The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Physical Health and Fitness

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There is a lot to be appreciative for in this category.  Sadly, too many people ignore or take these elements of life for granted.  Many people confuse good health with the health that they are born with.  Nature gives us a health plan when we are born.  Some of us get a better plan than others.  Fortunately, happiness and success are not totally dependent on the plan we are born with.  There is a large category of mental health which I am not going to talk about.  It is important to recognize though that mental health and physical health while no doubt correlate to some degree are not perfectly correlated.  There are many instances of people with major disabilities who are quite happy and quite successful.  The element of mental health and mental fitness are essential to overall happiness regardless of your physical conditioning.

Physical fitness or PHY ED classes are remembered by most former students as either something they tolerated or something they hated when they are were in high school.  The lessons if any that they learned in GYM classes were promptly forgotten when they left high school.  Those that excelled in sports and loved the extracurricular sports confuse sports with fitness.  I have met many former athletes who played football, soccer, baseball, or basketball and thought that was enough to be fit.

There is a great deal more to being fit than simply exercising or playing sports.  If you look at the people around you today, you will see a nation of unfit people.  Years ago, the obese person in your high school was a minority.  Today, they are a majority.  Walk down most any street in America and you will see a nation of fat and overweight people.

When I taught college, I would see entering freshmen coming in many of whom would have met health guidelines for weight.  Four years later, these same students had joined the ranks of obese Americans.  All too many had no fitness plan.  High school never gave them a fitness plan and neither did college.

But I want this blog to be about appreciation and not about how to do a health program.  If you need a fitness plan, you can search my blogs and find a great deal of information about starting such a plan.  Today, lets look at the fun and value in each of the six major elements of physical health.

I have put together a model based on my experience that includes six elements I think are essential to overall physical fitness.  These include:  Stamina, Strength, Balance, Flexibility, Nutrition and Weight Control.  Each of these elements are interdependent with the other five elements but each are unique in many ways.  I think there is great joy and fun in all six of them and I want to share some of my appreciation of each with you.  Let’s start with stamina.

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Stamina

Instead of talking about Cardio or Cardiovascular activities, I chose to call this group Stamina.  Stamina activities build endurance and also build a strong heart and vascular system.  People can be overweight and still have good stamina.  I was in a bike race and I looked over my competition.  It was my first race, and I selected a few guys with muscles on their legs that looked like basketballs.  I was sure one of them would take first place.  Two hours later, the winner was this skinny kid from the University of Connecticut who looked like he could not punch his way out of a paper bag.

Activities like running, swimming, biking, skiing, roller blading, ice skating, all build stamina.  Experts call them aerobic activities as opposed to anaerobic activities.  I have met many overweight men who see me running and say, “I wish I could run but I blew my knee out playing football in high school.”  I want to say “Bullshit.  There are many other stamina activities that put less stress on the knees, and you could use to get in shape.”  The truth of the matter is that most of these guys would rather sit on the couch and watch football than get out and exercise.  Walking is a great stamina activity, and you can walk with extra knee support and it will improve your conditioning without doing more damage to your knees.

You can and should appreciate the range and variety of stamina activities that have been developed and that are available today.  They offer variety and fun and surely beat sitting on your couch remembering the “good old days.”

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Flexibility

Can you touch your toes?  Can you manage a day without your back aching?  Do you get aches and pains whenever you do any physical activity?  Over the years, I have noticed when going to the gym or involved in some sports that men gravitate towards weights while women gravitate towards flexibility exercises.  Karen and I started doing Yoga about 25 years ago and we do it together about 2 or three times per week.  Most of the Yoga instructors are women.  We use Yoga tapes that are on DVD or now on Amazon Prime.  It is rather sad that many men think flexibility training is something for women and that “real” men lift weights.  The two are not mutually exclusive and in fact, the two are essential.  They have a Yin and Yang relationship.

I can’t say that I ever liked stretching.  After thirty years of doing Yoga, I am still not much more flexible than I was when I was forty.  I would rather lift weights and I can see more progress when I do.  I have been running for nearly 45 years now.  About 25 years ago, I started developing back problems.  Back aches, back pain and back spasms would hit me at the oddest times.  I did not see the relationship between tight hamstrings and low back pain.  I finally made the connection and started doing Yoga.

For the past ten years of so, I have seldom had any back problems.  I can’t do many of the Yoga postures like the instructors.  I often wonder if my muscles could ever be that flexible.  I don’t know the answers to these questions, but both Karen and I will swear that Yoga has helped us over the years to avoid back, hip, knee, and shoulder surgery.  If you look at the list of surgeries, these are epidemic today.  The medical profession makes more money doing surgery than referring people to Yoga classes.

I appreciate Yoga and I am thankful that there are so many great teachers who will put their classes out on Amazon, YouTube, or other media.  Yoga is actually fun if you don’t try to imitate your instructor or compete with your spouse.

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Strength

Lift that bag!  Tote that bale!  Pick up that grandkid!  Strength looks like big muscles to many people.  Everyone wants a six pack abs, bulging biceps and great triceps.  The funny thing is that I have seen many really strong people who don’t fit the stereotype.  There are different types of strength training.  Years ago I would focus on power training to build large muscles and lift large weights.  Now Karen and I use small dumbbells and focus on endurance training by doing higher reps with lower weights.  I don’t need to pick up a 100 lb. bag of cement.  I will leave that to the people that are twenty or thirty years old.  But there are days when I will need to do some yard or garden work and the ability to shovel a ton of dirt, or more is very much appreciated.

20210324_143136Just a few weeks ago, I put a new rock river in our home here.  I had a yard or about 1600 lbs. of river rock loaded into my pickup truck.  I got home with it and used a large Home Depot red bucket to scoop the rock up and put the river rock down.  It took me about two hours of steady work, but I had no aches or pains the next day.  I was quite surprised, and I give credit to one of our strength trainers that we use a lot.  Her name is Cindy, and we purchased her DVD on Amazon.

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Balance

Balance is probably not something that you think about or much appreciate when you are young.  You take your balance for granted.  As you age, balance becomes more salient in your life.  More and more experts are telling elderly people that balance is essential to preventing falls and broken bones.  Karen and I added some balance DVDs to our exercise regimen a few years ago.  I thought at first that these “silly” exercises would be easy.  I run four or five times a week on rugged mountain trails, “What do I need balance exercises for?”  Then the instructor said, “If this is too easy, try doing it with your eyes closed.”  I closed my eyes and fell into my wife.  I still have not been able to do many of these exercises with my eyes closed.

I have noticed that some of our friends have had bad falls resulting in broken bones.  The older you get, the longer it takes for anything to heal.  I have had three falls so far this year since returning to Arizona and running the mountain trails.  I thank both my flexibility training and balance training with preventing any serious injuries when I fell.  The most I have received has been some scrapes and minor bruising.  As the years go by, we will focus more on balance training.  It may look silly, but it is another one of those elements that have improved our lives and that we can be appreciative for.

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Weight Control

Do you like McDonald’s fries, fish sandwiches, or biscuit with sausage, egg, and cheese?  Do you enjoy Olive Garden’s Lasagna?  Do you go to the Golden Corrals’ breakfast buffet or do you prefer the Saturday night fish buffet at your local casino?  Do you expect me to tell you that these are all high fat options and that you should eliminate them from your diet?  Are you waiting for me to tell you that a garden salad full of greens and tomatoes is a much better option?  If so, you will have a long wait.  I love all of the aforementioned.

20210324_150814I now weigh 139 lbs. and am 5’ 7” inches tall.  You might think that my running and exercise is what keeps me thin.  OF course, exercise helps but let me tell you a secret.  If I run for 60 minutes, which is an exceptionally long run for me, I will burn up maybe 600 calories.  A McDonald’s Sausage, Egg and Cheese McGriddle is equal to 550 calories.   A large fries at McDonalds is 490 calories.  I can go through a buffet at Ak-Chin’s Casino and on my third trip to the buffet will easily have eaten enough calories for three runs in the mountains.  I can get an apple fritter at the Circle K after my run, and it will give me back 450 to 600 of the calories that I have just spent an hour or so losing.  I can eat a McDonald’s sandwich in about ten minutes and the apple fritter in less than five.  Here is John’s Law: “You cannot exercise off more calories than you can eat.”

Weight control is essential to good health.  A host of health problems are associated with obesity and being overweight.  We live in a society of food abundance and higher than ever before calories per item in the supermarket.  The supermarket should be called “The fat Market” because of the high calories food you will find there.  A standard box of Pringles holds 900 calories.  If I wash that down with a Modelo beer, I will have just consumed 1100 of my daily allotment of 1800 calories.  You want to know another secret?  In two hours I will be hungry again.  My wife made me a Mexican cheesecake the other day.  Ninety grams for a standard size piece of this cheesecake gives me almost 450 calories but “Oh, is it delicious.”

20210324_131838Weight control is not about good nutrition.  It is about balancing the calories that you get in with the calories that you put out.  You can get 2000 calories of good food or you can get 2000 calories a day of bad food.  You can drink yourself to death by consuming a bottle of alcohol a day.  You can eat fatty foods that will give you high blood pressure and high cholesterol and increase your chances of a heart attack.  Foods that they say are “bad for you” are also foods that we enjoy eating.

I started off by saying that I would not tell you to avoid certain foods.  That is still true.  What I will tell you is that you will enjoy these foods even more if you eat them in moderation.  Rosie Greer the famous football player had to watch his weight.  He loved ice cream sundaes.  He did not give them up, but he would make a mini-ice cream sundae with a fifth of the calories of a full ice-cream sundae.  I often use the “Rosie Greer” strategy in my eating.  Instead of eating a large amount of something, I will dish out a smaller plate and put the rest away and out of temptation.

Scale_Feet_732x549-thumbnailTwo items are excellent for weight control.  One is a health scale.  This is more than just a scale that tells you your weight.  Mine tells me such things as muscle percentage, bone density, body fat and BMI.  I put these down in a log and every few months or so, I add the updated information to my log.  This way I can track how I am doing over time.  You can purchase a good scale for about fifty dollars.

The second essential item is a food scale.  Karen and I keep one on our counter and use it at dinner to weigh out our portions.  It is easy to eat a sixteen-ounce steak.  Instead after weighing it out, we might only eat six ounces and save the rest for a second dinner. Looking at how much we are putting on our plate helps us deal with the number of calories we are putting in.  We lose it when we go for third helpings at the casino, but our casino trips are much less frequent than our dinners at home.  If it were the other way around, I would probably weigh 1000 lbs.  Last Sunday we went to the Angry Crab Shack in Phoenix for lunch.  We had a two hour wait and missed lunch but had dinner.  When I came home, I calculated that my one meal there with two beers, fried oysters and soft-shelled crabs on a po’boy sandwich was over 1700 calories and I took ½ of my sandwich home.  Nevertheless, it tasted mighty good.

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Nutrition

Nutrition and weight control are another balancing act or Yin Yang relationship.  I mentioned above that all things in moderation is a good strategy for eating but good nutrition should also be on your scheme of things.  It is important to eat food that provides a balanced diet with the right amount of fats, carbs, protein, vitamins, and minerals.  It is much easier to do this with fresh foods.  The world is full of “diet” plans and most of them seem designed to sell you some book or program.  There is plenty of good information freely available on what constitutes healthy nutrition.

You do not have to be a nutritionist or doctor to form a plan for good nutrition.  I have heard it said that being poor leads to lower nutrition and higher fat and sugar intakes.  I have also heard it said that a mobile society has no time to prepare healthy foods from scratch.  I do not believe that either of these two constraints cannot be overcome.  Both Karen and I have worked all of our married lives with two full-time jobs and now two part-time jobs.  Both of us are very frugal and look for bargains at the grocery store.  We minimize the number of high-priced cuts of meat or fish that we purchase and do the same with vegetables.  If I can get Mexican squash for ninety-nine cents a pound, I will purchase that over asparagus that sells for 4.99 a bunch.  We will purchase chicken at 1.39 a pound with bone in rather than 3.99 chicken filets.  We will seldom buy frozen pre-cooked foods.

Here are some of my simple principles for good nutrition. 

  • Learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods.
  • Look for healthy foods in the grocery store that are bargains.
  • Some grocery stores are more expensive for some things than others, explore your local stores to find the best deals.
  • Measure your portions to your desired weight.
  • Don’t buy “junk” food except in moderation. Think of it as a special treat.
  • Always eat leftovers. Use first in first out to eat leftovers before they spoil.
  • Cook meals that will last a few days in the refrigerator. Such meals as
    • Crock pot pork roast
    • Chicken soup
    • Turkey stew
    • Chili
    • Fried rice
  • Freeze any leftovers before they go bad. Use a marker to put title and date on the container.

I love eating.  It is one of my greatest appreciations of life.  I love eating exotic or interesting foods.  I love trying new restaurants.  Food is more than just a way to live.  Food brings us companionship and adventure.  New places to visit and new tastes to acquire.  Eating a balanced healthy diet should be thought of as a challenge.  Life seldom offers us as many challenges that are as important to living as eating.

“Eating is not merely a material pleasure.  Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship.  It is of great importance to the morale.” — Elsa Schiaparelli

Will Yoga or Physical Therapy Help You or Kill You?

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I started doing Yoga in 1972.  I am still doing Yoga three times per week and for over 45 years now.  My first Yoga instructor was a gentleman from India who did not look anything like Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He was short and a little on the pudgy side.  I credit him for giving me a wonderful grounding in both the physical and spiritual characteristics of Yoga.  I have since had many Yoga instructors but my first one still stands out in my mind as head and shoulders above the rest.

Over the years, many people have taken up teaching and doing Yoga.  Many of these “so-called” Yoga instructors are really Jazzercise or aerobics instructors in disguise.  Taking Yoga from some of them is a little like taking music lessons from someone who can only play an “air guitar.”  You will not get the true flavor of Yoga from someone who does Yoga to a four count hip hop beat and keeps shouting “work your buns.”  I feel privileged that I know the difference between real Yoga and “fake” Yoga.  Real Yoga has been a vital aspect of my weekly exercise routine.

When I started this blog (Which will be the 8th in my series on exercise and health care) my spouse wanted to know “Whether was I was going to say something negative about Yoga?”  I reassured her that it was not my intention to disparage Yoga or to say anything off putting about the practice.  Indeed, I think everyone would be happier and healthier if they did Yoga at least three times per week for ½ hour per session.  However, I did note in an earlier blog that Yoga and physical therapy could make your health worse.  As with anything in life, there is always a possible downside or negative impact which can occur with any activity.  If you lay in your bed all day long, your house could be hit by a tornado, earthquake, hurricane, flood or falling airliner.  Everything in life has a risk.

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The greater risk in life (IMHO) is doing nothing.  It is always easier to do nothing.  Whether your doctor has given you a regimen to practice physical therapy or whether you have a schedule for Yoga, there are many nights when you will just feel like doing nothing or perhaps simply eating.  It often goes like this in our house:

5 PM

John:  Let’s do Yoga today at 6:30 PM.

Karen:  OK

6:15 PM

John:  I sort of got behind on some things I was doing.  Could we make it at 7 PM and eat dinner after?

Karen:  OK

8 PM

John:  Dam that took longer than I thought it would.  Shit, it is now 8 PM.  I am hungry and tired.  Would you mind if we skipped Yoga tonight?  We could do it tomorrow instead.

Karen:   OK

One problem with Yoga (as noted in the above discussion) is to skip doing it.

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Another problem can be overdoing it.  Yoga must be practiced carefully.  The formula “no pain, no gain” is a prescription for disaster when it comes to doing Yoga.  That is the issue I have with Jazzercise instructors who think that they can teach Yoga with the same philosophy they use in their Jazzercise classes.  Yoga should be slow and gentle.  Yoga should not be frenetic and schizophrenic.  Some people might feel that there is little benefit to doing something that does not result in pain or sore muscles.  However, with the wrong philosophy, you can do real damage to your muscles or joints while attempting to do some Yoga exercises.

worrier poseBeing overly competitive might be a good formula in exercise programs where you attempt to outdo other participants, but this can be another recipe for disaster when it comes to Yoga.  Each participant in Yoga needs to pay attention only to their own body; not to the other participants or even the instructor.  If the instructor has his/her legs at a 180 degree angle to their torso and you can only make 30 degrees, you are best advised not try to imitate your instructor or other participants.  A good instructor will repeatedly advise you to only go as far as you can with any Yoga posture.  Pushing the envelope may lead to torn muscles or dislocated joints.

I have lumped physical therapy in with Yoga exercise.  I have done this recognizing that though they are two very different practices they actually share several things in common.

  1. They are both healthy alternatives to pills and surgery
  2. They both require discipline and a regular routine
  3. They cost a great deal less than surgery or pills
  4. They have less side effects than pills or surgery
  5. You can do them in the privacy of your home and you do not need a prescription
  6. You can target particular areas of the body where you have some type of soreness or imbalance
  7. You can do them regardless of the physical shape you are in since the level you do each at can be adjusted to your present condition
  8. You can do them forever and they will help prevent future problems
  9. They are both proven in terms of health and therapeutic value

Many of the yoga practices that have now become routine in physical therapy are derived from Yoga exercises that go back thousands of years.

“A co-worker of mine recently had knee surgery and said he is in physical therapy. I am always curious as a Yoga teacher what the medical community does to treat ailments via physical movement.  He graciously copied his sheet of exercises his physical therapist prescribed to him.

I saw immediately that the actions being taught in physical therapy mimic many of those in asana, with asana being a bit more extreme in range of motion.” — From Home Yoga Practice

For a more in-depth analysis of the similarities and differences between Yoga and physical therapy see the following article:  Yoga and physical exercise – a review and comparison by Ramajayam GovindarajSneha KarmaniShivarama Varambally & B.N. Gangadhar

Conclusions:

Yoga can be an excellent addition to your weekly health routine.  The exercises (called asanas) will help to keep you flexible and limber.  Yoga will also help with your balance and posture.  Flexibility and balance are two of the six key pillars for a healthy lifestyle.  I would argue that for good health, you need to address each of the following six pillars on a weekly basis:

  1. Flexibility routine
  2. Strength routine
  3. Balance routine
  4. Stress routine
  5. Good nutrition
  6. Aerobic routine

If you supplement your weekly Yoga with an aerobic exercise program, strength program and good nutrition, you will have done the most that anyone can do to insure a long and healthy life.  The rest will be up to your genes and lifestyle.

Yoga set394Start doing Yoga once or twice a week.  You can get a Yoga mat, strap, blocks and some used Yoga DVD’s for less than $30 dollars.  With some Yoga tapes and a DVD player, you will be able to do Yoga in the privacy of your home and as often as you want. I have found Rodney Yee, Patricia Walden and Susan Deason to be great instructors.  Gaiam Yoga tapes can often be found in Goodwill or other thrift stores for a few dollars each.  On frigid days, it is a real pleasure not to have to get dressed and go to a gym.  It is also great to have an instructor on DVD that I do not have to keep paying weekly fees to.

Time for Questions:

Do you do Yoga?  Why or why not?  If not, what would it take for you to get started?

Life is just beginning.

“Yoga is not a religion. It is a science, science of well-being, science of youthfulness, science of integrating body, mind and soul.” — Amit Ray

 

 

 

 

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