Monday 18 October 2010

Run for your lives! Literally.

Back when I was a teenager, for some reason which remains unknown to me right now, I started to exercise on a regular basis. Some jogging, some push-ups, sit-ups, stretching, I didn't do a lot but I did what I considered to be enough to keep me active. After over 40 years of doing this, I have discovered that I have also developed some sort of psychological component to regular exercise. If I don't do it, I feel odd, off-balance; it's hard to explain. Of course, a few days without doing anything and I notice a little stiffness, maybe some lower back pain from too much sitting, etc. So, why do I continue? Psychologically I feel better and physically I feel better.

Sedentary Life Style
Let's face it; modern life involves a lot of sitting, a lot of inactivity. Maybe there is a lot of thinking but there isn't always a lot of movement. I know some people have active jobs but for me, who works in an office pushing paper, no there isn't a lot of getting off my butt. As a consequence, I think it is more important than ever to do something, anything to compensate for this sometimes sloth-like life style.

According to Government of Canada numbers from 2005, 47% of Canadians classified themselves as being inactive.

The study further ranked by gender
  • 44% of men
  • 49% of women
Ranked by age
  • 28% - 12-19 years
  • 44% - 20-35 years
  • 51% - 35-54 years
  • 52% - 55+ years
In the United States, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports 52% of the population is either not doing enough or doing nothing at all. These numbers seem to be generally comparable to Canada.

The above numbers show that a considerable number of us do little or nothing in the way of physical activity. But what are the effects of us doing nothing? We all know that we should be doing something but by not doing anything, just what harm are we doing to ourselves?

I quote from Wikipedia's article on Physical Exercise where it describes the benefits:

Physical exercise is important for maintaining physical fitness and can contribute positively to maintaining a healthy weight, building and maintaining healthy bone density, muscle strength, and joint mobility, promoting physiological well-being, reducing surgical risks, and strengthening the immune system.

Okay, but prove it.

Exercise can prevent disease
Searching on the Internet provides scads of information. Filtering out the regurgitated data, one can arrive at original studies conducted by reputable people to determine empirically these claims.

In the paper The Disease-Specific Benefits and Risks of Physical Activity and Exercise written by 2 M.D.' s and 1 PhD - just to show you the qualifications of the writers - the authors start by making this claim:

There is mounting epidemiologic evidence that physical inactivity and a lack of exercise are related to the occurrence of several diseases that are major causes of death and disability in the United States. Although the relationship between the level of physical activity and the risk of coronary heart disease has been the most extensively investigated, studies have suggested that physical activity may contribute to the prevention and control of several other diseases as well.

FYI: I had to look up epidemiologic to verify the word for myself.

Epidemiology is the study of factors affecting the health and illness of populations, and serves as the foundation and logic of interventions made in the interest of public health and preventive medicine.

The paper goes on to look at 4 specific diseases: coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and osteoporosis. It arrives at the conclusion that yes indeed, lack of exercise is not good for you and in fact, exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy body and can actually prevent diseases.

Exercise is good for the brain
In the paper Benefits and Recommendations for Physical Activity Programs for All Americans written by various medical professionals, the authors point out the benefits to our brains:

In addition to the physical benefits of exercise, both short-term exercise and long-term aerobic exercise training are associated with improvements in various indexes of psychological functioning. Cross-sectional studies reveal that, compared with sedentary individuals, active persons are more likely to be better adjusted,  to perform better on tests of cognitive functioning, to exhibit reduced cardiovascular responses to stress, and to report fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. In one report persons who increased their activity levels between 1965 and 1974 were at no greater risk for depression than those individuals who were active all along; however, persons who were active and became inactive were 1.5 times as likely to become depressed by 1983 compared with those who maintained an active lifestyle.

Longitudinal studies have also documented significant improvement in psychological functioning. Exercise training reduces depression in healthy older men and in persons with cardiac disease or major depression. Exercise also improves self-confidence and self-esteem, attenuates cardiovascular and neurohumoral responses to mental stress, and reduces some type A behaviors. Although exercise training generally has not been found to improve cognitive performance, short bouts of exercise may have short-term facilitative effects.

So what?
So what indeed. Reap what you sow. What we're doing in our 20's, 30's and 40's will come back to haunt us later in life. Or should I say what we're not doing.

But let me be frank... "Hello, Frank. How ya doin'?"

We all have a wonderful, inexhaustible quality of rationalizing our behaviour as not being all that bad. Hey, did I tell you I thought about having a salad the other day? [laughs] Thought about it?

We all have a wonderful, inexhaustible quality of ignoring the dangers of what we do: I don't always drink and smoke... only when I'm awake.

God seems to have given us bodies which are incredibly resilient machines. You have to beat the ever-loving c**p out of them before they break down. And that's precisely what we're doing year after year, slowly pushing it to the max, red-lining the engine until something goes wrong.

In medieval Britain, life expectancy was 30; in the early 20th century it was 45 and now in 2010, the world average is around 67 years. Of course there are currently big regional differences. The United States shows a life expectance of 77 to 80 years while in Canada it is over 80.

Obviously with us living longer, we had better do something to ensure we have a quality of life later in life. Nobody wants to spend their "declining" years physically incapacitated. Heck, that's no fun.

Eubie Blake (1887-1983) was an American composer, lyricist and pianist of ragtime, jazz and popular music. At his 100th birthday, he said,

"If I'd known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself."

Words to live by.

It's fun
Exercising can actually be fun. Hmmm, fun exercise, is that an oxymoron?

I'm talking here of setting yourself a personal challenge and meeting it or surpassing it. Instead of 1 set of thirty sit-ups, how about 2 sets? Instead of jogging 1 kilometre, how about 2? To all the inveterate exercisers, I'm sure you're looking at those numbers and saying, "What?" After all, you don't necessarily have to do a ton of exercises to remain fit.

I have been jogging now for 40 years. I have never done a marathon and have wondered if I'm ever going to do it in my lifetime. I always return to the idea of just how much running I have to do to be fit. Running or should I say training for something like the marathon can take up some time, maybe a lot of time or at least more than I care to devote to being physically fit.

My jogging
Generally I run twice a week although if I'm feeling industrious I have run more. Each time, I generally run 4 km although I have done as high as 12. My point is just what do you have to do to be fit?

The Zone
Exercise can seem hard; it can seem like... well, work. However, once you have reached a certain level of fitness, you can exercise and get into "the zone". If you are not familiar with the term, it is essentially where your body has adjusted to the level of exercise you are doing and you get a feeling where you could just go on forever. That level of physical activity becomes the norm just as walking can be the norm. I know from experience that once in the zone, it is an incredible feeling. I remember going out and doing 12 kilometres. At the end, I didn't stop because I was tired or out of breath, I stopped because I said I had spent enough time running and I wanted to go do something else. I could have kept running for I don't know how far. That was the zone.

Inspiring yourself
Just jogging is okay but I need to set goals. One thing I do is to map out a run and make sure I don't wimp out in the middle of it. I must complete the full run to reward myself with milk and cookies.

The web site Map My Run is a big help. It offers up maps with the ability of marking out your route and telling you the distance you've done. There are paid memberships which offer various services like saving your runs but I have only used the free stuff which is basically map out a run without being able to save it. For me, that's enough as I merely want to verify distances.

Another thing to do is to not take the same route all the time. I have a radius of the downtown core in which I run slightly modifying my route to visit other streets and see other sights which does not diminish my overall distance but keeps things interesting.

You don't have to do a lot
I do not go to a gym. Everything I do, I do at home but admittedly, going to a gym or working with a trainer or at least with a training partner can be very inspirational. The point is to do something, anything! Considering that around 50% of the population is doing little or nothing, I could say that if you do 5 sit-ups you are now ahead of the pack. Ha!

The trick is to develop a routine. Now you may think of personal discipline, those strong people with great backbones who are out there rain or shine doing their thing. Believe me, it may seem like personal discipline but I can say again from experience that if you skip the routine, you will feel not just bad or guilty; you will feel psychologically off kilter. Yes, that may seem odd but it's true. For some funny reason if I don't do my routine I start to feel off balance, not quite right. As I said, there is a physical component to the discomfort. I may start feeling stiff; I sometimes have lower back pains from sitting too much and during the winter when I don't run as much or all depending on how cold it gets, I can feel a slight lack of wind.

The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association released guidelines in 2007 which state:

30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five days per week)
20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three days per week)
One continuous session and multiple shorter sessions (of at least 10 minutes) to accumulate desired amount of daily exercise.

Moderate-intensity physical activity means working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat, yet still being able to carry on a conversation. It should be noted that to lose weight or maintain weight loss, 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity may be necessary. The 30-minute recommendation is for the average healthy adult to maintain health and reduce the risk for chronic disease.

Gee, I'm looking at that and wondering if even I am doing enough. [sigh] I'm getting down on the floor to do another set of sit-ups, push-ups and stretching. :-)

Stairs in winter
Since my wife and I moved into an eighth floor apartment, I discovered how I can give myself a little running like activity during the winter when it's too cold to jog. I walk up and down the eight flights of stairs 10 times. That works out to be walking up and down 80 flights of stairs, a bit of a cardiovascular workout. Not a lot but I'll tell you, I finish up drenched in sweat. I've wondered if I could take on the charity climb of the CN Tower. Hmmm, I'll put that on the list.

Final Word
We're all living longer; we have to take care of ourselves. If not, we could find ourselves in later years with quality of life issues brought up by poor health. All of this is avoidable if we just take a little initiative to try and do something. I ain't asking a lot. [smiles] I jokingly say that I exercise by inspiration not perspiration. I'm not running the marathon; I'm not some disciplined fitness fanatic. However, I do know that I feel better if I do something.

Have I convinced all those inactive coach potatoes to get off of their duff? Are you laughing at me jogging outside your window? Are you denigrating my little efforts by comparing me to professional athletes?

Years ago, the family was on vacation in the United States. I pulled up behind a car at a stop light. As I waited for the light to change, I noticed a sticker on the rear bumper of the car just in front of me. It read, "I may be slow but I'm ahead of you." Quite funny and oh how true.

Am I great runner? Am I going for the gold? Will I ever complete a marathon in my lifetime? Maybe not, but for at least 50% of the population, I'm ahead of you.  :-)


Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
Health - Physical Activity

Wikipedia: Physical Exercise

Wikipedia: Jogging

eZine: Warning: Lack of Exercise Is Detrimental To Your Health

The Medical News: Lack of exercise causes physical and psychological setbacks

The Disease-Specific Benefits and Risks of Physical Activity and Exercise
Dr. Siscovick is Assistant Professor of Medicine and Clinical Assistant Professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Medicine, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina, and is a Teaching and Research Scholar of the American College of Physicians. Dr. LaPorte is an Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. Dr. Newman is Clinical Coordinator, Region VIII, Public Health Service, Denver, CO. He was formerly with the Behavioral Epidemiology and Evaluation Branch, Division of Health Education, Center for Health Promotion and Education, Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, GA.

Statement on Exercise: Benefits and Recommendations for Physical Activity Programs for All Americans
Gerald F. Fletcher, MD, Chair; Gary Balady, MD; Steven N. Blair, PED; James Blumenthal, PhD; Carl Caspersen, PhD; Bernard Chaitman, MD; Stephen Epstein, MD; Erika S. Sivarajan Froelicher, PhD, MPH, RN; Victor F. Froelicher, MD; Ileana L. Pina, MD; Michael L. Pollock, PhD


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