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Archive for the ‘exercise’ Category

It took the 11 years and four treks, but I’ve made friends with the North Shore of Minnesota – a stretch of Lake Superior shoreline, highway, infamous landmarks, and seasonal resorts.

Up until now, my travels that direction epitomized the word miserable. Few other places in the country boast about bad weather to attract tourists, but for those in Duluth and points north along the treacherous northwest shore of Lake Superior, bad weather is a piece of nearly every historical moment worth noting. For me, one late summer trip several years ago featured horizontal rain and high winds for two straight days. A second venture resulted in a foot of snow and high winds. The third trip, a late April getaway, included some sun, but the wind blew so fierce it might as well have been the Antarctic. This pattern seems to be the norm.

The vistas and opportunities to hike, bike and relax in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota are too numerous to ignore…and so away we went on Saturday to kick off Labor Day weekend 2010.

And brother, we hit the weather jackpot.

Two full days of “sunny and mid- to upper-60s farenheit” ruled our short getaway. On Day One, the lofty cotton-ball-esque dotted skies served as a personal tour guide as we hiked miles and miles of the Superior Hiking Trail – enough steps to make our feet, calves, knees and thighs tell us “enough.” If you haven’t stepped onto a piece of the 270-plus miles of this trail, add it to your bucket list. And while you’re at it, make sure to take the Lookout Mountain trail section for a scene unlike any other you’ll find in Minnesota.

That evening we ate and slept in Grand Marais. Our dinner bell rang at The Crooked Spoon, a crowded cafe on Wisconsin Street where the chef served up a wicked lamb tenderloin and the most beautiful leafy green salad I’ve ever seen. And while very much a tourist town, for a Saturday night, Grand Marais seemed very quaint and quiet overlooking a calm Lake Superior.

On a cloudless Day Two, Cheri and I biked the Pincushion Mountain trail, just a couple miles from Grand Marais off the Gunflint Trail highway. Leaving the town, this highway rises over 1,000 feet in just 2.5 miles or so. After completely wasting our legs peddling the mountain bike trail, I coasted back in to Grand Marais – nearing 40 mph on two wheels and barely turning the crank.

Another hike on the Superior Hiking Trail to take in Devil’s Kettle gave new meaning to late summer in Northern Minnesota. As we sat on the rocks of the Brule River watching the falls the color was unbelievable. From the rocks to the sharp dark walls of the river’s gorge to the green chlorophyl-laden shrubs and trees to a clear blue sky. Now that’s what being outdoors is suppose to be about.

Lesson learned. The North Shore may be unforgiving at times with its wind, driving rain and lake effect snows, but pick your moment and place and you can be pleasantly surprised by the gift of such a place. And you may, like me, make friends with a piece of America that you had for awhile given up on.

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It’s an upward spiral that seemingly will not end any time soon.

I’m talking about the cost of health insurance and specifically the cost that you and I – Joe and Jane consumer – get to bear to have adequate health plans that take care of our families.

In this Wall Street Journal story, reporter Avery Johnson notes that the costs employees are expected to kick in to get health insurance through their employers continues to increase – at an alarming rate.

Knock on wood, I’ve generally been a healthy individual throughout my entire life. No broken bones. No chronic conditions. No major hospitalizations, save for a three-day stint of pneumonia that put me in a hospital bed in 2005. I didn’t like it. I’ve not gone back.

My two teenage kids and beautiful wife are also healthy people. So when we open-enroll for health insurance each October/November, it’s usually a fairly quick discussion and selection of the health care plan that includes a higher than average deductible and lower monthly premiums.

Pretty easy until now, that is.

Seems crossing the 45-year-old threshold has me thinking more about health costs as well as retirement planning (which needs to include saving for health care expenses needed after I end my career as a wage earner).

For the past several years I’ve worked in the health care industry. First for the world’s largest medical device manufacturer and now for the world’s largest health plan insurer. My eyes are open to the ways of health plan coverage and the costs associated with them. I’ve developed strong opinions on the use of medical technology to prolong life.

And as health care reform goes into the implementation stage during the next several years, I hope the very industry I work in gets smart at finding ways to help individuals manage their own care intelligently.

  • A focus on health and wellness early in life.
  • Assistance with the obesity epidemic in a way that makes sense (personal health coaches are already being offered through many work plans, but at a cost to everyone not just those who are affected).
  • Common sense approaches (and cost savings) for families and individuals who are above average on the health front and take the necessary measures to stay healthy.

By putting the onus on individuals to adopt healthier lifestyles, stay healthy and make smart health care decisions, Americans should be able to get the care they need when they need it at a cost that is affordable. Sounds so simple, but my gut tells me we remain a long, long, long way away from making that a reality in our country.

As with any major change, it happens in small steps. We first must get everyone pointed in the same direction before the big flywheel will start to turn (aka Jim Collins, “Good to Great).  This happens through various agents including our own federal government launching new laws and programs. But people, we can’t rely on the government to make the change for us.

In the end, our health and well being is up to each of us. Truly. We own it. And if we expect to have access to the best health care in the world, then we better start taking care of ourselves.

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It’s heeeeeeeeeere: 2009. Well almost here. It’ll be here when we’re all kissing our sweethearts on New Year’s Eve and falling into bed at 12:06 a.m.

I’m not a resolution guy.  Perhaps it’s because resolutions like, “I will exercise more,” only focus on the “do” in our lives and not on the “be.”  And the “do” we do is done for all the wrong reasons. We “do” something so we can “have” something so we can “be” something else. When we fail on the “do,” the wheels of the plan come off entirely.

So instead of resolving to do something, I’m focusing on being.  It starts with  finding the one area of life you want to positively change, then selecting a word to guide you through the year. Pick a word to remind you to live life on the “be” level.  Instead of “get fit” (do), perhaps you choose the word “health” and focus on making healthy choices the entire year.

My word? Bold.

Short back story: Through the past couple of decades, I got rutted in letting life happen to me. In that time many positive and wonderful things did happen. But I didn’t necessarily play a hand in carving the path with my own machete. No, the path was mostly pre-paved leading to a glass that was just three-quarters full when it should be brimming. My word “bold” will enable me to top off the glass each day – living life intentionally at work, in relationships, at home, in my desire to be fit and happy et al.  With this in the forefront, I’ll change behavior, live more purposefully and take myself out of life on the periphery.

I’ve already practiced using my word in recent weeks. It’s presented me with challenges and  anxious moments resulting in sleepless nights, like any shift in life presents. Being bold has risks, but it’s a step in a direction I must take. Plus, it’s exhilarating to hear my own voice when I say out loud the things that would have previously gone unsaid or take action on something I would have only thought (mightily) about.

I’ll kick bold into full throttle in January and post on my successes and failures during the year.

In the meantime, I’ve picked this John Mayer cover of “Bold as Love” by Jimi Hendrix as my theme song. We all need anthems in life.

Happy New Year. Make it a bold one.

Lyrics

Anger he smiles, towering in shiny metallic purple armour
Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him
Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground

Blue are the life-giving waters taken for granted
They quietly understand
The once happy turquoise armies lay opposite, ready
But wonder why the fight is on

But they’re all, they’re bold as love, yeah
They’re all, they’re bold as love, love, love
They’re all, they’re bold as love
Just ask the axis

My red is so confident, he flashes trophies of war
And ribbons of euphoria
Orange is young, full of daring
But it, it’s very unsteady for the first go round

My yellow in this case is not so mellow
In fact I’m trying to say it’s frightened like me
And all these emotions of mine keep holding me from
Giving my life to a rainbow like you

But I’m, I’m bold, I’m bold as love, yeah
I’m bold, I’m bold as love, love, love
I’m bold, I’m bold as love
Just ask the axis

He knows, he knows, he knows
He knows everything

I’m, I’m bold, I’m bold as love, yeah
I’m bold, I’m bold as love, ohh
Been talkin’ to ya
I’m bold, I’m bold as love, yeah.

P.S.  Be sure to wait an extra second on New Year’s Eve before planting that first kiss. A leap second has been added to the clock by the U.S. Naval Observatory. This will be the 24th leap second added since 1972. Thanks U.S. Naval Observatory clock watchers.

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This article in The New York Times does an injustice to all practical thinkers when it comes to exercise and living  a healthy lifestyle.

Since forever we’ve known regular exercise, even a little, will deliver a multitude of benefits. So today, in the midst of the obesity epidemic – when the average Cinnabon is roughly the circumference of a toddler’s head – do we need scientific studies and exercise experts to further convince the bulk of people in the world (and believe me, “bulk” is the key word in this sentence) who are living a sedentary lifestyle that exercise is pointless?

Here’s a short excerpt from the article…

Exercise alone, in the absence of weight loss, has not been shown to reduce blood pressure. Nor does it make much difference in cholesterol levels. Weight loss can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but if you want to lose weight, you have to diet as well as exercise. Exercise alone has not been shown to bring sustained weight loss. Just ask Steven Blair, an exercise researcher at the University of South Carolina. He runs every day and even runs marathons. But, he adds, “I was short, fat and bald when I started running, and I’m still short, fat and bald. Weight control is difficult for me. I fight the losing battle.”

The difficulty, Dr. Blair says, is that it’s much easier to eat 1,000 calories than to burn off 1,000 calories with exercise. As he relates, “An old football coach used to say, ‘I have all my assistants running five miles a day, but they eat 10 miles a day.’”

exerciseMany of us fight the battle of the bulge during our lifetimes. I’ve never delivered on my promise to develop rock hard abs. Even in my best shape, God didn’t grant me Dennis Quaid-like genetics. I know, damn. But this shortcoming doesn’t mean I won’t do crunches four days a week, run or ride three days a week and lift weights twice a week. I fully believe that without exercise I would quickly balloon to 250, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol (mine is 162) and suffer from sleep apnea. So I exercise, eat a balanced diet and strive to keep my metabolism high. Yeah, I’m still soft in spots but imagine what I might look like if I did nothing?

Science that suggests people leave exercise out of the mix of options is not helpful science. The obesity epidemic is contributing to a diabetes crisis, which will in turn contribute to more people with heart disease and a handful of other chronic conditions – which will result in health care costs continuing to sky rocket.  We each must fight our bulge battles no matter what science tells us about the advantages (or disadvantages) of exercise. We each must model good health behaviors for our children if we wish for them to live long and active lives. We each must get out of the recliner and into our tennis shoes for a walk, a ride, a pilates regime, a run – even if only around the block.

What we DO know about exercise, that fewer children are actually doing it and more and more kids are obese in our world, seems to deliver the loudest message of all. A message we need to reshape. Literally.

I’ll meet you at 5.  Bring your workout gear.

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Age Defying

I’m showing my age.

At least parts of me are starting to reveal my 40-something-ness. And while my spirit and mental age might be 36.8-years-old (according to results from this test on realage.com), other external signs sing a different tune. I urge you all to take the test, by the way. It’s simple, yet revealing.

Many of you know I’m adopted. I’ve not done a search for either of my birth parents, so my biological history is an unknown. It might be interesting to know what’s in store for me – especially considering the various serious health conditions that I could face, like heart disease and diabetes. But there’s a bit of excitement watching each day unfold not knowing what to expect as well. And as long as I’m taking care of myself, living a healthy lifestyle and getting my share of physical activity on a regular basis, I’m okay letting the chips fall where they may.

Part of the excitement (attention getting change) noted in the paragraph above started to reveal itself a couple years ago. That’s when I first noticed a very, very white eyebrow hair growing from my right brow. Something just didn’t belong. It has reappeared ever since and, more recently, I found a similarly white-ish hair coming from my head. Then, just last month, a white chest hair. Tell tale signs? No one knows, including me. Perhaps in my retirement years I’ll be playing Santa Claus with truly natural all white hair, mustache and beard.

There are other signs as well (I seem a little more jowly and my muscles and joints require more time to recover after strenuous physical activity). I’ll stave off the external and physical changes as long as possible by taking care of the body I’ve been given.

In the meantime, I’ll go with the 36.8 year-old-mantra and act my “real age.” At least until the white hair thing becomes visible to one and all.

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I’m not an avid cyclist. I enjoy it. It’s a hobby to me. In the course of a summer, which is short here in Minnesota, I may log 1,500 miles on my bikes. I know that’s a small number compared to the die hards – heck it’s small even compared to some casual riders I know. But I’m making no excuses. I like cycling. I like it most when the weather is good, the wind is minimal, there is no rain, it’s not to hot.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a fair-weather cyclist. There. I said it.

So this weekend the tri club has one of its monthly century rides planned and I’m all in. It’s a supported ride and no one gets left behind (sounds awfully familiar). What’s more, the weather is suppose to be fair and mild on Saturday. My thinking is, without a lot of prep, I can join up and spend several hours logging the century without my legs seizing up and without killing myself trying to keep up with those younger guys (cough) setting the pace out front.

My main form of preparation for the ride? Seeing the BoDeans in concert on Friday evening at Stillwater’s Lumberjack Days event. Beer tent anyone? I think I’ll refer to this as carbo-loading.  And if Saturday morning comes to early following the activities of Friday night, that century ride can wait.

See, I told you – fair weather.

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I’m 195 pounds of flesh, bone, muscle and…sadly…a tad bit too much body fat hanging off my 6’2″ frame.  I’m also 42, which is not an excuse, but an explanation.

You see, at 39 and 40 I worked hard and built myself into really good shape. A proper combination of height, weight and musculature. It took effort – especially after growing up as the “heavy kid” in school. I vividly remember when I was 12 or so and my Mom bought my first pair of jeans with the “husky” label in the waist band. Ugh.

Flash forward 30 years and at 40 I was a svelt 182 pounds. My size 34 Levis were loose around my waist at that time and I liked it. I liked me at 13 percent body fat.  But is that realistic? I’m finding that just two years later, my goals should probably be reconfigured.

Even with regular fitness training including weights, cycling and running, I’m 15 pounds heavier and it shows! Sure, my diet isn’t as “clean” as I’d like it to be. Yes, I have an 8-5 job that keeps me glued to my desk chair five days a week. So the middle-age spread is upon me.  Do I accept it? Or do I fight it?

I’m a fighter.

As I sign myself up for several triathlons this season and perform the training regimen that needs to be undertaken in order to complete said tris without totally embarrassing myself, I find I’m eagerly looking forward to the hour I spend each day in the gym or on the pavement.  I have this innate desire to be leaner even if I can’t be that svelt 182 pound-13-percent-bodyfat guy again. Just to get where I can get from my personal effort – and, if I’m lucky, watch the chub melt from above my waist line and feel the firmness of my bicep or pectoral.

We live in a country where focus on body type is SO out there…so important. Ironically, America has also become one of the most obese nations on the planet. Slothy, lazy habits have replaced activities among our children and the best thing I can do as a Dad is serve as an example to my own two teens that no matter how old you get, it’s better to stay active and have fun doing it – so you can feel good about yourself and your accomplishements – and STILL enjoy the occasional plate of nachos when you feel like it.

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