Saturday, July 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Sparta

Sparta had a birthday this week.
Sparta looks like she is in her early 30’s and has the energy of a teen.
She has told me different but I find it hard to believe.
What I do know is that age is a misnomer when applied to people like Sparta.
I have seen a number of people who aged more slowly than the average person during my years of practicing medicine.
Their physiology does not recognize the aging process.
They retain the characteristics and appearance of youth late into their life.
I think it is related to several key factors.
The first and most important factor in my opinion is attitude.
If a person wakes up already knowing the day is going to be bad and the frown is affixed to the face then the aging process has a chance to work its magic.
The jowl droops, the chin sags, the shoulders slump, the upper back rounds and the shuffle to the bathroom becomes the routine.
If on the other hand, one is excited to get up and already has determined the purpose in the new day, smiles, stretches, pulls the shoulders back and walks with anticipation then the aging process is reversed a few hours.
Another key factor: nutrition.
When a patient would ask me about a diet, I would half-seriously tell them, “If it tastes good, spit it out”.
A diet must consist of proper nutrition.
It should include high quality protein, complex carbohydrates, fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts and so on.
We all know what a good diet consists of, it just doesn’t taste as good as a diet loaded with sugar and fats.
It is much easier and more “rewarding” to eat doughnuts, chocolate milk, cookies and cold pizza.
Besides, you’ll do better tomorrow as the weight and the age pile on.
Next: exercise.
Many jobs no longer require strenuous activity. Frequently jobs are sedentary.
You feel it at the end of the day. You are drained. Your “Brain” actually hurts.
Muscles are set and resist uncoiling for the walk to the parking spot and some places even offer shuttles to your car.
Sit in the car, sit at home, sit for dinner (usually carry in or processed foods), sit in front of the TV and then struggle to the bed for the night.
The weight of inactivity is worse than gravity as far as aging is concerned.
A better suggestion, do some sort of exercise immediately after work and guess what, your energy level spikes and that “awful hunger” is no longer there.
Your step is quicker, your mind more keen.
Age has again retreated.
Bad habits can certainly wreck havoc on your life.
Smoking, excessive alcohol, too much sun all contribute to the aging process and will make you old years ahead of schedule.
Finally genetics helps.
I don’t pretend to understand the all of the intricacies of the genetic code, telomeres, the repair process, cellular aging, cellular suicide, all of the proteomics but in some people the difference of expression is profound.
As an example, a patient of mine still split his own firewood by hand at the age of one hundred. He lived in the same farm house he was born in and I never saw him when he wasn’t laughing.
His wife said he was like that from the day she met him.
He looked like a middle aged man with a full head of hair even as he passed one hundred and one.
He just didn’t age like other people.
So “Happy Birthday Sparta”.
May your “aging clock” always run slow and many, many thanks for helping the rest of us “slow” ours.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Five Laps?

Is she kidding?
Five laps; I just got “comfortable” with three.
As I said, not fast but getting them completed.
Why five, where did that number come from?
I always get stuck on punch sequence number five.
I believe it is Jab, Upper, Left, Right, Cross.
I never get it right.
Is this my punishment, five laps for failing sequence five?
One of the group members begins yelling, “I am so pumped”. “I love running five laps”.
I am unsure as to the stability of this guy now.
Is this a weak attempt at humor, does he really enjoy running five laps or is he cyclothymic and still in the manic phase?
Most everyone else looked a “slight bit downcast” by this new revelation.
The first time around it was a moderate three laps which were surrounded by the agility ladder, chair squats and then following the run the “farmers walk” with twenty five pound plates.
Now five laps still surrounded by the same “leg” punishment.
I knew when I asked where “the pain had gone” it would result in the return of same.
Yes, I did the five laps.
No my heart did not stop.
The leg cramps left sometime in the middle of the night.
So, I know it wasn’t a permanent injury.
But I would still like to know, where did that five laps come from?
Oh and then the ab workout, one hundred and twenty side planks, three sets of forty each side, now that was a real “kick” after the five laps.
The only good thing, no one began yelling “That’s great; we get to do two hundred and forty side planks”.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Where Has The Pain Gone

This may hurt.
But here is “my truth”.
In the beginning, every activity in the gym hurt either acutely or later, when I couldn’t move, because of muscle cramps and generalized pain.
I was always noticing how purple my fingers and nail beds were becoming during the exercise.
I was always trying to breath.
I was in a fog.
Every day I wanted to quit and stay home, “away from the maddening routines”.
But then something changed.
The fog got less dense.
The fingers no longer turned purple.
Three or four laps were OK.
They were not fast but they got completed.
The pain, it still hurt, but the long term pain and aches were not top of mind.
Had the trainer felt sorry for the group and decreased the intensity?
That’s like asking if Lions are giving up meat.
I don’t think so.
The intensity is still there.
The variety of punishments is still there but they now seem more like exercises instead of punishments.
The main question, what are the limits?
I ponder this every day as I walk into the gym to exercise in the group or on my own.
Every time I pick up a weight to perform some lift, I wonder, “Is this the maximum”?
Every time I try a dip or a chin up, I wonder, “Can I really do this”?
Every time I need more strength, I wonder, “Can I find it”?
Every time a new task is added, I wonder “Can I do it”?
So far I have advanced.
I know my nadir, just not the time.
But will I achieve a “zenith” before then?
Losing the pain has helped.
When the pain comes back I know I will have moved into uncharted territory.
I know that is where the answers will be found.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Of Guns and Six-Packs

Looks like I might be doing a movie review from the early 70’s when teen movies changed from Beach Blanket Bingo to Assault on Precinct 13.
But this is not a movie review.
It is also not about Beer and weapons.
Instead it is about the gym.
It is about effort and hard work.
It is about toning and tuning the body for life.
It would be so easy if everyone from early childhood were supported and encouraged to be active in life.
It would be so easy if children saw their parents being active and conscious of proper diet.
But instead many of our children see inactivity, television and computer games along with high calorie snacks.
Thus the obesity epidemic in this country.
The new mantra is “health care reform”.
In reality health care reform should start in childhood and continue throughout life.
It is more about the individual and “life reform”.
So back to Guns and Six Packs.
“Guns” are a nickname for exceptional Biceps. These are developed through exercise and an understanding of the anatomy of the upper arm. The angles of attack must vary if you are going to develop exceptional “Guns”.
Not everyone needs the “Top Guns” in the neighborhood but some effort at even developing “toy guns” would get you off the couch.
The “Six-Pack” is that very tight and muscular abdomen best exemplified by the Spartans in the movie “300”.
Not everyone can or will develop the abdominal musculature to that degree but just doing crunches some time during the day may make you feel more like a “mini Spartan”.
These can become habits and be passed on to the next generation.
Alterations in diet can follow and fairly soon, I guarantee, (not too many guarantees in life) you will feel a whole new level of “healthy”.
When almost everyone is seeking great “Guns and a Six Pack” through continuous exercise there will be no reason to worry about Health Care Reform as the need for “sick care” will no longer be as pressing an issue.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

OK People Or Do What You Do

It is Thursday.
Thursday is the day after Wednesday.
Wednesday is Ball Room Dancing lessons night.
The dance is the Samba, a fast Latin Dance that has the same steps as the Viennese Waltz.
Thursday is Boot Camp night.
Tonight the steps will be on the ladder, dancing around the heavy bag and trying to remember to turn the foot into the punch.
There are a lot of similarities between dancing and Boot Camp.
Both require precise movement, the proper turning of the shoulders, leading or following the lead, concentration and finally coordination of upper and lower body to make it all come together into a seamless, rhythmic flow.
Head movements, hand movements, movement of the feet all combine to present either a dance or a bout.
As I have thought about this, I have worked to bring parts of each activity to the other and I am finding that I can move with more fluidity than I have known for many years.
The dance instructor comes in puts on the music of the day, last night a strange and eclectic mixture of Samba beats, looks at us and says, “come on, do what you are supposed to do.”
Last night it was trying to remember the Bota Cita, Bota Fogo or the Machisse.
Tonight the Boot Camp instructor comes in puts on a CD of rock music, cranks up the volume and yells, “OK people lets do it”.
Then I am supposed to remember the most recent punch combinations, so far 1 through 6, 9 with a touch of 13, then try to master the footwork on the ladder before jumping rope and then running up and down the stairs.
The other nights of the week and weekend are free.
On these nights you will find me in the gym doing various lifts to increase strength in the arms, back, legs or other exercises that target the core muscles.
If you had asked me ten years ago, “what are you going to do in the evenings, when you have more time?” I most likely would have said, “watch a little TV, read more books, go to bed earlier”.
Instead of a little TV and early to bed it is Boot Camp, dance, exercise and try very hard to follow a strict diet.
I may not live any longer but it is sure going to seem like I did.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Searching For Nirvana

Nirvana has been described as a mind free of cravings, anger, afflicted states, a mind at perfect peace.
I feel I achieve a level of Nirvana while lifting weights.
My mind becomes silent as the body struggles to maintain the balance and control of the two dumbbells being pushed around in space.
The heavier the weight the more clear and silent the mind becomes (this has been my interpretation of the experience)
I am suddenly unaware of the surroundings and focused only on the weights and the proper placement.
I do the counts to fifteen and then drop the weights, sit up (it takes a few seconds to re-focus) and tell the body it has to do it again.
So now I am seeking to one day challenge the “hundreds”.
I was asked today when I mentioned this goal, “What are you going to do with that”?
I was really not able to express in that instant the goal.
But the goal I am seeking and want to understand is an even deeper appreciation of a mind, quiet and at peace.
I am looking for the silent place where only consciousness exists and I am sure the “hundreds” will help get me there.
I think Sparta already knows this.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Did Neil Sedaka Say It First

It was the 50’s.
The song: “Working Out Is So Very Hard To Do”.
My wife reading over my shoulder; the song was, “Breaking Up Is So Very Hard To Do”.
Everyone it seems is an editor.
But it is true, working out is so very hard to do.
The gym fills up on the day after New Years, resolutions are made and intensity is high.
I see the same type of intensity on the first day of vacation.
The gym is packed early on Monday.
The beach is filled with walkers and runners.
Then comes Tuesday.
The beach is less crowded and the gym, virtually empty.
The machines are idle and the weight bench is free.
I am not complaining.
It is easier to get the equipment and the session is over quicker.
I still have to do the obligatory crunches on a large mat that has room for four people.
The mat has little channels that catch the sweat.
Is this the reclaimed water they use to hydrate the plants?
On to the weight bench and then down to the patio for coffee.
On this trip I do the beach “raulking” first so the coffee is the last part of the ritual.
As I cool down I am able to watch the sun rise, feel the sea breeze and see the ocean come and go with each wave.
I feel really good.
I am sticking to the routine.
I wish I had believed in exercise all of my life.
It is better than any medicine or potion.
I will wait to see if any of the Monday people come back.
But I am pretty sure Neil Sedaka had it right the first time: “Working Out Is So Very Hard To Do”.
But if you are not working out, I assure you, you are breaking up.
Thanks Neil.
You were a prophet and didn’t know it.
PS: The Monday people aren’t back yet.