Friday, October 26, 2012

The Only Rule

As a young child growing up in the 1950’s, I used to believe that there were lots of rules. Years later, with decades of life experience behind me, I have decided that there is only one rule that counts: PAY ATTENTION. In the natural world, attention and alertness are qualities that keep animals safe. While a wild creature loses the ability to notice and approaching predator or to find food and shelter, its days are numbered. Here in the developed world we have able-bodied people walking into walls or in front of cars because they are totally engrossed in their cell phones.

The other day I saw a pleasant sight. A young mother was walking down the street with her little boy, holding him by the hand. Then I noticed that her other hand was holding a cell phone to the side of her head as she continued a conversation. Was the little boy aware that he was being ignored? A recent article cites studies showing that children take more risks when they’re not being watched. Over the past five years, the number of unintentional injuries to children under five has sharply increased after years of decline. Some researchers believe that this change may be related to texting while parenting.

Many people believe that they are proficient multitaskers but most of them are wrong. Research has shown that only about 2.5% of the population can juggle several activities at once; “our brains are wired for ‘selective attention’ and can focus on only one thing at a time.”A driver talking on a cell phone may actually not see another car up ahead. In a column entitled “Yes, Sell All My Stocks. No, the 3:15 From JFK. And Get Me Mr. Sister.” Jared Sandberg tells a series of hilarious and unsettling anecdotes illustrating the hazards of multitasking.One marketing firm actually sent direct mail offers to 4000 nuns with the greeting, “Dear Mr. Sister.”>

The effects of divided attention are also apparent in the medical care business. The connection between doctor and patient is central to the healing process but that relationship is now being curtailed to fifteen-minute meetings devoted to reviewing test results and prescribing drugs. The radiologist who told me I might have breast cancer did not turn off his cell phone during our conversation and it rang once while we talked. Maybe that was part of the reason why I asked for a second opinion (rightly, as it turned out). If I’m having a routine physical and the doctor gets an urgent call, I don’t mind waiting for a few minutes, but what could be more important than telling someone that they might have a fatal illness?

The following incident was reported in the 10/6/12 issue of the Bloomington Herald-Times.  Auto technician Tracy Grubb was driving home along a rural road and noticed a man lying on the ground next to his truck near the side of the road.  By stopping and offering help, he probably saved the life of William Fox, who had suffered an allergic reaction from a bee sting.  Grubb later noted that about 30 cars had driven past while he was waiting for the ambulance.  He said, “I don’t feel that I done anything special or anything.  I was just paying attention while I was driving.”

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Finnish Study: “Eat Your Tomatoes, Preferably Processed.”

A few years back I read about a study showing that people who drank fruit and vegetable juice three or more times per week were 76 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than people who drank juice less than once per week.  Since my mother died of Alzheimer’s, drinking juice seemed like a sensible thing to do.  We bought a juicer and started making fruit and vegetable juice a couple of times a week, as I described in a blog post.  We have fruit juice for breakfast and vegetable juice (mixed with commercial low-salt tomato juice) for lunch or dinner.  Since then, we don’t seem to get sick very much and, when we do, we get over it quickly.  Coincidence? Maybe.

Now it turns out that the tomato juice part may also help to protect us from stroke.  A Finnish study of 1031 men has shown that those with the highest levels of lycopene had a 55% lower risk of stroke than those with the lowest levels.  Tomatoes are the best source of lycopene and processed tomato products, especially tomato sauce and tomato juice, have 7-10 times the amount of lycopene found in a single tomato.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Exercise Is Powerful - but the Body is Slow

Ten years ago I began to get pains in my shoulders and upper arms.  I started lifting heavier weights and the pains went away.  Fifteen years ago I would get out of breath from going upstairs.  That doesn’t happen anymore.  These days, at the age of 66, I do a brisk 33-minute cardio routine that feels challenging but not exhausting.  I also do jumping jacks and plyo, which I started only a couple of years ago.  Recently my feet, which had given trouble for years, have started to improve.  Is it the impact exercise I have been doing? Who knows? 

Exercise can accomplish truly amazing things.  If it were a drug, everyone would want to take it.  It’s safe (apart from the occasional injury), doesn’t interact with foods or medications, and has lots of collateral benefits, like counteracting depression and improving sleep.  The downside to exercise is that it requires actual work.  Being in good condition at my age is a luxury; spending 8-9 hours a week working out is the way I pay for it.  (Side note:  When I first starting trying to get into shape I used to exercise 12 hours a week doing a less intense routine.  By gradually increasing the difficulty of my workouts I’ve been able to cut back the time while still improving my condition.) 

I started this personal fitness project twelve years ago as a way of avoiding statins, which my doctor had recommended because of my high cholesterol.  In those days, when I would work out on the cross trainer, my heart rate would max out at 125 beats per minute and I would never break a sweat.  I think that my muscles simply weren’t strong enough to work any harder.  Later on I started taking a protein supplement and proteolytic enzymes and gradually found that I could do more.  Technology has accustomed us to believe that results should be instant and life should be user-friendly but that’s not the way the body works.  The human body has its priorities (mainly ensuring its own survival and comfort) and it is not going to be rushed.  If you’re older and have a slow metabolism like me, that’s true in spades.  When I start a new exercise program I don't expect to see results for at least a month.  If there are no changes after 6 weeks, I conclude that I'm on the wrong program and try something else.  To work into P90X so that I could finally do all the classes (mostly) took 2-3 years.  It has taken 12 years to get to my present level of fitness. 

One of the unfair aspects of exercise is that some people have to work a lot harder than others in order to see results.  I am naturally muscular and strong so you would think I could do less.  Instead, I have a physique that you really have to hammer on in order to see results.  (I suspect that may be true of muscular people in general.)  Walking, even brisk walking, and swimming do absolutely nothing for me and, with the cross trainer, my heart rate needs to be over 80% of maximum in order for me to maintain my current condition.  In order to see improvement I need to be working near the upper edge of what I can do.  It’s a delicate balance:  too much and it’s tiring and too hard on my body, too little and I put on weight and feel sluggish. 

Developing a fitness routine is a process of self-discovery:  it’s important to try different types of exercise to find out what works for you.  It takes time, persistence, and patience but the potential rewards are huge:  feeling better than you ever have in your life and being totally comfortable in your own body.