Where we get fit and spin (wool)

A Walk in the Woods

Myself and a friend, looking at the map.

It’s always good to know where you are going.

Since fitness is my passion, most of my posts are commenting on articles I run across pertaining to fitness. However, I just had the opportunity to backpack for the weekend, and I feel it was worth writing about. I find it ironic that I’m getting into this hobby at the time when “Wild” and “A Walk in the Woods” are in vogue. I was told to read both those as I started doing this. I don’t think I’ll ever be a through hiker, the term for those who stay on the trail from start to finish. When I was younger, I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail, but now that I know what that entails, I find I’m happy with just doing weekend hikes.

I have experienced many facets of fitness – aerobics, weight lifting, biking, kayaking, swimming and walking. I’ve worked out in the gym and at home. I’ve participated and taught classes, and done fun things that were incidentally fitness producing. I’ve done indoor rock climbing and learned how to climb trees safely. Having done all this, I’ve discovered that fitness is a positive circular cycle. You have to exercise to be fit enough to do active things, and doing active things increases your fitness level. A way to demonstrate this is how you feel the first time you go for a bike ride in the spring, vs if you keep it up all winter on a stationary bike.

a picture of me going down the stairs.

Down is worse than up.

So, I had to train to hike, and hiking was what I did to train. It is excellent for fitness. There are all the benefits of walking, and many of the benefits of weight training, since you are carrying 30 lbs on your back. Unlike walking, most trails are rather challenging, like the one I just went on that had an uncounted number of stairs. The first few times I did it around my neighborhood, I was so sore the next day, especially my calves and feet. I quickly adapted. The heat was an issue, we had one seasoned member bow out after the first day, opting to get a boat home. (We were hiking along a lake.)

We left on a Friday, and did 8 miles (roughly) the first day. We did shorter hikes the next two days, roughly 6 miles Saturday, and five on Sunday. Since I had not trained on consecutive days, I was concerned that there would be some adaptive stress to daily hiking, but there was none. My right knee and foot got sore the second day, after all those stairs, but seemed completely recovered the next.

Hiking and backpacking aren’t for everyone. If you have physical limitations, or just aren’t sure of your

a group picture, including the dog.

Our merry band

footing, it can be daunting. Backpacking means carrying everything you need on your back, which can be physically too much for some. It also means accepting a certain amount of risk, being organized and learning new skills. Of course, it also means eating, sleeping and peeing in the woods, which can be a gross-out for overly fastidious people. Having said this, many state parks have shorter, flatter trails for the less able. My husband hikes on shorter hikes. Also, you are in control of your hike. You can decide how many miles you want to do. You can always turn around and go back. Many trails are loops, of set mileage, which helps determine if they are something you’d like to challenge.

I do think most people would benefit from some sort of hiking. Getting out in nature, getting your vitamin D, socializing (you should never hike alone), and, of course, exercising, are all benefits of it. I like backpacking because of the feeling that I’m tied to all of human history. Most people lived their whole lives in a fashion similar to how we camp. It gives you great respect for our forebearers, and deep gratitude for all our technological advances.

Caveat Emptor

You thought I fell off the face of the earth, didn’t you? Seriously, I haven’t been terribly motivated to write as much lately, and  it shows. However, I ran across an article today that made me just have to say something.

A journalist, John Bohannon, apparently wrote a bogus study, got it published, and it was subsequently picked up by the news media. I say “wrote a bogus study”, but he actually did a bogus study. He got volunteers, separated them into groups, a control and two study groups, had them follow certain protocols, took actual measurements, then ran the statistical analysis. What makes it bogus it that there were only 15 subjects. To use his own words:

Here’s a dirty little science secret: If you measure a large number of things about a small number of people, you are almost guaranteed to get a “statistically significant” result. Our study included 18 different measurements—weight, cholesterol, sodium, blood protein levels, sleep quality, well-being, etc.—from 15 people. (One subject was dropped.) That study design is a recipe for false positives.

Apparently, there are a number of  “peer-reviewed” journals out there that aren’t any such thing. Instead, they are money-making schemes.

Now, you may ask, how do I know this story is real? Maybe he’s faking the fake? I did do some homework on this. I followed the links, I read the original story. I couldn’t find his article in the International Archives of Medicine, but they may have pulled it after realizing what was going on, or maybe I just wasn’t successful. I think this does point out the pitfalls of getting any of your information from the internet. It’s only as good as the source. I do know that the problems he is pointing out are real. As Mark Twain once said, “There are three types of lies. Lies, D***ed lies, and statistics”.

I run into this every day. People ask me about this diet or that drug. This “cleanse” or that product. Very few people remember high school science, or even care.

Losing weight is simple, but not easy. There are no quick fixes. The basic principles still apply, whether you dress it up in new buzz words or fancy diets. I suggest you read his article and educate yourself on some of the pitfalls and take any “new study” that touts some amazing results or counter intuitive ideas.

This is another of my philosophical musings, so if you came here for the fitness, sorry! Although the person deadlifting the hex bar in one scene had darn good form. I wonder if it’s the actor or a replacement? Anyway, we went to see “American Sniper” last night. Prior to seeing it, the only talk I had heard about it was some talk about whether it was pro-war or anti-war. I don’t remember where I was listening to the discussion, but one person talking said that Clint Eastwood was anti-war.

Seriously? That’s what you got out of the movie?

The movie hit me hard. I didn’t even want to talk afterward. To boil it down to a stance on war, seems ludicrous and petty. After seeing numerous war movies, I have never come away with the feeling that “this movie glorifies war”, or “this movie is a good anti-war movie”. I don’t “like” war movies, but I feel watching them is the least I can do to honor those who have endured what war inflicts. Having seen it, this movie may show more of what motivates someone to go to war, but I’d hardly go so far to say it is in favor of war.

To say someone is pro-war is like saying someone is pro-hurricane, or pro-house fire. I think every war movie I’ve seen shows how terrible war is, the pain and devastation it wreaks on everyone involved. There are never “winners” in a war. Not like there are in sporting events. There may be one side that surrenders, but both sides pay, and pay, and pay.

There was a scene where they were going after a “bad guy”. I don’t want to give anything away, but the guy they were going after was clearly a psychopath. I’m becoming more and more convinced that wars occur because psychopaths get the upper hand. If I’someone willing to kill and torture to get what they want, and gather other like-minded people around them, if there isn’t a strong social structure in place, they will become the leader. I think that is how all the horrible dictators got in power. They made promises, threats, bullied, then finally killed and tortured to get to the top of the social structure. What happens when a psychopath is running the country? Certainly he won’t be making decisions that are in the best interests of others.

So what choice do others have? If there are sociopathic people running a whole country, and the world sits back and does nothing, what happens? Do these people calm down and turn to the business of running a country? Or do they start attacking any and everyone around them? I know we all think “Just get rid of the crazy guy at top, and it’ll be over”. That’s just not true. Those kind of leaders surround themselves with people just as blood thirsty and crazy as they are, and one of their underlings just rises to replace them. Any you know it won’t be good, since they will have to fight off other bloody minded people to take over, so they will have to be smarter and more vicious than the rest.

So no, I don’t think this was a pro-war movie. It was definitely a pro-Chris Kyle movie. I do hope he lived up to his story, he was portrayed as a hero. “War is hell” as Sherman once said, but by definition it creates heroes. Anyone who can do what they need to do, and not lay down and quite under the circumstances war creates has to be a hero.

Until we can find a way to neutralize the psychopathic personalities among us, there will be wars. As long as there are individuals to want power and blood and have no regard for their fellow-man, there will be the need to stop them, and we will have war.

I tend to be a skeptic. People often take a bit of a story, and make a whole different story out of it. Here is a case in point. I read this article “Why is Everyone So Nuts About Coconut Oil“, by Rachel Tepper, whose point was “coconut oil is good for you”. She did say in the last paragraph to use it sparingly, citing another article,”Ask the Doctor: Coconut Oil” from Harvard Health Publications. I just want to contrast a paragraph from each article.

From Rachel’s article:

Our verdict? You can buy the hype about coconut oil.

From the Harvard article:

But, for now, I’d use coconut oil sparingly. Most of the research so far has consisted of short-term studies to examine its effect on cholesterol levels. We don’t really know how coconut oil affects heart disease. And I don’t think coconut oil is as healthful as vegetable oils like olive oil and soybean oil, which are mainly unsaturated fat and therefore both lower LDL and increase HDL. Coconut oil’s special HDL-boosting effect may make it “less bad” than the high saturated fat content would indicate, but it’s still probably not the best choice among the many available oils to reduce the risk of heart disease.

To be fair, Rachel did state to use it sparingly, “like any other oil”, right before she said we can buy the hype. I also think it’s funny that a doctor who studies the health effects of food says soybean oil is better, as all the hype now is demonizing soy. Oh, I forgot, doctors are all short-sighted, evil or in the pocket of the corporations. (Always demean those that disagree with you).

I hate to make nutritional information any harder for people. There is SO much partial information, hype and hysteria about food right now. What I hope you take from this is that everything you read and hear if filtered through people. People with biases and emotions. If you are on the paleo bandwagon, you will only hear positives about coconut oil and saturated fat. If you are vegan or vegetarian, there are plenty of studies that will support the benefits of eating less meat and saturated fat. Food is not magic or evil.   If one way of eating was so much better than any other, we would have ample evidence, since there are so many people, eating so many different ways. We can see the “Western Diet” does have serious hazards, and large amounts of processed foods are linked to health problems. But does every octogenarian eat a paleo or vegetarian or even whole food diet? If so, adopt that diet. However, I think they are eating a variety of diets. Health is strongly influenced by our choices, but not all those choices are about food. Look at George Burns, he certainly didn’t follow any of the current diet trends, and he lived to 100.  One of the biggest factors is just don’t eat too many calories. All diets that cause weight loss result in improved health markers.

We are deeply influenced by peer pressure. If everyone around us is saying something is great, we will tend to think that way. However, what are they basing their support on? Do you know the difference between an article and a study, published in a peer-reviewed journal? Does the person you are taking advice from know the difference?

I just read the book behind another highly hyped diet, and while I don’t think the diet is awful, the book is. They are claiming their diet can cure illness. In fact, lots of illnesses. Any diet or product that claims that is automatically suspect. While diet has a role in many illnesses, illnesses don’t all have the same etiology, and they don’t all hinge on diet. Cleaning up you diet, exercising and losing weight will make you feel better, but it won’t cure you, unless your illness is caused by diet, like hypertension or type 2 diabetes. I’m not naming the book, as I don’t want to debate it in this article.

Use common sense, don’t get caught up in hype, don’t look at food as magic or evil, use caution when reading. Did I forget anything? Oh, eat your veggies, everything else in moderation.

I probably ought to give my articles more straightforward titles, but I like playing with writing a bit. Anyway, this entry is based on an article I just read, “Coming Soon to a Workplace Near You, “Wellness or Else””. It was very interesting, as it plays into some of my favorite thought patterns.

First, I love listening to and economist’s take on things. I read “Freakonomics”, and I listen to the “Planet Money” podcast. This article focuses on the economics of workplace wellness, and do the perceived savings really add up, or are the savings coming from other sources? The article states that much of the savings come from throwing more of the health care costs back on employees in the form of penalties or denial of coverage if they don’t participate in wellness programs. It states the actual cost benefit is programs costing 100$-300$ per person, with only a 25-40$ drop in medical costs per year. If direct health savings were the only incentive for companies, obviously they don’t have a lot of reason to institute these programs.

Second, I’m fascinated by incentives and whether they work, or, as my title implies, create unintended consequences. Are health incentives helping motivate us to get healthier, or are they coercive and unfairly punishing people? For example. Let’s say I offer to pay any employee to quit smoking. How do I prove it? Do I demand blood tests? If I’m a non smoker, it hardly seems fair. If I restart, can I get the quitting bonus again? Incentives seem like a great thing, till you see how they play out.

I want everyone to do everything in their power to get healthier. We know that people will engage in unhealthy behavior, in spite of repeated negative consequences. It is hard to know what will motivate people to change. It seems like this is a positive tool, but maybe not. What do you think? Do you have any personal experience?

I was reading this article about how upset the Harvard professors were over the changes to their healthcare plan. I have to admit a certain amount of malicious enjoyment as major universities, such as Harvard, were behind the impetus for the Affordable Care Act. Like congress, I guess they wanted to make laws that would only affect the “other guy”.

Faculty members were quoted as “not being concerned for themselves, but for less well paid employees”, and “It’s the principle”. No, lets face it, any time you give something to someone, there is an outcry when you take it away. The fact that they are the elite of American society, living in a world where they are largely sheltered from the realities of poverty and having to make ends meet makes their belly aching less palatable. The objections they have are what the rest of us have been living with for years. MOST healthcare plans have high deductibles and copays.

I say “why not?”. We need insurance to pay every time we go to the doctor? How about save that sort of transaction for those horribly expensive things, like surgery, cancer, etc. I know there are those who would argue that health care should be free, a right. The sad truth is, nothing is free. Every “free” thing you have ever gotten was paid for, just not by you. Why don’t we educate doctors for free, then they won’t have high debt, so won’t need high salaries? Why don’t we pay their malpractice insurance, relieving them of that cost, so they can distribute their services for free? Why don’t we pay pharmaceutical companies for their R&D, so they don’t have to charge large amounts for their medications? If those ideas sound ludicrous, why then do we insist someone else should pay at the other end?

When all this health care debate started, I had hoped to see some of the basic issues addressed. Insurance distorts the cost of health care. The insured person has no idea what the cost of something, but doesn’t care because he’s not paying it. The insured and the providers have this weird dance going on of formulas and partial payments, obscuring the real cost. Without a direct market, there is no competition, no advertised prices and a huge chunk of the medical cost goes to insurers, who are not directly involved in health care at all.

If you pay 2,000 dollars a month to Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and only use 50$ of that for your health care, does the other $1,950 go to another subscribers bills? Not hardly. Not when insurance companies have enough profit to sponsor every last sporting event and charity in your community. While I don’t mind that they are using that money back in the community, wouldn’t be nicer to have that money to spend on health care? If we have to pay a parasitic third-party, why don’t they take all their profits and use them to open clinics in underserved communities? Or pay the outstanding medical bills for someone who is uninsured or underinsured.

The more we monkey with the system, the more cumbersome and less responsive it becomes. Look at our tax system. It’s all one big complicated game with real winners and losers. Health care is the same. Maybe these Harvard professors, now that they see how superficial the changes they championed are, will go back and lobby for some real change. Lets just make sure that we all experience the changes, that way if they don’t work, they will be quickly scrapped.

Let me know what you think. Does all this get your dander up, like it does mine? Do you feel common sense is sadly lacking in the higher echelons of power?

Live Long and Prosper

In case you haven’t figured it out, my obsession with fitness is about living longer. Or, rather, living perfectly healthy to the day you croak. I don’t really care about the exact number of years. I am a bible believer, so I think I am going to a better place, so leaving here isn’t terrifying. What is terrifying, is the idea of spending my last few years unable to care for myself or know that I can’t care for myself. I am around older people all the time, and I can clearly see the last few years can vary WILDLY. If you are 79, you could be in a wheel chair or showing off in physical therapy after your knee replacement. (Both examples of what I’ve seen just this week).

Anyway, Yahoo got me, as they always do, with a link to this article encapsulating some findings of things that will extend your life. It isn’t often that I feel the need to blog after reading “7 ways to…” or “10 things that…” but it was one paragraph that got me:

Low expectations boost happiness. When researchers monitored the brain activity of volunteers as they played a game, they found the degree of happiness players experienced when they won depended on their expectations: the lower the expectations, the happier they were about winning. In the real world, scientists say, people with low expectations are likely to derive more pleasure from receiving gifts or going on vacation. “Happiness depends not on how well things are going,” says neuroscientist Robb Rutledge, “but whether things are going better or worse than expected.”

This plays into one of my strongest beliefs; that how happy we are depends on our expectations. You’ve seen the YouTube videos of the kids opening presents and saying “Is that it?”. It’s true. Nothing you get will make you happy if it doesn’t match or exceed your expectations. conversely, very little in real life can make you as miserable as anticipating negative events.

I believe one of the eastern religions teach something like this, they tell their followers to want nothing, that the end of all desires is the path to happiness. I don’t agree with that, but keeping your expectations in line with reality is definitely preferable to being wildly optimistic or pessimistic.

It has been my experience that having realistic expectations is a function of age. I don’t think I was capable of it when I was younger. I have definitely mellowed with age. I don’t get wildly excited, and I don’t get as low either.

What do you think? Is it “all in our heads”? Are we as happy as we make up our minds to be? Or are we controlled by external factors-are we “made happy” by good things happening and made miserable by the bad? Can we consciously control our happiness by changing our expectations? Or are there other factors I’m leaving out? Let me know.

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