Leg Lifts and Legacies

March 8, 2011 at 4:29 pm 1 comment

I have a wonky thumb. Actually, I have two wonky thumbs, but one of them has wonked its way past painful to merely unreliable. Doctors say the wonkiness stems from a mysterious, non-arthritic deterioration of the basal joints; I blame it on the contortions I put those digits through doing Stupid Kid Tricks in third grade. Whatever the explanation, I occasionally get frustrated trying to open a jar or peel a potato, and start to grumble about the inconvenience. 

Blam, blurts the voice of reason from a remote corner of my psyche, reminding me of all those noble souls who have true physical challenges to deal with. At this point, disgusted though I am over the lapse, I have to laugh at myself. I am blessed, who knows why, with a very well-functioning body, in spite of many years of neglect and downright abuse when I was younger.  

Praise the Lord, and pass the aerobics DVDs. Hand me a few ten-pound dumbbells while we’re at it. Following a few sporadic commitments to fitness in the 80s and 90s, I am finally four-and-a-half years into a true lifestyle metamorphosis – a walking, talking example of how it’s never too late to get (and stay) in shape. The longer you wait, she sighed knowingly, the less likely that “shape” will be rebounding to its teenage proportions. But there’s no age limit on attaining cardiac, vascular, flexibility, endurance, disease and injury prevention, mental acuity, cholesterol, and blood sugar benefits. 

Introductory remarks concluded, let the true pontificating begin. But seriously folks, try on this second installment of the wellness lecture series and see how it fits you. Use what you can; tuck some of it away for consideration. And do chime in with your take on the subject. Nothing speaks more eloquently than real life experience, and the whole idea is to inspire each other to be our most vigorous selves. 

Chapter Two: The Foundations of Physical Fitness 

There are tons of recommendations floating around about exercise, so many that people cringe at the mention of the word. Physical activity is probably a better term for what is missing from our lives that our fitter, leaner ancestors had plenty of – you’ll forgive the prepositional ending. The pioneers had no need to invest in a stair-stepper, and few Depression era parents belonged to health clubs or trained for marathons. 

Thirty minutes a day has become the standard minimum “moving-about” prescription for restoring some physical balance to our sedentary lifestyles; an hour of aerobic-level effort is probably closer to what our circulatory systems require. However, since anything is better than nothing, let’s start from that premise. Remember, too, that you can sneak in little snatches of movement throughout the day to effectively fool yourself into getting even more of The E Word than you ever thought you could wedge into your overloaded schedule.  

So, thinking in terms of a moderately-paced lunch hour stroll for starters, try enhancing your conditioning endeavors with these strategies for success: 

– Start out well-rested. You will have lower cortisol (i.e., stress-induced, fat-storing hormone) levels and more stamina, both of which help fuel a bout of exertion. In turn, the exertion will discharge stress and lead to better sleep, so keep that in mind on days when you feel sleep-deprived and tempted to skip a hike or a swim.  

– Eat an energy-generating breakfast. Lean protein plus non-sugary whole grains plus fresh fruit will give you staying power, too. A well-planned breakfast can fuel you through that midday walk, after which your body will be craving more good stuff for lunch. It’s an exquisitely vicious cycle. 

– Don’t try to go from zero to fifty when your feet hit the pavement. Two hours of crunches and jumping rope will only leave underused muscles unusable for days – not a good basis for establishing a consistent new habit. I started with ten minute stints on the elliptical several times a day, which eventually led to a 50-minute pre-dinner circuit routine of cardio plus weights. If that lunch hour walk is your thing, start out slowly as a warm-up, then punch up the pace after three or four minutes. Within weeks you’ll be ready for intervals of speed-walking that will leave you invigorated and metabolically fine-tuned. 

– Find excuses to get up and move around throughout the day so you don’t get overtaken by inertia. This applies to desk-sitting at work (trot to and from the water cooler frequently), waiting for a family member in the doctor’s office (climb those clinic stairs), standing in a slow-moving ticket line (march briskly up the block and back while someone holds your place), or that after-dinner temptation to just vege out (ping-pong, anyone?). A few years ago, I had gotten into a winter habit of settling into my lounge chair for the evening. The longer I sat, immobilized by the furry weight of J.J. the monster cat, the more difficult it became to get up and do anything. Don’t let lethargy get the better of you. When you feel groggy, move, don’t doze. 

– Get a grasp of the science of small calorie expenditures: Don’t recline when you can sit up; don’t sit when you can stand; don’t stand when you can walk; pace while you’re on the telephone; do deep knee bends or pliés while you’re folding laundry. That kind of thing. A study in Diabetes suggests that sitting for extended periods switches off enzymes that capture fat in the bloodstream, but light activity flips that switch back to the “on” position. And then there’s the calorie-burning credit and muscle toning benefit or moving vs. sitting. A miniscule price, significant rewards. 

– Don’t shy away from weight training. Your all-important basal metabolism rate is closely related to your body mass index (BMI), or the ratio of lean muscle mass to fatty tissue. BMI is the newest trend in wellness wisdom, and your doctor is probably using a superficial assessment of it based only on height and weight to gauge your overall fitness. Lifting weights builds lean muscle which in turn improves your BMI and ignites your metabolism. How to get started? Tuck a few small dumbbells and some elastic toning bands under your family room couch and turn watching the tube into a mini workout.  

– Repeat after me: Workouts generate energy. It’s counter-intuitive to be sure, but I will never again be able to look my weary self in the mirror and declare that I am too tired to exercise. Home experiments confirm that I will feel much better in 45 minutes if I do hit the treadmill than if I don’t. In fact, when I am most certain that I can’t move a muscle to set cat aside and drag out of that cushy recliner, that’s when I most need the endorphin-boost of some cardio-revving movement. I may start out whining but I end up whistling – every single time. 

– Give yourself time to feel good. My daughter-in-law once asked me when I thought she might stop hating exercise. I think I said it could take months for some people to enjoy the feeling, but it is a complex issue. You have to start slowly enough that you don’t harm yourself, yet be committed to consistency; you might have to give up some bad consumption habits that deplete rather than replete, but the long-term gain in self-respect, better sleeping patterns, and general well-being far outweigh the short-term “sacrifices”; and you must reject the old “all-or-nothing” mentality that sabotages your forward progress at the first sign of a set-back. Complex, perhaps, but entirely achievable. 

January 23, 2011: Jack Lalanne, the seemingly eternal master of health and fitness, died today in Morro Bay, California, of complications from pneumonia. He was 96.”  

I will forever picture a buoyant Lalanne enthusing from the screen of our small black and white television set, inspiring even my unathletic mother to do leg lifts and sit-ups. Five decades later, that same exuberance infused his appearances in infomercials for super-juicers, documenting a sparkling quality of life that had not diminished over the years. What a legacy.  

At 60 he swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf handcuffed, shackled, and towing a 1,000-pound boat. At 70, handcuffed and shackled again, he towed 70 boats, carrying a total of 70 people, a mile and a half through Long Beach Harbor.” 

I have no desire to paddle tons of bolted metal through swift currents in my 60s. But oh, to be able to share a passion for attainable physical well-being with even a handful of other people, to encourage them to claim some of that sparkle for themselves. Selfish as it sounds, my goal is to be the healthiest 90 year old on the block. That being said, I sure don’t want to be the only 90 year old on the block!

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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