Science Wednesday: Do your homework.

There’s an email glitch in the machine at Chez Wellness Playbook right now. Several emails I’ve sent, and several that were sent to me, simply disappeared. I didn’t get mine, my intended recipients didn’t get theirs. When you run a business that depends on making personal contacts with many people over the course of one day, often over email, this can be, shall we say, just a little stressful.

Do you feel like this when things just aren't going right, and it feels like stuff is breaking all around you? Me too. What to do? Read on. (Image courtesy of Prakairoj at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Do you feel like this when things just aren’t going right, and it feels like stuff is breaking all around you? Me too. What to do? Read on. (Image courtesy of Prakairoj at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

As a child, things were always breaking around me. I remember a dishwasher door that opened too fast, a ceiling that perpetually leaked, and other little details around my family’s house that were just not “quite right.”

I thought that was how life went. There wasn’t much you could do about things. My father lost his full-time job when I was in fifth grade, and he never held another solid job for the rest of his life. Things just happened to you. And there wasn’t much you could do about it. So you just had to “cope” with it. I knew that word by the time I was ten.

That’s how I used to think about my health, too. Things just kind of were as they were. Some people got lucky: beautiful faces, trim bodies, attractive people attracted to them. They won the Popularity Olympics when they were kids, so other kids flocked to them.

And as adults, we do the same things to each other sometimes, don’t we? Compare what we have to what others have, and decide that some people are just luckier than others. One acquaintance of mine (ironically, a very lucky one – she married a tech executive who invented a product you’d absolutely know if I wrote the name here, and lived in a mansion in Massachusetts when I knew her well) called them the “beautiful people.” (And from the way she said it, she didn’t consider herself to be one of them.) Ah, yes, the Beautiful People. The people for whom everything seems to go right in life, 24/7/365.

So, what does all of this have to do with fitness, health, and Science Wednesday, you ask?

After almost six years of paying really close attention to my health, I’ve found out that I can still get all gummed up with thinking that problems only happen to unlucky people. And then I cast myself in that role. When things go badly we could leave the broken door unfixed, the missed emails problem unsolved – or we could become massive, major-league problem solvers.

And that means doing our homework.

“Do your homework” means asking big questions and being insatiably curious about the answer. When I started to lose weight, I began to pay attention to all of the decisions I was making during the day that could potentially affect my weight loss. I changed my grocery list, went from looking for “healthy hot dogs” (which actually are sort of awesome) to unprocessed foods, to growing my own vegetables. I changed the way I worked out. I played with the equation constantly. And that landed me on a set of tools and habits that, almost six years later, makes me look to some people in the big ol’ world out there like I’m one of the “lucky ones.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here’s my Every48 message today. if something isn’t going right for you – in your health and fitness life, or your work life, or your family, or your relationships – get insatiably curious. Ask questions. And then keep asking questions. If you don’t like to exercise, try something new. Try something fun. If you can’t get excited about how you’re spending your days,  ask yourself if you’re doing the work that you were put here to do, and then see what you have to do in order to get to a place where you’re doing it. Ask for help. Don’t give up and say, oh well, that dishwasher door will always be like that. Keep asking questions.

Life is sometimes like a big puzzle with the pieces strewn all over the place. But if we become problem-solvers, sometimes the pieces all start to make sense. Keep asking questions. (Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Life is sometimes like a big puzzle with the pieces strewn all over the place. But if we become problem-solvers, sometimes the pieces all start to make sense. Keep asking questions. (Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The “lucky ones” in my life – the people who seem to have it all – are, in reality, the hardest-working, most insatiably curious people I know. They just don’t take “no” for an answer. (One of them had the first company he started completely fail on him. So he started another one. And another one. And he’s a big-time success story today.)

The best athletes aren’t the ones who were born with their talent; they’re the people who don’t skip their workouts. The people who write best-selling books aren’t the ones who tinker with a manuscript from time to time; they’re the people who constantly engage with their material, get it in front of the best readers they can so they can get the right feedback, and go back to the page to work it all out.

When we start doing things like this, our brains change. I am completely convinced of this. Read the prologue to Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business to learn the story of a woman who changed everything about her life, so completely that the National Institutes of Health now studies her brain patterns. And exercise was a big, big part of that particular equation. That’s what happens when we decide to become insatiably curious about our health.

We get stronger. We get tougher. We become problem-solvers.

And not just in health. In life.

So what’s the answer to that “missed emails” question? Well, it turns out that Gmail has a whole page devoted to solving that particular problem, and I’m going to delve into it during my down time today so I can figure it out. Problem Solving 101, happening as we speak, at this very writing desk.

That’s what we’ve got for you today at Every48. Get out there and get your workout on – and then, get insatiably curious, and become a problem-solver.

Yesterday’s #Every48 workout: Proof, once again, that morning workouts are my friend. A BIKE workout at the gym – 15-minute intervals at 90 RPMs with 5 minutes rest in between each one, just a shade over 50 minutes for the whole workout. In the afternoon, a fabulous hour-long WALK along the water near where I live. Yummy – and great for dreaming big dreams. Then, back to work.

Tuesday Workout of the Week: How to Get Started with a Fitness Program

How do you get started with a fitness program? Especially if you’re coming at it after a long layoff (think injury, formerly sedentary lifestyle, post-pregnancy)? One of my nearest and dearest buds let me have the straight scoop last week: Every48 can sometimes seem a tad, shall we say, intimidating. Something about those marathons, perhaps.

Here's the starting line. And yes, the sky's the limit. Get started with a workout program today - doing whatever you can do, as often as you can do it. (Image courtesy of sippakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Here’s the starting line. And yes, the sky’s the limit. Get started with a workout program today – doing whatever you can do, as often as you can do it. (Image courtesy of sippakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

We can go back and forth on whether I’ve got all my exercise marbles together (quick answer: more than I used to, still working on being a little more consistent about the whole healthy-lifestyle thing, but most days are good ones now). But we can also dive into the theme of Getting Started. How to start moving when you have no idea how to start.

So, here’s what I did to start.

I woke up in the fall of 2008. That was when the “before photo” of me was taken (make no mistake, I was not running in that race – I was mostly walking, and unhappily too: I’d pulled an Achilles tendon earlier that fall, because I was too heavy to be running safely). I realized I had major work to do. And I decided to start slowly, but consistently.

I house-sat for my cousin and her partner in Monterey while they jetted off to a cool December vacation in Peru and Ecuador. And I bought a one-month pass to a local yoga studio, and made myself go there every day.

Nothing about that first month was perfect. But what that first month really did was teach me about consistency. Show up. Do your best. Don’t worry what the pretzel-yogi next to you is doing. And don’t worry too much about your body and what it can and cannot do right now. Just show up. Enjoy the movement. (And can I just say it? Definitely find a class with an instructor you love. I just loved my time at Bikram Yoga Monterey – Emily in particular is a wonderful instructor, but everyone there is just great.)

Then I got home. And I kept on moving. But it was that first month of daily yoga classes that got me started with the habit of being active.

And here’s what some of my friends did.

I polled ‘em on Facebook this week. Here’s what six of them said about how they first got started with a workout program:

“Running after a toddler!!”

“My parents took me cross country skiing when I was 13. It was the first time I’d really exercised. After that, I started running a mile a day. Every day I ran, I could put a star on my calendar. Sometimes I ran just to be able to put the star on.”

“I found a parcour course along the waterfront in Tacoma. It combined a mile run with fifteen exercise stations. I havent stopped execising since we did this. We run around Lake Union four days a week and lift weights the remaining three.”

“I started walking the dog. Going further and trying to go faster as I got in better shape. Now I regularly go at least 2 miles each day at about a 15 minute pace. Not too bad I think.”

I started in the pool. 3 laps or 6 lengths and get out before I had a heart attack my heart was beating so hard. The goal was to come back the next day.” 

“Girlfriend challenged me to do a half marathon to celebrate my 40th birthday. And I was not a runner.”

So, there you go. Got some ideas? That first workout is your WOW – the workout of the week, the workout that gets you going. Pick one. Go.

Yesterday’s #Every48 workout: Oh, my goodness…I got to RUN! I did a five-miler at Seattle’s lovely Seward Park – two minutes of walking after running each mile. But for the first time in a month, more running than walking. Yay!

 

Monday “What Went Well” and why milestone workouts might just change your life

Milestones, cornerstones, benchmarks, touchstones…whatever you call them, they’re goals. And goals have been a hugely important part of my health journey, because they’ve kept me focused at times when throwing in the towel looked like a pretty good option.

Gooooooooooooooooal! That's what you have, when you have benchmarks in your life. (Image courtesy of samarttiw at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Gooooooooooooooooal! That’s what you have, when you have benchmarks in your life. (Image courtesy of samarttiw at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Who was it that said “We treasure what we measure”? I’m not sure we can measure everything we treasure, especially the things that don’t automatically lend themselves to numbers-based analyses (see: standardized tests). But I think we can try (see: Gross National Happiness) – and in doing so, we can figure out a whole lot about where we’ve been, and where we’re going.

It’s been almost six years since I started the weight-loss journey that finally worked for me. (There had been many, many attempts with various levels of success before then, but I always chose programs that were too extreme and gained the weight back.) When I started to figure out that I liked numbers and measuring my progress, it was time to choose some benchmarks that could help me see where I had been, and where I was going.

The obvious first “measurement” number was my body weight. I had a little caliper tool that approximated body fat as well, which was moderately helpful. And there were my clothes, which started to be looser and looser as progress came.

Over time, I wanted to measure my fitness. So I chose a few solid fitness-related benchmarks. These are the ones I still use today, because they really tell me what’s going on inside my body, which is what really matters:

  • Number of push-ups I can do in a single set with great form
  • A one-mile time trial around a measured track (or with a GPS)
  • A time trial around a favorite running path (mine is the 2.8-mile path around Greenlake in Seattle)
  • My resting heart rate

Over time, I also added blood pressure and all of the health-marker numbers we get from regular physicals and blood tests: total cholesterol, LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), HDL (the “good” cholesterol), triglycerides, and all the rest. All of those markers have improved greatly in the last six years.

So, what went well last week? One of my benchmarks was at a nice level that I haven’t seen in almost two years – and I have to credit regular exercise for a whole bunch of that, along with all of the other things I try to do regularly to take care of myself: good nutrition, good relationships, good sleeping patterns, life-affirming work. I’ve done a lot to make sure I’ve fit exercise into my life at least once every 48 hours of 2014, and most of the time, it’s happened – just because I’ve made it a priority. (Friday was a little ugly: it was 6:20 p.m. and the Seahawks-Bears preseason game was starting at 7, and I hadn’t worked out yet…so I went to the park for a run/walk and met my hubby and a friend at our sports bar right at kickoff for dinner and football.)

What benchmarks mean something to you? Which ones will get you out there and getting after it? Choose just one this week, and see how it inspires you to keep making progress.

Recent #Every48 workouts: FRIDAY – the aforementioned RUN/WALK in the park before the Seahawks game. SATURDAY – a LIFT and my PT exercises for 45 minutes, followed by 15 minutes on a BIKE at the gym. Later that day: an epic WALK with my hubby in a newly-discovered urban park in the Seattle area. They don’t call us the Emerald City for nothin’.

 

Fitness Meme of the Week: The only bad workout is…

…the one you didn’t START.

If you started the workout, you won. That is all.
If you started the workout, you won. That is all.

Yup – that’s an official original meme from Every48.com for you today. If you started a workout, you won. Just start. Do the “fifteen minutes of angst” thing and hang in there for just a few minutes. And see if your brain doesn’t immediately lock in on how awesome it is to be moving, and catches fire. I’m just sayin’.

Now get out there and get your workout on – whatever that means for you today. A power walk, a stretch, a Sun Salutation, a Zumba class, whatever. Just go there. Just start.

Throwback Thursday: Don’t want to work out? Conjure up your inner badass.

According to the lovely statistical-analysis tools at WordPress.com, this is officially going to be my 163rd post of the year. And the post I’ve chosen below for Throwback Thursday may be one of my top three favorites of the whole bunch.

Christmas is my favorite time of year. Strawberries are my favorite fruit. And today's Throwback Thursday post is one of my absolute favorite posts of Every48...so far, of course. (Image courtesy of Apolonia at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Christmas is my favorite time of year. Strawberries are my favorite fruit. And today’s Throwback Thursday post is one of my absolute favorite posts of Every48…so far, of course. (Image courtesy of Apolonia at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

It’s about conjuring up our inner badass when everything else in our lives is telling us not to take care of ourselves. It turns out we have far more reserves of energy and light and happiness and general awesomeness than we even realize, just stored up in our cells and our bones, just waiting to get started. Just waiting to get called upon. And on a day when I was completely and legitimately exhausted this year, I somehow called up my inner badass and ran a race I had no business running, far better than I had any business running it. On paper, that is. I think my inner badass wasn’t surprised at all.

So enjoy this Throwback post – and then, get out there and get your inner badass on.

Sometimes, you just have to conjure up your inner badass

[First published on March 3, 2014]

Anatomy of a weekend headed for workout disaster:

Yes. I completely understand. You try doing what I did from Friday night till Saturday night and tell me YOU want to run a 15K on Sunday. Riiiiiiight.
Yes. I completely understand. You try doing what I did from Friday night till Saturday night and tell me YOU want to run a 15K on Sunday. Riiiiiiight.

Bowling with friends on Friday evening; no sleep on Friday night (I tossed and turned, no idea why); getting up at 5:15 a.m. on Saturday morning to lead two Weight Watchers meetings; trying to fit in a nap (unsuccessful); giving a talk on getting started with a fitness program at the King County Library; picking up my race number for the Seattle Hot Chocolate 15K; trying to fit in another nap (unsuccessful); and going to two birthday parties on Saturday night.

Whoa. I was so exhausted by 11 p.m. on Saturday night that I gave myself permission to do something I have never done: to not show up for a race I signed up to run.

I really did. I was that tired. And then, something funny happened.

My inner badass showed up.

My inner badass looks like this. Really, she does.
My inner badass looks like this. Really, she does.

My inner badass is probably a lot like your inner badass. It doesn’t necessarily like to be roused – you might not even know it’s there at first. it could be a stealth badass, like Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow in The Avengers. (Seriously, tell me you knew she was going to kick major butt in that opening scene before she actually did.) But then, like the Black Widow, or the Kraken, or the Green Monster, or the Tracker Jacker nest in The Hunger Games, something happens. Your inner badass wakes up and kicks major butt, and leaves you in a tailspin, because you don’t even know where it came from – but it swooped in, a tornado of energy and passion and don’t-you-even-think-about -not-doing-this, and before you know it, you’ve achieved the very thing you were completely sure you couldn’t do.

This cat has nothin' on your inner badass.
This cat has nothin’ on your inner badass.

Your inner badass is being trained every single time you choose to exercise when you could just not exercise, make an excuse, and tell yourself that you’re going to do it “later.” Every time you exercise anyway, you are training your inner badass to accept nothing less than your full commitment. Even on the days when you feel like, ahem, sleeping in.

My inner badass was evidently very alarmed on Sunday morning at the fact that just because I made some poor sleep-related decisions over the 24 hours from Friday night to Saturday night, I was willing to throw in the towel, sleep in, and then spend all day Sunday “trying” to get a workout in, when a group workout with a ton of other like-minded people in my city was sitting right there waiting for me. All I had to do was find a parking space in Seattle Center.

And I did. Result: I placed 25th out of 350 women in my age group, on five hours of sleep.

Now that’s badass.

And back to real time: August 21, 2014:

Yesterday’s Every48 workout: A workout with my running buddies at the TRACK. Starting to run a little more now – up to 200 meters at a time! I covered 3.25 miles total, which felt kind of awesome.

Science Wednesday: You thought exercise was for your body. But it’s really for your brain.

Obsessed am I with this idea! So much so, that I’m channeling my inner Yoda this morning as I ponder the thought.  Sometimes I think we fall into the trap of regarding exercise as a tool for getting tight abs and lean legs and nice arms and whatever other physically-pleasing visual benefits we have on that list of attributes we all have in our heads for what we’re going to have “when my life is perfect.”

This is your brain on exercise: wildly functional. (Image courtesy of samuiblue at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
This is your brain on exercise: wildly functional. (Image courtesy of samuiblue at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

But as I discovered this past Sunday morning when I woke up in a funk and turned it all around with a great walk/run with my hubby in the park near our home – and as basically everyone in the research community who knows what they’re doing has proven, again and again and again – exercise is really for our brains.

Here’s just some of the science out there. The bolded text is mine, in case you’re reading this in a hurry. :)

From the Harvard Men’s Health Watch:

[R]egular, moderately intense exercise…helps maintain healthy blood pressure and weight, improves energy, lifts mood, lowers stress and anxiety, and keeps the heart healthy, all of which contribute to brain health. But exercise also stimulates brain regions that are involved in memory function to release a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF rewires memory circuits so they work better. “When you exercise and move around, you are using more brain cells,” says Dr. Ratey, who is also the author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (2008). “Using more brain cells turns on genes to make more BDNF.”

The kicker? Only the brain can manufacture BDNF. No pills exist that mimic its effects. And guess what you have to do to manufacture it? You guessed it: exercise. (Read the full article here.)

Here’s an excerpt from another study, from Trends in Neurosciences:

Extensive research on humans suggests that exercise could have benefits for overall health and cognitive function, particularly in later life. Recent studies using animal models have been directed towards understanding the neurobiological bases of these benefits. It is now clear that voluntary exercise can increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and other growth factors, stimulate neurogenesis, increase resistance to brain insult and improve learning and mental performance.

The only problem I have with that statement is the idea that exercise “could” have benefits for overall health. I know that researchers have to couch their findings in very specific terminology for all kinds of very legitimate reasons, but I think we can put this finding in the “DONE DEAL” category. I have never met a person who was active on a regular basis who did not report their overall quality of life being massively improved as a result.

And one more, from one of my favorite popular-science books on the subject, Brain Rules (this is from page 24 of the paperback edition published in 2009):

The benefits of exercise seem nearly endless because its impact is systemwide, affecting most physiological systems. Exercise makes your muscles and bones stronger, for example, and improves your strength and balance. It helps regulate your appetite, changes your blood lipid profile, reduces your risk for more than a dozen types of cancer, improves the immune system, and buffers against the toxic effects of stress. By enriching your cardiovascular system, exercise decreases your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. When combined with the intellectual benefits exercise appears to offer, we have in our hands as close to a magic bullet for improving human health as exists in modern medicine.

How’s that for a payoff?

By the way, if you still happen to think movement isn’t mandatory, I’ll leave you on this Science Wednesday with one parting thought: the biggest minds in Silicon Valley regularly take walks – and even walking meetings. There’s something to that idea of movement and great ideas coming together. I’m just sayin’.

Yesterday’s Every48 workout: A slightly-unplanned REST day. I really wanted to get a workout in but didn’t. Today I shall get to my track workout – on time this week. (I’ll leave earlier to beat the traffic.)

Tuesday Workout of the Week: Half a completed workout is better than a whole one you didn’t do at all.

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Stardate: Wednesday, August 13, 2014. I am in a car in Bellevue, Washington, attempting to cross a bridge at rush hour to get to a workout with my track coaches and workout buddies. The words “rush hour” should be a hint as to what happened next.

Yes, there was a traffic jam. And I was late to my workout.

Will a traffic jam upend our intrepid heroine's workout plans? Not so fast! (Image courtesy of Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Will a traffic jam upend our intrepid heroine’s workout plans? Not so fast! (Image courtesy of Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

So, to work out, or not to work out? What a convenient excuse – an act of God, really. I decided not to leave my house for the 20-minute drive (without traffic) until, ahem, 15 minutes before the workout started. Of course I was going to get gummed up in traffic. Of course I was going to have to detour to the other bridge that connects Bellevue to Seattle. And of course, I was going to have to drive right past a frozen yogurt joint on the way. Especially tempting since we’ve had an actual warm summer this year in Seattle-land.

So, what happened next?

Did our intrepid heroine say “forget the workout” and go for fro-yo? Trust me, that was a major temptation. On my personal list of the One Thousand Things I Most Like Doing, trying to get through rush-hour traffic ranks between about #987 and #995. I cannot stand being stuck in a car and surrounded by people who are just as hot and tired and frustrated as I am.

I really, really wanted to just give up.

And then, I remembered something.

“50% of a workout you actually did is worth 100% more than the workout you didn’t do at all.”

I’m paraphrasing a bit there, but that’s what came to mind. It really didn’t matter that the official group workout started at 6:30 and if I got really lucky with traffic on Bridge Number Two, I wouldn’t get started until 7:00. It mattered that I decided the workout – however much of it I got to do – was worth 100% to me. So I pointed the car towards Seattle, blew a kiss to Chez Fro-Yo as I passed it by, and got to my workout.

Now, that’s a WOW.

The Workout of the Week feature at Every48 on Tuesdays – the WOW – strives to highlight a fun new activity, or workout, or strategy that keeps us going. This past week, the “WOW” was more than a workout. It was a moment when I prioritized taking care of myself at a time when I so easily could have punted and decided to do it “tomorrow.” There are no tomorrows, by the way. There’s just the Right Nows. We either take care of ourselves in each moment, or we don’t. That is all.

When you can’t get in 100% of a workout, get in 90%. Or 75%. Or, in my case last Wednesday, 50%. Whatever you can do, do. Don’t worry about the part you couldn’t do.

Come to think of it, maybe the real WOW moment was in what really got exercised last Wednesday: my ability to be patient enough not to let circumstances I couldn’t control get in the way of circumstances I could control. I like that. These moments remind us that working out is about more than working out. It’s about having self-discipline and self-efficacy, realizing that we have the capacity to solve problems positively, and keeping our promises to ourselves. And that makes it possible for us to keep our promises to others, too, and to lead basically awesome lives.

Yup, I’d say that’s a WOW. Now get out there and get your workout on – however much of it you can do today, right now.

Yesterday’s #Every48 workout: A lovely 60-minute SPIN class at 9:15 with my favorite instructor. Best way ever to start a Monday.

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