Defenders – Part 1

Battle, Defenders, Antiquity

Are you ready to fight?

Imagine the scene:

The time is Antiquity (think Ancient Rome or Greece), or perhaps the medieval Dark Ages. The place is a fortified City-State.

One sunny afternoon, an invading army shows up and attacks the city. The king of the city-state calls upon his soldiers to man the fortifications and defend the inhabitants against a fate possibly worse than death…

“But, Sire,” the King’s General replies, “our soldiers had a big training exercise this morning, and they are too tired to fight now. This battle was not scheduled, so I’m afraid we must ask for a postponement, or surrender the city.”

Somehow, I don’t think that answer would go down well with the King…

(It stands to reason that if your job is to defend a city, or uphold the law, or put out fires, you must be in good shape. You must strive for fitness. But you must also always be ready to do what must be done; training so hard that you are then incapacitated for a time is not a good strategy.)

Ok, here’s another scene, for your continuing imagination:

Similar time, similar situation, but now the invading army has been spotted ahead of time, and the King decides to dispatch his troops to a specific location where they will have a tactical advantage over the advancing enemy.

“Grab your weapons and make haste, men!” yells the King. The General and his troops leave in earnest, running as fast as they can to reach the location that will give them the desired advantage.

But they run so fast that, when they get there, they are so tired that they all collapse in a heap, and get massacred by the invaders.

(It is a little known, but historical fact, that armies in antiquity ran to battle, and had to arrive ready and capable to fight. Especially if you are trying to gain an advantage in the field, there is no point in exhausting yourself before the battle even begins. You must be fit enough to get there and fight; you must pace yourself and make sure you have the strength to defend your home and family…)

Why am I telling you to imagine these scenes?

Because I want to talk about Weekend Warriors, and a particular philosophy of racing.

But before I do, imagine a third (and final, for now) scene, taking place much closer to us in time:

Some guy is racing in an Ironman triathlon and is doing fairly; there are lots of folks ahead of him, but many more behind. He is not going as fast as he could, however; at any rate, he is not racing so hard as to get to the finish line completely exhausted.

As he finishes, all around him other finishers also arrive; most collapse from fatigue. When they don’t collapse, they at least require a lot of attention and must rest a great deal of time before being able to move on and rejoin their families. They’ve given it their all, so to speak.

The guy who did not collapse upon finishing tears off a leg from a table, or grabs a folding chair, and proceeds to beat up (and kill) all the other finishers that arrived before him.

Having thus eliminated his competition, the guy can claim a spot for the World Championship during the roll-down the next day…

(So, not a very realistic scene, and perhaps some of the organizers would manage to stop him before the rampage gets too bloody. And the guy would probably get arrested and also not be able to show up at the roll-down. But there’s a point to this, and here it is:)

In conclusion to Part 1, perhaps collapsing, or in general requiring assistance when you reach the finish line of a race, is not the best survival strategy. Not only can it do serious damage to your body, it all likelihood it will preclude you from going about your normal activities for a while.

Perhaps, as I’ll try to argue in Part 2, it is better to act more like a Defender when racing, and in life in general.

 

Photo by Pixabay.

First things first: put your muscles on

 

Dancing, Music, Muscles Mass, Aging

Put on some music, but put on some muscles, too.

What does a little old lady on Britain’s Got Talent, an article claiming that muscle mass is a better predictor of longevity than BMI, and No-brainer Fitness: E, have in common?

Other than being tidbits of “information” you can find on the Internet?

Well, the first may very well be an illustration of the second. Anecdotal, to be sure, but an illustration nevertheless. And the third is definitely derived from the principle of building muscle mass as a starting point to having fit and healthy bodies well into older age.

First, the little old lady.

Paddy is 80 years old. And she’s on the show with a much younger, much taller partner called Nico. They are doing a dance routine. At first, it’s tame and boring. And then, her partner starts twirling her about, lifting her and spinning her in the air. Acrobatic Rock ‘n Roll style. The audience holds its breath, commentators are speechless.

Why? Because everyone is afraid for this fragile little old lady. She might break a hip. She might lack strength and let go as she’s dangling precariously, and then crash and need an ambulance. You can see them thinking it. Heck, it’s almost impossible not to think it.

But she doesn’t. She holds on, and finishes the routine on her own high-heeled two legs. With a smile.

Why would we think this extraordinary?

Because we have been trained, perhaps brainwashed, into thinking that becoming old means becoming fragile. That frailty is the norm for older people.

But as MRI images of older triathletes reveal, in comparison to both younger and same age but sedentary folks, when you maintain your muscle mass and remain active, other than slowing down some and requiring more recovery time, we can remain lean, muscular, and prevent our bones from losing strength well into old age.

Second, what about that article about muscle mass?

Muscles, Athletes, MRI

Which one do you want to be when you grow old?

While most of the medical establishment (and people providing dietary advice) have been saying for some time that losing weight is good for your health in the long term, it seems in fact that having more muscle mass, even with a higher BMI, is a better predictor of outcomes.

Simply put: Don’t just try to lose weight; put on some muscles. It’s better for you.

I’m no expert, but I can think of many reasons why that would be logical, beyond the fact that diet alone never works:

  1. Muscle mass is what burns the most calories; so the more muscle mass you have, the higher your base metabolism, and therefore the less you tend to gain weight. Or the faster you burn through extra reserves. Remember that excess weight, especially abdominal fat deposits, is a major risk factor; but muscles burn calories, so you don’t need to starve yourself half to death to lose the weight.
  2. Muscles are what put strain on your bones, and therefore keep them from becoming weak (in reaction to the strain, bones become denser, and more sturdy). Stronger bones means less chances of fractures, which is an important contributor to loss of autonomy and health in older age.
  3. A stronger body in general is insurance against injuries caused by attempting to perform tasks that once were normal, but that become a challenge as we age. We’re not old in our heads, so when we think we can do something, but have not maintained our bodies, we run the risk of getting hurt.

The main issue, as I see it, is that as we age (starting around our mid-twenties), our metabolism and hormonal equilibrium shift, and it takes some activity to maintain muscle mass. It is not automatic that we gain weight, but if we lose muscle mass because we don’t use it enough, then we start to burn less, and thus put on the weight.

A good remedy to that is to maintain muscle mass. Or re-build it.

This is where No-brainer Fitness: E comes in, as a third part to the initial comparison.

The first thing to focus on when beginning a new regimen of activity is re-building muscle mass. And that is precisely what occupies a great deal of the time of No-brainer Fitness: E.

The best way to protect your body against excess weight and injuries is to have a stronger body.

And now, it seems, research is showing that long-term health is better if you have greater muscle mass.

So put first things first, and re-build (or maintain) that muscle mass. (Which is not the same as saying that you should not do any cardio, or eat badly. It’s just a place to start…)

References:

Muscle mass index as a predictor of longevity in Older adults, The American Journal of Medicine (article in press), 2014

The article from which the MRI images are claimed to originate can be found here.

Watch Paddy and Nico here. (Hopefully that link is still up…)

The best moment of the day to exercise

Movement, Daily, Morning

Seize the day!

We all should be moving all the time, be true Everyday Athletes. But let’s face it, most of us have jobs that tie us down to a desk for large chunks of the day.

So the question can be raised: When, on any given day, should we exercise in order to fit it all in?

The answer, of course, is: first thing in the morning.

There you go, question answered. Shortest blog post ever!

Ok, maybe not.

Leaving aside the facile answer (which, for many reasons, remains probably the right answer for many), let’s have a look at the pros and cons of various moments of the day.

Assume for the sake of this discussion, that you are doing “some” exercise only. It could be the basic program of No-brainer Fitness: E, or some other light to moderate training regimen…

The Morning: Seize the Day!

The main positive aspects of exercising first thing in the morning is that you can make sure that it gets done. Especially if it is a short routine that only takes a few minutes, there’s no time like the present to get it done!

You are also mentally most energetic at this time of day; your stores of willpower and decision-making energy are full from a good night’s rest, so there is less chance you will give up in the middle of your routine.

However, be careful of eating a little something (unless you are purposefully training “on empty”) because you might not feel enough physical energy.

The main drawbacks to exercising in the morning come from family life and logistics in general. If you have kids, it is often hard to get everything prepared and the kids ready and fit some exercise in the morning. Also, having to get everything or everyone else ready then head over to a gym or pool, and then get ready yourself for work, is a major hassle.

It may be difficult to get the kind of class or training session you seek at a time and location that is practical for you in the morning. So perhaps mornings are not best for you.

However, for short exercise routines that don’t need to be done at a gym or pool, and especially with a good partner to share the load, the morning time remains ideal for exercise.

Also, a lot of the morning pressure can be lifted by getting up earlier, for instance well before the kids, and doing your exercise then. This can become your personal time. But make sure to get to bed earlier as well (getting to bed too late is a major problem in modern life, about which it is high time I write something on this blog…).

Lunch Time or Mid-Day: Re-energize!

The main positive aspect of exercising in the middle of the day is that it provides a very good break from work, and can even replenish your energy levels for the rest of the day.

It is certainly always a good change of pace, if you can swing it.

Unfortunately, most people’s lunch time is often too short to be of much use, especially considering the need to go somewhere, get changed, exercise, get changed again, go back, and still find time to eat something.

If you can just zip out for a run or a brisk walk, that’s great. And there might be some short fitness classes offered near your work. Much of anything else is sure to be a logistical challenge.

Our modern schedules are bad. We really should be able to take the time we need during the day to stay fit. Our productivity would soar! But until that’s the case, exercising in the middle of the day won’t be ideal.

Evening: Make or Break Time!

Everybody’s favourite time of day; freed from work, time for ourselves… and family/household obligations.

The evening provides far more flexibility for exercising, and there are plenty of activities to choose from. It would seem ideal at first, but there are major drawbacks.

By this point, even if you’ve psyched yourself all day, you are at your most tired mentally. And at the greatest risk of simply skipping the workout.

Also, there are equally many things to juggle at night: cooking, homework, dishes, catching up on your partner’s day, etc. Making time for exercise is even more an issue in the evening as it may seem to be in the morning. And without clear deadlines (school or daycare time, being at work, etc.) the temptation to take it easy so as to stress less often leads to overruns and something having to drop. Care to guess what is most likely to get dropped?

If you are still keen and decide to exercise “later”, say as last thing in the evening, then you face the worst possible scenario: needing another meal, and not being able to fall asleep for quite some time. Indeed, the boost to your hormonal levels and wakefulness due to exercise, and the need to refuel, will push your bedtime to the point of making getting up the next day a Herculean task.

Some light routine, a bit of strength work and relaxing stretches, or making sure your training is before dinner time, can work just fine.

So there you have it, more fully.

When’s the best moment to exercise? Whenever it works best for you.

But if you are thinking about starting a new routine, consider making it a morning one, and making sure you get that sense of accomplishment first thing in the morning, to give a positive outlook on your entire day…

(And this turned out to be one of my longest posts. But it could have been the shortest.)

Photo by Pixabay.

Just say “NOT FOOD” to these items

NOT FOOD

That’s a nice gesture… or is it?

It seems everybody is blaming sugar nowadays for our BMI and metabolic woes.

It is hardly news anymore, but it bears repeating: Added sugar, of any kind, is a bad idea.

The presence of a lot of added sugar, or things made purely of sugar, are prime indicator of NOT FOOD.

While the case of pops (so called “soft drinks” and carbonated drink products that contain little more than sugar) is open and shut as being NOT FOOD, there are many other items we ingest unthinkingly that deserve that mention as well.

At the risk of upsetting many, here are a few that you should stay away from, or at least be conscious that they are firmly in that category as well.

Doughnuts (Donuts) – This is a case of “the hole will make you bigger than the parts”. The only nutritional value you might be able to get from doughnuts is the fat. Then again, what kind of fat is used in industrial manufacturing of those things? Doughnuts are more aptly named donuts (“do nuts”) when surreptitiously brought to the office by a well-meaning (?) co-worker, and left for all to “enjoy”. The sugar boost you get (and the subsequent crash from the insulin spike) you get is sure to make you combative in meetings, and then very much unproductive when you need to be. Just say “thank you, but NOT FOOD for me” next time…

Muffins – Yeah, I know, there’s your full bran muffin, and your “healthy cranberry”, and your “heart smart low fat” stuff, but, really, this is just another calorie bomb loaded with easily digested carbs, fats, and loads of sugar. All too often automatically picked up as a breakfast substitute (though many omit the word substitute, that is really what it is), it is certain to give you a short-term boost along with your coffee. But it will be short-lived, and you’ll crash. Next time you meet one in a coffee shop, say “my fun, muffin, won’t be with NOT FOOD today”…

Cotton Candy – Ok, so you don’t run into this all that often, but in case you do, keep in mind that it is spun sugar, pure and simple. Well, not that pure, and perhaps not that simple, what with the coloring and such. I just felt like putting this one on the list today. So there: Next time you go to a County Fair, or circus, or any such event and are tempted to buy some, keep this in mind. Though a funny coloured tongue is always good for a laugh.

Chips – Well, if you thought this list is about sugar only, you were wrong. NOT FOOD comes under many guises. Never mind that potatoes have been selected over millennia for their starch content (complex carbohydrates, or long chains of sugars), unless you chop up a real potato yourself and bake it in an oven, what you get from chips is, well, anyone’s guess. Especially my favourite, which are so uniform in shape that there can be no doubt they are fabricated that way. And there’s the rub: When’s the last time you saw a tree in which bags of chips grow? Huh? With chips, you get fast carbs (too fast), loads of salt (too much), and so many additives (not necessary). Potatoes in a normal diet is not the worst thing you can do, but chips are definitely NOT FOOD.

That’s quite enough for one day. Especially right after lunch…

The idea is not that you must stop immediately eating such “things”; however, you should develop a perspective on their status as NOT FOOD, and be more mindful when they are proposed to you. Or you order some food and “just take the trio” (which usually consists of chips and a pop!).

Simply accepting the “donated” donuts, or grabbing a muffin with your coffee, or impulse-purchasing chips when you are grocery shopping in a hungry state are the behaviours you need to stop. And to do that, think “NOT FOOD” when you see those items. And move on. You can do much better with real, natural food.

Your taste buds, and the rest of your body, will thank you for it.

 

Photo from Pixabay.

A Primer on No-brainer Fitness: E

Movement, Daily

Time to get moving!

In case you were wondering about it, or are generally interested in moving more, this is a kind of “Origin Story” for No-brainer Fitness: E (a.k.a. Everyday).

As the E page indicates, No-brainer Fitness: E is a kind of service to help you put more movement, more exercise, and better food (and less NOT FOOD) into your daily life.

It is not like signing up for a gym membership, a fitness cult, er, I mean class, or turning up at exercise bootcamps multiple times per week. It is a highly individual commitment to doing the simplest thing (though not necessarily the easiest) of moving more, by making it a habit.

As such, it is something all of us can benefit from, no matter what your current level of activity might be.

Some perspective

What is the idea behind this daily service?

It came through the realization that, while I enjoy racing triathlons and marathons, true fitness is something that should happen on a daily basis.

Towards the end of an Ironman(TM) race a few years back, I realized the silliness of what we (some 2,700 of us that day in Lake Placid) were doing.

More to the point, I realized how, while a great deal of fun and very demanding, our accomplishment of completing a long course triathlon would have seemed much less to our great-grandparents. Particularly those used to 12+ hour days of tilling fields, cutting down trees, harvesting, and performing a wide range of physical activities on a daily basis.

Going back even further, our hunter-gatherer ancestors had to keep moving to find their food, run to hunt (not to mention avoid being eaten themselves), and generally carried everything they owned on them without the benefit of cars (or modern backpacks, for that matter).

This is not to put on a pedestal that way of living of days gone by. It is simply a realization that nowadays we take great pride in being able to do certain things that, while challenging, would not have seemed so outlandish to our ancestors. (Except perhaps in the gear needed, and choice of venues.)

Let’s face it, modern life is a lot more pleasant. But in becoming “modern”, we’ve lost a key aspect of our animal nature: quasi-constant movement. We’ve also lost perspective on what it takes for us to be healthy: quasi-constant movement, and real food.

Back to now

In an effort to regain some of that perspective, there is a growing movement to be more active, and it leads a lot of people to endurance sports and “fitness training”. And to a large extent, to obsession about getting fit.

But it is often with the wrong focus: to look a certain way, to perform at a certain level, to lose weight…

What we should be focusing on is movement on a daily basis. What we should obsess about is doing some on a daily basis, never staying put for too long at a stretch. What we should remind ourselves is that skipping one workout is not the end of the world, as long as we keep on moving regularly.

The rest will follow, in time.

That’s why Everyday No-brainer Fitness is a service designed to provide advice and reminders to keep moving on a daily basis.

It is what brings it all together: the exercise, the diet, the lifestyle. The E stands for “everyday”, but it could just as well stand for “everything”.  And now it also stands for “explained”.

All it takes is a desire to get started, and a friendly helper to guide you along…

I’m not saying it is easy, but it is simple. It is definitely a no-brainer. And the beauty of it is that you can get some help to get you started, and keep you going.

So that’s it.

If this sounds interesting, if you are ready to sign-up or need some more information, turn to No-brainer Fitness: E, and fill the form at the bottom.

 

Photo from Pixabay.

Would you rise to the challenge?

Endurance, Fitness, Triathlon, Ironman

The author and his significant other, with Tom Knoll. The 81-year old is the guy in the middle, just to be clear.

A week ago I had the privilege of making the acquaintance of one of the original Iron Men.

Yes, I really mean one of the few who participated in the very first, the “inaugural” Iron Man Triathlon. In 1978. Before it was called Ironman; before it was a commercial brand. Well before you had to register a year in advance to participate.

Tom Knoll was at an even called Tri Mania being held at MIT in Cambridge (MA). It is a kind of traveling fitness expo dedicated to triathlon, visiting many cities over many weekends.

He was there to promote a triathlon race taking place in Atlantic City, and to sell his book, a kind of memoir of that very first Ironman distance triathlon.

There would be a lot to say about how that particular first event came to be, and I don’t want to undercut the sales of his book, but one thing struck me in particular, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

(By the way, the book is a quick read, and only $15, so if you get a chance, buy it. It is what books ought to be: a personal account of events, with a clear perspective and personality, not a manufactured product with an embellished story designed to captivate. Reality is captivating enough…)

Anyway, back to my point.

Tom Knoll was already a runner, and a career military man, when the event took place. A guy floated the idea of putting the event together, and started registering people. The date of the event was chosen in order for it to happen before two of the would-be participants had to ship out of Hawaii (more military folks, as you might guess).

So participants had a couple of months to train.

Yes, you read that right. A COUPLE of MONTHS. Not years, not many months. Two. (2).

And yet they rose to the challenge.

Not to win, not to compete against each other; just to see if it could be done.

Granted, these guys were fairly fit. They knew each other, for the most part, from running events in Hawaii. Some were swimmers with long distance credentials. Some had bikes already (some didn’t, or had not been riding much, or at all, since childhood).

Bottom line: The thought of attempting such a thing (which, just to be clear, had never been done at such distances, but already existed as a sport) was considered a little crazy, but a fun challenge. All they wanted to do was finish.

12 of them finished. Out of 15 who started.

Tom Knoll, although dead last out of the water (apparently, being in the Navy is no guarantee of strong swimming skills), came in 6th overall. He is “Ironman #6”. Only 5 before him ever completed an Ironman distance triathlon.

Here’s the kicker:

He was 46 at the time. The oldest of the bunch. Yet he rose to the challenge.

Not to win, not for recognition, not to go as fast as he could. But because it was a fun challenge.

Nowadays, we are too keen on competing, on going fast, on “being as good as we can be”, and we forget that we should be doing races because they are good for us. We should challenge ourselves not to be fast, but to go beyond our limits. (In a reasonable way, of course, so don’t go jumping into an Ironman race this summer because you read this. But do consider signing up for some race…)

Tom Knoll never participated again, but he continued to run. He has crossed the United States in both directions running. He has raised over a million dollars for charity with his running. He has remained active and fit throughout his life.

He is now 81, and still going strong.

What’s keeping you from rising to the challenge?

Thinking you are too old to begin? Too busy? Not fast enough to compete? Etc.?

Reconsider, please. And just do it because it is fun, and the right thing to do…

 

Photo credit: Some guy promoting the Atlantic City Challenge, using the author’s significant other’s iPhone.

Another Simple Idea

Movement, Meetings, Everyday

Need to meet? Step right out of your office…

I recently came across a very interesting segment of Quirks & Quarks, the science radio show of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

It was about sitting for long periods of time, and how bad it is for our health. (The segment is from the March 22nd, 2014, show.)

Basically, if you spend lots of time sitting, you are putting the wrong kind of load on your bones, and causing a major slowdown of your metabolism. Even if you exercise regularly, which is better than being a total couch potato, sitting for long periods of time is detrimental to your health.

The only way to compensate is to move regularly. As in every few minutes.

So it reminded me of a tip for moving more that I had been meaning to write about. So here it is.

You’ve probably heard it before, but like most of us you’ve not done it yet. Now’s the time to try it. Take it as a challenge for the coming week.

It’s quite simple: Have a walking meeting.

It doesn’t matter if it is a business meeting, or a personal conversation; instead of sitting in an office, or a conference room, or at a restaurant, or on your couch at home, get up and go for a walk.

This is obviously easier to manage with one-on-one meetings, but it works really well. It adds a dynamic aspect to the discussion.

More importantly, it gets you, and your meeting partner, moving, instead of sitting.

Just don’t spring it on the person at the last minute. It is better to plan for it a little.

If you are a runner, and you know the person you are to meet with runs, you could even make it a running meeting. But that brings about possible complications that are better left for another post.

Walk first, run later…

Try it. Once. This week.

Then make it a new habit…

Photo from Pixabay.