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Archive for the ‘Fitness’ Category

Don’t Trust Your Doctor

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With a title like that you may think I’m advocating alternative medicine, but that’s not the case. Despite issues with the medical establishment, your doctor and other certified health care professionals are still your best source of information and treatments. What I am suggesting is that you question the wisdom of your doctor regarding your health and the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses.

More often than not, a good doctor will be more of a partner than an authority regarding your health. They will let you know what they think and make educated suggestions about treatment options. On the other hand, there will be times when the diagnosis will be so obvious and the treatment so effective that you would be wise to just do what they tell you to do. It’s up to you to do your homework, consider their suggestions and ask about other treatment options or diagnostic tests.

For example, doctors are notorious for over-prescribing antibiotics. This has led to growth of  antibiotic resistant bacteria. Once I was dealing with sinus infection that I couldn’t kick. I was hesitant to take antibiotics because I knew it was just a matter of time before my body beat it, but I finally broke down and went my local walk-in clinic and ,after a brief examination, asked for antibiotics. The attending physician had no problem giving me the prescription and did not even suggest I could just give it time.

Another big problem is the over-prescription of antidepressant drugs. Don’t get me wrong – antidepressant drugs can be a life-saver (literally) for people who need them. The issue is when doctors prescribe them without make a strong case for therapy first. I would argue that a primary care physician has no business prescribing antidepressants and that this should be the business of a psychotherapist with the proper training and credentials.

I have a friend, let’s call him Alan, who was dealing with mild mood issues and thought it was time to seek professional help. He was given a number to specialist and gave them a call. Below is an approximation of how that call went:

Doctor’s Office: “Acme Psychological, how can I help you?”

Alan: “Hi, I’d like to talk to someone about mood issues I’ve been having.”

Doctor’s Office: “We can help you. Would you prefer medication or talk therapy?”

Alan (confused): “I don’t know. I’d prefer to see someone before deciding on a course of treatment.”

Doctor’s Office: “Okay, talk therapy then.”

What’s really troublesome about this conversation was that the patient was asked to choose a treatment plan without even being accessed by a professional. As it turns out, the talk therapy was very effective and he was able to learn a few simple techniques for managing his mood WITHOUT becoming dependent on mind altering drugs.

The average person when faced with the same choice as my friend would likely just take the drugs without considering therapy. With antidepressants, once you find a drug that works for you, you pretty much have to take it for the rest of your life. Most have side effects – the most severe being suicidal thoughts.

In general, I believe the medical establishment is not well equipped for helping patients make the right decisions for the treatment of mood disorders. Health Insurance companies along with the government may have a bias towards prescribing drugs rather than treatment. Treatment is more costly for one and requires that the patient plays an active role in getting better. Psychotherapy be difficult to quantify, control and enforce pricing guidelines.

The only way to insure that you get proper treatment is by doing your homework, asking questions, raising concerns and taking charge of your health care.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

August 13, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Change Your Mind, Change Your Body

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Living a healthy and fit lifestyle requires a constant and high level of effort. For those of us who were not raised in an environment that promoted exercise and and healthy diet, there can be a persistent pull to return to old habits. As much as we know that a healthy lifestyle is not temporary, our habits and conditioning will take much longer to adjust.

It can be exhausting to consciously push myself on a daily basis to get my workout done and to avoid certain foods. It has gotten easier but I wish the urge to exercise was as natural as my urge to sit on the couch and just watch TV. I wish I craved broccoli or spinach as much as do cheesecake or pizza.

When I see someone who is obese eating foods that contribute to their life threatening condition, I can relate. I get it. I can’t judge because if it were not for being exposed to positive influences, that would be me. From a genetic and environmental standpoint, I should be about 300 pounds, suffering from diabetes and dealing with a number of other health issues.

What keeps me going is knowing what is true. I don’t think that if I gave up I may end up overweight and prematurely die – I know that it will happen. I don’t think that eating right and exercise may keep me in shape – I know that it will. I have learned to avoid the soft words – could, would, should, may and I try to frame things in definite terms. I will exercise and eat right or I will suffer and die.

Knowing, without a doubt, the paths that are available to me has pushed to go beyond what is needed to be healthy and fit. With my risk factors, I can’t afford to be on the line between healthy and unhealthy lifestyles. I have to stay as far away from that line as possible. If 20% body fat is healthy, than I’ll strive for 10%. If exercising 3 times per week is part of healthy lifestyle, than I’ll exercise 5 times per week. If 80% compliance to eating healthy is good enough, than I’ll strive for 95%.

I believe the reason why so many people struggle to get healthy and fit is that they think too small and too big. They overestimate what they can accomplish in the short term and they underestimate what they can accomplish in the long term.

I knew an obese woman, who must been about 220 pounds, say that if she got down to 180 pounds she would be happy. That still about have been over 50 pounds overweight. If she had accomplished that, it would have been a great accomplishment, but what do you think would happen when she hit that goal? She would struggle to maintain that weight and with the lack of something to strive for she would eventually gain the weight back and then some.

Another thing that bothers me it that she put weight loss as a prerequisite for happiness. Happiness is not related to how much you weigh. Being healthy and fit can help you be happy, but ultimately, happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy at 300 pounds and you can choose to be miserable when you are lean and fit. She got it in reverse. Getting fit is not be a prerequisite for happiness. Happiness is a prerequisite to getting fit. When you choose to take action to improve your live, you can choose to be happy about the journey.

When I first started on my fitness journey, I looked for something visual to focus on as a marker for what I wanted to achieve. I picked the Men’s Health magazine with Ryan Reynolds on the cover as something to strive for. I decided that was going to be the level of leanness I was looking for. As out of shape as I was, most people would have considered that unrealistic, but when I chose that cover as a visual goal, I knew without a doubt I was going to achieve it. To be accurate, I knew without a doubt that I was going to take the actions I needed that would get me to that level of leanness – whether or not I achieved it was irrelevant.

I had thought that I was choosing a goal that would keep me busy for the next five to ten years. I met my goal in one year. From looking at the cover, I would guess that his body fat percentage was between 10-12%. I believe I hit 10% this past January – it’s hard to know for sure as the calipers I use are not that accurate at that level of leanness but at this point losing any more fat has to be judged by how I look in the mirror – if I choose to continue.

Even thought I did accomplish it in one year, If I had decided to hit my goal in one year, I probably would have failed. During the process, every time I had a set-back, I would tell myself that I was in this for the long term and that I would succeed and with every step forward I would feel a sense of accomplishment that I was progressing. With that mindset I did not rush and I was not forced to starve myself.

The real secret to my success was in setting a definite path. When I started, I thought really hard about what it would take to accomplish my goal. I also took an honest assessment of my limitations. I knew that I had a tendency to be really enthusiastic at the start but then would lose interest over time. I decided then that if I did lose interest that I would continue anyway. I realized at the start that my ability to keep going when I did not feel like it was going to be the reason I succeeded or failed. With that in mind, every time I exercise when I did not feel like it, I gave myself extra credit.

The day you exercise when you don’t feel like it is worth more than ten days you exercise when you are eager to do so. That day you refrain from eating unhealthy foods when your cravings are almost unbearable is many times more important than those days when there are no temptations.

When we give in to our urge to miss a workout or eat unhealthy foods, we miss out on an opportunity to grow.

I apologize for rambling in this post but it is difficult to write in words the inner challenges we must face when making lifestyle changes. Anyone who ever succeeded has had to figure out how to address the internal changes they must make to achieve their goal. To succeed in adopting a healthy and fit lifestyle is more about what is going on in your head than it is about exercise or diet.

 

 

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

June 2, 2014 at 9:16 am

Increase Your Walking Speed to Burn More Calories

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Walking is a great way to burn calories and reduce stress. You can find opportunities to walk at work, school or while running errands. Practically everyone knows the benefits of walking and it is what most people can do at any fitness level.

The problem with walking is that it is very time consuming and the calorie burn-rate is relatively low compared to other activities. Walking alone can help you lose weight but it’s going to take a lot of walking to get you the results you are looking for.

I walk every chance I get. When I’m at work, I will walk the length of the building every time I get up to use the rest room. When I park my car in the morning, I park far away from the door. I’ve done this for so long, I don’t even think about it anymore – it’s just what I do.

One thing I’ve noticed whenever I’m out walking is that most people walk really slow. I know I walk faster than most people, but when I’m behind someone  I can’t pass, I feel like I”m walking in slow motion. When I walk with someone, I try to walk slower than I usually do, but I still get requests to slow down or even take a break.

I understand that people often take walks to relax, but I believe a fast walk can be just as relaxing, if not more so, than a slow saunter.

I suggest making a conscious effort to increase your walking speed. I developed a fast walking speed by deciding to walk as fast as I can whenever I can. Don’t worry about it looking weird because people will just assume you are in a rush to get somewhere or that you are exercising.

Every time you go for a walk, even to use the rest room or to get a glass of water, walk faster than your usual pace. Imagine you are late for an appointment and go at that pace (if you still saunter when you need to get somewhere fast, I can’t help you).

If you have access to a treadmill, increase the speed while continuing to walk. Keep increasing it until you feel forced into a jog. Walk as fast as you can for a minute and then go back to normal walking speed for a minute. Repeat. If you do this right, it is going to hurt in the hips and maybe the glutes. Don’t overdo it – ten repetitions should be enough.

The great thing about doing this on a treadmill is that you can track your progress. You will see your walking speed increase over time. The speed that was your usual pace will seem a slow crawl.

I also suggest having a pedometer on you at all times. When you go for a walk, track how many steps you took and try to increase the number in the same time period. If you can take a couple hundred more steps during that 5 minute walk that’s more calories you are burning – not to mention the added cardiovascular benefits.

 

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

May 27, 2014 at 4:16 pm

Posted in Fitness

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How Do You Handle the Hungry Horrors?

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Since before I can remember, I’ve used the term “hungry horrors” to describe a state of extreme desire to eat. I don’t associate with real hunger because it can occur even when calorie consumption has been met or exceeded for the day.

After a quick online search, I could not find any medical or scientific references to Hungry Horrors even though it is mentioned in numerous anecdotal articles. What surprising is that all the articles I’ve read appear to describe it in the same way.

When the Hungry Horrors hit, eating a moderate amount of food does not provide relief. When you start eating, it just gets stronger. It only goes away when the stomach is completely full. When it is gone there’s an unpleasant bloated feeling – not like the feeling of satiation you get from eating when you are truly in need of food.

Anyone who has had the Hungry Horrors will know exactly what I’m talking about.

I did find an article that offers an explanation of the cause: Explaining the Hungry Horrors. It suggests that it is caused by Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). I believe the effect of  EPOC is overrated. I certainly don’t believe it has a measurable effect days later. Still, I think the article does offer something worth considering and that is that hunger can occur for calorie expenditure that occurred days before.

There a biological process called homeostasis that explains how humans maintain a certain weight in the absence of extreme external factors. Left alone, people will generally maintain a healthy weight with little or no effort.

In light of the current obesity epidemic, one may dismiss the concept of  homeostasis as being effective in maintaining a healthy, but we must consider the external factors that screw up homeostasis. Modern society is fraught with conditions that contribute to weight gain, mostly access to abundant cheap, low quality food and few opportunities for physical exertion.

As individuals we must deliberately find ways to counter the negative factors in our environment. We have to make conscious choices about what we eat and we have to do exercises that simulate what our ancestors did naturally to survive. If we eat what they ate and did what they did, there would be no obesity epidemic.

So how does homeostasis relate to Hungry Horrors? Well, as stated homeostasis is trying to keep a body at a certain weight, but all those external factors have messed up the balance. When we get the urge to eat to bring our weight back up to “normal”, the foods we eat are not sending the right signals to our brain to tell the system to stop sending hunger signals.

If you eat a snack loaded with sugar the weight and volume of that snack is nowhere near what the body thinks it needs to eat to be satiated. So, we eat more. If you were to substitute that sugary snack with a low calorie-density food such as vegetables, you would feel full faster. Unfortunately, the human body becomes accustomed to getting sugar so the craving will still be there even though the hunger isn’t.

When hit with a case of the Hungry Horrors, the body wants the most calorie-dense food that’s available. If all that is available is healthy vegetables, that will satisfy it, but calorie-dense foods are always available. Even if it means getting into the car and driving to a 24 hour store, the urge to do that will be strong – almost unbearable.

In a house full of nothing but healthy foods, I’ve had to fight the urge to pick up the phone and order a pizza. Most of the time, I can make the right choice, but the average person who hasn’t committed to a healthy lifestyle has no chance of fighting the urge.

At times I may seem a little extreme in the advice that I give, but I’m nowhere near as extreme as the environment we live in. I was always a health conscious person but despite that, I saw my weight grow steadily year after year. It was only when I fully acknowledged the forces I was fighting against was I able to turn it around and get back down to a healthy weight.

We have to realize that this is a fight to the death. If you don’t understand the stakes, you will lose. The medical community has figured out tricks to keep us alive despite our bad habits, but is simply staying alive enough?

Since, I’ve started this journey, I’ve had a number of tough conversations with people I care about. By far, the toughest conversation I’ve had was the one I had with myself when I first started. I knew what I needed to do, but I could not see a way to make the changes I needed to take control of my health. I remember coming to the realization that even though I could not see the entire path to the destination, that didn’t mean the path wasn’t there.

Now that I’ve achieved the goal of a healthy body, I have a perspective that helps me understand others who are dealing with weight issues. A part of me wants to force them down the path I just took but I know my path will not be their path. They have to find their own way.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

May 23, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Too Busy to Exercise? Not an Excuse

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Everybody gets the same 24 hours and while you may think your circumstances are special, they probably aren’t. The truth is that whatever you have going on in your life, there are very few things more important than your health. If you have to drop another goal or activity in your life to make time for exercise, so be it.

Now the good news. One of the benefits of physical fitness and regular exercise is that you increase you ability to do everything else. A fit person can get more done in less time than someone who is out of shape. Fit people learn faster, make decisions faster, work faster and move faster. If you commit to exercise an hour per day, you will end up with more time, not less.

The bottom line is – you are too busy not to exercise.

Unfortunately, if you are currently out of shape, the transition from an unhealthy lifestyle to a healthy active lifestyle can be a drain on your time and energy. You will lose time and the amount of time you lose will be related to how out of shape you are. You can adopt a strategy of slowly transitioning over a long period of time, but you risk losing interest and motivation when results are hard to see.

I suggest committing fully to a fitness schedule regardless of the short term costs. You are going to under perform in some areas of your life while you are going through this transition but the payoff after a few months of regular exercise will outweigh the negative aspects.

For example, lets say you have an opportunity to increase your status at work by working extra hours on a project. You may even get a promotion if you really shine on this project. I’m suggesting that you risk taking full advantage of this opportunity while you transition to a healthy lifestyle.

Living a happy, fulfilling life requires that we focus our time and effort on activities that contribute to our long term happiness. We have to resist the urge to only focus on the things in our lives in the present. The urgent but less important should not be done at the expense of critical, long term goals.

 

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

May 21, 2014 at 8:36 am

Posted in Fitness, Goal Setting, Life

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Dealing with Disadvantages

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When it comes fitness, there is no level playing field. Below are some disadvantages that people may have when trying to adopt a healthy and fit lifestyle:

  • Genetic predisposition to gaining weight
  • Lack of financial resources
  • Lack of social (family/friends) support
  • Don’t have fit friends to act as mentors
  • Demanding job/career
  • Need to care for children

If you have any of those disadvantages you have my sympathy but you don’t have approval to give up. Even if all the forces of the universe are working against you, you will still be better off doing what you can than simply accepting the cards life has dealt you.

I currently have disadvantages on that list. At some points in my life, I’ve had all of them.

I come from a large family, 5 brothers and 4 sisters, and by “large”, I mean both in terms of the number of siblings and the average size of each member. All my brothers and sisters are overweight and all have type-2 diabetes including my father and my mother passed away due to complications related to diabetes.

Based on my genetic background, I should be overweight. If I didn’t watch what I eat and get regular exercise, I would most likely have type-2 diabetes. My knowledge of my disadvantage pushes me to work harder rather than give up.

As a computer programmer, I have to work even harder to compensate for a very sedentary schedule. It would be natural for me to sit at my PC for 12 hours or more, but I consciously make the effort to incorporate regular intervals of physical activity.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was telling me all the reasons why she was overweight. At one point, I jumped in and said, “So what are planning to do about it?”.  She looked confused at my question. I surmised that she felt she was exempt from living a healthy lifestyle due to her special conditions.

When I give advice, I generally tell people that they need to exercise for an average of an hour per day. When somebody tells me they have a disadvantage, I tell them, “I understand. For you, make it two hours per day.”

My point is that with disadvantages, some people may never have that lean fitness model physique but that shouldn’t prevent them from being the best they can be given the circumstances.

A year ago, I started coaching  a middle aged women who was obese at the time. I was attempting to get her to commit to exercising on a daily basis. She made a valiant attempt but the conditions in her life at the time made it next to impossible to workout for the 30 minutes I recommended she start with.

I then suggested that she exercise for 5 minutes per day, every day, but I made sure she was committed to doing it regardless of whatever else came up. She thought I was joking at first- anyone can exercise for five minutes – but she agreed.

From that point on, five minutes was the least amount of exercise she did on a daily basis, but most often she would do more. Once she got on the treadmill to do her five minutes, it was easy for her to choose to do an 10, 30 or 60 minutes if she had the time to do so. When she didn’t have time to do more, doing the 5 minutes still gave her a feeling of accomplishment. She was meeting the commitment she made to herself.

It’s been six months and she has lost over 30 pounds. She’s also starting to make progress with weight training which was something she refused to try when she started. Once she saw the results of her efforts she was eager to see how far she could go with her new lifestyle.

Except in extreme cases, established fitness habits are far more powerful than any disadvantage a person may face. In the same way a trickle of water, over time, can carve through solid rock, habit can break through any obstacle on the road to fitness.

If you don’t think you can do something due to a conflict or condition in your life, try to focus on building a habit regardless of how small a change that habit may be. Start to track your calories and exercise even if you don’t believe you can change what you eat or do.

Whatever your disadvantages are, if you work on making the smallest achievable changes, you’ll find that overtime you are greater than whatever challenges you face.

 

 

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

May 19, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Fitness, Life, Self Improvement

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Make Light Weights Part of Your Routine

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I’m an advocate of lifting heavy to build strength and muscle mass. For most of my workouts, I try to stay in the 4-6 rep range. However, I do believe occasionally lifting light weights can help round out your fitness routine.

For example, I’ve been having trouble with my squats. When I was younger I did not give my legs the attention they needed so now that I’m in my 40’s (47), my legs remain a weak point. I’ve been trying to focus on building strength in my legs and even though the amount of weight I can squat has been increasing, I don’t feel the same level of confidence squatting as I do when doing a bench press. My legs are shaky and I don’t feel the connection with my leg muscles.

The bottom line is that my nervous system is unfamiliar with moves. I don’t have the same mind-body connection that I do with my upper body. The key to resolving this is to simply do more squats with perfect form which will help develop the neural pathways. The problem is that, at my age, I can’t do squats with heavy weights more than once per week – I’ve tried and found that it doesn’t give me enough recovery time between sessions.

My strategy at this point is to do moderately heavy squats (rep range 6-10) one day and very low weight squats another day (nonconsecutive). On the low weight day, it’s all about form and not going to failure. I’m probably not stimulating the muscles enough to grow on my low weight day but that’s not the goal. I’m just trying to train my nervous system. I am also building muscular endurance and helping to develop connective tissues. I am training myself so that I can give 100% (or more) on my heavy squat day.

Using light weights gives you an opportunity to really take it slow and focus on form. I know of a lifelong bodybuilder who would use light weight for weeks when adding a new exercise into his routine. He’s still working those muscles with other exercises but is patient enough to only add the new exercise when his body is trained to handle it.

For a person of my age and size, I’m really proud of my chest routine. I can go to extreme levels of intensity and really push myself, getting that extra rep or two beyond failure. I believe the reason I can do this is due to my early years of doing a sick amount of push-ups. I have such an intimate connection with the muscles in my chest, triceps and wrists so I know how far I can push them.

Go heavy or go home, but if you do go home, give light weights a try.

 

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

May 11, 2014 at 4:47 pm