My thoughts on the Civil War monuments and statues debate.

The recent news coverage of the controversy regarding monuments and statues has gotten me thinking. Before all of this, I never realized how many of these monuments and statues existed, nor did I know, until just a few years ago, that the flag of the Confederate States of America still flew over some statehouses in this country.

Regarding the more recent issue, here’s my “flow chart” of thoughts about the subject:

1. Slavery. A human institution for centuries, maybe longer. Accepted as a part of life by all, a “fact of human existence.”

2. Society progresses and evolves, yet, as recently as a couple of hundred years ago slaves were treated as a commodity right here in the United States, bought and sold as property at locations such as the yard surrounding the old courthouse in Lexington, Kentucky.

3. Let’s remember that these slaves (or their predecessors) had their homes invaded, they were captured, ripped from their homeland, their culture, their lives, families, etc. Forced to endure “shipping” to the “new world” under harsh conditions that caused many of them to die. And we (the USA, from its founding until slavery was “ended”), we were OK with that. Ponder that for a moment. Reread the very brief summary of the slave trade above. We were OK with that.

4. Civil war ensues. Slavery is ended. These facts are not disputable.

5. Reasons for the civil war abound. Read Lyon Tyler’s A Confederate Catechism for a viewpoint that’s different from the one many of us were taught in school. Lyon Tyler was a son of President John Tyler, a staunch defender of the Confederate Cause, and quite the critic of President Abraham Lincoln.

6. Think on this: even if all of Tyler’s points are valid (I do not believe that, but bear with me)… even if all of Tyler’s points are valid, the facts summarized in point number 3 above still happened. Again, this is not disputable.

7. Following the Civil War, successful efforts were made to segregate people of color, repress their right to vote, and treat them as second-class citizens. It’s my contention that this, also, is not disputable. Until 1965, a mere 51 years ago, segregation was still the common practice in many parts of the country. Read up on “Jim Crow” and you’ll see what I mean. Additionally, do a little research into “racist art and music” and I think you’ll be shocked at what you find.

8. During the period following the Civil War, efforts were put forth, such as Tyler’s “A Confederate Catechism,” to frame the narrative of the war in a particular light, justifying the conflict in such as way as to ennoble the struggle of the southern states, even comparing their struggle against the north to that of the original 13 colonies against Great Britain. The bravery and courage of southern soldiers, generals, and statesmen was highlighted, and groups such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy spearheaded a movement to erect monuments and statues in prominent public places, celebrating these luminaries of southern history.

We’ll come back to these points in a moment.

7. Growing up in the north, raised in a white home (not knowing my own ethnic heritage, I usually check the “other” box when asked to indicate ethnicity), I do not presume to know much about the experience of people of color in this country. Having said that, I can relate to you that questions about my complexion, country of origin, etc. have followed me, off and on, throughout my life. As recently as summer, 2013 or 2014, as I walked out of a local grocery story around 11:00 PM at night, someone yelled, clearly at me, “fu..ing ni..er!!) This occurred not a quarter mile from the center of my hometown, 700-800 feet from city hall and the local police station. I’m quite certain that my experience has been but a small taste of what the majority of members of the black community have experienced throughout their lives.

8. Back to the monuments and statues. Here now, is my opinion on the matter. These statues should never have been erected in the first place. It seems to me that they flow from a perspective on the history of the Civil War that is exemplified in Tyler’s document. Again, even if we accept everything that he writes (again, I do not), the facts mentioned above in points numbers 3 and 7 happened. They happened. If I’m successful at all in empathizing with African-Americans, whose ancestors went through the ordeal of slavery, I find that it’s reasonable to believe that these monuments and statues are offensive; that they celebrate a way of life that, again, allowed for points number 3 and 7 stated above to be part of American way of life.

9. Removing them does not erase history. If only it could. Better history may be learned in books, or visiting museums where these items could be better presented. Standing on public ground in prominent places is not appropriate, and never was.

Why now? many ask. Maybe because, as in the case with slavery itself, we as a society are evolving, becoming more inclusive, more moral, and more just. A better question would be, why not now?

Anyway, these are my thoughts on the issue. You are certainly entitled to yours, but let’s all please take a deep breath, turn off the news and social media sources of “information,” (remember, they’re mostly interested in generating revenue from viewers, clicks, likes, etc.) and give this issue the thoughtful reflection it deserves.

Great Attitude Means Great Workout, Right?

When your heart’s just not in it.

I’m a big believer in paying attention to your body—taking periodic days off from exercise and working out, adjusting food choices when you feel unsatisfied or low-energy, and, if you feel “off,” making informed decisions about whether or not you are actually sick, and need to see your doctor, or simply rest. Or, maybe, you just need to “push through” the funk you’re feeling, and stick to your commitment to healthy living. That last thing is what happened to me today. Not the first time it’s happened, and probably not the last.

My morning was spent in somewhat intense discussion with loved ones, about issues which are irrelevant to the point I’m making here, leaving me emotionally drained. (We are all fine, by the way, in case you were wondering.) Right before this unexpected family discussion, I’d prepared a big breakfast for myself, anticipating a weightlifting workout followed by some cardio.

So now, here I was, physically prepped and ready to go, but feeling emotionally drained, and not at all in the mood to go to the gym and work out. I found myself looking for excuses: “you know, feeling like this, you’ll never be able to lift with any strength, because you feel so drained,” for example. “A day off won’t hurt you, and it’ll give you a chance to emotionally replenish yourself and have a stronger workout tomorrow.” (That one is completely true, by the way.)

I decided to get myself together and go to the gym anyway.

Today’s agenda included wide-grip pullups, flat bench dumbbell presses, and post-lifting cardio. One of my favorite workouts, actually, that I’d anticipated for days, hoping to increase my results from the last time I did this one. I arrived at the gym, still feeling “down,” and went upstairs to the weight room. The apparatus I use for the pullups was being used by someone else. It occurred to me that maybe I could just do cardio today, and hit the weights tomorrow, but I decided to follow through with my original intent. Besides, I only had to wait a couple of minutes.

I approached the pullup station, took the wide-grip stance, and began. First one felt nice and strong, and I completed 9, which was equivalent to the last time I did these. After waiting several minutes, I started another set, thinking this time that if I just thought of them in groups of 3, it would be easier to complete another set of 9. Success. Meanwhile, my mood was not improving at all. I still felt “down.” So far, no real improvement over the last workout, either. After another rest interval of several minutes, I approached for my last set. Last time I did this exercise, I was only able to do 8 on the third set, so here was my final opportunity today to do better. And I did. The ninth one might not have been “regulation” regarding me getting high enough, but it was unquestionably better than the last time I did these. In its own way, that felt good… but my mood wasn’t any better than it was before.

Next exercise was the flat bench dumbbell press. Last time, I did this exercise with 60 lbs. dumbbells, which, for me, is getting very close to the maximum I’m capable of doing. Twice in recent years I’ve injured my shoulder using dumbbells greater than 50 lbs. so I knew that I had to be careful. Considering my mood, I thought for a moment that perhaps I should use a lighter weight, just to be safe. I decided to “go for it” and got the 65 lbs. dumbbells. First set was successful; 12 repetitions completed. With this exercise, it’s getting the dumbbells into position and completing the first rep that is the most dangerous, followed closely by the way you complete the last rep and “dismount” the exercise. Second set was also good for 12 reps. By now, you’d think I’d be thrilled, because these results were a personal best—but no. Still in a funk. At this point, I considered playing it safe, and backing down to a lower weight dumbbell for the last set, to minimize the potential for injury. Going to failure with dumbbells is dangerous, because if you lose control of them, that’s when injuries most likely occur. Dismissing that thought, I went ahead and attempted the third set with the 65s, and completed another 12 reps with no problem. This was a huge accomplishment! I’d never been able to perform this strongly on this exercise. But my mood remained the same. I’ve started workouts “in a funk” before, and not only ended up having good workouts in spite of that, but experiencing a lifted mood as well. (See my article here.) But this time was different—I was having a great workout, but not having a concomitant improvement in spirit.

I usually end a weightlifting session with 30 minutes moderately intense cardio, so I moved to a treadmill, set the time, speed, and incline, and began. After 10 minutes, I was ready to be done. “Just go ahead and stop at 15 minutes; you took about 23 minutes to lift weights, so 15 minutes cardio makes for a total workout time of nearly 40 minutes, which is fine.” I decided to keep going. Once I passed the 20 minute mark, I was in the phase of cardio that I refer to as “almost done, why stop now?” so I completed the 30 minutes and went home. Feeling just as emotionally drained as when I arrived.

Lesson for today: persistence and consistency do not require that you have a good attitude going in. You might get great results anyway. And now, several hours later, while I still feel rather depleted in spirit, I know that, overall, I feel better than I would if I had decided not to exercise today.

Stay motivated, my friends—the long-term results are worth the effort.

Returning After A Break

When “life” gets in the way.

The title of this post expresses a reality that we all occasionally face: that our best intentions, plans, preparations, and regular routines, are disrupted from time-to-time by issues related to work, relationships, health, or other unforeseen circumstances. In regard to healthy living (defined as maintaining a balance of good eating, regular exercise, and stress management/rest/sleep), these disruptions can often result in a “forced” hiatus from some aspect(s) of our regimen. As I wrote about here, these hiatuses do not mean that we have failed, that we are a failure, and that we will always fail. (Don’t become a prisoner of your own plan and expectations.) Instead, use breaks to focus your energy, resources, and attention where it’s needed, and return to your regimen when you are able.

Speaking personally, I made it through April, and the end of the academic year! This is always a good feeling! Even though April (and November/December, for that matter) are expected times of extra work-related stress, this past April seemed more “compressed” than usual, undoubtedly the result of more-than-usual musical events held on campus (which is, in itself, a very good thing). There were days that I didn’t get away from work until nearly 9:30 PM, and, at least once, had to be back at work by 8:00 the next morning. Time constraints caused me to scale back some of my “extra-curricular” activities like reading for fun, and posting here, but I was able to maintain my eating habits and exercise routine: eating a high-calorie breakfast, and then frequent small meals throughout the day, 30-45 minutes moderate to high intensity cardiovascular workouts 5-6 times per week, and a 15-25 minute weightlifting workout once every 4-5 days. For me, the big disruption was my newest activity—writing and posting here. I just realized that my last post was on March 20, and today is May 13! I’m reminded of a Christmas when I was about 13 years old. My parents gave me a paperback journal, decorated throughout with Peanuts cartoon characters. I immediately resolved to write in it every day, and, after 3 or 4 days of faithful commitment, missed one day, and subsequently dropped the activity completely. It doesn’t have to be like this. Rather than allow guilt over a small “failure” to kill your motivation, if the activity has value for you, jump right back in and resume where you left things. This works with eating habits/food choices, exercise, managing discretionary time, etc.

May (once the last of the academic year stuff is done) is usually a season of creative productivity for me. I’ve found, over the years, that I do more practicing of the piano (for the sheer pleasure of it; repertoire that I get to choose, as opposed to that which I’m being paid to learn), and more inner reflection and journaling, than at other times of the year. In the area of healthy living (exercise, eating habits, sleep and rest, etc.), May and the following summer months affords me with opportunities for trying new exercises, routines, foods, and activities, which are not available during most of the school year. Ironically, summer is also a season during which I have to be careful with my food choices and quantities, because, while it’s easy to remain consistent in workouts, it’s also easy to simply relax during the rest of the day! During the school year, I’m constantly getting up and down from my desk, getting up and down from the piano, and walking up and down hallways and stairs, all day long, and burning lots of calories in the process.

How about for you? I know that many of you work the same job, all year long. You folks are challenged to find eating habits and exercise routines that complement that kind of work schedule. But I know that some of you who read my posts are in a situation similar to my own—busy (sometimes insanely so) during the school year, but relatively free during the summer months. How do your eating habits and exercise choices change, if they do?

Obsession or Habit?

The equilibrium of consistency and perseverance.

Embarking upon the quest for better health can easily turn into the “current project” or “hobby” that takes up a big chunk of our time. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, for starters, as long as it remains the primary focus of our discretionary time, we’re probably neglecting other important elements of our lives, like relationships with others! This, in turn, can end up working against us, as we feel pulled in too many directions and become overwhelmed with the attempt to hold it all together. At that point, we’ll usually give up altogether, and fall back into our former, usual, way of doing things. It’s also simply not possible. As we say, “life happens,” and many times we find ourselves facing circumstances over which we have no control. Disruptions to routine, such as unexpected car failure, traffic jams, railroad crossings, etc. happen all the time, and we need to be ready to “roll with the punches,” if our plans for healthy living are to succeed.

What are some signs that a desire for a healthier life is more of an obsession, rather than a healthy intention?

1. Attempting to reach a weight loss goal at a rate of anything more than 1-2 pounds per week (unless under the strict orders and direction of a physician). This is the recommended rate of weight loss that has been agreed upon by experts for decades, and when I look back at my own weight loss journey, this was the average rate, over a 14-month period. And it’s important, once again, to keep the “big picture” in mind—there might be some weeks when a person might lose 3-5 pounds or more, and in another week not lose any, or even gain a pound or two. It’s the trend over time that matters. This is my biggest complaint about shows like a new one on TLC called “Fat Chance,” wherein a person attempts to lose an amount of weight in a certain amount of time, in order to become more appealing (in his or her own mind) to another person. In the first episode, Daniel set a goal of losing 84 pounds in  90 days. That’s a little more than 6.5 pounds per week! If we’re attempting this rate of weight loss, it’s going to involve adjusting your lifestyle in such a way that the weight loss becomes the primary focus of your life—and that means it’s not “just the way that you live.” Drastic, sudden changes to eating habits, as well as level of activity, will be necessary. This can easily lead to disappointment, frustration, and other negative emotions, to say nothing of the fact that it can potentially lead to injury (through excessive or improperly done exercise, or malnutrition). Far better to adopt eating habits and exercise routines that support good health all the time, not just while attempting to reach a specific goal.

2. Feeling excessive irritation and anger when “life happens” and our plans are disrupted. I woke up last Thursday with the intention to go to the gym and do cardio. About 20 minutes before leaving the house, I learned that others in the family had made plans that weren’t going to allow me to do this. While I could have gotten angry, made a big deal of it, and, basically thrown a temper tantrum, I decided to simply take the morning off, and enjoy a little bit of extra free time. Since my overall pattern of cardio, weightlifting, eating habits, etc. is consistent, an occasional, unplanned, day off doesn’t negatively impact my long-term goals in the least. If anything, it’s beneficial, allowing the body time to more fully rest and recover.

3. Feeling that missed workouts must be “made up” at another time during the day or week. This was once a big one for me. Back in the 1980s, right after I’d lost a lot of weight, I walked 6 miles or more every day. Six was (in my mind) the minimum. If I couldn’t get the 6 miles in the morning, then I’d feel that I had to get it later in the day, or, make up for it with additional walks during the week. 42-mile weeks were nothing to me, and I’d often get 50+, even, on occasion, getting 60+. I still remember the way that it would “hang over my head” if I hadn’t yet reached the six miles for the day. The nagging feeling would distract me from living fully in the moment, and I am sure that I often gave up time that would have been better spent with family, just so that I could “get those miles.”

4. Feeling strongly about just giving up, if and when things don’t go according to plan. Self-explanatory, but I think it applies especially to weight loss. You may remember reading about my experience losing weight along with my parents: I had lost 42 pounds, but, upon discovering my dad’s secret cache of cookies in the freezer, just gave up and regained the lost weight and more.

I think you get the idea. A sure sign that you’ve got the right perspective about all of this, is that you’re ready to “go with the flow” when necessary, and have no problem getting back on track at the earliest opportunity. Remember…

Keep the big picture in mind; it’s the trend over time that matters the most.

 

Spirit and Soul

What’s the difference?

Both may be defined as “the nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character” and are often used interchangeably. But over the years, I’ve come to regard these words as distinct from each other, although they do share the feature of being “the nonphysical part of a person.”

Before proceeding, I must state that I owe much of my thinking about this subject to the author, Thomas Moore, who, in his excellent book Care of the Soul, explores the differences in great detail. I first read this book nearly twenty-five years ago, and have recently returned to it, along with one of its sequels, Soul Mates. Moore is a fascinating person, with a background that includes music, seminary, religious life, and Jungian psychology. Other authors whose works have contributed to my thoughts about spirit and soul include Erik RoutleyMary McDermott Shideler, and Madeleine L’Engle. I encourage you to explore their work.

I’m not attempting an academic, historical research project on these words, but rather, an essay on facets of our inner being, born from my own contemplation over the years. Whether my thoughts fit with traditional, philosophical, or theological doctrines isn’t really important (though I write from within Christian tradition and experience); that’s not my purpose here. I believe that we all, to greater or lesser degree, spend at least some of our time in reflection and introspection, and what follows is my attempt to offer some perspective on this activity.

The ancient Hebrew and Greek words, “ruach” and “pneuma,” respectively, are both used for “spirit.” The same words are also used for “wind,” and “breath.” This suggests that “spirit” is associated with movement, vitality, and power. It is dynamic. In our experiences, spirit is associated with inspiration, with single-minded focus, and with feeling energized to accomplish a specific goal or task. Inspiration can result in the sudden production of literary or artistic works, or to the exceptional performance of a musician, dancer, or other performing artist. During the inspired phase, the individual is completely “taken up” with the task at hand, and other thoughts are eclipsed or submerged. Inspiration is sudden, focused, and has immediate, obvious, effect.

Soul, on the other hand, may be thought of as that part of our inner being where our conscious thought does not dwell; where we find the seat of emotional responses, “gut” feelings, and the like. The etymology of the word soul includes Germanic influence, and carries the meaning of “coming from the sea, or lake.” Borrowing a metaphor from Genesis, it is akin to “the Spirit of the LORD was brooding over the face of the waters.” Brooding describes the act of the mother hen, resting upon her eggs until they hatch. The verse from Genesis provides us with the idea that before God unleashes the life-giving energy of creation (“Let there be light”), there was a period of stillness, of waiting—this “brooding over the face of the waters.”  If “spirit” is likened to inspiration, with its sudden burst of creative energy and action, “soul” is more associated with depth of emotion, with sub or even unconscious rumination, and those parts of ourselves that find (often inexplicable) pleasure or satisfaction in things, places, relationships, and so on. Moore uses the word “attachment” to describe the longing of the soul—the desire for connection. In contrast, he describes the desire of the spirit to be unattached, free, and energized to pursue a lofty goal.

I like the word fermentation to describe some of what happens in the soul—a word we use to describe the process whereby pickles are made, beer and wine are produced, cheese is made, and yeast breads are leavened. All of these processes involve combining ingredients and allowing them to develop over time. It’s worth noting that most of these processes involve the anaerobic action of bacteria or yeast. They happen without air, “under the surface,” and often “in the dark.” While each of these processes requires being set in motion, after the initial “getting started,” there follows a period of simply waiting, while the microbes do their work. Sometimes, during the waiting period, brief acts of tending are needed to keep the process headed in the right direction—taking the lid off and stirring, adding more ingredients, pouring from one vessel to another, etc. This quiet and subsurface “percolating” often goes completely unnoticed by us until it has begun to manifest itself in emotional states we cannot explain, feelings of sadness with no apparent cause, or, conversely, experiences of sublime joy or satisfaction.

Fermentation, or “soul work” is probably always happening, to greater or lesser degree, deep inside all of us. Some of us never take the time to take the lid off the pot and tend it, or, to even see that anything is there at all. Sadly, I believe that a lot of people aren’t even self-aware enough to engage in this kind of self-reflection. I can’t help but wonder if this becomes the root (or at least a contributing factor) of issues such as addiction, depression, neuroses, etc.

Left alone, most fermenting substances will eventually spoil from lack of tending, or failing to properly preserve the resulting product at the end of the process. Take sourdough bread starter, for example. It needs to be fed every few days by stirring in additional flour, and the liquid “hooch” skimmed off the top. Properly tended in this way, it can be kept going indefinitely, with bread being made from it on a regular basis. It can also be left alone for longer periods, in a cool, dark location, and allowed to go almost dormant. Later, it can be revitalized by discarding a large portion of it, and adding the remnant to a new batch of flour, in effect, starting over.

What are the kinds of things that end up “in the pot,” hidden in the recesses of our souls? Here, undetected by others and sometimes even by ourselves, these powerful elements combine with the raw, primal pieces of our personality and identity, and form a lush, fecund “soil” where the various aspects of “who we are” take root, grow, and blossom. For me, relationships, treasured items, special places, music (both listening and performing), cooking, and special occasions, all belong on the short list of the things that I find “in the pot.”

Both of these facets of our being, spirit and soul, though they may be distinct from, cannot and must not be separated from the physical parts of our essence. Being human is being fully alive in our own bodies, along with these non-corporeal parts we’re discussing here. As we care for the body (or should), I believe we do ourselves a great service by also attending to the needs of the soul and spirit.

Thoughts? Feel free to comment, and begin a discussion!

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Before and After

Several years ago, a man named John Stone turned a personal weight loss/fitness journey into a thriving website by taking pictures of himself each day as he transformed his body. Unlike him, at the beginning of my journey, I did everything possible to make sure that my picture was not taken!

I couldn’t avoid the camera all the time, though, and, looking through some old pictures, I found these gems:

Before1Before2

These were taken July 4, 1981, and I’d actually lost about 30 lbs. at this point (putting me at 255 lbs). I was nearly two months into my weight loss plan to lose 50 lbs by the beginning of the 1981-82 school year. If I remember correctly, those jeans I’m wearing were probably 46-inch waist (down from the 48 and 50-inch waist pants I’d worn a few months prior to this picture), 32-inch inseam, and the shirt was an eighteen, sleeve length unknown, probably 35/36.

This is me, now, at 165 lbs; pants are 34/32, shirt is 15.5, slim fit, 34/35 sleeve:

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I’m posting these to provide readers with a “real life” example of before and after pictures of a big weight loss (135 pounds, total). In this case, weight loss followed by nearly 34 years of learning how to eat, and exercise. During the last 2 years, especially, I’ve come to feel very good about the balance between cardiovascular exercise and weightlifting that I’m doing—and that’s been a journey in itself, with a lot of experimentation and “tinkering.” More about that in future posts.

With all of these posts about health, fitness, weight loss, etc. I’m hoping to provide encouragement and “food for thought” for those who may be about to embark on their own journey to better health. I have always believed that if I can do it, then anybody can do it, and I still believe that today. All it takes is desire, information, persistence, and perspective.

Exercise? Who has time for that?

Exercise? Who has time for that?

This is the number one reason that I hear from people, regarding why they don’t exercise. And I get it. Work, school, civic organizations, church, family responsibilities, house work… the list of activities that take our time goes on and on. And the things I just mentioned are all legitimate, reasonable, even admirable, ways for us to spend our time. You can probably think of more.

But… if we really want to do all that we can to keep ourselves in optimum health…

Let’s reflect back for a moment, to the “tripod” that I’ve mentioned before:

1. Generally taking care of yourself (regular checkups, following doctor’s orders, managing stress, getting enough sleep, etc.)

2. Fueling your body with proper nutrition.

3. Physical exercise.

I propose that if you’re too busy to exercise, you’re too busy. It may be necessary to reevaluate your priorities, and make some adjustments to your routine. Or, maybe it’s just a matter of being creative with the forms of exercise you choose. (If you haven’t yet made the list described here, now would be a good time.) Most of us have discretionary time in our week that we don’t realize that we have; the key is to find out where that time is going, and how to use it to create time for workouts. Having said that, it may, at the present time, actually be impossible for you to make time for workouts in your schedule. Perhaps you’ve accumulated an over-large list of responsibilities, or they have simply fallen to you for one reason or another. No need to despair; even in such circumstances, it’s usually possible to add beneficial physical activity to your routine, until such time as you’re able to begin a more structured fitness regimen. Examples of this kind of thing include:

1. Parking the car farther way from your destination to increase walking distance.

2. Taking the stairs rather than the elevator. “But I need to get to the fifteenth floor,” you say. Then take the stairs to the second floor, before you get on the elevator. Make it the third floor after a couple of days, and so on.

3. Walking whenever possible. Need something from the store down the street? Walk. I live two blocks from a drugstore, yet I often drive to get there (mostly in bad weather). I remember visiting New York City, and walking far greater distances!

4. Riding a bicycle.

Just don’t give up on the idea of becoming more fit! Where there’s a will, there’s a way, as the old saying goes.

If you’ve decided that you do have time in your life for some sort of exercise regimen, then I recommend that you do some research about exercise and fitness. Find out for yourself. Sure, you could just find a good personal trainer and/or nutritionist, but there is an extraordinary amount of information readily available online. The United States government has information here, and this website is packed with information about types and execution of many forms of exercise.

Some points worth remembering:

1. Check with your primary care physician before beginning any weight loss or exercise plan.

2. Make time for cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise, and resistance training (anaerobic) exercise. Both are important, and contribute to overall good health in different ways.

3. Learn about maximum heart rate and how it relates to exercise.

4. Choose exercises that you enjoy doing.

5. Build flexibility and variety into your regimen.

6. Don’t become a prisoner of your own plan and expectations. There’s no quicker path to feeling like you might just as well give up, than to bind yourself rigidly to a fixed plan. Be forgiving of yourself when you aren’t able to accomplish what you originally intended for a day. I’ve been guilty of this myself; beating myself up because I didn’t accomplish all that I had in mind for the day, for only walking 6 miles, instead of 9, only doing 20 minutes of cardio, instead of 45, etc. Be prepared to change your plans at the last minute. On days when I’m not sure that I’ll be able to exercise or not, I pack my gym bag anyway, and have it with me throughout the day. Just yesterday I was able to take advantage of an unexpected opening in my schedule to insert a weightlifting workout into my day. This wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t brought my prepared gym bag with me that morning. Always allow for variation and flexibility. You get to the gym and the pool is unexpectedly closed? Get on the treadmill or stationary bike, instead. The gym is busy, and there’s a line waiting to use the flat bench for dumbbell presses? Use a chest press machine instead, or drop to the floor and do old-fashioned pushups. With this kind of mindset, you guard against feeling disappointment, frustration, or even anger, that things didn’t work out exactly the way you wanted.

And, when it gets right down to it, that’s a good outlook for life in general, isn’t it?

Get past the hard part.

Most of my recent posts have been about eating habits and food. In this post, I want to talk about exercising.

One of my favorite quotes, attributed to Woody Allen, goes something like this: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” It seems like a stretch to give that much importance to “just showing up,” but, I’ve been a teacher for too long, and been at this “fitness thing” for too long, not to realize that there’s a lot of truth here.

Just show up. Go to class, keep your appointments, go to work, go to the gym. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve made plans to go to the gym the next morning, for weightlifting, for cardio, for swimming, etc., only to get out of bed and feel that I just didn’t want to do it. And, to be honest, sometimes I decided to change my plans and not go. But more often than not, I’d go about my morning routine, and, an hour or so after rising, though my “heart may not have been in it,” I’d get myself and my stuff together, and GO. While traveling to the gym, I’d often still feel that I didn’t really want to exercise.

But then a strange thing would happen. I’d park, get out of the car, get my bag, and enter the building. At some point in the doing of that, something would happen inside of me, and the “just do it” reflex would take over. I’d go in, get changed, and lift, do cardio, or swim.

It took getting there to “get me in gear” to do the workout. And often, these workouts would be ones that I felt really good about afterward!

Backing up a bit, it’s important to distinguish between your body sending you a message that you need to take an unscheduled day off for rest, and a mere “blah” morning, where you’re just slow getting started for the day. In fact, it’s very important that you pay attention to how you’re feeling physically, and to take an unscheduled day off now and then. Your body needs time to rest, repair, and build itself, and its schedule doesn’t necessarily align with whatever plan you may be following (and that’s one reason why I like to keep a lot of flexibility in my routine).

Getting back to the point of today’s post—sometimes the hardest part of getting your workout done is simply getting yourself to the place where you’re going to do it.

From time to time I’m asked about exercise equipment for the home. Treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, weightlifting apparatuses, etc. are all available for home use. My response to such inquiries? Exercise equipment for the home often becomes a clothes rack. I’m sure this isn’t true for everybody, but in my experience, home exercise equipment is just not used very much. Because the exercises can be done at any time, they’re never done. The convenience of owning the equipment, which we think will help us to exercise more regularly, ends up enabling our tendency to procrastinate. Furthermore, you have to find space somewhere in your home to house the equipment, and you have to maintain it (which means paying for repairs if and when that’s necessary).

For me, weighing the costs/benefits of a gym membership versus having equipment at home, leads me to the conclusion that the gym membership is worth every penny. The gym maintains the equipment, there is a greater variety of exercises available, I don’t have to find space in my home for equipment, and I have to get to the gym if I’m going to work out. If you’re paying for a gym membership, you’re more likely to use it. If you drive yourself to the gym, you’re more likely to work out. If you’re the type of person that enjoys exercising in a group, or even with just one workout partner, the gym provides ample space for that, as well.

Just show up; that might just be the hardest part of the workout.

Spicy Whole-Grain Pancakes

Serves 3-4, making 6 medium large-sized pancakes.

Ingredients:

  1. 1/2 cup stone ground 100% whole wheat flour
  2. 1/4 cup oat bran
  3. 1/4 cup freshly ground flaxseed
  4. 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  5. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  6. 2 eggs
  7. 1 cup buttermilk (I prefer whole, but low-fat works as well)
  8. Coconut oil
  9. Salt, black pepper, turmeric, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves, all to taste (I don’t measure any of these. I use 2 pinches kosher salt, several “cranks” of my pepper mill, a generous amount (probably a teaspoon or so) of turmeric, ground ginger, and cinnamon, about 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg, 2-3 whole allspice, and a pinch of ground cloves.
  10. Maple syrup (or topping of your choice)

Place a large skillet over medium heat. Put a medium sized metal bowl in the skillet and add some coconut oil (I don’t measure it; probably 1-2 tablespoons). Allow this to melt while assembling rest of ingredients.

If you don’t have a cheap coffee grinder that’s dedicated to grinding spices and flaxseed, then I suggest you get one; I use mine all the time! It’s needed for the next step, which is to grind 1/4 cup whole flaxseed. If you’re using whole spices, they can be added to the grinder at this point, too.

In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the wheat flour, oat bran, ground flaxseed, spices, baking powder, and baking soda (I use a wire whisk for this).

Remove the metal bowl with the melted coconut from the skillet, and whisk two whole eggs (I use jumbo) into the oil. Still using the whisk, add the cup of buttermilk.

Pour dry ingredients into the bowl with the egg/buttermilk mixture. Stir and fold gently with a spatula, until well combined. Ground flaxseed can sometimes form clumps when added to liquid, so watch for these, and simply break them up with the spatula.

Add some coconut oil to the skillet (probably about a tablespoon), and spread it around with a cooking spatula, or just pick the skillet up and swirl it around. You will know that your skillet is at the right temperature if the oil is beginning to smoke.

Pour “a pancake amount of” batter into the skillet. If it seems thick, you may need to use the spatula to gently spread it. My skillet is large enough to make 3 medium large-sized pancakes at once, and this recipe makes 6. Smaller ones are easier to handle, so if you’re inexperienced, start with smaller ones.

Cook for a few minutes. Ordinary pancakes will start to show bubbles breaking the surface of the batter when they’re ready to flip, but these are more dense, and usually don’t. Flip them and cook for a few minutes longer. Remove from heat, and place them on a plate in a low-heat oven to keep them warm while you continue making more with the remaining batter, or serve immediately with maple syrup.

*Additional thoughts: the spices are completely up to you. I made these for a long time using equal parts whole wheat flour and oat bran, but then I started learning of the benefits of freshly ground flaxseed, so I split the oat bran into equal parts oat bran and ground flaxseed. More recently, I’ve been reading about the benefits of turmeric, and that’s how it came to be in the recipe. Somewhere else I read that black pepper somehow enhances the benefit of turmeric, so that’s where that came from. Despite the strange combination of spices, these are surprisingly good. I like them, my daughter likes them, and my 8-month old grandson likes them.

Let me know if you try them!

Habits of Success

I want to state very clearly, right from the start, that these are what work for me. They may, or may not, be right for you. In nearly 36 years of trying to live a healthier life, these “rituals” have become routine for me. (This post is mostly about habits related to food and eating.)

I weigh myself every morning. This was a habit I adopted way back in 1981, when I first made the wager with my friend. Every morning, first thing, before eating or drinking anything, I step on the scales, and record the number. For me, keeping an eye on this number provides me with an indicator of how I’m doing. It is not the only thing I consider. And I’m looking at a weight range, rather than one specific number. For example, I presently weigh between 162 and 166 pounds each morning, and mostly between 164 and 165. Early in my weight-loss journey, this thinking about a range, rather than a number, helped to prevent an unhealthy obsession about whether or not the number was always going down. As long as the overall trend of the range was downward, I was perfectly content (and it’s much more natural for the body to experience this) with a 3-5 lb. fluctuation within the range on a day to day basis. Numerous factors can contribute to the daily fluctuation, such as level of activity the day before, current state of hydration, how late in the day one ate the evening before, bedtime, rising time, etc. (If you’re not aware already, my practice does not align with the recommendations of most “experts” in the field, who suggest weighing oneself only once a week or so.)

I record everything I eat, but I do not count calories. I’ve found that simply making a record of everything that I eat throughout the day keeps me mindful of what, and when, I’ve eaten. I use the notes app on my iPhone, which automatically syncs with my iPad and MacBook. Each day has its own note, and in addition to the food I eat, the note includes the time I get up in the morning, my morning body weight, and details of any exercise I do that day. While I hardly ever go back and look at notes from previous days, I have the information, should I want to go back and examine trends and connections between food, body weight, exercise, etc.

I eat a variety, yet a fairly limited range of foods. By now, I know what’s good for me, what I like, and the foods that meet both of those criteria. That’s why I say that the range of foods is fairly limited. Examine your food list, your treats list, and plan accordingly. Grocery shopping goes hand in hand with this, as you’re doomed to stumble if you don’t have the necessary foods on hand.

I always eat breakfast. My morning begins with a couple of walnut kernels, some medication I take, and a cup of tea with honey. One to two hours later, I’ll eat a more substantial meal. This meal is usually rich in carbohydrates, in the form of old fashioned oats, 100% whole wheat flour, and/or oat bran, and often includes up to a tablespoon of sugar (sometimes white, sometimes brown), and coconut oil or heavy whipping cream. I’ll sometimes make pancakes, and with those come an egg, buttermilk, and maple syrup. I’ve recently added 2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed (I use a cheap coffee grinder for this) to breakfast. Occasionally I’ll have a more traditional breakfast of eggs, bacon, and whole wheat toast. It all depends upon my planned level of activity for the day, and sometimes also takes into account any special occasion meals planned for the day. Lately, my “go to” breakfast has been a bowl of spicy porridge made with oats, oat bran, and ground flaxseed (recipe available upon request).

I try to always have food available. Packing food for work requires some planning, and a little extra time, but it’s worth it in the long run. I never have to worry about getting hungry. Getting hungry puts you at risk for making “not-so-nutritious” choices, or, even worse, becoming ravenous, which usually results in eating too quickly and over eating, even if the food choices are nutritionally sound.

I rarely eat out. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy eating out, but I’ve gotten to the place where if I eat out, it’s almost always a special occasion, or I’m going to go somewhere that I can get something that I can’t make on my own at home. An exception to this might occur if I find myself in unexpected circumstances, without food that I’ve brought myself. In those cases, I’ve learned where to go and what to get. Nutritious options are always available but you need to educate yourself.

I rarely drink alcohol, and never drink soda pop. Water, tea, and coffee are my beverages. Once in a great while I’ll have a glass of wine, or maybe even a shot of good brandy, but these occasions are quite rare; 2-3 times per year, usually. During the Christmas holiday season, we make a homemade “cooked” eggnog, that I’ll drink as a special treat. Another uncommon treat is hot chocolate. These drinks go into the same list for me as “treats” which are discussed here.

I exercise regularly, but we’ll save details about that for another post.

I sleep 6-7.5 hours each night.

Finally, in keeping with the “three factors of healthy living,” I take advantage of regular health checkups provided by my employer, visit my doctor regularly (usually 1-2 times per year, or as needed, and take prescribed medications.

These habits of mine may or may not seem right for you. That’s fine! But it’s my hope that, even if they are not, they will provide you with food for thought, and help you to get started figuring out what WILL work for you.

Best regards,

Ron M.