be “a little silly” at times
I don’t make excuses for my shortcomings 

From page 40 of Jack Lalanne’s, Revitalize Your Life After 50