Archives for posts with tag: exercise

Recently, I wrote about the importance of exercise and how if we want to both live longer and live better, we have to exercise even if it kills us. I noted that this is particularly true for anyone getting older, which research has shown appears to be most of us.

In fact, according to a new study published in either The Lancet or Teen People, aging patients who met the guidelines of at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week found that they did not have to wear East Williamsburg hipster fedoras to appear to be younger and hipper.

But I failed to explain exactly what moderate exercise is.

Well, to begin with, we need to take 10,000 steps a day. To break that down into specifics, it means that every minute of the day we must take at least 6.95 steps, even if we are sleeping, eating or reading studies published in Teen People.

To get even healthier and fitter, we also should aim for 30 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity four or five days a week as well as 72 minutes of figuring out what aerobic means, 24 minutes determining how to spell it and 19 minutes of deciding whether feverish manipulating of the remote control qualifies.

Aerobic exercise, which is sometimes known as cardio and occasionally known as Bob, is technically exercise that requires pumping of oxygenated blood by the heart to deliver oxygen to working muscles. Aerobic exercises, for example, would be jogging, swimming or screaming at the television set during a presidential press conference. In other words, it’s exercise that makes you gasp and unable to finish a sent … .

But to be truly fit, cardio isn’t enough. We also need strength training. We need to build up our muscle mass and get stronger so that when we are doing our cardio it doesn’t hurt as much. Also, weight-training helps you lose weight by increasing your metabolism which is the little neurological system inside you that regulates your metabols.

The question is, how do you fit all this essential physical activity into an already busy day?  There are ways.

  • Set your alarm early. Get up at 1 a.m. You can do this if you go to bed at 3 in the afternoon while making believe you are sending out work emails.
  • Turn your commute into a workout. If you are driving, whenever you come to a red light, get out of the car, run around your vehicle twice and then if the traffic has moved on, get into someone else’s car and ask them to drop you at the office. This also has social benefits.
  • Exercise at work. Instead of sitting immobile staring at a monitor, every 15 minutes reach your arms above your head, stretch out your feet and recite the prologue to the Canterbury Tales. This will work your arms, your legs and your olde English.
  • Sneak in a workout during your lunch break. Order a very large pastrami sandwich. Lift it over your head five times. Rest. Lift the pickle.
  • Multitask. While exercising, think of stopping.

As we get older, exercise becomes more important. That’s because, as we age, our muscle mass decreases. Each year, past 40, we lose 3.5 percent of our muscle mass and since our brains are also shriveling, we can’t remember where we lost it. Maybe it’s in the back seat of the car? Could be in the upstairs closet. Who knows?

But exercise can take your mind off the reality of decreased muscle mass and getting older and help you focus, instead, on that new throbbing in your chest. With exercise, just a few minutes a day can keep your body the finely tuned machine it never was. In fact, according to recent studies, for every minute of exercise during your lifetime, you will have one less minute to complain about exercising.

Exercise also will help you live longer, or maybe it will just feel like it. Among other benefits, it can ward off a multitude of diseases, most of which you can’t spell. Exercise makes you look better, feel better and can help you sleep, as long as you don’t try to nap while on the treadmill. By releasing endorphins into the central nervous system, exercise can produce the state of euphoria, which is near Kansas and renowned for its pushups.

It engages the mind as well, prompting you to come up with even more ingenious excuses for not exercising. “Look, it’s raining dinosaurs!” is a good excuse, even if you’re under covers in your bed imagining abdominal crunches. Or, “Hey, we’re out of Honey-Nut Cheerios!” sometimes can work, particularly if you’re really out of Honey-Nut Cheerios.

We know that exercise is good for us, and particularly good for those of us who are aging, because we keep reading all these articles telling us exercise is good for us, particularly for those of us who are aging. Get out there and walk! Run a marathon! Take up kick-boxing! Beat up your neighbor! Do squats with a kettle ball while swimming during a Zumba class!

Reading all these articles can be completely exhausting, but will get your heart rate up, maybe even to the target range. (By the way, to figure out your target heart rate range, take your resting heart rate — the rate you have when listening to someone sell insurance — multiply that by the number of medications you take on a regular basis, not including vitamins and chocolate, and then subtract how many times you want to nap before it’s even noon. Remember to always exercise at about 85 percent of your target heart rate or 73 percent more than you’d prefer to be doing.)

But while we all acknowledge that exercise is good for us, and becomes more important as we age, let’s admit it: as we age, there are more interesting things to do, like reading obituaries and noticing how many obituary subjects are younger than we are. So, yes, it’s difficult to get started on an exercise regimen.

Here, then, are a few common-sense suggestions to help launch your new fitness plan:

First, assess your fitness level. And don’t be discouraged when you find out you have no fitness level. At least you still have blood pressure.

Consider your fitness goals. It’s probably not realistic to think you can win an Olympic medal in Zumba. Instead, aim for something more achievable — like a participation trophy in 7-card stud.

Build exercise activity into your daily routine. For instance, try to work out every Flag Day or any morning when you intend to pay your utility bills.

Find a fitness buddy.  I recommend my friend Rob, who hates exercise as much as I do and also would prefer getting a beer and a couple of doughnuts.

And remember — before you start any exercise program, check with your medical providers. If you’re lucky, maybe they will stop you.

A couple of years ago, I decided that I was going to try to run a half-marathon. I thought it would be a good test of my physical fitness, my determination, my perseverance and my utter cluelessness. It didn’t matter how old I was, I thought; I could be just as stupid as I used to be.

I never did run that half-marathon. I would like now to explain why.

First, I found out that a full marathon is indeed 26.2 miles long, or 26.1 miles longer than walking to the mailbox to get the mail. Second, I found out that a half-marathon is, in fact, half a marathon.

To get a better grasp of what that means: technically speaking, it’s 13.1 miles, 21.08 kilometers or, in England, 16.7 imperial liters. It’s a lot of liters. It is, in fact, the equivalent of running to the supermarket, then running back home, then finding out you didn’t buy anything at the supermarket and having to run all the way back, just for a loaf of bread.

And then it turns out the supermarket is closed. And that’s assuming that the bread was any good and the supermarket was only one state away, and mostly downhill.

In addition, I discovered, you can’t just run a half-marathon without preparation apparently. You need to train for it. I would have much preferred that meant I needed to book on Amtrak. But it turns out that means doing a lot of running even before you have to do a lot of running.

Yes, I know it seems unfair.

In particular, in training for a long race, you are supposed to start small and build up over time. I was fine with starting small. I was so fine with it, I stayed small.

You are supposed to slowly increase your mileage until running a half-marathon is as easy as going to the supermarket and buying a loaf of bread. We know how that turned out.

When I was training, after running about three or four miles I would begin to get that certain feeling you get, that runner’s high — you know, that moment when you are certain you are surely going to die.

My feet would swell, my legs would hurt, my back would ache and my breathing would be labored. It was sort of like when I’m watching a presidential press conference.

In addition, all that preparation to run a half-marathon takes a lot of time, and, frankly, I’m a very busy person. I have naps to take, emails from acquaintances to ignore, dishes in the sink not to wash. Sometimes, I have to spend whole days figuring out how many characters I have left when I want to tweet something.

But perhaps the most important reason I gave up on my half-marathon quest was that I found out I could just buy one of those “13.1” bumper stickers and not have to prove that I earned it.

Not as sharp as you used to be? Want to improve your mental abilities or ward off cognitive decline? Can’t remember what the word cognitive means?

Are you becoming worried that your intellectual prowess isn’t nearly as prow as you would like? Or are you just simply concerned that you’re losing your mind and can’t remember where you put it?

Don’t worry. Now, thanks to a new generation of interactive games, riddles and clever Internet-based whangdoodle programs designed to prey on anyone who has ever forgotten her keys or failed to nab a Nobel Prize, you can train your brain to do better.

These programs are like going to a gym for the brain, except that you don’t have to wear shorts that are too tight or strain your elbow doing bi-lateral curls.

No head bands! No need to waste time reading or studying or even actually looking for your keys! No figuring out calculus equations! No going to the lab and having to put on those icky white lab coats!

Yes, you can improve your working memory, your cognitive flexibility, your processing speed and your gas mileage — and you can do it without actually flossing your medulla oblongata.

No need to get on the treadmill to exercise your brain. All you have to do is just play some games and solve some riddles. Like these:

  • Two trains are heading to Chicago, one from New York and the other from New Orleans. The one from New York is traveling at 103 miles per hour. The one from New Orleans has a better snack bar. What time is it in Peoria?
  • Carol’s mother had three children. The first child was named April. The second child was named May. What was the third child’s name? (I should tell you that even Carol got this one wrong.)
  • If it’s 3:15 p.m. in Bogota, Colombia, why are you in Bogota? Weren’t you supposed to be in Piscataway, NJ?
  • How many three-letter words can you make out of Piscataway, NJ? How many three letter words can you make in Piscataway, assuming you were stuck there during a snowstorm and couldn’t get to the brain gym?
  • Repeat all these numbers without looking at your phone or asking Carol, April or May for help: 6
  • Without looking at your phone which is still, probably, in Bogota, Colombia, what letters on your phone keypad correspond to the number 6?
  • Find all the verbs in the above paragraphs and arrange them in a grid that will look like the Eiffel Tower. Do it again, this time while eating a grilled cheese sandwich.
  • In a labyrinth, start at the bottom and find your way to the top before the train gets to Peoria.
  • Which of the following doesn’t belong:




Warren G. Harding

Now explain why your answer was “giraffe.”

  • Connect the dots. Please don’t ask which dots.

Welcome to the gym. All around you can see sleek, powerful and highly effective exercise machines designed to strengthen you, firm you up and remind you of the Spanish Inquisition.

Each of these machines targets a particular area of your body that you somehow may not already have abused by accident. These machines will help you achieve all your fitness goals, including losing weight, toning your torso and figuring out what BMI means.

It’s important to use these machines correctly, so you only hurt one part of your body at a time. So let’s take a look at each of the exercise machines, and learn how to use them, what they can do and whether your health insurance will pay for the damage.

With the lat pull-down/chest extension/leg curl, first choose your weight and sit on the machine with your legs under the pad (feet pointed forward, teeth clenched, brain terrified) and hands holding the side bars with mouth rounded to better allow you to scream. This will be your starting position.

Remember, if the angle of your elbow is less than 90-degrees, that means your ulna is already dislocated and you should go to the emergency room as soon as possible, or after you do 10 reps, whichever comes first.

For the triceps extension/sealed dip/abdominal crunch, make sure that you adjust the knee pad of the machine to fit your height and prevent you from flying across the gym floor and into the sauna before you’ve requested a towel.

Grab the bar with the palms facing forward using the prescribed grip. If you haven’t already gotten a prescription for the grip, see your healthcare provider. Have both arms extended in front of you holding the bar at the chosen grip width, then bring your torso back around 30 degrees until you hear something crack. Exhale.

The hip abductor/triceps press/pec fly takes your hips and flies them to Brooklyn, where they can work the triceps by making artisanal pickles. During your reps, the upper torso should remain stationary, the lower torso should be frozen in fear and only the arms should move while you whimper.

With the biceps curl/lateral raise/pec fly/seated chest contortioner, you always need to remember to breathe out when you bring the bar down until it touches your upper chest before shouting for help. This machine will work your pecs, your delts, your glutes and any other muscle groups with whom you are on a first name basis.

If you do not know your delts from your glutes, be careful while putting on your pants.

When using the shoulder hoist/leg press/triceps twirl/lateral raise, you will need to adjust the pad so that it falls on top of your lower leg (just above the scar from the hip abductor/triceps press/pec fly). Also, make sure that your legs form a 90-degree angle so you can get up from the machine quickly before it comes crashing down.

On the other hand, you could take our Zumba class.

Please note that this limited lifetime warranty for my lifetime is not limited to all the parts I don’t use very often, like that third toe from the right (does not even have a name), the ear lobes (generally useless if you’re not going with diamond studs) and the appendix, which I believe are the last few pages right before the index.

The rest of my body is under warranty to be free from defects in materials and workmanship, but only while under normal use, which doesn’t include regularly eating too many french fries, chewing on throat lozenges rather than sucking them or not doing a single ab crunch since the second week in March 2008.

According to federal regulations, fallen arches and receding hairline are not considered to be defects in materials or workmanship, but, rather, really bad luck in the genetic lottery. Really bad luck is not covered by this warranty.

This warranty also does not cover any damage to the product caused by smoking while I was in college because I thought it looked cool, walking outside to the mailbox without shoes on or other intentional misuse, such as Twinkies. Additionally, it does not cover accidental mishandling from going too many nights without sufficient sleep or closing the trunk of the car on my forehead.

The warranty does cover any repairs needed to correct defects in material or workmanship, such as being left-handed, as long as they were reported during the applicable warranty period (Feb.11 – Feb. 13, noon to 5) and which occurred under normal use, as long as purchaser maintains regular maintenance and doesn’t fall off the treadmill.

To receive full coverage during the warranty period, customer must agre to receive an endless stream of “valuable communications” from companies whose products I may once have Googled during a weak moment.

Repair services are covered one time only during the first 1,236,000 miles of operation or by the time I finally finish reading “The Scarlet Letter,” whichever comes first.

Repairs to correct defects in material or workmanship will be made at the discretion of an authorized practitioner who may suggest either a heating pad or an ice pack or may acknowledge that no one really knows which one’s better. Repairs may not be available on weekends or late at night or during holiday periods or at any other time when they are really needed.

Repairs are not guaranteed and may have to be repeated several times as product gets older and crankier.

To obtain warranty service, first register the claim by filling out the next 14 pages and create a password for the account that will soon be forgotten. Remember to include the model number (found under the tongue), vaccination record, dental chart and a complete list of all the ways that I have misused this product after promising not to.

It was cold. It was drizzling. It was 7 o’clock in the morning and there were 12 hours to go and 34 miles to walk.

It was more or less at this moment that I recalled the question a number of people I knew had been asking recently: Why?

After all, my daughter Nora and I had nothing more to accomplish, nothing more to prove. We had already proven our stupidity last year.

We had already ruined our feet, our calves, hips, backs and brains by showing that we could do this, that we could walk the longest urban hike in the nation. We already had framed certificates attesting that we were dumb enough to walk around the entire island of Manhattan, in one day, on two feet.

And yet here we were, back at the starting point of The Great Saunter, a year later, a year older, another year’s worth of mileage on the treads, fluid leaking from the manifold, tail lights starting to dim.

Why? We thought it would be fun and we were determined not to make the same mistakes we had made last year. We were, apparently, determined to make new mistakes.

And this time, there would be no commitment that we would do the whole thing. We would just put one foot in front of another, which is, generally, the best way to walk. We’d see how it went.

After three miles, we were chilled and wet.

After seven miles, we were freezing and wet.

When we hit 10 miles, we looked fondly back on the time when we were just freezing and wet.

But because we are stubborn and because it was still too early for our favorite pizza place to open, we plodded on. Near the halfway point, the lunch break of the saunter, we took a left when everyone else took a right.

While all the other saunterers were resting and bandaging their blisters, we had wandered into Urban Wildlife Day at a park at the northernmost tip of Manhattan. Instead of finding the meeting place, we had a good conversation with a barred owl. It asked Why?, in addition to Who?

After wandering in the wilderness, we finally found the saunter route again. Still, we were making no commitments that we would go all the way.

At mile 20, we said again: no commitments.

At mile 27, we repeated: no commitments.

At mile 31, we reiterated: no commitments.

When we reached mile 33.4, we said, OK, we might as well commit to doing this.

And so we did. For the second time in two years, we walked 34 miles around the circumference of Manhattan, in a little bit more than 12 hours. We were achy and stiff and very tired — not, in truth, a major surprise — when we reached the finish line.

So of course, we’re planning on doing it again next year. But, listen: no commitments.

In less than two weeks, I will attempt to severely injure my feet, damage my legs, impair my back and put almost all my joints out of whack, assuming they have ever been in whack or they even know where whack is.

In any case, I’m really looking forward to it.

I will be, once again, undertaking The Great Saunter, the longest urban hike in the country, a 34-mile circumnavigation of the island of Manhattan. In one day. On two feet.

Along with my daughter, I did this last year. It took us around 12 hours and then I couldn’t walk again for seven months. Nor was I able to play the piano for months after the walk.

So why am I doing it again this year?

I have my reasons.

Even before doing The Great Saunter last year, I wasn’t able to play the piano. I’m still not able to play the piano. So, really, if you look at it that way, I have nothing to lose. This year, I’m hoping not to be able to play the cello after the walk.

I proved last year that, even at my age, I could undertake a daunting physical challenge and come out of it severely daunted. I’m assuming that this year, I will be able to prove that I may be a year older, but I’m still just as foolish.

Doing a 12-hour, 34-mile walk gives you lots of time to ponder the great mysteries of the universe, like why does Ticketmaster charge so much for fees, including a service fee and an order processing fee? And whatever happened to Good&Plenty? How come you can’t find it around anymore?

Also, why can you still remember all the words to the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” after 40 years but can’t remember where you left your keys two minutes ago?

There’s nothing like a good, long, 34-mile walk to help you appreciate the joys of napping. Really, there’s nothing like it.

Doing something like this, you can get in closer touch with your body. Unfortunately, you may not want to get in closer touch with your body because you’ve found out that your body no longer fits into those pants you bought right after college.

I learned a lot doing the saunter last year. I learned that there’s no such thing as good walking shoes if the walk you’re walking is 34 miles long.

You get to see extraordinary sights that you wouldn’t normally have seen if you hadn’t taken a 34-mile walk. Like, last year, my daughter and I got to see a guy completely keel over after he had finished the walk and tried to play the piano.

We learned that physical exercise is good for you. And if you do enough of it during one very long day, you don’t have to do any more of it until at least a year later.

And, of course, when you finally stop, it feels so good.

In a discussion the other day with my personal trainer, I asked one very obvious question: What am I doing with a personal trainer?

And then I looked at all the torture machines lined up in the new gym I had joined, the machines that had been used to extract top-secret information about tulips during the War of the Roses, and I knew the answer: I needed someone to explain how to not hurt myself on those work-out machines.

(Of course, I also liked having a personal trainer so I could say to people hey, I have my own personal trainer and that’s much better than your having your own dental hygienist.)

After making sure that I was in excellent shape for a 106-year-old nearsighted lifetime smoker with fallen arches, my personal trainer went through a description of all the torture machines, explaining carefully how to set them up, the correct posture, the right technique, which muscle groups they worked and what emergency number to call when I got my finger stuck in between the weights.

And then she left.

I was left alone with the machines. They smiled mischievously, inviting me to come closer so they could work my abs, squeeze my quads and pilfer my credit cards.

I remembered, of course, nothing about what I had been told about the machines. Fortunately, each of them had brief descriptions on their sides telling people who already know what they’re doing what to do with them. This is more or less what I think some of them said.

Machine #1: Bicep curl

Adjust the seat to the appropriate height and make your weight selection. That’s the weight you want to curl, not the weight you weighed this morning or planned to weigh after you finally eliminate Oreos from your diet.

Place your upper arms against the pads and grasp the handles. This will be your starting position. It will also be the ending point because you won’t be able to move your arms.

Perform the movement by flexing the elbow, pulling your lower arm towards your upper arm. Scream in pain.

Machine #2: Pec fly

Adjust the seat so the handles are slightly below your elbows but above your knees and close to your kidneys. Rotate the hand grips until your hands are bloody. Make coordinated movements leading smoothly to that awful crook in your neck.

Try to figure out what pec fly means.

Machine #3: Lat press

Press your lats close to the point where you can feel the tension between your desire to be home reading a book and your embarrassment that other people in the gym might be watching you.

Pause at the top of the movement, and then slowly return the weight to the starting position. Try to figure out if you have lats and where they might be.

Of course, there were more machines to go. I decided, instead, to go home and really work my quads by reading a book placed on top of my thighs.

My final preparations for The Great Saunter, my epic 32-mile walk around Manhattan island, which I agreed to do because I actually thought I was agreeing to The Great Flaunter, an event in which I could flaunt my knowledge of old Alfred Hitchcock movies:

  • I hurt my right ankle.

While this initially seemed like bad news, since I intended to be using both ankles during the saunter, I came to realize that, in fact, there is a more positive way to look at this. Having an injury on the right side keeps me balanced, since I already had an inflamed tendon on my left foot. I am now perfectly symmetrical, which is a big help when buying clothes from online catalogs.

  • I sunburned my neck.

During training walks, I covered my arms, my legs, my face, my sneakers and much of the bathroom mirror with sun block. (Note: Next time either don’t use the spray can or look where the spray hole is.)

While cleaning off the mirror, I forgot my neck.

Wouldn’t you know, that’s exactly where the sun went.

  • I bought five bottles of Gatorade.

It is important, during The Great Saunter, to keep hydrated and replace any electrolytes you lose. I have already lost my electrolytes and think they may be in the garage or possibly in the dirty clothes bin in the bathroom. They really are hard to find because they’re so damn small.

In any case, to replace them, I purchased enough Gatorade to float the Queen Mary. I bought so much because it was buy-two-get-three-free day at the supermarket. I got all the different varieties, including tasteless, even more tasteless and completely unpalatable.

  • I discovered that the backpack I was planning on using for the saunter, the backpack I had not used in 11 years, the backpack belonging to my daughter, who hadn’t used it in eight years, the backpack in which I would be carrying all my Gatorade, was not in the back of the bedroom closet where I thought it was.

I checked the other bedroom closets. I checked the bedroom closets of my neighbors and of people I saw buying Gatorade in the supermarket.

I found out that I don’t have a backpack anymore. I plan to put my Gatorade in my pockets.

  • I checked the weather forecast for the day of the saunter.

And then I tried to understand how, climatologically speaking, the forecast could call for both a late-spring blizzard and early-summer blazing hot temperatures, not to mention torrential rain. The good news: only a 50 percent chance of locusts.

  • I compiled a sufficiently large barrel of excuses.

For instance, we got lost and ended up in Pennsylvania where we bought a quilt from the Pennsylvania Dutch and didn’t have a backpack to carry it.

It was too hot. It was too cold. The dog ate my sneakers while I was wearing them. I couldn’t boot up my knees after they crashed. There was a Seinfeld re-run episode on TV that I had to watch. I couldn’t find my electrolytes and the electrolyte stores were all closed.

  • I didn’t make any plans for the day after the 32-mile walk.