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Being of sound mind and body

iStock_000014535308XSmallAs Dr. Phil says, let’s get real (or something like that). If you don’t know by now that your body is connected to your mind, you’re either incapable of reading or you’re incapable of logical thought and common sense. The field of research on the mind-body connection is exhaustive and trying to disprove that there is a connection is like trying to disprove  gravity. The problem is, we all know what we should do but, we don’t always do what we should do.

If your brain does not have the proper fuel, which is basically eating the right things and exercising, that is when, according to Laird Hamilton pro surfer and author of Force of Nature: Mind, Body, Soul, And, of Course, Surfing, “you’ll bonk,” (p 31).

Now, before you skip over this blog thinking it is going to be yet another sermon on why you should eat right and exercising stick with me. Folks, I get it. While I have been in relatively good shape most of my life I have found it continues to get harder and harder with age to stay in shape. I turned 47 this year: I eat less than I did when I was 37 and exercise more, yet trying to keep the weight off seems to get harder by the day. But this is not just about the Battle of the Bulge. It is about the battle against dementia, Alzheimer’s and being able to keep up with my kids and provide for my family.  I actually want to enjoy my later years, sit back and reflect, reminisce and still enjoy the present, not be stuck on a chair for hours on end while I try to remember my wife’s name.

Your muscles and your brain both require fuel, specifically glycogen which is made from glucose which is a result of carbohydrates, to make energy (Hamilton 31). Yes, you actually need food, so starving yourself or diets where you starve yourself, is just depriving your brain of energy that it needs. Also, several scientific studies have shown that inactive people are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s (Hamilton 31). Even though your gut or butt or hips may not look like they did when you were 20, or 30, still keep on eating the best you can and exercising.

Hamilton, who has that excellent surfers physique and a job which allows him to keep it, says that the quickest way to burn out in fitness is to get into a routine (37). Since this blog is not about a book review but about what I’ve learned and what I can help teach others, let me say that only I sort of agree here.

In my mid 30s, before I started having kids, a family, and additional job demands to make ends meet, I could get my exercise from the recreational hockey beer leagues I played in, the Krav Maga training I was doing at the time, going for a hike in the mountains, hitting the gym at lunch, or taking my dog for a walk. Numerous options were available.

But like many of you, I now have a realistic life, which means I have very little time to work out and my options are rather limited. My biggest gripe about any celebrity or sports figures’ fitness program is that many of them do not understand the average persons lifestyle. We do not have personal chefs, nor do we have a vast amounts of free time and money to pick any fitness option we want. I do agree with Hamilton that to the extent possible you should try to vary your fitness routines, and you can do so within your assigned workout time.

For me, I put aside 30-60 minutes a day, in the morning to work out. The time depends on the days’ schedule and the activity depends on the weather and what else I’ve been doing that week. Hamilton says the best way to maximize what a day has to offer is to decide what to do that morning based on your goals, what you feel like doing, what your body needs and what you did yesterday (37).

If it is a nice day outside and I have the time I jump on my bike and head out. Otherwise, I have a stationary bike (a Pro Form Tour de France, which I do not recommend buying) in my basement along with a small space I’ve created for a personal workout area, with free weights, a pull-up bar and most importantly, a TV with DVD player and huge library of “guy” DVD’s (Shawshank of course, Point Break, Apollo 13, they’re all there), and oh yeah, Apple TV and Netflix – it’s part of my cave).

Hamilton says the fitness should be a pleasurable part of your life and that fun is an ingredient that people often forget the fitness program (37). For me, I love watching movies so while I work out. It is also become a quiet time for me in the morning where I can use it to sort of reconnect and rejuvenate.

There are some other critical components to fitness that you need to consider other than walking endless miles on a treadmill or mindlessly lifting weights for hours on end.

  • Don’t worry so much about how much you can lift, particularly as you get older, focus on building functional fitness (Hamilton 38). A lot of exercise should be focused on building your core which is that center part of your body it’s going to keep you standing upright as you approach your golden years. Even the US military has adopted these fitness principles. Rather than running for miles, they are focused on building fitness that can be applied during combat. Focus on fitness that you can apply for daily living.
  • Be creative in your workouts (Hamilton 39). Tony Horton and his P90X program calls this muscle confusion and there is plenty of research that the way to hit and stay at a plateau is to do the same routine every time. Making it new makes it not just new for your body but also for your brain (Hamilton 39).
  • Work your balance (Hamilton 39). This also helps build your core. Look for balance boards or if you’re doing bicep curls or any exercise standing up, try to do it on one foot (Hamilton 39).
  • Practice breath awareness (Hamilton 40). This helps bring you into the present by taking in a deep breath, expanding your stomach from the diaphragm outward and when you exhale contract your stomach. Unfortunately, most of us do not breathe this way. Many of us actually breathe in reverse. Failing to take, good deep breaths, deprives our brain and  blood of oxygen. You remember oxygen don’t you, it’s one of those three things you need to live along with food and water. If you don’t think breathing is important tell me which one of these three: oxygen, food or water can you live without the longest? Case closed.
  • ONE MORE! Hamilton calls this lean into the work (40). Recently, I saw a commercial where the guy working out had the mantra of “one more.” The point of leaning into the work is actually pushing yourself every time you work out. The only exception to this is if you are recovering from injury or recovering from illness. After seeing the “one more” commercial I started chanting that internally as I would do my exercises. I wasn’t able to go on forever but I went much farther than I had been previously, in every exercise I did.
  • Incorporate some yoga or stretching into your routine (Hamilton 76). I used to think that the yoga or stretch days were a wasted work out because I was not getting a good calorie burn. But frankly, I need to get back to these once in awhile as I am noticing parts of the body stiffening up and I’m losing some of my flexibility. When I was doing yoga regularly, usually taking classes with my wife, I would get complimented on the golf course on my flexibility. Those compliments stopped when the yoga stopped and so did my monster drives because I can’t make the turn as much anymore.

Hamilton recommends a type of workout that he calls The Circuit and its a solid program but will take awhile. We don’t have the space to go through the program in this blog but let me leave you with this advice. Either build (if you have the knowledge) or buy a workout program that works for you. Personally, I recommend many of the Beachbody products. They offer variety, energy, (humor if its Tony Horton) and there are normal people, in most cases, doing the program, not superhumans. Yes, they are in shape but there is always one person in the room doing the “modifier,” so the very least you should be able to keep up with him or her.

I’ve done P90x, P90x+, P90X2, 10-minute trainer, Insanity and T25. Both 10 minute trainer and T25 are great if you travel a lot and end up doing workouts in hotel rooms. If you’re just starting out, try P90, or if you’ve worked out sporadically throughout your life so you at least understand the basics, go to P90X and you can do the modifier if you need to.

Even though I have worked out most of my life, many people mistakenly assume that I enjoy it. Honestly, if I didn’t have to work out I probably wouldn’t – with the exception of bike riding. But what I would miss is the time that I’ve created to enjoy myself, to watch my movies, to ride my bike (where I typically listen to Nelson DeMille books on tape) and to know that I’m serving my family and kids by taking care of myself.

Hamilton, Laird. Force of Nature: Mind, Body, Soul, And, of Course, Surfing. New York: Rodale, 2008. Print.

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