Science Wednesday: Yes, exercise works at any age.

The science is in: exercise is great for us, at any age. Move in order to be able to move more...and more freely. (Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
The science is in: exercise is great for us, at any age. Move in order to be able to move more…and more freely. (Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

So, according to a dear friend who posted this idea to my Facebook account yesterday after I bemusedly commented on the fact that the Bum Knee Post from Monday attracted more readers in a single day than any other post for at least the last month…I have some content here that appears to be “age-appropriate.” For people of, ahem, a certain age. (You want to know what she said. Of course you do. She wants me to pitch a story to AARP Magazine, okay? I’m 42. But evidently the Bum Knee Rap has some relevance here for the AARP readership.)

Because – and gosh, how I didn’t connect the dots before now is beyond me – limitations in physical activity really do happen, a lot, as we get older.

And we have choices.

We can either use those creaks and cracks and whatevers to stay in our rocking chairs and play with our pet cats…or we can decide that, come hell or high water, we’re going to stay mobile, and we’ll work around the creak or the crack to make it work.

So on Science Wednesday I bring you this report on exercise and aging from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The subtitle of the article says it all:

Study proves daily exercise can prevent loss of mobility

Well, duh. But it’s all good science – and I’m convinced that it’s true. I have a lot of company, by the way, in the movement-equals-slower-aging brigade. Just check out John Medina’s hilariously readable book Brain Rules. Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power. Yup. If you’re toying with a vexing problem, take a break…and move. Forget the donut, the break room, or for goodness’ sake, the cigarette. Power-walk around the block for twenty minutes, preferably with some good music to power you. (My current iPod: Coldplay, Yes, Rush, U2. The old stuff. Old music keeps you…young. Really, it does. If you haven’t heard The Unforgettable Fire, stop everything right now and go make Apple a few more bucks by downloading it. Classic. Anyway, I digress.)

Here are the top takeaways from that exercise and mobility study (quoted directly from the Post-Gazette article):

 A physical activity program consisting of aerobic, resistance and flexibility exercises significantly reduced the risk of a major mobility disability.

Moderate physical activity helped aging adults maintain their ability to walk at a rate 18 percent higher than older adults who did not exercise, the study showed. Moreover, there was a 28 percent reduction in people permanently losing the ability to walk easily.

The benefit of physical activity was proportionately greater for the seniors who began the study with the lowest physical function, the researchers found.

Got all that? Check out the full article for the straight talk – and the specs on the research, and the workout they had the research subjects perform to get those results. These findings just makes perfect sense to me. Move, in order to be able to move more. Good advice at any age.

Yesterday’s #Every48 workout: A rest day.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Workout of the Week: Back in the saddle (I mean, the pool).

The WOW (workout of the week) is here.

And this week, it’s a swim.

So it turns out that when your meniscus is an unhappy camper, swimming is A-OK. Even kicking. Just to be safe, though, I did a workout on Thursday using a pull buoy between my legs, which does a couple of things. (1) It helps keep me afloat, so it’s kinda-sorta easier than just regular ol’ freestyle, and (2) It keeps my legs from getting involved, so I can really work on my strokes and core strength – without worrying about moving my knee awkwardly, at least for the first day out there.

These dolphins appear to be having far more fun in the water than I ever do. I shall channel my inner dolphin this week and see if that helps me enjoy being in the pool a little bit more. (Image courtesy of tiverylucky / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
These dolphins appear to be having far more fun in the water than I ever do. I shall channel my inner dolphin this week and see if that helps me enjoy being in the pool a little bit more. (Image courtesy of tiverylucky / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Pool workouts can be deadly boring or mildly exciting. I haven’t crossed the line yet into “blissful paradise” when it comes to swimming (maybe I have to wait until I have surroundings like this around me again), but I’m trying to keep an open mind around the situation. When I think of the big three cardiovascular exercises out there – running, biking and swimming – there’s no question that swimming gets slotted into the “hardest one to do – and the one I least look forward to” category.

So it might just be the Triathlon Goddess who is suddenly nudging me into the pool by making me rest my ol’ meniscus.

Anyway, here’s the WOW:

15 minutes of warmup – kicking with a kickboard (easy does it with that knee), freestyle, freestyle with paddles, freestyle with hands in fists, etc.

With pull buoy (all of this is freestyle for me, but you can do whatever stroke floats your…well, you know):
1 lap hard/1 lap easy
2 laps hard/2 laps easy
3 laps hard/3 laps easy
2 laps hard/2 laps easy
1 lap hard/1 lap easy
Rest 1 minute

Repeat the entire 1-2-3-2-1 set two to three more times.

Cooldown – 10 minutes of easy kicking with the kickboard, or a mix of kicking and easy freestyle with the pull buoy.

Pretty straightforward stuff. And the knee was cool with the situation. That’s the best part.

Yesterday’s #Every48 workout: A 45-minute strength session at the gym (upper body and core), followed by 15 minutes on the bike at 90 RPMs. Wanted to get there at 7. Got there at 8:30. Got the workout in anyway.

Monday ”What Went Well” Report: Bum knee, but not for long!

It had to happen eventually. After a lifetime of running (sometimes at a wildly inappropriate weight for the kind of stress that knees take on a regular basis with all that pounding), I finished my ten-miler last Sunday afternoon and felt…something. No pops, tears, or trauma. Just…something that wasn’t right.

This is your knee, and all the key parts that keep it humming. We're thinking my medial meniscus needs a rest. (Image courtesy of http://drwaltlowe.com/knee-anatomy/)
This is your knee, and all the key parts that keep it humming. We’re thinking my medial meniscus needs a rest. (Image courtesy of http://drwaltlowe.com/knee-anatomy/)

So I called the nurse hotline at my insurance company the next day. Turned out the nurse who took my call is a trail runner, so she knows something about knees. Specifically: don’t mess with them. Get ‘em looked at, or risk a chronic, lifetime injury.

Needless to say, she convinced me to see a doctor the next day.

By Tuesday afternoon, I was in a decently-supportive knee brace with good lateral (side to side) support,  and I was sitting (literally) on a probable diagnosis of a meniscus tear – a little bitty one, because my knee’s range of motion was fine and I didn’t have any traumatic pain involved when the doctor poked around the joint for a bit. Prescription: no running for now. A physical therapist at the end of the month. And I can do just about everything else for exercise. Excellent.

(An aside: In a former life, I would easily have used this injury as an excuse to do a whole lotta nothin’ for workouts for the next several weeks. But no siree, not here at Every48. Life is different now.)

So, What Went Well this week? I rediscovered the pool – and the pull buoy that I can hold between my legs to work my upper body only. I can kick (from the hips, please, not the knees) and I can definitely swim freestyle, so the pool is my new best friend.

And I can take spin class too – biking is just fine. I’m taking it a little more slowly just to be sure, but so far, so good. And I’m committed to doing everything I can do to plan out the week, get my work done (there’s a lot to do, so I need the concentration and the discipline), and take exceptionally good care of myself so that my knee can start to heal and I can get myself to my physical therapy appointment in fighting shape.

And here’s what really went well this week:

I no longer believe that a setback equals a failure. It just means we have a little more work to do to reach the goal. And the challenge that it requires – or, I should say, the discipline – might actually do a little something extra for us, like build character and toughness and grit.

Okay, I can’t run right now. I’ll deal with it. I’m actually a little relieved, because my knees have never been my favorite joint, and now I’m going to get to see a real live medical professional who has far more of a clue than I do about how to keep my knees healthy, so that I can keep running for the rest of my life. Yay. I’d say that’s pretty good news.

Recent #Every48 workouts: A SPIN CLASS last Friday – loved it and it gave me a ton of energy for the rest of the day. A SWIM on Saturday – some freestyle with pull buoy, some kicking with kickboard. About 50 minutes total. Felt like a badass getting out of that pool.

Fitness Meme of the Week: Twyla Tharp on Rituals

From Twyla Tharp’s amazing and inspirational book, The Creative Habit:

Today you get a custom-made meme, courtesy of Every48. I'm reading this book right now and getting inspired to get down to work with every sentence.
Today you get a custom-made meme, courtesy of Every48. I’m reading this book right now and getting inspired to get down to work with every sentence.

I’m starting to get very excited about delving into the lives of creative people who know how to get things done. At a recent coffee with a friend-of-a-friend who has started and funded several companies, I was reminded of just how much of getting what we dream of in life is about the really, really hard work that goes into pursuing it, once you know what it is that you want to accomplish. The hard work makes the payoff worth it. Here’s what this person said: “I can tell you that success is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration…that is for sure.” It’s that last emphasis, that last part, that hit me. Wanting whatever we want in life is one thing – everyone has dreams. But then waking up at 5:30 a.m. every morning and getting in a cab and getting to the gym and warming up your body and mind for the day of deep creative work that follows that desire? That’s success. Love this stuff.

Have a great weekend. See you Monday.

Yesterday’s #Every48 workout: A SWIM, finally. And a good one, despite my wonky knee. I did everything with a pull buoy just to rest my knees and not worry about whether kicking would be a problem. The workout set was a warmup followed by 3 repeats of a 450-meter set: 25 hard/25 easy, 50 hard/50 easy, 75 hard/75 easy, down the ladder to 25 hard/25 easy, followed by a one-minute rest before doing the next set. Felt good to move!

Throwback Thursday: That amazing Jim Carrey speech

Jim Carrey is a great comedian and an even better commencement speaker. I loved this talk so much the first time around, I’m sharing it again today on Throwback Thursday at Every48. Enjoy.

A funny guy on a serious subject

[First published on June 16, 2014.]

It’s Inspiration Week at Every48. As I gear up for what is going to be the most challenging part of my workout year, I’m going to be sharing some of the sayings, mantras, books, websites, and videos that help me to get my head on straight when I’m approaching a new challenge.

If Jim Carrey's 2014 commencement speech could be distilled into one sentence, this is it. Enjoy one of the great, great commencement speeches of all time - it's a keeper. (Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
If Jim Carrey’s 2014 commencement speech could be distilled into one sentence, this is it. Enjoy one of the great, great commencement speeches of all time – it’s a keeper. Scroll down for the video link, and my highlights. (Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Next Monday, I’ll begin my buildup to a fall 2014 marathon that I hope will deliver me to the starting line of the 2015 Boston Marathon with an actual qualifying time. I’ve danced around this goal for years. It’s time to make it happen.

(By the way, I’ll still run for my charity, Mass General Hospital, but I really want to notch a qualifying time. And not just for the bragging rights. I want to really mess with the heads of the researchers who are currently telling us that it’s impossible to lose weight and keep it off - especially five years after having lost the weight. Ahem, researchers: I’ve maintained my weight loss for four years and ten months and just won an age-group award in a 10K. I’m just sayin’.)

So today, Every48 brings you Jim Carrey’s brilliant commencement speech from Maharishi University of Management’s 2014 graduation exercises. It’s worth the entire 26 minutes of your day because Carrey nails the craft of teaching important lessons through the use of well-timed humor (did you really expect anything less from the guy with the plastic face?) – as well as the wisdom gleaned from spending a lifetime chasing an insane and impossible dream. Impossible, of course, until he reached it.

Here’s a selection of a few of my favorite moments from Carrey’s speech:

(7:00) – “[Meditation] does allow you to separate who you truly are and what’s real from the stories that run through your head. [It offers] the ability to walk behind the mind’s elaborate set decoration and to see that there’s a huge difference between a dog that is going to eat you in your mind, and an actual dog that is going to eat you. [Laughter] That may seem like no big deal, but many never learn that distinction, and they spend a great deal of their lives living in fight-or-flight response.”

(10:10) “Now fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your life imaging ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it.  I’m saying, I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it. Please.”

(11:15) “My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

(13: 45) “The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.”

(23:15) [After a story about having won a bike in a raffle that he didn't know he was entered in.] “As far as I can tell, it’s just about letting the universe know what you want, and then working toward it, while letting go of how it comes to pass. Your job is not to figure out how it’s going to happen for you, but to open the door in your head, and when the door opens in real life, just walk through it. And don’t worry if you miss your cue, because there’s always doors opening. They keep opening.”

And the bit at the end about what faith really is? I invite you to watch the entire video to get to that moment, because it’s truly precious and deserves your full attention. This video made my day – and made me believe that my “impossible dream” of qualifying for Boston, publishing exactly what I want to publish in my lifetime, and putting the work out there that truly is an expression of who I really am, is all completely possible. As long as I do the work.

On to the work.

Yesterday’s #Every48 workout: (Back to real time: July 17, 2014) I’m nursing a bum knee at the moment, so yesterday I asked my track coaches to give me some alternate exercises, and they did it! So it was 60 minutes of bodyweight and stability ball exercises: bridges, V-sits, wall squats, side crunches, all kinds of things. Kept me busy and a little less bummed that I couldn’t run yesterday.

Science Wednesday: This is your brain on exercise.

It’s Science Wednesday at Every48 – my once-a-week opportunity to share with you study findings, thoughts from big thinkers, or other literature in the big wide world of exercise and health science to learn more about what actually happens to our bodies when we live an active life.

This is your brain. Really. Add a prefrontal cortex and you've got a human. (Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
This is your brain. Really. Add a prefrontal cortex and you’ve got a human. (Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Today’s installment comes from the world of rat research. (I’m working on a writing project right now that has offered the opportunity to interview some very brilliant folks in the world of obesity and diabetes research – and one of them came up with the perfect explanation of why we see rat research done by investigators who want to study the human brain. Basically, rats are people without the prefrontal cortex. Behind that little rascal, we’re wired up just about the same way as your friendly neighborhood rat. I’m not sure that’s the most comforting thought I can offer you today, but I just thought you’d like to know.)

Okay, back to Science Wednesday. The big takeaway – from a study published in February 2014 in the Journal of Comparative Neurology - is that regular physical activity (for rats, that would be running on a wheel in their cages) has a positive effect on the sympathetic nervous system. Active rats were less likely to overstimulate the part of the brain that constricts blood vessels, which suggests that there could be a positive association in the brain between regular physical activity, and a reduction in heart disease risk.

In Gretchen Reynolds’ report on the study in the New York Times, she writes:

A well-regulated sympathetic nervous system correctly directs blood vessels to widen or contract as needed and blood to flow, so that you can, say, scurry away from a predator or rise from your office chair without fainting. But an overly responsive sympathetic nervous system is problematic, said Patrick Mueller, an associate professor of physiology at Wayne State University who oversaw the new study. Recent science shows that “overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system contributes to cardiovascular disease,” he said, by stimulating blood vessels to constrict too much, too little or too often, leading to high blood pressure and cardiovascular damage.

Exercise science is coming up with new ideas all the time about how regular activity puts us at less risk for heart disease (the leading cause of death in the United States, by the way).  We know about the ways in which regular exercise keeps our arteries and capillaries healthy, and our circulation humming…but this study was seriously fascinating because it’s looking like exercise may have a positive effect not only on the nuts and bolts of our circulatory system, but also on the brain’s ability to monitor the sympathetic nervous system and its functions.

And that’s just another reason to get out there and get your workout on.

Yesterday’s #Every48 workout: I confess to having fallen into the “injury trap” – I’m nursing what’s turned out to be a knee injury that just needs rest and strengthening, but no running, for a few weeks, and I was bummed out yesterday and didn’t get to the gym for my swim. (I could bike, too, or lift weights, or all three…the only thing I can’t do right now is run.) It is so easy to feel sorry for myself with these things – “poor me, I can’t do the one thing I love to do, so I’ll just…have too much pizza at a work event and then top it off with frozen yogurt at 10 p.m.” Yikes. There, I copped to it. Today shall be different – I pinky-swear ya.

 

Tuesday Workout of the Week: Walk so you may run.

It’s Tuesday, and for the foreseeable future at Every48 that means it’s time for the Workout of the Week (the WOW – not to be confused with the WOD – workout of the day – that my CrossFit buddies do all the time).

The WOW is where Every48 collects particularly fun, cool, nifty workouts – maybe something I did recently, or something I heard about, or something I just think might be a great idea to try. They can be creative, fun, or just out of the box.

This week’s WOW: Walking intervals to create more quality running!

Stardate: July 10. Planet: Earth, searingly hot in the mid-Atlantic region where I was staying for a few days last week. Weather: 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Forecast: A 6.8 mile running workout, from a runner who trains almost exclusively in the far cooler temperatures of the Pacific Northwest.

Hot outside but you still want to run? Be this guy: a chill walker every mile. Two-minute walking breaks are the difference between wilting in the heat...and getting your workout on. (Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Hot outside but you still want to run? Be this guy: a chill walker every mile. Two-minute walking breaks are the difference between wilting in the heat…and getting your workout on. (Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing at all…as long as you’re using walking intervals.

Here’s what I did, courtesy of my awesome running coach: I simply placed a two-minute walking interval in between each mile of running. That’s all. Oh, and I carried a biggie water bottle with me and stayed mega-hydrated. And did all the other smart sun safety stuff: a hat, sunglasses, SPF, the works.

According to my GPS, the walking intervals covered about a tenth of a mile or a little bit more (I was averaging around .12 or .13 miles per two-minute walking interval). By the end of the workout, I’d covered 6.8 miles – 6 of them running. And – fun fact – all six of those running miles were covered at what I’d call a very decent pace (basically, my long run training pace), considering just how hot it was outside. In 80-degree heat, I was happy just to get any kind of workout in. But a quality running workout? I could never have done that without walking intervals.

One note about walking intervals: there are some coaches out there, like Jeff Galloway, who advocate their use all the way up to full marathons and get great results – often with runners who haven’t been running for a long time. Other runners use walk breaks strategically during training and run the full distance during their races. I’m in the running-the-distance camp when it comes to racing, and honestly, I always sort-of thought that walking intervals somehow took away from the full quality of a workout. But as this WOW taught me, I was completely off base there. Walking intervals can be an excellent strategic way to get more activity in when conditions aren’t at their best.

That’s this week’s WOW – give it a shot and let me know how it’s working for you.

Yesterday’s #Every48 workout: A rest day. Today, on this hot summer day in Seattle, I’m planning to swim. Full report tomorrow.

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