Exercise to Overcome the Onslaught of Luxury

Is your lifestyle killing you?

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Copyright Dennis Mitton
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No need for the gym when this chore is done

I talk to my children a lot about luxury and the lives that we live as everyday-run-of-the-mill Americans. I don’t want them to imagine that our lifestyle is anywhere near normal for most people of the world. And though we are able to mask the effects of our luxurious lifestyle using drugs, we suffer from high rates of ‘luxury diseases’. These are ailments that appear to stem from our diets and lack of exercise. The number varies, but it’s commonly said that up to eighty-percent of aging American’s health issues are related to weight and diet.

I thought about this while I lolled on the couch watching the television show Mountain Men last night. My favorite is an old fella named Tom who lives in Northern Montana. It’s been a cold winter in Montana, and Tom’s meat stock is low. He sets out for a hunt, and to use as much of a deer as possible, he hunts with a homemade bow and arrow. A rifle, he explains, destroys much of the meat of an animal while it explodes through the body. But an arrow, if shot correctly, kills as quickly and makes the entire animal usable. tomI have my own qualms about hunting (cf here) but this attitude is refreshing compared to people who hunt elk or antelope for trophies from a mile away using high-powered rifles. On the day of the hunt, Tom drives into the woods, loads up his pack, and walks into the trees looking for deer tracks. There is fresh snow so he is able to follow the tracks easily. Finally, he comes upon a group of does and tracks them for a mile until he spots a buck. Just like humans, he laughs: when there are fertile females around a stag won’t be far behind. He approaches the buck, takes his shot, and then tracks the animal until he finds it dead. He ends the day back at his house butchering the deer in the dark as the temperature drops to less than zero.

Evolutionary psychologists refer to the EEA or Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (cf here at Wiki under Evolutionary Psychology). There is controversy about the environment that humans evolved within but it certainly includes much of the lifestyle that Tom enjoys. His day begins with splitting wood for warmth and for cooking. He walked miles in the snow and cold hunting a two hundred pound deer which he then drug out of the woods. Not bad for a seventy plus year-old man. His waking time, just like our ancestors, is spent burning calories – it’s easy to see why the body wants to hold on to fat.

Do you live like this? I don’t either.

And that’s why I exercise. I spend my working days in an ergonomically adjusted chair at a desk with no sharp edges. I force myself to get up to talk to people rather than use instant messaging all day. I buy fattened cow at the grocery store where they give away free cookies just for gracing the front door. My wife and I prefer clean and healthy food but our schedules often make it easiest to cook up something from a box that is laden with fat, salt, and sugar. Nothing in my evolutionary history has prepared my body for this onslaught of luxury.

It’s no wonder that we suffer from such high rates of heart attacks and cancers and obesity disorders. And without opting out of the normal rat-race I see no organic way to circle around this. (cf here for a book review of someone who did opt out – good stuff!)

So try to mix in a little physical hardship in your day. Do something that makes you sweat. Push the mower. Carry the garbage can to the curb instead of using a cart. Chop some wood. It’s how you were made to work and your body will respond with a thank you of pleasantly achy muscles.

Cheers!

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Exercse to overcome the onslaught of luxury

Humans used to stay fit just by living. Luxury demands extra work.

Copyright Dennis Mitton

Previously published but always good to remember…


Ventured out to run at 6:30 this morning and was sweating by the time I walked the hundred years to the road. Weatherbug called me a sissy and said that is was only 78 degrees out but the humidity made the air feel like jello. A mile out and my shirt carried a pound of sweat. Combine that with a strain to my left femoral bicep and it was a challenging morning. I walked a little between miles and felt pretty good by the time I was done. I’ve been doing yoga to stretch my hamstrings and that’s helping.

luxury1
You can ignore the Crossfit gym after spending your summer like this.

I thought about exercise while I watched the television show Mountain Men last night. My favorite is an old fella named Tom who lives in Northern Montana. It’s been a cold winter in Montana, and Tom’s meat stock was low. To use as much of a deer as possible, he hunts with homemade bows and arrows. A rifle, he explains, destroys much of the meat while an arrow, if shot correctly, kills as quickly and makes the entire animal usable. How refreshing compared to people who hunt elk or antelope from a mile away. On the day of the hunt, he drives into the woods, loads up his pack, and walks into the woods looking for deer. There is fresh snow so he is able to follow tracks. He finally comes upon a group of does and tracks them for a mile until he spots a buck. Just like humans, he says: when there are fertile females around a stag won’t be far behind. He approaches the buck, takes his shot, and then tracks the animal until he finds it dead. He ends the day back at his house butchering the deer in the dark as the temperature drops to less than zero.

Evolutionary psychologists refer to the EEA: environment of evolutionary adaptedness. There is controversy about the environment that humans evolved within but it certainly includes much of the lifestyle that Tom enjoys. His day begins with splitting wood for warmth and for cooking. He walked miles in the snow and cold hunting a two hundred pound deer which he then drug out of the woods. Not bad for a seventy plus year-old man. His waking time, just like our ancestors, is spent burning calories – it’s easy to see why the body wants to hold on to fat.

Luxury2I exercise because I don’t do any of this. I spend my working days in an ergonomically adjusted chair at a desk with no sharp edges. I force myself to get up to talk to people rather than use instant messaging all day. I buy fattened cow at the grocery store where they give away free cookies just for gracing the front door. We prefer clean and healthy food but our schedules often make it easiest to cook up something from a box that is laden with fat, salt, and sugar. Nothing in my history has prepared my body for this onslaught of luxury.

So try to mix in a little physical hardship in your day. Do something that makes you sweat. Push the mower. It’s how you were made to work and your body will respond with a thank you and achy muscles.

Cheers!

Fitness50 – Live it up for the holidays – A little

Copyright 2015, Dennis Mitton
FF-Fam1
If you want to get weird now is the time…

I have a new favorite story. It comes from Tim Ferriss’ podcast interview of Tony Robbins (here).  Robbins talks about being on his honeymoon in Italy and about how his wife – just as health conscience as he is – spends her day downing pastries and tiramisu. He forgives her for a day or two and then asks her what in the world she’s doing. Her response – and I’m paraphrasing here – is priceless and a reminder for everyone. “What? Hey! Listen up.  I’m on my damned honeymoon and I’m in Italy and I’m surrounded by the greatest food that’s ever come this near to my body. Damn! I’m going to live it up and you should too.” Robbins laughs and agrees that his wife has reminded him of something important. We live long and healthy and stress-free to enjoy and long, healthy, and stress free life. There are times when the enjoy should be the focus.

Remember this for the holidays. Remember that diet and exercise are parts of an entire lifestyle that promotes the best you. As important as they are, fun and family have a place too. Eating together, laughing, and watching the game together are all activities that strengthen relationship and create great memories. Some healthy things are plain simple fun in and of themselves.

FF-Fam2Don’t be trapped into thinking that you body is so finely tuned that one taste of a sugar laced butter cookie will do you in. It’s only vitamin and diet salespeople who argue that one grain of wheat will ruin you and shave years off your life. The real fact is that your body is wonderfully flexible and able to adapt to almost any mix of carbs, protein, gingerbread, and fruitcake for a short time. Eat away. Have ice cream on it. Sip a nice vouvray. It won’t hurt you.

This isn’t carte blanche permission to pack on an extra ten over Christmas vacation. But it doesn’t have to be an either or proposition. Live a little. Then run tomorrow. But live it up for once. Enjoy what you have earned. Isn’t this what the good life it all about?

Will your exercise routine kill you? Maybe. Probably not. High intensity and your heart.

Copyright 2015, Dennis Mitton

sweat1Can your exercise routine kill you? Maybe. But lots of things done poorly can kill you. Water can kill you: 6 litres will kill half the people who drink that much (called the Lethal-Dose 50 or LD50). Like coffee? 120 cups will probably put you under. But what about exercise? Isn’t that supposed to be good for you? It is good for you. At least most kinds of exercise. There is evidence, though, that high intensity exercise – growing in popularity – can have negative health effects over time if done to extremes. Before the bad, though, let’s focus on the good.

What is high intensity exercise?

High intensity exercise is typically defined as exercise that brings your heart rate up to or exerciseclose to 85-90% of your maximum rate. There are as many ways to figure your maximum heart rate as there are websites but the old standard is to subtract your age from 220 and multiply that number by 0.85 to get beats per minute. View that as a good stating point that will change as you exercise more and train your heart and your body. I maintain a heart beat of about 148 beats per minute for for a 5k running race and have pushed to over 170 for brief workouts. Done properly and infrequently these workouts exercise your heart, which is made of muscle, expand and scrub your blood vessel walls as blood surges to feed your muscles, and increases your lung’s ability to process oxygen and carbon dioxide.  All good things.

So what’s the down side? The downside comes when people think that if one day is good then two must be better and a whole week will turn me into Superman by next Friday. Once a week or so is good. And depending on your age and fitness level maybe several times a week is fine. But at some point, prolonged and constant high intensity exercise can have negative benefits. What are they?

High intensity work outs can exacerbate existing conditions

We’ve all heard stories of the person who started running and dropped dead of a heart robot1attack. I knew a family of brothers who lost their youngest brother from an aneurysm while running. Doctors guessed that the problem was pre-existing and triggered by exertion and that he was dead before he hit the ground. But other, more benign, problems can crop up. Knee and foot problems are common. Muscle soreness can linger and make even walking painful. Pulled muscles and torn ligaments can occur. If you start a regiment that includes high intensity workouts expect to find any chinks in your amour. This is just the nature of machinery. Slow and easy is usually painless but add some stress and you start finding the weak spots.

High intensity workouts can contribute to poor rest

You would think that you sleep like a log after these workouts but the opposite is often true. You body seems either too amped up or too sore to rest. Yoga and meditation can help as can baths. An aspirin helps me relax. And poor rest can contribute to a compromised immune system as well.  And make you damned crabby. Who wants that?
This is age and condition dependent but I’ve had to learn to leave lots of room for healing. I need just about a full two weeks of easy stuff to recover from a really hard work out.

What is the real killer?

Prolonged high intensity training becomes a problem when your heart begins to deform. Remember that your heart is just a mid-line pump that pushes blood around your body. During times of intense exercise when your your cells and muscles scream for every bit of energy they can get your heart does two things: it starts pumping faster and starts to pump more volume. It’s the volume that can hurt you. At those levels of exercise the heart expands more to gather up more blood to push. When it expands, the heart muscle, especially on the right side which tends to be smaller, can become thin and stretched just like a balloon will when you blow it up too much. And just like that balloon it can become weakened and limp when you maintain that pressure. It’s known, too,  that very high heart rates can skew your heart’s electrical circuit and develop into arrhythmias or heart rhythm disorders.

What to do?

Don’t be scared – be smart. For most people doing intense workouts once a week or a couple times a month is fine and adds to your health. You heart will thank you, you lungs will thank you, and your cholesterol will thank you. More than that is fine for short periods. I’ve done a couple cycles of Power90 workouts but tone them down a bit and make sure I get plenty of rest if I feel tired.

runRemember what you are exercising for. Most people running on the side of the road aren’t Olympic athletes. They run for fun and fitness, and maybe to fit into a new bathing suit. There just isn’t a need to work at such an intense level. For most people slow and steady is the best road to improved health.

If you want to try it out start slow and let your body adjust. Ramp it up if you feel good. Slow down if you feel tired. Remember that the whole purpose of exercise is to live better and feel better today. And I recommend stopping after ten cups of coffee.

She hired a track coach at 77. You think you are old? What Makes Olga Run?

Copyright 2014, Dennis Mitton
olga1
Olga Kotelco

My Grandfather and then my Father died at 67. A hop and a skip from where I sit. Both from cancer. Best guess on my Grandfather’s was granite dust. He was a stone cutter as a young man and turned stone pillars for governement buildings all over Washington State. He didn’t smoke and had no history of cancer so granite is the only guess the doctors had. No one is sure about Dad. He smoked but never had problems with his lungs. His mom died at 92 and lived the life of Annie Oakley until the Saturday morning she died. Twice a week she drove her golden boat – a 1967 Ford Galaxie four-door – from Milton to Tacoma for organ lessons. Wise drivers pulled over as she went by. Only the top of her head peaked from above the steering wheel and she took up two of the four lanes along the road. Trouble was no one could be sure which two she would take. And she didn’t much care. There were organs to be played!

We are far from figuring out aging though we are learning much. Exercise is essential. A good diet necessary. Good friends and healthy relationsahips help. The right genetics are necessary but not as much as we once thought. But living long is only half the calculation. I want to live well. I want to be engaged in life. I want to learn. I want to race my Grand Daughter in he first 5k. And beat her. I want to watch my girl’s guitar recital. I want to hug my wife when the twins move to Paris to live out their dreams – Reagan to be a great artist and Madison to design clothes for pets.

Living well is the goal. One person who lived long and well was Olga Kotelko. She began competing in track and field at 77, about thirty years after most people have died inside. By the time of her death at 95 she won hundreds of gold medals and held almost every master’s record for her events and age groups. How? What was unique about Olga? In many ways, the author of What Makes Olga Run?, finds, nothing. Most of her medical metrics were normal or close to it. She ate a healthy but not exotic or rigorous diet. She exercised daily. She maintained a positive outlook. But certainly she was unique. Somehow all those normal parts added up to an extraordinary whole. The book offers no magic. No crazy diets. Only good advice that is easy to follow for healthy and happy living. Following is my review of the book. It’s an interesting and provoking read.

See my Amazon Profile
See the book at Amazon
Here for Part One of my Fathers and Sons – Walking Dead Man – about being alive while you are living.


Olga Kotelko was an elite masters track star who, upon her death in 2014, at age 95, heldolga hundreds of gold medals in track and field, none of which she earned prior to her 77th birthday.

In What Makes Olga Run? Bruce Grierson jumps head first into the life of Olga to try to understand what makes her tick. What he finds is that this extraordinary woman is, by most metrics, not very extraordinary. There is no magic here. Readers looking for super foods, esoteric yoga mantras, or exotic training regimens won’t find them here. Olga’s story is remarkable in how unremarkable it is. Grierson follows Olga through just about every test one can think of: stress tests, DNA analyses, diets, psychological examinations – in every case she comes out normal or close to it. But somehow, in Olga, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Olga is extraordinary. At 77, when most people are dead or dying, she hires a Hungarian track coach and begins a daily training regimen. She eats a nutritious but not remarkable diet. She loves competition. She loves to win. She was upbeat and refused to dwell on the dark side of things. Somehow all of that added up to an uncommon life of steady and satisfying accomplishment.

The book is not meant to be a text book. There are passages, especially concerning biology, that – in my humble opinion – could have been written more precisely. But precision in a book like this usually translates into boring. And the book is not boring. It is well written, reads easily, and is adequately documented.

There are three main take-aways:

  1. What you already know about good health is true. Eat well. Exercise. Sweat a little every day. Enjoy friends a family.
  2. Maintain a good attitude. Embrace optimism. Eschew pessimism. Keep a good perspective.
  3. Your bad habits can be reversed. You can improve your heart health. You can enjoy time with your family again. Every decision, every step, every bite represents a fork in the road that leads to an end that you chose.

The author ends with Nine Rules for Living that summarize simplicity and health. But for him, ‘Olga’s biggest gift’ is a change in perspective. He records her advice:

Look around. These are your kids. This is your wife. This is your life. Its awesomeness is eluding you. Pay attention. Yes, there will come a time when you have genuine, life-threatening ailments. But, for now, stop your kvetching. And stop dreading birthdays that end in zeros. Those zeros can pull you under, like stones in your pocket. At your age, your story is not ending: you know that.

An uplifting read.

New Treadmill Test – Will You Live Another Ten Years?

Copyright 2015, Dennis Mitton
treadmill
I’m pretty sure I would get beat up if I brought this to work.

Astute readers see that I’ve started to revive previous posts on Wednesdays.  I’m not sure how long I will keep doing it – probably as long as readers appreciate it – but I like letting older posts see the light of day again.

I’m on a health roll this week. On Tuesday I recommended Dr. David Katz’s site. He is one of the more popular researchers and writers who advocate  science based health advice. There is plenty of pseudo-science based advice and it can be hard to find the real deal amid all the debris.  On Thursday I will posts about what I think is weird health advice. I base the post on The Daniel Plan which is a book (with lots of other junk you can buy) that is basic nutrition advice wrapped up for Christians. With ten minutes of research I found cookbooks and health stuff for Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, and my favorite, a book for believers in Santeria about how to sacrifice animals. No more weird than Jewish sacrificial law I suppose. But why except to bilk a few bucks out of believers? What do the Gospels add to protein, fat, and carbs? Oh well.

Thanks to my wife who actually likes treadmills – I hate them – here is an interesting  finding with some possibly interesting ramifications:

dog
Treadmills are for the dogs!

The folks at Johns Hopkins have taken a look at 58,ooo people from all stages of life and got their calculators out. They have figured out that the closer you can come to your maximum heart rate (220- your age) during exercise the more likely you are to live another ten years. It’s more complicated than that and, like all of these tests, doesn’t tell you as much as the headlines lead you to believe, but still useful. What’s interesting is that this test approaches a determination of relative heath. It’s easy for doctors to figure out if you have a disease but hard to say just how relatively healthy you are. A yes/no diagnosis is good if you’re ill but it doesn’t tell us much about how our overall health compares to good health. This test attempts to give a number – a health score if you will – relating to your relative health with the hope that people with lower numbers can begin to work seriously on their health to improve.  No doubt we will soon see the Treadmill Test Diet by Rolly Hills on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. I Can’t wait!

Read the headline news version here from ABC.
Johns Hopkins Medical more measured write up here.


smokeThe New York Times ran an interesting article about how much people can enjoy getting older – once they get over getting older. The closer you push to 100 the more satisfied people seem to be.

Find out why here. Good read.


Here Dr. David Katz blogs about what he calls lifestyle medicine. I call it living a healthy and enjoyable and long life. I like his approach to health – very anti-fad and very pro what your grandmother taught you. And all science.

See his book Disease Proof and my review (Top Review) here at Amazon.


Go here to read a very good Time Magazine collection of articles titled How to Live to 100. Excellenté!


body_parts_of_celebrities_3

And finally, just to make you mad and to show you that life is not fair, here is a BBC article that asks the question “Who, What, Why: How is Keith Richards Still Alive? Read here.

The final word is that we have so much within reach to help us live a healthy and happy and long life. Real food. Movement. Relationships and laughing. Good work. Good reading. Enjoy them all today and see how they will repay you.

Tuesday Recommendation – David Katz – Science Based Nutritional Advice

Copyright 2015, Dennis Mitton
skinny
Well. Maybe not.

Want to drop thirteen pounds by Friday? No sweating and you can eat anything you want? Just buy our Super Weight Loss Chinese Panda Poo Mixture – on sale now! A thirty day supply for only $67.00 US. Why do these products always have Oriental names? And why do they sell a thirty day’s supply when you only need three days to drop thirteen pounds? If these are the kinds of questions you ask when thinking about health and nutrition then you might be looking for something even more elusive: science based nutritional advice. It’s rarely flashy, makes few promises, won’t sell many books, but it works.

There are several people I follow who practice this kind of weird science. One of my favorites is Dr. David Katz from Yale. He has an impeccable CV but, more than that, works hard to funnel seriously good, science based, nutritional advice down to users who might not know or care how soluble and insoluble fiber differs.

Nutritional advice is often contradictory and esoteric. (I’ve written on this here). In most katzcases this is because the one offering the advice is a salesman. This is the world of super foods, toxic chemicals, and – good gawd! – grain. Try to ignore this stuff. Like anything else having to do with our health and our bodies we need solid science to sort out the truth. Katz provides this. His advice is tested and backed by the full complement of research. There is no scare mongering. No foods dangerously toxic. No foods amazingly nutritious. Just good and livable advice that anyone can use for lifetime improvement of health.

I recommend two things:

First is his website here: Check out his blog posts or articles. There is trove of good information here.

Secondly I recommend his book, Disease Proof, where he outlines a workable plan for health. In my opinion it might be the last and only book you need.

Good stuff!