Sunday, July 29, 2007

Blog 008 - how should we discuss obesity?

Dick Cavett wrote a scathing editorial on obesity that appears in the Sunday July 29th New York Times.

Here is a link:

I agree that something needs to be done to "shock" Americans out of their denial about the harsh consequences of the "poor lifestyle" epidemic (most visibly distinguished by the increasing size of people in our country).

However, I have to believe that the lashing out that Dick Cavett does in his article will only serve to stimulate indignation among obese people, and drive them to become even more entrenched in their denial of their poor lifestyle habits.

Furthermore, I fear that the food industry marketeers will capitalize on the words of people like Mr. Cavett and use their "unfair attacks on obese people" as a reason for obese people to "exercise their freedom to eat and behave as they choose - regardless of the consequences."

Obesity is a major public health issue and the discussion on what to do about it needs to be based less on emotion and more on cold, hard science. And the cold, hard science indicates that being obese is bad for your health - period.

Eating poorly, not exercising, and steadily gaining weight is bad for you as an individual, but also, because of escalating health care costs associated with obesity and poor lifestyle habits, it is bad for our country - very bad!

We should be very careful not to let this discussion degenerate into a "Fat versus Thin" debate with the food industry and their lobbyists acting as the cheerleaders.

I say let's keep the discussion grounded in the facts that are readily available, and keep our personal feelings of loathing or persecution to ourselves.

But, I could be wrong.

Let me know what you think.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Blog 007 - e-mail from Catherine

Listeners to the Fitness Rocks podcast send me some wonderful e-mails sharing their ideas and enthusiasm for living a fit lifestyle. Catherine sent in a list of tips for starting an exercise program that I would like to post in this blog so that others can benefit from her experience getting hooked on working out.

Thanks for your wonderful podcast!  It has helped me finally commit to an exercise routine after (literally) years of being sedentary.  I am a 44-year old mother of two, and am now running (jogging, really)approximately 20 miles each week.

I have some tips that I would love to pass on to your listeners:

*Find a good time to exercise. The time that works for me is 6:00 a.m. I feel like I have already accomplished something at 7:00 a.m.

*Find a good route, if you're running or walking. I find that following the same route every day allows me the psychological satisfaction of knowing how far I've gone and how close I am to home.

*Find a way to make the exercise enjoyable. I look forward to listening to my downloaded podcasts (especially yours!); I try to download podcasts that are approximately 45 minutes long so I don't have to stop my run to reset my ipod. I wish the word could get out about the wonderful variety of free podcasts available on the web.

*If you're walking or running, choose a route that gets you at your furthest point from home at the midpoint of your exercise session. That way, you can't "give up." Even if you walk slowly all the way home, you're still getting exercise.

*Spend some money on your exercise clothes as you begin your new exercise program. In my previous attempts to exercise, I threw on old t-shirts and was constantly trying to roll up the sleeves as I walked or ran. The stopping interrupted my momentum, and I also got very hot. I now have tank tops specifically designed for running, with mesh insets to allow air flow. I can't tell you how much more comfortable I am. I can go further!

*Finally, reward yourself when you're finished. I sit down, read the paper, and drink two large glasses of sugar-free iced tea.

I hope others might benefit from these tips.
Thanks from one in the exercise/fitness trenches--

Great advice - and thanks to everybody who sends me e-mail.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Blog 006 - new york city

The funny thing about vacations is how happy one is upon returning home. This immediately brings up the question “why did I want to go on vacation in the first place?”

I don’t mean to say that we didn’t have fun in New York – we did. We stayed with relatives who took us all over town. We visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, Central Park, 5th Avenue (shopping), and we ate at fabulous restaurants.

My aunt has an apartment in the west village – very posh! We had a whole floor of their apartment to ourselves. There was a great gym just a few blocks away and a grocery store where I could buy fresh fruit. It was almost perfect.

But here’s the deal: first, New York City is a dirty place. I would guess that breathing there is just about as bad for one’s health as smoking – maybe worse. That is a problem that is tough to overlook for a guy who spends his time talking about fitness. I also found that I have become intolerant of unruly crowds of people swarming around me.

New York City is a showplace for what is great about our culture and what is dreadfully wrong with it. Art, architecture, academia, music, theatre, towering buildings that stand as monuments to American business success, it’s all in New York.

But New York is also a place where tourists step over homeless people sleeping against sparkling shops selling diamonds. The mentally ill roam the streets muttering to imaginary listeners and casting wild-eyed paranoid glances at random pedestrians. The smell of roasted nuts and hotdogs mixes with automobile exhaust and the putrid stench of trash. On a corner a hapless man with an infected foot oozing pus onto the sidewalk holds out his hand to the tinted window of a limousine, unable to see if the passenger inside even notices his suffering.

New York City is a conundrum. Should I just stay focused on all there is that is exciting and wonderful, or should I fret and wring my hands about the picture it paints of the growing gap between the very wealthy and the desperately poor in our country?

This morning I woke up in my quaint Cape Cod town. I walked my dog on the quiet street in front of my house while the sun was rising on another beautiful day at the beach. The air was clean and filled with the sounds of birdsong – no deafening roar of traffic here. Less than a three-minute bicycle ride away there were people boarding boats in the harbor anticipating a leisurely day sailing in the pristine water between the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard.

The busy streets of New York could easily be forgotten – but not the haunting image of the old man struggling to push a shopping cart missing one wheel along the uneven sidewalk, or the empty dark eyes of the woman begging for money on the subway platform.

New York City screams the question: “What is my obligation to my fellow human beings, and how do I fulfill it?”

Monte Ladner
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Sunday, July 8, 2007

Blog 005 - vacation fitness

I’ll be leaving for a week of vacation in New York City in a few days. I am looking forward to the museums, some concerts, and just walking around the city.

Of course, there is the downside of travel – staying with a fitness program. Finding a good place to workout and a way to eat healthy food when you’re stuck eating most meals in restaurants can be difficult. But, I have a pretty good system for this.

I’ve already located a gym near where I’m staying. There is a great little store just around the corner that is well-stocked with fresh fruit that I can eat for breakfast and lunch every day. So I’ve got a plan.

The trick to maintaining a fitness program is to make it a priority without making it an obstacle to having fun. Yes, it takes effort, and yes, in the past, I have let the anxiety over missing a workout get in the way of doing other things. I’m much better about that these days. I still workout while I travel, but I look at these workouts as “maintenance workouts” designed to be quick so that they don’t interfere with other plans.

I also look at the week of vacation as a time to “rest.” By rest I don’t mean “do nothing.” I mean ease up on the intensity. It turns out that this is a good thing to do now and then.

There is a line between fanaticism and healthy living – a line that is not always easy to see. Most people would label me a fanatic. I counter this allegation with something I read a long time ago about the amount of physical activity done by an average person living just 50 – 60 years ago in a less mechanized culture.

The article said that the more physically demanding lives of people just a few generations back was about like running a marathon (26.2 miles) every week, or 3.7 miles a day. Were they fanatics? No. They were doing what had to be done to survive, and it required physical activity.

We evolved over many millennia to eat a diet of whole foods and to move around – a lot. Today we are simply out of synch with our genes and the consequence is obesity and chronic disease. Our modern artificial environment does not require the same physically active life that our ancestors faced, even our fairly recent ancestors. This same modern environment confronts us with an abundance of unnaturally poor quality food that we find hard to resist.

To stay fit, therefore, requires that we add an additional layer of artificial living on top of our artificial world. That means we have to make time to run when there is nothing to chase after, and nothing chasing after us. We have to lift heavy objects overhead repeatedly, even though we ultimately intend to leave them on the ground. And we have to look for the quaint little stores that sell food that our ancestors would recognize as food.

I’m not a fanatic. I’m just trying to live the life we evolved to live.

Now, what book should I bring on the trip?

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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Blog 004 - independence day

Today Americans will gather with friends and family to celebrate our nation’s independence. We will have picnics, go to the beach, barbecue, ponder what it means to be a member of a free society, give thanks to those who have served and sacrificed to protect that freedom – and, for tens of millions of Americans, it will be another day to swallow a handful of pills.

Pills to make their blood sugar go down, to make their blood pressure go down, to make their cholesterol go down, and, for a lot of men, pills to make things go up.

People who know they will have a hard time resisting all the food laid in front of them at parties will take pills to make them think they aren’t hungry, or they will succumb to the urge to eat more than they should, but first take a pill that prevents the absorption of the fat they eat – now available without a prescription.

Tonight, after a full day of care-free celebrating, eating too much, and drinking too much, the anxiety of another day back at the office will start to creep into our psyches making slumber seem impossible, and so many of us will pop a pill to fall asleep.

Medical studies assessing the health habits of Americans reveal that today, like all days, only about three percent of us will do all of the following four things to keep us healthy: Eat five or more fruits and vegetables, be careful to maintain our weight in a healthy range, exercise, and avoid smoking. It is because we don’t do these things that we need all the pills.

I propose that we add a new dimension to Independence Day. Why don’t we make it a day to also consider what we can do to become independent and free of the chronic diseases that plague our society, kill more of us than all the wars we have fought combined, and lessen the quality of our lives? This is a remarkably achievable goal.

Living free of chronic disease is possible, very possible. And, sorry Big Pharma, it doesn’t require a pill. The millions of pills swallowed today by millions of Americans, costing billions of dollars could largely be rendered unnecessary if people would only eat healthier, exercise regularly, achieve and maintain a healthy weight, and avoid smoking. The medical evidence for this assertion is absolutely overwhelming. You don’t have to be sick or die prematurely from chronic diseases.

Talk to your doctor about the benefits of changing your lifestyle.

What do you think? Why not make this your Independence Day?

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Sunday, July 1, 2007

Blog 003 - 365...thousand!

Browsing the Sunday papers and news programs this morning I was confronted with an overwhelming array of seemingly insurmountable problems facing our country and the world today. Car bombers, suicide bombers, famines, civil wars, and for the past six years Dick Cheney has apparently been secretly rewriting the Constitution to make the office of the Vice President a separate and omnipotent branch of the government, unaccountable to anyone.

It’s all just too much to bear for one Sunday morning.

Pondering the state of the world I couldn’t help but wonder if I’m not wasting my time spending every week podcasting about diet and exercise. Shouldn’t I be focused on a more pressing issue?

But then the number 365,000 came to mind. Three hundred and sixty-five-thousand!

Why that number?

Three hundred and sixty-five-thousand is the number of Americans who die EVERY YEAR as a consequence of poor diet and lack of exercise. That’s a lot of preventable premature deaths. And the estimate of 365,000 is considered to be very conservative – in other words, it’s probably a lot higher.

I heard an interview this past Friday with a science writer who has just written a book about obesity. I won’t write her name, or tell you the name of her book. I will just tell you that she would like us all to believe that the obesity epidemic is mostly just a “myth” and that we really aren’t eating ourselves to death. Everything this science writer said in her interview offended me, but the thing that really got to me was this quote: “If all it took to cure type 2 diabetes was a healthy diet and regular exercise don’t you think every type 2 diabetic would happily do that rather than take drugs and insulin for the rest of their lives?” That’s my best recollection of what she said.

The answer is that type 2 diabetes can be prevented by a healthy diet, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight – and in people who already have the disease it can be brought under control to the point that fewer drugs, or maybe no drugs, are needed to treat it. But few people will actually take this message to heart and act on it. And here she comes saying it’s all a myth anyway.

The reality, I concluded, is that healthy eating and exercise are, in fact, very important topics that aren’t being discussed enough. And sometimes when pseudoexperts posing as science writers discuss the topic of lifestyle the information is outrageously mangled so as to mislead the public.

I’ll keep podcasting. With a little luck next year the number might be 364, 999.

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