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Fitness 2010 and beyond

Robert Downes - January 11th, 2010
Fitness 2010 & beyond
The Snuggie and Facebook -- there’s a perfect match in sync with our time,
don’t you think? Just swaddle up in a giant synthetic sock, tap into the
‘book and chat with your imaginary friends -- some of whom you’ve never
met in the ‘real’ world.
And there in your cocoon through the long winter nights, you will
metamorphose into a beautiful butterfly come springtime!
Or not.
But seriously, folks, this is our annual ‘Real Fitness’ issue, timed to
coincide with the time of year when many of us throw off the Snuggie
habits of the holidays and hit the gym, the yoga class, the ski trails,
pilates, you name it, for a few weeks at least.
In this issue, we’ve focusedmore on the fun side of fitness, with articles
on snowshoeing, mountain climbing, skating and running, among others.
Fitness philosophies come and go. In the early ’80s the credo was “no
pain, no gain.” Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won the Mr. Olympia contest in
1976 and 1981 personified this approach with his advice to “stay hungry”
in a film by the same name. The idea was to stay hungry in a figurative
way to pursue your fitness goal while literally staying hungry on a diet
of egg whites and skinless chicken to get a body builder’s physique.
By the late ’80s, however, a cadre of newly-graduated exercise
physiologists were preaching the gospel of moderation with the notion that
one could get fit through 20 minutes of aerobic exercise a few times a
week, with no need to “feel the burn.”
This approach converted a lot of former slugs to what was called the
fitness lifestyle, and on balance, the emphasis on moderate exercise was a
good idea. But the personal trainers and exercise physiologists who urged
moderation in exercise rarely practiced what they preached. More likely,
they were doing 20-mile training runs to prepare for a marathon, or doing
leg-kick crunches with ankle weights until they were ready to puke.
That’s because those of us who are fitness freaks know in our secret
hearts that “no pain, no gain” really is the golden rule for getting in
Of course, you can ignore that dictum once you arrive at that happy state
of being “in shape,” provided that you are consistent with your workouts.
Perhaps that’s what should be the fitness gospel of the 2010s:
consistency -- keeping on keeping on. Since muscle tone starts to
deteriorate within 72 hours of inactivity, being fit requires that you get
back on that horse (or elliptical runner, yoga mat, exercycle, etc.) at
least every other day.
This isn’t to say that fitness can’t be fun while being honest about the
need to put in the time and effort. Yesterday I saw a group of five
snowshoers, all in their early 20s, who came in fresh off the trail for a
cup of coffee. They were pretty beat, but they looked healthy and strong
too. Keep it goin’.

The Smoking Dividend
It’s a trend: Michigan will ban smoking in public places on May 1,
becoming the 38th state to stamp out the nasty weed. Some of us look
forward to going back to the smoke-pits we haunted in our youth to enjoy
dinner once again without leaving the place smelling like an ashtray,
while others are no doubt cryin’ in their beer over the decision.
Bonus: the gradual elimination of smoking in our country should decrease
the nation’s health care costs.
Currently, smoking-related deaths and health care issues cost the U.S. an
estimated $167 billion per year, according to the federal Centers for
Disease Control. The more than 400,000 people who die each year from
cancer, stroke and heart disease not only forfeit their lives, but add to
everyone’s insurance premiums, along with Medicare and Medicaid.
But the trend toward the elimination of smoking should produce a
‘dividend’ to cut the costs of health reform.
As a former smoker (from ages 15-22), I wish all of you who still struggle
with that addiction all the best for quitting in 2010.

A Winter Walk
Over the past five years, I’ve tried to walk to work for some portion of
the winter, rebelling against what tends to be a bleak, soul-killing drive
through the dirty slush in my car.
This requires the heroic effort of waking up a half-hour early in order to
make the hike, but I’ve found much to recommend in this throwback to our
ancestors’ habit of walking to work.
For one thing, you find a stillness in the heart of winter of the sort
Robert Frost described in his poems of New England. As you crunch along
through the snow in the dark of the morning, you find yourself drawn
closer to the earth and nature’s power.
It’s a reflective time. You marvel at how our postal workers manage to
wade through the drifted sidewalks each day in what must be a thankless
task, delivering mail to people too lazy to shovel their walkways. You see
kids gathering for school, and even an occasional adult who enjoys walking
too. And as with any repetitive exercise, the march through the snow tends
to shift your brainwaves from beta to alpha and the hemispheres of your
right-left brain thinking flip, arousing new and unexpected thoughts.
Funny thing, the only way to conquer winter and thoroughly enjoy it is to
embrace the cold and snow in an “up close and personal” way. Rather than
shivering behind an icy windshield in the tin can of your car, walking to
work gives you the sense of taking charge of winter.
You arrive at work with your metabolism flaring, already burning off the
calories of breakfast. And the walk home finds your body shedding the
stress of the day until you arrive relaxed for the evening.
My walk is long enough to feel like I’ve had some fun and gotten a bit of
a workout in to boot. “Going the extra mile” in winter is well worth it.

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