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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Carbon on the Valves/Amyloid Placque

Wednesday - every 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month are the writing group. Tonight I'll lead the prompts and report in tomorrow on whether they were well received. I hope I write well tonight - hope the muse is in attendance.

This morning as I put in my time on the elliptical, I thought about all I've been reading about exercise and staying mentally fit. For some reason, I flashed on a very funny scene from an old movie. Do you remember A New Leaf with Walter Mattheau and Elaine May? Very funny about a well to do woman-hating bachelor who loses his fortune and is forced to find a wealthy woman to marry in order to maintain his lifestyle. The opening scene appears to be set in a hospital operating room with a touch-and-go operation. "Will she survive?" Camera pans back and you realize "she" is a car that is being "operated" on - Matthau's fancy car apparently has "carbon on the valves" and it's not sure if it will survive the procedure to remove it. For some reason, that scene stuck with me, and I worry from time to time if my car suffers from carbon on the valves (James tells me that modern cars don't have this problem). Nevertheless when I'm getting on the highway, merging from the on ramp, I gun the engine, pedal to the floor, and my Fusion's V6 engine roars. At those times, I think, with satisfaction, that if there were any carbon on the valves, I just blew it off.

Talking with Victor and he elaborated on the discussion about how exercise is crucial for brain health. He too has been following the research. Think placque on your teeth - there is, apparently, a similar buildup that occurs in the brain (amyloid placque). Most people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease have this kind of buildup in abundance in their brains. What's emerging are observations that we all need hard aerobic, sweaty exercise just about every day - an hour of it. It's the equivalent of gunning the engine and blowing the carbon off.  Thinking there is absolutely no substitute for a rough hour of sweating.  In the book, Younger Next Year, the authors swear that the fountain of youth is an hour of cardio each and every day with maybe Sundays off. If you're like me, you are grimacing. Surely there is some other study that contradicts this thinking! If we wait long enough they will discover that strenuous exercise is contra-indicated for humans, that by raising our heart rate on a regular basis we are shortening our lives! Don't hold your breath - you and I both know no such study is forthcoming - there is no place to hide from the current findings. Study after study tells us to take this seriously.

Confession.  I am a liar. I don't love exercise as I have asserted in recent blog posts. Truth is, each morning I try to wheedle out of it. Amazing how duplicitous and clever our minds can be in rationalizing what we want!  So yeah, I would be much more content sitting for an extra 35 minutes with my coffee, gazing dreamily at my beautiful elm tree. Lately, though, the shoulder with the angel has been prevailing and exercise wins. And when I said I love exercise, I wasn't being totally untruthful. When I'm done, I feel wonderful, accomplished, healthy, pain-free, energized. And the walks with the dog on the lakefront in the afternoon - they are really nice.

Maybe it would be helpful to share some practical things about my exercise regimen with you - maybe some of you don't even know where to start. It's almost a project to begin and put the things in place that will make you successful. Here are some things I do or had to do to get started.

  • Shoes - I wear the Vibram Five Finger shoes. They align your skeleton properly and all the foot pain, much of the knee pain and other skeletal pain I used to experience disappeared by wearing these shoes. They look goofy as hell but more and more people are discovering them. My aunt just got a pair at my urging and her osteo doctor was ecstatic with how she stood in them. She wears them almost exclusively these days - even went out to dinner with me, wearing them!
  • A good piece of home equipment.  I like combining exercise at home with time spent outdoors. And when it is inclement (or winter) it's vital to be able to work out indoors. I guess you could go to the gym but it's one less impediment if you have a good system at home.  Don't chintz out if you buy an elliptical or cross trainer - you'll hate working out on a cheap piece of machinery!
  • I-Pod. Surprisingly a lot of my friends still don't have an I-Pod or the equivalent. You need great music to endure the boringness of a workout. Go to the Apple store, get an IPod, get on line and download I-Tunes and build a library of great music by uploading all your CD's and by downloading music from the I-Tunes store.  
  • Get a pedometer. I use one from Weight Watchers but if you go online, I'm sure there are tons to choose from.
  • Consider getting a heart monitor. I haven't worn mine in a while but now that I'm turning up the volume on my effort, I'm curious to see if I'm working out at an optimal heart level. Chris Crowley in Younger Next Year has good guidelines on how your hour workout should progress. Part of it should be done at a brisk stroll, then more effort until you're doing the equivalent of a sprint for 10-15 minutes, followed by backing off to the brisk walk pace. There should be an arc to your workout that mimics the kind of activity you'd get if you were a nomad hunting on the steppes of Africa, first walking with intent as you look for prey and then racing after it in pursuit, followed by a return to a quick gait as you return home with the carcass.
  • Download some really intense tunes. When I started working out on the elliptical, I actually Googled "good workout music" and people shared their favorite workout songs. You'll laugh, knowing I usually sing old-fashioned songs, to know that much of the time, I'm working out to songs like You Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC, Stacy's Mom by Fountains of Wayne, Since U Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson, Black Dog by Led Zeppelin, Do Ya by The Move, Vertigo by U2, etc.  
  • Here's the big one if you're just getting started. Commit to being on the machinery for a full half hour, regardless of what shape you're in.  I remember thinking I couldn't handle more than 5-10 minutes on the elliptical but deciding that, if I was ever going to get to thirty minutes, I might as well just commit to being on the machine for the full half hour, even if twenty minutes of it was just standing on it! Seriously! I just dove right in and didn't cut myself much slack. For the first week, I worked hard for about five minutes and the rest of the half hour was Sarah=molasses which was fine. I put in my time even if it wasn't pretty at first.  
  • Be amazed that in very short order you'll go from sloth to swift (swifts are one of the fastest birds in the world.) It's amazing how forgiving your body will be when you start to exercise it.  Believe that.
All for today. Your challenge is to take this exercise challenge thing seriously. Figure out how you can make it work. Obviously, I am not intending your path to mirror mine exactly. I shared my process with you  but you will have to find your own way with it. I'd encourage you to start by reading the book, Younger Next Year. There is a version for both men and women. Then just take the plunge! Blow the carbon off your valves!


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