All About "That"

My wife and I had lunch with some old friends that we hadn't seen for a few years. We all highlighted what had transpired in our lives and what we're planning now. Me: Uh, let's see:in a couple of days run the Bolder-Boulder, then go back home for a month to finish my job, move to Oregon, and maybe write a book.

"A book about what?" our female friend asked.

"About wellness." I told them about a Wellness Club we formed at work and how we had learned so much about diet, exercise, and health during the past year. And about every one's individual struggle to lose weight, get more fit, whatever.

The woman raised her eyebrows and said, "Everybody knows all about that and what we should do. We just don't do it." I conceded she had a point about motivation, but looking at her I had to wonder if that's really true, that is, if we all really know what we should do. Though she's a good friend from our past, I definitely didn't think she knew what she should do.  She proudly explained that she and her husband had spent $1500 on a vibrating platform that enables you to get a total body workout in 10 minutes. But I had to wonder. Up in years, she had a nasal cannula connected to a portable oxygen  bottle. In the more than a decade I'd known her, never had she exercised much.

The truth is that most of us don't know very much about "that." Many know more about how to operate a cell phone than what to eat to stay healthy. Actually, most people - educated or not, rich or not, young or old, etc. - know little about the food they put into their mouths or what happens to it once it enters their bodies. What they do know, they get from cereal commercials and FDA propoganda.

Once you start to learn about food, it can be very surprising. Take carbohydrates for example. I thought I know quite a bit about that macro nutrient until I tried to understand why so many low carb advocates, like those who've gone Paleo, are slimmer and still have high energy levels. Remember the gospel of carbo-loading for endurance athletes? It sold lots of pizza and sugary-gels, although it's mainly a myth, a harmful one.

Learning all about "that" actually starts with dispelling some of those myths, like the one that low fat, high carb diets are good for you. Or that you have to run marathons to be fit.

I saw a reference to a book about carbs, published in 2011, by Jeff Volek, PhD, and Steven Phinney, MD, called "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living."  It had received praise from Dr. Michael Eades, the well-known author of books about high-protein diets. He had paid it the highest possible compliment, saying it was the book he wished he'd written because of its scientific rigor.

I happened to be in Denver at a huge Barnes and Noble and went to the diet and health section to find a copy, but there was none to be found. Instead, what was on the shelves were books like "I Can Make You Hot: The Supermodel Diet." Dumb, and useless for a TOJ.

But I was able to get the Volek and Phinney book on my Kindle. I'm finally learning about the nitty-gritty of carbs." The research is all there and well explained. It's a great book about "that."

Back to Basics

The more I read about functional anatomy and its relationship to the typical sports/weekend warrior aches and pains like pulled hamstrings, aching knees, and limited range of motion and soreness in the shoulder, the more I think that physical therapists have it right that most of us could use a basic makeover of how we use our joints and muscles.

No matter what the sport or activity, the body really performs a few basics: pushing, pulling, lifting, squatting, and single leg movements. Because we do them so often and have done them for so long, we don't think much about them. But that doesn't mean we do them in the optimum way to maximize how our muscles perform and minimize the risk for injury. In fact, often we are our own worst enemies.

Take the squat for example, the one we use with a barbell on our backs or to drop down to lift a bag of dog food. Squats are often a source of back and knee pain if they are done incorrectly. Watch yourself  when you squat. Do your knees go forward  and your heels lift off the ground? Do you bend your back? You are what they call quad dominant, meaning you rely on your quadriceps instead of the powerful glutes in your lower back and butt. When you squat with quad dominance, you place tremendous sheer forces on the knee and ACL, and your rounded back places undue strain on the lower lumbar area of the spine.

The safest and most effective squat starts with pushing your hips backwards so that your pelvic area acts like a hinge. The back remains strait, tilted slightly forward at the hips. Your body lifts itself back up by the contraction of your powerful glutes, not the quadriceps on the front of your thighs. Your feet remain solidly flat, heels pinned to the ground.

Most of us who are a little athletic - maybe run a race every now and then or lift some weights - assume we're in pretty good shape. We get injured sometimes or have pains and figure that's just goes with the territory. But that's not really true. The real problem is that all our joints are not mobile or stable enough to do their work through a full range of motion. For instance, the 10K runner out there training will pull a muscle if he has to step quickly sideways to dodge a kid on a tricycle. Or the guy who can do 50 push ups pulls his deltoid lifting a piece of baggage into the overhead bin on an airplane. We are very one dimensional in our skills - we can run forwards, but not backwards, we can push, but not pull.

If you'd like to get a better grasp of what this is all about, pick up a copy of Pete Egoscue's The Egoscue Method of Health Trough Motion or Michael Boyle's Advances in Functional Training.

Strange as it sounds, most of us need some remedial work on posture and basic movements and less preoccupation with speed and power.


For the Rest of Your LIfe

The prestigious Institute of Medicine and several federal agencies are teaming up to produce an HBO documentary on obesity called "The Weight of the Nation." No doubt it will be well done, but you can predict that it will have lots of shots of unidentified fat butts and academic talking heads portentously announcing that, for the first time in US history, many of our children and grand children will live shorter lives than previous generations due to poor food and sedentary lifestyles.

Frank Bruni wrote an insightful piece about the documentary and obesity in the NY Times. The most important line in his article is the one with the words, "...we need to rethink and remake our environment much more thoroughly than we seem poised to do." I think what he really means is that we need to make more fundamental and rapid changes than our policymakers and institutions are ready to make because they are slow to react and pretty much under the control of agribusiness. That or they are as ignorant as many of the rest of us.

Recently I was at a conference on workplace wellness in Colorado. Knowing I'd have to battle traffic going into the conference center in downtown Denver, I skipped breakfast because they were going to serve breakfast before the opening session. I figured at a wellness conference I could count on finding some good protein sources, like eggs and sausage, because a solid breakfast goes a long way towards stabilizing blood sugars for the rest of the day.

What a surprise to find the offerings consisted of deadly choices like high carb granola and bagels, i.e., sugar once out of the gut and into the bloodstream and low fat yogurt with 26 grams of sugar! I remembered that when I read Bruni's article. I also remembered that the keynote speaker was a PhD Director from a recently constructed obesity research center that would house some of the top scientists studying the problem. He said something very odd: that we should all be patient with the fast food industry because they are trying to come up with healthy alternatives. Really?

The exact opposite is true. Yep, the obesity epidemic has many causes - sedentary lives in front of computers, kids ride rather than walk to school, the stress of long commutes, etc. - but a MAJOR cause is fast food that's laden with sugars, chemicals, and carbs. This food is carefully engineered by PhD's like the pudgy CEO to fire the dopamine receptors so people crave the food just like addicts crave cocaine.

Many of the MDs and PhDs who are experts in the obesity field are as in the grip of Big Food as a mouse being slowly killed by boa constrictor. They end up being apologists for corporations that they should condemn.

What Bruni intimates (correctly) is that there needs to be a massive shift in our social norms. A good place to start would shun industrial fast food just as we do tobacco. Industrial food should be exiled from houses, work cafeterias, and public buildings. This cause will not be lead by many academics or government institutions because their research funding and government largess depends on keeping these powerful, and often vindictive, political forces placated and fixated on their stock prices.

Don't wait for the big institutions to tell you what you need to do, which the people in them often don't do themselves. You can start to make better food choices right now. More fresh foods, more organic, more grass fed. Tell your family, friends, and co-workers why these foods are better and invite them to try it. Your example will inspire more people than any documentary with a bunch of talking heads.