Live Long & Prosper: 10 Habits that can Add Years to Your Life

December 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

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 ecades 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

Mountain Climbing—What It Takes and Why We Do It

November 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Health and Fitness

By Don Otis –

George Mallory, a member of the 1924 Mt. Everest expedition, was asked, “Why do you want to climb Mt. Everest?” Without hesitation he replied, “Because it’s there.” That famed and ill-fated expedition saw the death of Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine. They were last spotted within several hundred yards of the summit before disappearing for the next 75 years. Mallory’s body was found in 1999. To this day, no one knows for sure if they reached the summit but that just adds to the often mysterious nature of mountaineering.

I can’t remember a time in my life that I wasn’t climbing on something, somewhere. Perhaps it had to do with being chased by an older brother. I found that if I scrambled up the side fence of my southern California home, I could shimmy my way up the wood shingles and escape his grasp for as long I was willing to remain planted there.

I graduated, of course, to bigger and better challenges. Some of my experiences are a bit humorous, dangerous, and embarrassing. And after more than half a century, you accumulate plenty of experiences–good, bad and everything in between.

Since moving to Colorado in late 2007, I found myself on a mission to conquer as many of the 14,000’ peaks as my budget and time would allow. There is something magical about standing on top of a peak and looking down, surveying the landscape and the winding trail to the top. There are easy climbs and daunting hair-raising climbs. I have been on both kinds.

If you asked me the same question the press asked Mallory, I would give a bit lengthier reply: Climbing and hiking in the mountains engages our physical and mental strength. There is nothing predictable about climbing, as there is nothing predictable with life. We live with an illusion of control. Climbing is less about the destination than the experience.

Fortunately, for those of us who live in Colorado, we are blessed by our Creator with many places to wander. Last year I reached the summits of thirteen of the 14,000’ peaks here in the state. One of these, Mt. Lindsey near Walsenburg, was fraught with challenges from the start. The trailhead had an eighteen-inch-diameter aspen lying across the road. I parked where it fell and hiked the last three miles to the trailhead. Then, the skies filled with black clouds. Lindsey was far off in the distance and shrouded in clouds. I was alone—contemplating what to do.

We persevere in the mountains the same way we do in everyday life. We feel like giving up. We get off track, exhausted or second-guess ourselves. That day I chose to keep going, in spite of the imperfect conditions.  Scrambling up through talus, spitting rain, clouds, delicately picking the cairns (piles of rocks) that mark the path, eventually there was no place higher.

I am not the only one scampering around the Rockies looking for adventure. Others have taken up the challenge and ecstasy of hiking or climbing in the backcountry. As someone who has stood on 32 of the high summits, I love nothing more than to see others experience the same.

In the future, Alison Gromme and I are going to guide a group up Mt. Shavano (near Salida). As personal trainers, we are encouraging people in a 6-week program that will build fitness and culminate with the climb. If you or someone you know are up for the challenge, comment below and I’ll tell you more!

Setting and Revising Your Goals

October 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Health and Fitness

By Don Otis –

Warren and Julie are in their 60s, runners and professionals. It was not until after they climbed a peak with me in Colorado that I learned more about them. Both are attorneys. Julie is a judge. She would blast any stereotype you have of what a judge ought to be like. They are unassuming, dedicated, and focused on an interesting goal.

It was on a preliminary hike that Warren told me they plan to run a marathon in all 50 States. They will knock off two more this year in Kentucky and Maine. They have already done 35 states. While running in every state may not sound affordable or logical to you, I want to encourage you to think about what you can do. What kind of goals can you set for yourself? For Warren and Julie, their goal is big. It encompasses years of training and health. They aren’t racing to win, they are running to see new places, keep in shape, and eventually finish their goal.

In Colorado, one of the healthiest states in the nation, one out of every two people is overweight or obese. This should be a national emergency. The costs for medical care are exponentially higher for those who are sedentary. With so many distractions to keep us from healthy activity, it’s no wonder many of us gravitate to the couch after work. We compound our inactivity with poor eating or sleeping habits. When you choose a goal for yourself, there is a built-in self-accountability that helps keep you on track. As one of my clients said, “When I see how hard it has been to lose weight, I don’t want to eat anything that will counteract the work I’ve done.”

The biggest battle is in the mind. This is true for fitness as much as it is for spiritual and moral issues. Your mind is the battleground that leads to success or failure. And in any battle, there is an ebb and flow of winning and losing. We have setbacks. We make unwise decisions. Still, staying focused through establishing goals is one of the keys to success. A goal is established by making a decision. This is true for our spiritual life as well. We know, however, that simply making a decision to follow Christ is no more binding than making a decision to go on a diet or get in shape. It takes commitment, perseverance, and certainly a willingness to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term gains.

It is no secret that many of us put on pounds during the winter months where cold and inactivity dominate. Where do you want to be in three months or next year? Any goal, large or small, takes dedication, a plan and some form of accountability. For Warren and Julie, they do their long runs together on the weekends and share the same goal. They have a built-in commitment to the goal, an accountability partner and the means to accomplish their goals.

There are setbacks in life–an injury, the loss or a job, or any number of other interruptions to reaching your goals. Rather than letting failure or inactivity define your life, find ways to creatively overcome these. This means maintaining your workouts in spite of losing your job or cross training (i.e., swimming instead of running) in the face of injury. We naturally find excuses when things don’t go exactly as planned in life. Yet when you come to expect the unexpected, it is easier to navigate toward your goals rather than to let circumstances prevail.

When Fitness Is More than Physical

September 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Health and Fitness

By Don Otis –

When 75-year old Phyllis signed up for a recent program we put on through the local gym, I was not sure what to do.

For the past six weeks, another trainer and I prepared a group of thirteen participants in a program called Peak Performance. The idea to climb Colorado’s 14,229’ Mt. Shavano included a program designed to help people get in shape to reach the summit.

We did two local hikes so we could assess the group. We included specific and targeted exercises to help the group reach their goal. Still, my major concern was Phyllis. I had mixed feelings; appreciating her tenacity and willingness to set such a large goal for herself and yet feeling that she was in over her head.

I half-jokingly say that I love the mountains because they are “stress therapy” for me and combine all the elements that I enjoy–-fitness, challenge, and God’s creation. We are each motivated to get in shape or to stay in shape for different reasons. The beauty is that we have many options to choose from. Yet, as I was talking with another trainer we agreed that training our physical bodies is only part of the fitness equation.

Everyone I work with has something more going on that drives them, troubles them, or infringes on their life in some way. In other words, we are far more complex than just the physical. We are spiritual and emotional beings as well. If something is out of balance in one area, it will impact the others.  So, like with Phyllis, I find myself working to encourage, inspire, and sometimes counsel people as much as develop specific programs for them.

What is your reason for working out? Is it to relieve stress, lose weight, look good, take care of God’s temple, have more energy, or work toward a goal? Maybe it combines all of these. Clearly, those who have goals fare better than those who do not.

While Phyllis did not make the summit, she did manage to reach 13,400’–-not bad for someone her age. Other participants included a woman with a pacemaker, a brother and sister who had just gone through a kidney transplant, and a 25-year year old who stopped smoking two weeks prior. We managed to see ten of the thirteen participants reach the summit, including my 24-year-old son who celebrated his birthday on top!

We can manufacture excuses not to get in shape or we can use our limitations or weaknesses to motivate us to reach a goal. I am inspired by those who don’t make excuses—trying to explain away why they won’t get in shape or stay in shape.

If you are overweight, under motivated, or lack direction, ask yourself what else is going on in your life that might be holding you back. Remind yourself that you can do all things through Christ who gives your strength. Keep your eyes fixed on a goal, whether it is climbing a mountain, running a local race, or losing fifteen pounds. Remind yourself that God wants you to be successful and will give you the strength to persevere. But God does not force you to get out of bed early, sacrifice a second helping, or establish your goals.

Upping the Tempo in Your Training

August 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Health and Fitness

By Don Otis –

The track workouts at my suburban Los Angeles high school were brutal. A typical mid-week workout included intervals, a combination of 200- or 400-yard sprints with very little rest. The purpose behind these workouts was to teach our muscles to adapt to the speed. If you want to be fast, you have to train fast. This is true in any sport, but it is especially true of professional athletes.  So what does this have to do with recreational athletes or those just wanting to stay in shape?

There are two types of muscle fibers: slow-twitch and fast-twitch. The former are oxygen-rich and darker in color. The latter appear white. A marathon runner has slow-twitch fibers while a sprinter has fast-twitch.  There are no differences between men and women in terms of fiber-type distribution. Nevertheless, in general men are stronger because they have a greater amount of muscle tissue. Likewise, some people inherit a high percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers. This genetic effect means they have a greater potential for endurance activities.

You will notice a marked difference between sprinters (more muscle mass) than distance runners (leaner).  As we age, we lose more of the fast-twitch (speed) capabilities we had when we were younger. We also lose our capacity to process oxygen, which makes distance training more difficult. It is important, however, even for those who are just trying to stay in shape, to include at least one workout a week that engages fast-twitch muscles. Here’s why.

There is a direct correlation between the intensity of your workouts and engaging your fast-twitch fibers.  If the intensity of your workouts is always the same, your results will remain flat. I recommend some form of higher-intensity workout each week. In practical terms, this means doing whatever you do–but faster and for shorter periods of time. For example, if you swim 1000 meters three days a week, try adding 6 X 100 meters at a faster-than-average pace. The same is true for running. Increase your speed for shorter distances. When you do intervals it’s expected that you will rest between each–thirty to sixty seconds. It is expected that you should be out of breath from the effort.

You can achieve the same effect through other exercises such as jumping rope or increasing the tempo in an aerobics class. While I suggest you keep your exercise intensity high during regular workouts too, the fatigue from higher intensity exercise should leave you feeling added fatigue from the effort.  I am a proponent of spending less time to get the same or often better training results from workouts. You don’t have to spend an hour on an elliptical machine. Instead, push the tempo harder and get your heart rate into a higher zone.

By increasing your speed you burn more calories as well. Keep in mind the universal formula of 220-your age. This will give you a general idea of your maximum heart rate. Then, divide that number by 70 percent. If you are 40, here’s how it works: 220-40=180 beats per minute. This is your maximum. You want to train at 70-80 percent of this which is calculated by .70X180=126.

Fight the urge in your workouts to “just get through.” Instead, focus on the quality of your efforts.

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