A Panacea for Improved Health

I have a neighbor who makes money off of his car. He carefully shops for an underpriced used one, then takes immaculate care of it, and then gets reimbursed by his employer at 50+ cents per mile.

I admire his fiscal discipline, but who wants to spend their weekend washing their car the way he does? One time he yelled at another neighbor who was washing the bottom 90% of her van. “You gotta start with the roof and work down!” Best comeback ever, “No one’s gonna see the top!” Blood pressure spike. And he routinely rips me for using the last bit of dirty water in the bucket to wash my wheels, but I tell him my goal is for my car to be 90% as clean as his in 10% of the time. And normally it is.

We’re all obsessive about something. One could argue I substitute exercise for car washing. Last week was pretty typical for April. Four runs for 28.7 total miles. Two swims for 6,000 meters and two bike rides for 90 miles. And an hour lifting weights. Total time, 11-12 hours. People like me tend to have a lot of fitness activity-based friendships and we often find the swimming, cycling, and running enjoyable in and of itself. We’d still go out and run, swim, and cycle even if there weren’t empirical health benefits tied to those activities. We’re lucky that our hobbies come with health benefits.

Some people no doubt think about my commitment to fitness the same way I think about people who obsess about the stock market’s every move and spend their days thinking, talking, and writing about money. There’s an opportunity cost to finance tunnel vision. Life passes by. Investing wisely is a means towards other more meaningful ends—like learning about other people’s interests and engaging with them.

Like extreme car washing, there’s a tipping point where a person’s fitness routine can detract from their physical, emotional, and spiritual health. That’s where “Doc Mike Evans” comes in. He asks a great question near the end of this high-speed informative whiteboard lecture—Can you limit your sleeping and sitting to just 23.5 hours a day? 

Like my quicker, more casual approach to car washing, Doc Evans explains how you can achieve most of my health benefits in much less time. Walk 20-30 minutes a day. Even better if you integrate walking as a means of transportation by living within a mile of your work, a grocery store, and other stores. And of course driving less is good for your pocketbook and the environment too.

Forget my approach of driving to the pool and overdoing it in the form of occasional marathons and triathlons*. Instead, as Doc Evans advises, walk 20-30 minutes a day and enjoy markedly improved mental and physical health.

Maybe you’re already a walker, but wish there were even more tangible health benefits. Evans explains how you can reap additional benefits by extending the time and distance of your daily walks. But since time is most people’s greatest obstacle, I suggest picking up the intensity by choosing more hilly routes. My running teammates probably get tired of me saying, “The hills are our friends.” When I don’t feel like exerting myself much, which is a lot of the time, I sometimes commit to a hilly route because hills force me to increase the intensity. As an added benefit, when I’m running up hill, my conservative Republican Nutter friends don’t have enough oxygen to complain about the current political scene. If you’re a Florida or Texas flatlander, move.

We expect complexity today, but this isn’t. If you want to enjoy an improved quality (and quantity) of life, take a ten minute walk sometime today. And then repeat tomorrow. And the next day. Extend it to twenty minutes next week. And repeat. Every day.

* This summer I’m going to be more family focused than last year. We’re looking forward to a fair number of visitors from afar, and at the end of the summer, launching Seventeen at a still-to-be-decided college. I’m #34 on the RAMROD waitlist which means I’ll definitely get in and Danny and I plan on running the Wonderland Trail in mid-August. I may throw in a few short/medium distance triathlons on unscheduled weekends. Or maybe I’ll just take a walk.

Betrothed and I walking

Amazing she’ll still hold hands with me after all these years

February 2013 Awards

Improbable sentence. “Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman hung out Thursday with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un on the third day of his improbable journey with VICE to Pyongyang, watching the Harlem Globetrotters with the leader and later dining on sushi and drinking with him at his palace.

Personal finance vid of the month. Helaine Olen, author of “Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry“.

Apocalypse sign. CTA Digital’s iPotty with Activity Seat for iPad.

Noteworthy death. Mr. Matthew Crowley.

Weightroom t-shirt. “Gardening. It’s cheaper than therapy.”

Non-conformist. Photos.

Wasted talent. Professional sports division. My favorite excerpt, “Justify My Glove”.

Word—sequester.

Social media app—SnapChat. This news story gives it real cred. Maybe they’ll make a movie.

Consumer purchase, minimalist division.

IMG_0212

Nature pic—Holden Village (taken by La Fuerza)

Near Stehikin, WA

Near Stehikin, WA

Weekend get-away—Holden Village

Sitting in the bus I was flashing back to when I was a high school water polo legend traveling to away games.

Sitting in the bus I was reminiscing about when I was a SoCal high school water polo legend traveling to away games wit da’ boys. Lake Chelan water visibility, easily 25′.

Most widely read post. The Link Between Walking or Cycling to School and Concentration.

How to Reign in Health Costs—Build Sidewalks and Bike Lanes

If I promised to give you two dollars five years from today, for one dollar right now, would you give me the dollar? What if I promised to give you twice as much of a much larger sum right now? Could you scrape together the funds and muster up the self-discipline to wait for your return? What about your family and friends?

Great article by Mike Maciag in “Governing the State’s and Localities”. Thanks to “Dan Dan the Transpo Man” for forwarding the link.

In short, cities with more walkers and cyclists are less obese. Key excerpts:

• An estimated 35 percent of U.S. adults are obese, and another third still maintain weights exceeding those deemed healthy. This doesn’t bode well for governments and individuals paying insurance premiums, especially with the country’s aging population.

• Historically, studies have linked trails, sidewalks and bike lanes with an increase in walking or cycling. As medical costs continue to rise and evidence mounts that such infrastructure also improves well-being, more officials might look to give health consideration greater standing in transportation planning.

• While only a fraction of workers in an area may opt to bike or walk to work, having the necessary infrastructure in place compels others to use it more regularly.

• . . . the correlation between commuting and residents not considered obese nor overweight was strong–16 percent greater than the relationship with median household income.

• When cutting expenses, health costs are an easy target. A recent study by two Lehigh University researchers reported obesity-related costs accounted for $190 billion annually in U.S. health expenditures, nearly 21 percent of the country’s total bill.

• Those looking to move can use the popular walkscore.com website to measure how accessible an apartment or home’s various neighborhood amenities are on foot.

The problem is we’re not financially savvy enough to tax ourselves—say in terms of raising the federal gas tax by a $1/gallon—in the short-term to fund the necessary walking and cycling infrastructure in the medium-term that would lead to health cost savings in the long-term. Collectively, we’re unwilling to pay a little more for a hybrid when the “buy back” is somewhere down the road.

In our Southeast Olympia corner of the world, the Byrnes family’s walkabililty score is a pathetic 18 out of 100. On the other hand, we’re blessed with wonderful sidewalks and bike lanes almost everywhere. Maybe I should start using them. Maybe I should walk more. Or run. Or cycle.

Just one of many nice bike lanes in the State capitol.

Despite the blue, cars still pass cyclists then turn right. Too often, out of sight, out of mind. Ride defensively my friends (said the most interesting man in the world).

Make Parents Accountable for Children’s Fitness

More positive impacts of aerobic activity. Wish I had a dollar for everyone of these types of articles I’ve read recently. Key paragraph from a NYT blog titled “Can Exercise Makes Kids Smarter?” “. . . the researchers, in their separate reports, noted that the hippocampus and basal ganglia regions interact in the human brain, structurally and functionally. Together they allow some of the most intricate thinking. If exercise is responsible for increasing the size of these regions and strengthening the connection between them, being fit may ‘enhance neurocognition’ in young people.”

Later in the post the blogger references research that claims 25% of school-aged children are sedentary. The conventional conclusion, recommit to physical education in schools. Before doing that, it’s important to ask who should be accountable for K-12 students’ relative fitness, their teachers or their parents and guardians? Recommitting to physical education in schools assumes it’s their teachers, but I assume two things: 1) public school teachers are being held accountable for far too many non-acacademic social/economic/health-related problems and 2) parents or guardians should be held most accountable for their children’s relative fitness.

Consequently, I propose doing away with traditional team-sport based physical education in elementary, middle, and high schools and in its place breaking up the school day with two or three ten minute-long calisthenic/walking/yoga breaks. In addition, I propose mothballing every school bus in urban and suburban districts and banning parents and guardians from driving their able-bodied students to school. Similarly, I propose banning urban and suburban high school students from driving to school. Under my proposal, every able-bodied urban/suburban K-12 student will have to walk or ride bicycles to school every day.

The protests will take the following forms: 1) it’s too far and will take too long; 2) at times throughout the year it’s far too cold, dark, and wet; 3) the neighborhoods we’d have to walk/bike through aren’t safe enough; 4) it violates freedom of choice.

In order. 1) Move closer or enroll your child in your neighborhood school. My tenth grade daughter lives 1.75 miles from her locker. Most people can walk 16 minutes/mile, so in her case it would take approximately 28 minutes to walk to school or about 15 more than in a car given the before school traffic jam on the streets and in the school lot. She’d have to go to bed 15-20 minutes early which is tragic because she’d probably miss “SuperNanny.” So it’s an extra 30 minutes a day, but not really since I’ve eliminated physical education. In actuality, she saves 25 minutes a day. If she rides her bike at a comfortable 12mph, she’d reduce her commute to about the same time as a car. I can hear her, “What about my gargantuan textbooks and violin?” “Get an iPad and I didn’t hear you practice last night.”

2) Inevitably, parents/guardians would have to walk with young children which would create community and also contribute to their fitness. And a little physical toughness would be a very good thing.

3) This might be just the impetus to make them safer. It’s illogical for some to claim we’re the “greatest country in the world” if some of our neighborhoods aren’t safe enough to walk through. Again, groups of parents taking turns escorting children in the mornings and afternoons would most likely have a very positive ripple effect on the safety of dicey neighborhoods.

4) True, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Consider not just the health benefits, but the economic ones. Imagine what school districts could do with their transportation savings. Reduce property taxes, offer more extracurriculars, reduce class size, update their technology tools.

To make my proposal more pragmatic I propose letting any student (and all bass players) that can verify that they’re getting at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity a day (through after school sports or independent play that a coach or non-parent/guardian adult can vouch for) opt out. Ideally, this will lead to swimming, cross country, and other teams being overwhelmed by new students turning out, which in turn will require districts to devote some of their transportation savings to these activities. It may also provide coaching opportunities for the displaced physical education teachers, the only real losers in my proposal.

Or parents and other citizens can keep blaming teachers for problems mostly outside of their control.