Wednesday, May 26, 2010

suckage! sickness v. exercise

well, i've been a bit under the weather lately. i apparently picked up some bug that has turned out to be of some virulent variety. it's taken me completely out of the game.

i've written previous posts about the issues of exercise and illness before (reference: overtraining while sick and exercise and immunity). but those times i dealt with excessive exercise causing or promoting sickness. i don't think that was the case this time, since my training load wasn't really that heavy. i just happened to get some disease in the course of ordinary life (very likely, given the amount of people i deal with every day). as a result, while the prior posts dealt with the question of what to do with training to prevent becoming sick, this post deals with the question of what to do with training given that i already am sick...something that i think everyone has to deal with in the course of following a fitness lifestyle.

originally i thought this was just a minor cold (symptoms at the start were just a sore throat and light fever) and would blow over in just a few days. i go through this several times a year, and i thought this time was no different.

unfortunately, this time was different. it didn't blow over in a few days, but instead has persisted for the better part of what is now coming up on 2 weeks (10 days so far, and still persistent). the symptoms also got worse, proceeding to a full-blown onslaught of fever, headaches, chills, spontaneous sweating, constant fatigue, wheezing, and coughing--and i don't want to describe what i was coughing up, other than to say it was green and blue and there was a lot of it. the worst of it seems to be past, with this past weekend being the rock-bottom in terms of how i was feeling (pretty much all i did was sleep...even driving to the store for food exhausted me for the rest of the day). still, it's not gone completely away, and the symptoms are still around. whatever this is, it's not a cold.

usually, with a cold, i'm able to just suck things up and keep training. i'll take a little more rest, allot more time for recovery, and also cut back on the intensity and duration of workouts, but i still make an effort to do my workouts. not because i have to, but more because i just don't want to lose my base of fitness (which is something most athletes share as their major concern anytime an illness rolls around).

this time, however, things were bad enough that i decided discretion was the better part of valor, and canceled all my workouts. yeah, i know it'll erode my fitness, but i figured that with the way i was feeling that training would only exacerbate the recovery process and only deepen the symptoms. that, and my fatigue was so bad i could barely get out of bed to take a shower.

did i do the right thing? who knows. it's a personal judgment call. and a lot of it was subjective. i know plenty of athletes who keep training and competing while they're sick, even through cases of things like flu, bronchitis, etc. that would knock most ordinary people off their feet and into a hospital. but right now, i don't have any pressing needs to perform physically, and i just want this damn disease to be over with.

i'm feeling better now, enough to see if there were some medical guidelines that might offer some help in determining when and to what extent training and competition should be curtailed. i came across some useful links that offer a sports medicine perspective:
the first one i found to be the most useful. i don't know much about the American Athletic Institute, or the sports and medicine science it uses, but what they say makes perfect sense to me. i don't think i had the flu, but based on what they're saying maybe i did (do) have some bacteriological infection--i've been told there's an outbreak of strep throat in Southern California, so it's very possible (strep throat is caused by the streptococcus bacteria). in which case, it would certainly explain the length of time of this sickness.

it also suggests that i probably did the right thing to just stay home and rest...according to what they're saying, bacterial infections require complete cessation of exercise, since continued physical activity can extend strep throat into something worse, like sinusitis and bronchitis (at which point, it's not that big a step to something really bad, like pneumonia).

of course, it's no fun staying at home in bed with a fever and cough and sweating and smelling like the universe's filth pit. and it's no fun being tired all the time. especially when i feel like i should be out and about and active and doing something. especially since it's been ridiculously beautiful weather lately (and it has: average temps ~70 degrees F, bright sunshine). FML. but i guess it's better to stop things from getting any worse and to let my body just get healthy.

and the sooner that happens, the better.

because right now, this is just nothing but SUCKAGE.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

more than genetics

there was an article in the NY Times health & fitness blog that came out recently that i wanted to touch on. i see it as a motivation destroyer, not just for anyone trying to metamorphose from inactive sedentary lifestyles to more active energetic ones, but for anyone trying to make something better with their lives, and so i wanted to deal with it head-on.

the article relates to genetics, and references a European medical science paper that observes that people's propensity to exercise is in part a function of their genetics. you can see the article here:
this is not a new thesis. there have been prior studies done indicating a link between genetic makeup and exercise. you can compare the above to the following sample of material on the subject:
all the research deals with the issue of exercise and genetics from various angles, but essentially finds the same things, in that genetics determine 1) your body's capacity to accommodate an exercise regimen; 2) your body's ability to adjust to exercise (and hence, ability to pursue a fitness regime), 3) your mental/emotional proclivity to engage in exercise; and 4) your mental/emotional response to exercise. in short, the research suggests that genetics determine your potential for fitness.

while i won't disagree with the medical science, i do want to point out an issue with it. i see a problem in how the research may be interpreted, in that it is entirely possible--and entirely too easy--for people to take the science and use it as an excuse to quit or avoid fitness regimes and as a justification for inactive or sedentary lifestyles. that is, it's entirely conceivable that a person will take these studies and say "geez, no wonder i hate exercise so much, it's in my genes," from which point it's an easy step to say "geez, i must not be meant to exercise, it's in my genes." in which case, the loss of motivation is inevitable.

i think that's the wrong logic to apply. to me, the science simply explains the variation in human responses to exercise and the differences in human fitness. it doesn't make a broad leap to then say our lifestyles (including active ones) are predetermined. that is something beyond the genetics.

the research itself suggests this. the NY Times article notes that the European study surmises that genetics only comprises a percentage of our relationship to exercise. the researchers in the study give a figure of 60%, citing that the remaining 40% is a function of personal choices. even then, i suspect that these figures are just speculation, and something highly susceptible to a host of extraneous variables (i.e., family, community, work, lifestyle, etc.). our exercise and fitness levels, in other words, are not purely genetically predetermined, but instead very much affected by the way we live our lives.

i came across a couple of other pieces that state exactly this. our exercise and fitness is more than just our genetics. in fact, our lives as a whole are more than just our genetics. reference this article from the LA Times and a subsequent reader response:
the studies referenced in these pieces support the notion that our genetics do not necessarily determine our destiny. they point to other factors that influence our behavior.

particularly interesting are the arguments made by epigenetics, which is a subfield studying how environmental variables affect the behavior of genetics. this are of research is finding that 1) genetic traits, while coded in our genes, are not always active, meaning that they are not always expressed, 2) the expression of genetic traits are influenced by external factors, namely our environment (i.e., family, community, work, lifestyle, etc.), and 3) despite our genes, we still have the ability choose what kinds of lives we want--unhealthy, self-destructive ones or healthy, constructive ones.

the logical implication of this is that genetics are not an excuse for the condition of our lives. we are still ultimately responsible for our behavior and ourselves. we are not just about genetics, but about our environment, and our environment is something that we can control. we can choose how we live and what we do and who we associate with. we can choose between things that make us worse versus things that make us better. we can choose between lives of misery and waste versus lives of joy and fulfillment. we can choose.

which means that we, and we alone, are ultimately responsible for our what happens with our own lives. we may not have a say in the way we start it, but we do have a say in the way we behave during it and we do have a say in the way we finish it. we, in short, make our own destiny.

which means that we, regardless of who we are, should not give up. we should not give up on making something better out of our lives. we should not give up on our dreams. we should not give up on who we are or who we were meant to be.

we should not give up on ourselves.

Friday, May 14, 2010

all the ways exercise is good for you

well, here's a bit of popular news to help find motivation for exercise. for all the people who say they're not going to engage in a regular schedule of exercise and fitness--or can't or don't or have no desire to do so, there's this article to provide some things to think about:
the article originally appeared in Prevention magazine. in case the link doesn't work, i pasted the text of it below.

in brief, the article provides a list of 17 reasons for exercise in terms of overall health (i.e., physical, mental, emotional, etc.), and suggests that this essentially relates exercise and fitness to greater personal happiness and well-being. the list is by no means complete, and i'm sure anyone reading this can think of all kinds of additional reasons a regimen of exercise and fitness is good for you--even i, writing this, can think of other reasons (in keeping with the ulterior purpose of this blog, i begin by offering this: exercise and fitness is good for the spirit and a sense of personal fulfillment). but i think the 17 points given here are a good start and more than enough to motivate anybody to exercise. i won't go into them, since i think the writing is done well and is concise and direct enough to speak for itself. i will, however, say this:

it's all too often too easy for too many people for too many reasons to forswear exercise and fitness. lack of time. too much work. too many commitments. other priorities. indolence. insufficient ability. intimidation. fear. ignorance. whatever.

thing is--and which should be apparent from this article--exercise is something with entirely too many benefits too ignore, and as such accords more priority in our lives than we may be giving it. being healthy makes us better people who are more capable of doing all the things we want or need to do in life. as a result, by improving our own lives, it helps us develop our capacity to improve the lives of people around us.

moreover, exercise is something that's just natural. humans are biological organisms, and as such are not static but rather dynamic creatures with processes and activities that are always in motion. even in times of rest (i.e., sleep), our bodies are operating to recover and recuperate. we are not passive. the activity of movement in exercise is part of who we are. as a result, engaging in exercise means living life the way we were meant to live it.

lastly, this article references a point that doctors consistently make: you don't need a lot exercise. just 30 minutes per day a few times each week is enough to start inducing improvements in health and well-being. obviously, more would be better, but it's not necessary. and anything like ultra-endurance sports or elite-level competition is another sphere of existence altogether. this article, like the rest of medical science, is just saying that there should be some manner of regular exercise for fitness, with "some manner" being a nominal amount achievable by any person.

so the next time you hear someone sloughing off any discussion of exercise and fitness, show them this article--and then get them to join you. it makes a difference. it makes a life.

17 Ways Exercise Sends Health Soaring
Besides losing weight, being active makes you healthier, happier, and sharper

When most of us launch into a new fitness routine, it is for one common reason: to shed fat. But it turns out focusing on your weight loss goal alone can slash your odds of success by over half, say researchers. A better inspiration: The amazing health rewards you get by being active. Finding the right motivation can make you 70% more likely to keep it up for the long haul, reports the American College of Sports Medicine.

Next time you're too busy, tired, or achy to lace up your sneakers, remember these health-transforming benefits of exercise.

1. Be Happier at Work
Increase productivity...and maybe get a raise

An active lifestyle may help you check off extra items on your to-do list, says a study from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. On days staffers participated in on-site fitness activities, they reported thinking more clearly, getting more done, and interacting more effectively with colleagues. You'll be less likely to miss work due to illness, too. Research shows that people who participate in vigorous leisure-time physical activity (such as jogging or bicycling) just once or twice a week take about half the sick time of those who are more sedentary.

Do this: Sign up for workplace fitness classes. None on-site? Recruit coworkers to go for a lunch hour power walk. Or ask HR to designate a room for a noontime stretching or workout session, using DVD instruction.

2. Improve Your Vocabulary
Brush up on your Scrabble skills

A single treadmill session can make you brainier. Exercisers who ran just two 3-minute sprints, with a 2-minute break in between, learned new words 20% faster than those who rested, in a University of Muenster in Germany study. Getting your heart pumping increases blood flow, delivering more oxygen to your noggin. It also spurs new growth in the areas of the brain that control multitasking, planning, and memory.

Do this: Add a bout of exercise, like running up and down the stairs, before trying to memorize anything--say, Spanish phrases for your trip to Mexico.

3. Get Natural Pain Relief
Keep moving to ease stiff, achy joints

It may seem counterintuitive, but rest isn't necessarily best for reducing pain and stiffness in the knees, shoulders, back, or neck. Healthy adults who did aerobic activity consistently had 25% less musculoskeletal pain than their couch-bound peers, says Stanford senior research scientist Bonnie Bruce, DrPH, MPH, RD.

Exercise releases endorphins, the body's natural pain reliever, and may make you less vulnerable to tiny tears in muscles and tendons. Staying active can also provide relief for chronic conditions such as arthritis: In a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study, arthritis sufferers experienced 25% less pain and 16% less stiffness after 6 months of low-impact exercise like balance and strengthening moves. Most people start to feel improvement within a few weeks, says study author Leigh Callahan, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at UNC.

Do this: Practice yoga or tai chi twice a week; both increase flexibility and range of motion and reduce pain.

4. Feel Sexy at Any Size
Flaunt a figure you can be proud of

A good workout practically ensures a better body image. The simple act of exercising-regardless of your weight or fitness level-can make you feel positive about how you look, possibly due to the release of feel-good hormones, finds a review of 57 studies on exercise and body image.

Working out can also boost your libido by increasing blood flow to the genitals. University of Washington research found that just one 20-minute cycling workout enhanced sexual arousal up to 169% in women. And the benefits stand the test of time: A Harvard study of swimmers found that those over age 60 were as satisfied sexually as those decades younger.

Do this: Try 20 minutes of aerobics before a romantic evening. To feel good naked anytime, walk or do yoga daily.

5. Lower Dental Bills
A health-boost worth smiling about

Flossing and brushing, it turns out, are not the only keys to a healthy smile, says Mohammad Al-Zahrani, DDS, PhD, a former associate professor at Case Western Reserve University. Exercise plays an important role, too. In his recent study, Al-Zahrani discovered that adults who did 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 or more times a week were 42% less likely to suffer from periodontitis, a gum disease that's more common as you get older. Working out may thwart periodontitis the same way it does heart disease--by lowering levels of inflammation-causing C-reactive protein in the blood.

Do this: In addition to staying active, get a twice-yearly dental cleaning (or more often if your dentist says you are at high risk for gum disease).

6. Unlock Hidden Energy
Rouse your body out of a slump

If you're among the 50% of adults who report feeling tired at least 1 day a week, skip the java and go for a walk. University of Georgia researchers who analyzed 70 different studies concluded that moving your body increases energy and reduces fatigue. Regular exercise boosts certain fatigue-fighting brain chemicals such as norepinephrine and dopamine, which pep you up, and serotonin, a mood enhancer.

Do this: Take a 20-minute stroll for a quick pick-me-up, or aim for 40 minutes of activity daily for a sustained lift.

7. Shrink Stress Fat
Combat anxiety-related weight gain

Just two 40-minute workouts a week is enough to stop dangerous belly fat in its tracks, according to University of Alabama at Birmingham research. The waistline of those who worked out less expanded an average of 3 inches. Exercise may lower levels of hormones such as cortisol that promotes belly fat.

8. Slash Cold Risk 33%
Build up your body's defenses

Moderate exercise doesn't just rev your metabolism--it boosts your immune system, too, helping your body fight off cold bugs and other germs. Women ages 50 to 75 who did 45 minutes of cardio, 5 days a week, had a third as many colds as those who did once-weekly stretching sessions, a University of Washington study found.

Do this: Add more cardio to your routine by turning your walk into a run.

9. Improve Vision
Carrots are great, but exercise might be better

What's good for your heart is good for your eyes. An active lifestyle can cut your risk of age-related macular degeneration by up to 70%, according to a British Journal of Ophthalmology study of 4,000 adults. This incurable disease makes reading, driving, and seeing fine details difficult, and it's the most common cause of blindness after age 60.

Do this: Protect your eyes during all outdoor activities (if you're a walker, shoot for a mile a day). Be sure to wear UVA/UVB-blocking sunglasses all year long.

10. Reach the Deep-Sleep Zone
Decent shut-eye is not a far off dream

Say good night to poor sleep. Women age 60 and older who walked or danced for at least an hour, four times a week, woke up half as often and slept an average 48 minutes more a night than sedentary women, according to a study in the journal Sleep Medicine. That is good news for the many women who toss and turn more as they get older. As you age, sleep patterns start shifting, so you spend more of the night in lighter sleep phases, says Shawn Youngstedt, PhD, an assistant professor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina.

Do this: Aim to exercise for at least half an hour, even if it's after a long day. Evidence suggests that for most people, light to moderate activity in the evening won't disturb sleep, though trial and error will tell you what works for you.

11. Never Get Diabetes
Walk to keep your blood sugar in check

Walking 2 miles 5 times a week may be more effective at preventing diabetes than running nearly twice as much, report Duke University researchers. Because fat is the primary fuel for moderate exercise, walking may better improve the body's ability to release insulin and control blood sugar.

Do this: Start a walking program

12. Eliminate Belly Bloat
Shrink the muffin top

The next time you feel puffy around the middle, resist the urge to stay put. A study from Spain's Autonomous University of Barcelona suggests that mild physical activity clears gas and alleviates bloating. That's because increasing your heart rate and breathing stimulates the natural contractions of the intestinal muscles, helping to prevent constipation and gas buildup by expediting digestion.

Do this: Walk or pedal lightly on a bike until you feel better.

13. Clear Out Brain Fog
Build your mental muscle

Exercise is linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease among older people; now, new research shows it can prevent brain fog at a much younger age too. Japanese researchers assigned sedentary young adults to two groups; one took aerobic exercise classes, and the other did not. After 4 months, MRIs revealed that the nonexercising group experienced shrinkage of gray matter in some areas of the brain, while the active participants had no change.

Do this: Try a new fitness routine, or sign up for a new class at the gym. Besides the obvious benefit of getting a workout, trying something fresh can help stimulate the growth of brain cells.

14. Save Your Heart
Reduce dangerous inflammation

Sedentary, obese women age 50 and older who began exercising lowered their levels of C-reactive protein-an inflammatory blood marker linked to heart disease—by 10% after 1 year, found research recently published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

15. Add Years to Your Life
Stay healthy and active for years to come

Being physically fit can actually change how your body works. Vigorous exercisers have longer telomeres-cellular biomarkers that shorten as we age-compared with healthy adults who rarely work out.

16. Ease Your Ailments
Heal your body with yoga

Yoga has a well-earned reputation as a surefire stress reducer (particularly when combined with meditation), and new studies show the simple stretching regimen can also help treat and prevent a number of other ailments, from back pain to diabetes. Other research reveals regular yoga practice can put an end to mindless eating by creating an outlet for emotions that can lead to binging. Unfortunately, less than 15% of women over age 35 say they do yoga frequently, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.

17. Survive Breast Cancer
Increase your defenses against the disease

Exercise not only reduces breast cancer risk, it can also save your life if you're diagnosed. Overweight women who were exercising more than 3 hours a week before they were diagnosed were 47% less likely to die than those who exercised less than a half hour per week.

Do this: Sneak in mini bouts of exercise. Take a quick walk when you get the morning paper, hit the stairs before lunch, or knock out a few pushups and crunches while watching TV. Just two to three 10-minute workouts a day is enough to fill your quota for the week.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Motivation May for Mother's Day

well, it's May. yeah, May. May. as in the very merry month of. as in the height of spring in. as in leading into summer with. May. sun. flowers. breeze.


every day.

hey hey hey.

which leads me to say:

yes. i know. i haven't written a post in awhile. some of you have made it very clear to me. last one was April 28. which makes it almost 2 weeks. bad. not good. deplorable. one would think i'd forgotten about this blog and that i'd abandoned you. neither, i assure you, is the case. it was simply errant misbehavior on my part. as a measure of my remorse, i offer my formal mea culpa mea culpa mea maxima culpa and my sincere apologies.

i'm scratching my head as to how that happened, since there's been a lot of things going on--although, maybe i did get a bit lackadaisical because there's been a lot of things going on. i can say this: my brother got married, and it involved a mad, frenzied, haphazard cross-country trip out to Boston. it was mad, frenzied, and haphazard because it was in the midst of midterms week and final exams week for the schools i'm at. and made even more mad, frenzied, and haphazard because it coincided with the due dates for term papers and graduation dates. all of this made, and has made, for a situation of me being overwhelmed, overfraught, and overworked. which makes it all no wonder that i'm a little bit out-of-sorts and off-track.

and it didn't help that i missed out on Ironman St. George, which was the race i'd been training for but had to miss out on (my brother's wedding occurred the same day...oh joy). you might think of this as actually being good fortune, given some of the race reports coming back. but it's left me without any sense of release, accomplishment, or fulfillment that would help me move on with everything that i have to do. as a result, i've been feeling in a bit of limbo between what-ifs and might-have-beens versus what-nows and what-to-dos (reference: wishing).

all of which has served to make my life like my body like my mind like my spirit like my life: fat. chunky. indolent. ossified. immobile. useless. pathetic. lifeless.

none of which is good, because as human beings and creatures of creation we are supposed to be something else:


and i have to say i probably still would be lifeless and out-of-sorts and off-track if i hadn't woken up and suddenly realized it was Mother's Day tomorrow (Sunday, May 9, 2010 in the U.S. for those who may not know). and as any man and son knows, if there's one day on the calendar that is sacrosanct--and the one day for which you know you will receive absolute hell for forgetting--it's Mother's Day. she gave us life, right? this knocked me back into reality just enough to realize:
  1. wow. i really did almost forget Mother's Day.
  2. wow. i really did forget to post anything on this blog for 2 weeks.
  3. wow. i really did lose my bearings and sense of time.
  4. wow. i really do need to do something.
so in the spirit of the lifestyle about living and life that i keep writing about on this blog, i figure it's high time for me to get off my butt and back into the game and get myself motivated and move move move on with the rest of my life--whatever there is of it, wherever it may be, however it works, whenever it comes about, why ever it ever is.

it's May. winter's over. summer's coming on. it's time to get rolling and get outside and enjoy long days and clear blue skies and bright shiny sun. it's time to wake up. it's time to go on. it's time to live.

starting from now.

so i'm going to call this Motivation May. as in motivation to move. as in motivation to live. hopefully ahead. hopefully well. hopefully now. what where how when why. so that i can become a human being and a creature of creation being what i am supposed to be: my life is my body is my mind is my spirit is my life is my life is my body is my mind is my spirit is my life is my life is my body is my mind is my spirit is my life...unto the depths of eternity.

and oh yeah, since we're on the theme of living and life, i will remind you to remember the person who did give you life, and tell her Happy Mother's Day. i'll let you read this:
i love you Mom!

remember: Motivation May!