By Don Otis –
My youngest son is 25 and wants to lose weight. Last summer he flew out to Colorado and joined me for some rafting on the Arkansas River (yes, there’s an Arkansas River in Colorado for some reason), and climbing on one of our 54 peaks that rise above 14,000’. Now, he’s picking up another favorite activity: mountain biking.
As spring arrives and a mediocre winter passes, most of us look forward to the summer and the numerous activities we can do when it warms up.
A full third of all Americans suffer from obesity. The lure of foods, snacks, sweets that are bad for us beckons from billboards, flashing neon signs, and even while standing in line at the grocery store. We can’t seem to escape the temptation. The one-two punch of combining revised eating habits with increasing your activity level is the best way to drop weight. If this is on your to-do list before the summer, here are some principles to keep in mind.
Be Active! When you run, you burn about 125 calories per mile. If you walk, it’s less. To find out how many calories you are burning for the activity of your choice, check your burn rate at www.livestrong.com. While any activity that gets the heart rate up is good, the more intensity you can withstand, the more effective the results. For example, if you typically walk at 3 mph, increase this to 4 mph (15 minutes/mile). I am a huge proponent of mixing it up so boredom doesn’t creep in. When you mix your activities, anything you can do (including a walk-run combination or climbing hills) will make a difference.
Watch What You Eat! The second component is your food intake. The worst foods for diets are fried foods, sweetened drinks, red or processed meats. The best foods are nuts, fruits, whole grains, vegetables, or yogurt. I believe in moderation but I also enjoy my sweets as well. Don’t eliminate completely those food items that are less-than-helpful to your diet. Instead, limit the caloric intake from these foods. These “reward calories” can come in the form of cookies or other sweets but should be limited to half of what you used to consume.
Make Goals! As summer draws near, write down a few activity goals you’d like to accomplish before next winter. These can be anything from running in a local race, hiking a trail or looking good for a wedding or class reunion. For my son, knowing that losing weight will enable him to peddle or hike up steep trails provides plenty of motivation.
God has made us for activity. And much like a car manufacturer, when we put the wrong kind of fuel in our gas tank, we’ll see poor results or no results at all.
By Don Otis –
He was born in China the son of missionaries. In 1924, he competed in the Olympics, a Scottish runner who famously said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Eric Liddell’s inspirational story was told in the 1981 film, Chariots of Fire.
The truth is that we aren’t all fast like Liddell was. Some of us are slow. We struggle and suffer through workouts and would rather do almost anything but run. There are, however, others who persevere through workouts in the winter and by spring start thinking about entering local races. It is a good way to remain motivated and do something with your hard work on the treadmill.
If you have never entered a race, there are many distances–5K (3.1 miles), 10K (6.2), Half Marathon (13.1 miles), and Marathon are the most popular. There are trail runs, hill climbs, charity events, and everything in between. In my home town in Colorado we have a Blossom Festival 5K and 5 mile run on trails along the Arkansas River.
I want to encourage you to set some goals for this spring and enter a local race. There are many good reasons: having something to focus your efforts toward, the encouragement that comes from joining other people in a healthy activity, or discovering how you measure up to others in your age category. These are just a few benefits beside the obvious health payback. So, how do you get started? Here are a few tips.
1. Check with your local Parks & Recreation Department to find out if they sponsor any events in your community. Then, get registered. This is the first step–commitment.
2. Depending on the length of event you select (don’t sign up for a marathon if you’ve never done a race before) prepare yourself accordingly. If you want to run a 10K, be prepared to do slow training runs of between 6-8 miles.
3. Weekly runs should include one longer run, one tempo run (shorter distance at the pace you want to run on race day), some limited speed work (shorter intervals).
4. Cross train on off days or rest. Plan on running 4-5 days a week. You should do your long run and tempo run after a light day. You can swim or cycle on off days but don’t overdo these days. You want to feel fresh on days when your workouts are toughest.
5. On race day, go out slow and finish strong. The best runners understand that going out too fast will cost them dearly at the end of the race. We call these negative splits where the first half of a race is slightly slower than the second half. This requires enormous discipline on race day because you are rested and ready to go.
6. A few weeks before you race, go easy on weight-training. Rest more in the last week or two. Good runners know that going into a race fresh is part of the balance between a good time and a frustrating experience.
7. Don’t over-train. This means that you bump up your mileage or speed slowly. Your body must adapt to any new workload. If you want to avoid injury, don’t suddenly go from running 15 miles a week to trying 25 or 30.
In more than thirty years I have done more than 100 races of all kinds. I remember when my boys were small, they’d ask, “Dad, why do you go to these races because you never win!” It was one of those teachable moments. I told them, “I run to do the best I can.”
Comment below and let me know how your journey goes!
By Don Otis –
I was minding my own business while running on a treadmill at the gym. The guy on the machine next to me began hacking. He coughed and sneezed through several miles. This raises a question regarding health, safety, and consideration for your fellow gym members.
Being the obsessive-compulsive person that I am, I already wash my hands more than most, open bathroom doors with a paper towel, and try to avoid sneezers and coughers. Perhaps knowledge is power or maybe it’s just something that assaults us with unwanted thoughts regarding our vulnerability. For example, did you know that when you sneeze, the air moves at 100 miles per hour and unleashes 10,000 bacteria and 5,000 droplets (I have no idea who counts these)?
If you are sick and still want to do a workout, go outdoors or someplace where others won’t be placed at risk of your cold or flu. While this seems fairly evident, for many people in our narcissistic culture, thinking about the welfare of others is the last thing on their minds.
In a gym setting, be aware that equipment, handles, buttons, knobs, and doors carry bacteria to avoid. Wipe down equipment if you sweat on it like I do. If you remind yourself that a third of all men refuse to wash their hands after using the bathroom, it may help change your habits in public places like gyms.
Aside from the obvious, germs and bacteria, other risks abound. For example, while riding my mountain bike this past weekend I discovered that a man had died on one of the downhill sections of the trail. He was riding without a helmet. He had a seizure; fell off his bike and struck his head on a rock. He died, not from the seizure, but from the head injury he sustained. If you ride a bike, even if you just plan to do it for leisure, wear a helmet. If you see kids without helmets, encourage them to put one on. And speaking of helmets…
I was climbing Longs Peak outside Denver this summer, near the summit is a section called the Trough. There can be dozens of people in this steep section at any one time, dislodging rocks that gain momentum as they hurl down. Rather than wearing helmets, I saw many climbers taking their chances, and I wondered whether this form of Russian roulette was worth the risk. One bloodied and mangled face is all it takes change our perception of safety.
For those of us who love the outdoors, it’s never possible to eliminate all risks. If you run, be aware of your environment. I have run in areas where there are grizzly bears, mountain lions, and moose. If you run or ride in an urban area, I encourage you not to wear ear buds, but be aware of what’s happening around you–people, cars, sirens, dogs.
Finally, be prepared in case of emergencies. A fall on a high peak in the Rockies last year reminded me that accidents happen without warning. You have to anticipate the possibilities without being deterred from the activity. We can become complacent and forget that bad things can happen, even if we have hiked this trail, run this course, or ridden this route.
Stay safe and enjoy the journey!
By Don Otis –
The Santa Rosa Plateau is a beautiful oak and Manzanita-strewn area hugging Riverside and San Diego Counties. The countless trails wind up and down canyons and provide views of 11,000’ peaks and Mt. Palomar Observatory to the south.
For the last three winters, I have made my way from Colorado to that beautiful spot. Two years ago I bumped into Rob, a chiropractor who happens to be a Christ-follower and avid mountain biker. While each of us ride alone most of the time, when we have company, we enjoy the experience even more.
Any time you start a new workout routine, having companionship can be the difference between success and falling back into old patterns of inactivity. The struggle for most of us is to find someone whose schedule meshes with our own. If this is the case for you, focus on the weekend where the time pressure is not a factor. For most of us, joining a gym may not be enough. Many gym memberships remain dormant shortly after a person signs up. Still, most gyms have programs or group activities–aerobics, spinning classes, or Silver Sneakers. If the energy from joining other “partners in pain” is helpful to you, then plan out your week or month to include some of the classes they offer.
There are some activities where partnership is important–not just for the motivational benefits, but also for safety. In North Idaho where I lived for fifteen years, my hikes in the Selkirk Mountains often included trailhead signs which read, “Beware! You are entering Grizzly habitat.” Since I often hike or climb alone, those signs caused me to think about what I was doing.
If you enjoy the outdoors, awareness of your surroundings is essential. Turn off the ear buds and focus on your environment. This applies equally for running, walking or biking in urban environments as well.
Team sports are another place to find camaraderie. You can participate in league sports though a gym or YMCA. Most areas also offer adult sports through Parks & Recreation. By joining others to work out, you gain not just a partner who keeps you accountable; you also push one another to improve.
In his book You Can Get There from Here, author Bob Knowling says, “People who don’t know what sports can do think of it as an endless collection of games with scores and stars and failures and winners and losers. For me, it was learning of lessons, hour by hour, that carried straight off the playing field and into my life.” i
Just as Bob Knowling discovered, we learn from sports, from teamwork, from being in the presence of others who share a common experience. I learned, as countless others have, that sports don’t have to stop in high school. Nor does one automatically have to get fat or out of shape at a certain age or stage of life. We have bought these lies that childbirth, turning 40, getting older, or becoming injured means we are washed up. This is simply untrue. We have also bought the lie that just because we were never an athlete in the past, we won’t be one in the future.
I want to encourage you this month to put aside the old stereotypes. Put aside the notion that you are “washed up” and can’t possibly get back to where you once were. I want to encourage you to find a workout partner or join a group activity that will keep you motivated even when you don’t feel like doing anything.
Comment below and let me know how it goes!
i Penguin, 2011, p. 38
By Don Otis –
By the year 2050, the U.S. will have more than 600,000 people over the age of 100. This is more than ten times the number in 2010 (i). Moses lived to be 120, climbed to the top of a mountain (Mt. Nebo in present day Jordan) and died. Deuteronomy 34:7 (NIV) says, “His eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.” I like that bit of detail because it tells us that Moses remained vibrant right up to the end.
While living to 100 may not be your greatest aspiration, the bigger question is “What factors determine how long you will live?” Perhaps the biggest factor is your family history or genetic makeup. Routine checkups and preemptive lifestyle choices can quash what might have been an early death sentence just a few decades ago. But here are ten other factors that lead to longevity.
A whopping 37 percent of men are sedentary (ii). Exercise is at the top of the list for those who live longer and healthier lives. The key is aerobic fitness which simply means getting your heart and lungs working through running, cycling, swimming, or hiking. One out of every two men will develop heart disease at some point in his life (slightly less for women). Aerobic exercise helps offset heart disease by increasing the flow of blood throughout the body.
A second and often neglected element of healthy living is how you deal with anger. Are you quick to hold grudges, scream at someone who cuts you off, or react to unpleasant or frustrating circumstances with a rush of anger-inducted adrenalin? Anger raises our blood pressure and places us at greater risk of having a stroke or incurring heart disease.
A third ingredient to longevity is maintaining good relationships. A healthy marriage and the love that goes with it is a major indicator of lasting health. This includes our relationships with children, grandchildren, co-workers and friends. A toxic relationship, especially a marriage, can create stress. This weakens our immune system, which makes us vulnerable to disease.
A forth factor that can shorten your life is stress. Perhaps you have heard the comment, “Stress kills.” The way we learn to deal with the difficulties of life can either add to or detract from our life expectancy. The greatest stressors are often those we have no control over (a prodigal child, the choices of our mate, etc). Learn to control the things you can in life and let God take care of the rest.
Fifth, be born female. Women live longer.
Sixth, have wealth. The more money you have, the better health care you can afford.
Seventh, pray. Prayer is a natural way to relieve stress.
Eighth, maintain a healthy weight. Too much weight, either due to lack or exercise or overeating, is lethal. Obesity will rob 13 years from your life.
Ninth, maintain healthy skin by protecting it from ultraviolet rays. When you are in the sun for extended periods of time, use an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen.
Finally, eat in a healthy way. This means limiting overall consumption and adding fruits, grains, and vegetables. Likewise, this also means limiting excessive alcohol intake.
Our bodies are marvelously designed. They are incredibly resilient machines but like all machines, they won’t last forever. Learn to be a good steward of the equipment God has given you. Treat it with respect and you will live longer and find more joy in living.
(i) “This Baby May Well Live to 100”, National Geographic, November 2011
(ii) Laura Roberson, “Your Healthiest Year Ever,” Men’s Health, January/February 2011