Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Retrain the brain to expect movement

I love turtles but I don't want to look like one.

Inertia: A body at rest tends to stay at rest.

Don’t I know it. Especially since my comfort zone — where I live these days — is something akin to a hypnotic state: fingers on keyboard, words sliding from brain to laptop monitor with pauses for “delete.” The only thing is motion is the fizz in my Diet Coke.

With deskwork, especially deskwork when you’re alone at home without others to enliven the atmosphere, you must resist, resist, resist this state of rest. Inertia feels good but it has unfortunate lasting effects. To slip unawares into that category fitness experts term “sedentary” is not good.

Biologist, author and ultra-marathon runner Bernd Heinrich studied metabolism in animals such as the insanely hyperactive hummingbird. He applied what he learned to his mid-life goal of running a 50-plus mile race, something he’d never done before. He substituted running for walking in his day-to-day life. Instead of walking to his car in the morning, he ran. Instead of walking to classes (he was a professor of biology in Vermont at the time), he ran. He ran into the market for milk. He ran from the garage to his house. His body’s default mode, then, became running.

Can desk-bound workers be anything other than sedentary?

I think so. Set your digital watch to go off every hour, get up, move around, lift some light weights, stretch. Good. Now you can sit down and go back to work. Also, try to join me for this 100-day “break a sweat” challenge so you work out at your own pace for 30 minutes a day, as well. And stop loving your office chair.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fun or depression? This one is easy

The new Frank Gehry building (directly above)
in Lower Manhattan is quite spectacular
and especially photogenic. On my morning runs,
I often pass by a Gehry building on the West Side Highway (top photo).

I am glad to have made the 100-day anti-inertia pledge. It saved me from what could easily have been a Lost Weekend.

Sunday morning I re-injured my knee after months of knee rehab I devised and conducted on my own. I had carefully, slowly worked up to my old 3-mile jogging loop. I achieved that goal only last week. And…on Friday night just before Jim and I were to make a martini toast to the upcoming weekend, I got one of those emails that make you afraid to read email ever again.

Because of the injury and the email, I wanted to pull the shades and open up “Townie,” the mesmerizing book by Andre Dubus III I’m reviewing this week. Reading, especially when a book review is due Wednesday, is a great excuse to duck out for a long break. Another attractive option was a 12-hour Law & Order marathon. And the Saturday night dinner invitation I had once been looking forward to began to feel like maybe I’d be doing everybody a favor if I just pulled the covers over my head and waited to see if, as Jim suggested, “this too shall pass.”

But I’d just started this “break a sweat and defy inertia” vow. Wasn’t the pledge made for days just like these? The pledge: 30 minutes of sweaty activity daily. It is meant to keep me and those who join me moving because there isn’t enough time spent in mindless, joyful moving each day. The pledge gets you out there, doing things that approximate living beyond the desk and the couch. It should feel like play. The point is to get a little sweaty, feel good and have some fun doing it. Try not to think of it as exercise but as fun.

So, wanting to put the email behind me, I asked Jim if he’d like to take a walk on Saturday morning. We went all over Greenwich Village. We picked up roasted coffee beans at Porto Rico and fresh vegetables at Chelsea Market and doughnuts at Donut Pub. Undoubtedly the doughnuts were the best part. I had, over the course of the day, 3 or 4 doughnut holes, and it was great. When we got back to the apartment I spent at least 45 minutes cutting up lots of veggies for a salad I promised to bring to dinner — not that green pepper, cukes or sugar snap peas could offset the fat in those crispy doughnut holes. (Theory: doughnut holes are more delicious than a doughnut because there's more surface area to absorb hot fat.)

Sunday after my knee injury, I took naproxen to reduce the swelling and then we set off for Lower Manhattan to see the breathtaking Frank Gehry building under construction and the progress of the ground zero memorial. September marks the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the twin towers and the plan is to have some part of the memorial completed. More on this another time, but here’s a link to an article about the new Gehry building, published last week in the NY Times.

Good luck to everyone this week. I intend to keep posting about fun activities that get me up and away from the desk and the emails I can’t do a thing about.

If you would like to make a guest blog appearance to write about something fun you, please let me know. I’d like for others to share this space. Snow shoeing in Vermont or Dixville Notch? Line dancing in California? Kayaking in the Keys? Tennis in Montecito? There’s room for you here! I know you’re out there having fun!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Office chair or butt suction cup?

For Jack LaLanne: 100 Sweaty Days

Day No. 2

Beware the term "ergonomically" correct.
What that really means is comfort so fabulous
that you want to work and work and work....
and never get off your spreading hind quarters

My anti-inertia campaign — get up and get moving — is really about defying gravity. Today I’m paying tribute to one of the greatest gravity enablers of all times: the office chair.

If your livelihood has anything at all to do with a chair and a desk, for instance, you know that pleasant feeling of a butt nicely settled into a molded seat. Even the thought of a trip to the bathroom or lunchroom might encounter a bit of resistance. Oh, but I’m sooooo comfy right here.

In fact, the office chair is right up there with the French fry as a work of genius meant to do us in. An office chair conspires with inertia. An office chair is the boss’s suction cup: holding you tight to the task at hand.

In this amazing time of revolt and change, I say: Put the office chair in its place. Get up and move. 30 minutes of activity today during which time you note a bit of sweat percolating forth. Show that chair who’s really boss.

Day 2:

Today I did 20 minutes of upper body exercises (some on the floor) with Kathy Smith (ancient DVD). Next time I try this I’ll vacuum the rug first. To come today: 10 minutes of ab crunches. I promise.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

For Jack LaLanne: 100 Sweaty Days

Jack LaLanne said he never liked working out.
He did it to stay fit and healthy.
Dying, he joked, would ruin his image.

Sweaty Day No. 1: 2.10.11

In winter it’s just too easy to blow off exercise. If you read Mark Bittman’s blog (my favorite food writer and a runner but not much of a blogger) on the Runner’s World website, you’ll see that even people like Bittman, who are very much in the public eye, can go embarrassingly inert. Not good.

This winter I have maintained a sluggish habit of jogging three days a week and that’s only because everything is so easy when I’m in Manhattan. There’s a fabulous path that’s snow and ice free along the Hudson River mere minutes from the apartment. And there’s a gym that costs me $10 a year that’s just around the corner. It even has free yoga. Once in a while I actually go there and run on the treadmill or try out the Stairmaster, which I don’t understand but it still hurts.

But my exercise is sluggish because I have a knee injury and because I am lazy and because it is cold. For me, cold is no excuse because I have all the right gear. For example, it’s cold and breezy and feels like 12 degrees right now. On my sluggish trot just now, I was way too hot. I had become a mobile sauna and my glasses fogged up.

I tallied up my activity this morning and I learned that I move fast — relatively speaking — about three hours a week. I walk a lot, but I don’t count that because days can go by, as well, when I don’t leave my desk except to eat and sleep. I tell anyone who will listen to me complain: I’m embracing my inner lump. I’m lumpish. I’m rolling to a stop.

If I consult activity charts, I’m told I’m sedentary.

The other day I made a Facebook posting that said: I’ve spent the better part of the past 24 hours in front of my computer. And my butt didn’t even hurt. Since my bed is next to my computer I literally don’t even have to stand up straight to move from sleep mode to writing mode. I just sort of roll to work.

This, of course, has to stop. We already know that the more time you spend sitting, the more likely you are to die. Robert Parker, the Boston mystery writer, died at his desk. It’s an honorable death but wouldn’t you rather die running and old? Or at least older than you are right now?

So I’ve decided to declare a “100-day Jack LaLanne Tribute Challenge” in honor of that very likeable and committed “father of the fitness movement” who died on January 23 at the age of 96, and who once showed me how to lift weights — not that I do that with any regularity, either.

I’m going to go outside and work up a sweat every single day for 100 days in hopes that I can reboot myself and in hopes that I can wrestle my inner lump back into its lump cave. I figure if I post this resolution on my blog, which I had abandoned along with everything else because of deadline work, at least I’ll have that pressure to perform. Also, it would really really be fun for others to join me in this challenge and make comments about what it’s like.

Want to?

I’ll post updates now and then about the joys of living vertically. Please feel free to join me. Sometimes maybe we can even go outside and play together!