Monday, December 16, 2013

Motivation, Finding Your Inner Coach

My junior high school math teacher Mr. Lyons decorated his classroom with an assortment of inspirational messages; “Well Begun Is Half Done” is one I remember. We, sophisticated eighth graders, thought it was pretty silly. These days, in my mid-sixties, I can see that he was onto something. When I first attempt a task that is difficult, uncomfortable, or boring, a voice in my brain tries to talk me out of it. “This workout is too hard – let’s read a book instead.” “Cardio makes my quads hurt – let’s skip it this time.” I think of this voice as my Inner Five-Year-Old and I deal with it in much the same way that parents negotiate with little children, encouraging, prodding, sometimes even bribing, as a last resort.  I do DVD workouts featuring Tony Horton, Erik Owings, and Bob Harper, all of them excellent trainers. I’ve tried to analyze what they do and use the same strategies to encourage myself to do challenging workouts. Here are some examples:

  • I start from where I am. Maybe I’ve put on a couple of pounds in the past month but I don’t agonize about that. I focus on what I can do right now.
  • I observe what I can do easily and what gives me trouble. It’s fun to do the easy moves but the hard stuff is where the money is, as Tony would say. Endurance exercises like chair pose are not that hard for me, but plyo is tough. When I started P90X a few years ago I could hardly do five jumping jacks, much less the seventy or so in the warm-ups, but I kept doing a few more and a few more and now I can keep up with the DVD.
  • I concentrate on maintaining good form. With weight lifting, correct form is essential for safety. With other exercises, it can help you avoid wasting your time because you’re not really getting into the muscle.
  • I don’t worry about what or how well anyone else is doing. Everybody’s different.
  • When I see progress, I pat myself on the back (sometimes literally) but I don’t beat myself up about things I still can’t do.

The two thirty-three minutes cardio intervals I do each week are tough. I get through them by keeping up a running line of encouraging chat. The first fifteen minutes are the hardest because I have to get my heart rate up from the fifty-something beats per minute, where it normally is, to about 125, which is the lowest worthwhile starting place if I’m going to get the results I want. I say, “This part is hard, but I can do it. Fifteen minutes isn’t that long.” After a three-minute fast interval I say, “More than halfway through, almost done.” After a four-minute, slower interval I say, “Only two more fast ones, hang in there!” At thirty minutes I’m really tired but I say, “Only three more minutes – anybody could do three minutes.” After that I’m done.

Some people who don’t exercise a lot believe that those of us who do have some special magic that enables us to do what they can’t, or don’t want to, do. Speaking only for myself, when I get done with a hard workout, I don’t experience any rush of endorphins or runner’s high; I feel only relief that I won’t have to do this again for another few days. It’s not easy, but the practical rewards are enormous. I have the energy to pursue my interests during the day; I sleep well at night; I don’t worry about injuring myself; and I feel completely comfortable in my body.

Monday, December 2, 2013

What I’ve Been Reading

- Anyone wanting to sample the full range of opinion (and emotion) about health care in this country need look no further than Jerome Groopman’s review of Paul A. Offit’s book, The Quackish Cult of Alternative Medicine, and the comments, 81 in all, that appeared in a recent New Republic: Dr. Groopman, who is Chair of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and author of many articles and books, seems to be generally in agreement with Offit in dismissing most forms of alternative medicine, though he also points out the need for greater transparency in the medical profession, especially with respect to conflicts of interest.

      - Noreena Hertz’s frightening ordeal with a mystery illness led her to ponder the decision-making process in “Why We Make Bad Decisions,” Here are a couple of salient quotes:

“If we are to control our own destinies, we have to switch our brains back on and come to our medical consultations with plenty of research done, able to use the relevant jargon.”

“One study of radiologists, for example, reveals that those who perform poorly on diagnostic tests are also those most confident in their diagnostic prowess.”

      - When it comes to staying healthy, which is more important, diet or exercise? This question is addressed in a short but useful article:, it depends on your goal: if you want to drop a dress size or increase your energy, diet is the way to go; if you’d like to reduce your risk of heart disease, keep your mind sharp, or increase your libido, exercise is the better choice. The article includes specific recommendations in connection with each objective.

- These days there are a lot of doctor/bloggers. The stories they tell are often poignant and eloquently expressed. One that I just started reading is “In My Humble Opinion” by Dr. Jordan Grumet, an internist who practices in the Chicago area: