The Deleterious Health Effects of Sedentary Work Cultures

One aspect of my privilege is my education which has enabled me to make a living without sacrificing my body. Roofers, welders, plumbers, farmers, house painters, construction workers, tree cutters, often aren’t as fortunate.

But I’ve noticed a pattern even among my fellow white collar egghead professors. A majority routinely sacrifice their health for the sake of their work because of a deep-seated intellectual bias that prioritizes the mind at the expense of the body. 

Simply put, most of my colleagues have been sedentary for decades. On top of that, generous people take turns providing unhealthy office snacks*. Most professors don’t make time to walk, hike, run, play tennis, swim, cycle, or lift weights because there’s always another lecture to plan, or syllabus or grant to write, or set of papers to mark, or conference presentation to prepare, or faculty workshop to attend.

I like my work and my university, but not nearly enough to sacrifice my health for it. One colleague of mine retired in May and died in July. I didn’t know him so I don’t even want to pretend his lifestyle played any part, but I fear too many of my colleagues will not get to enjoy as many post work years if they do not prioritize their health more than is the norm.

Today marks the end of the world’s longest academic sabbatical, mine. I normally work summers, but I took the summers of 18 and 19 off, the book-ends to my 2018-2019 academic year sabbatical. 15 months, huzzah! Someone call the Guinness Book of World Records**. I won’t be telling any of my colleagues what I’m going to tell you in the next paragraph because the sedentary nature of faculty life is so pervasive my athletic self lives deep in the closet***.

Besides the traditional, publishing a couple of articles, reading a bunch, and updating my syllabi, I also turned the knob up a bit on my regular swimming, cycling, and running volume. Por exemplar, I joined a Masters swim team and so far this year have already swam about the same distance as last calendar year. And SO WHAT if I did stretch and chill in the jacuzzi after some practices! Also, I’m on pace to cycle 5,000 miles this year and maintain my 1,000 mile a year running streak. I was fit when I began my record breaking sabbatical, today I’m a little more fit****.

Am I overcompensating? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I’m under no illusions that my active lifestyle will guarantee any kind of post-work longevity because life is fragile. That driver on their cell phone could wipe me out on tomorrow’s ride.

But as long as I work as an egghead professor, I will dare to be different by making time to swim, cycle, and run. In particular, I will not sacrifice the quality of my life to the pervasive work culture of which I’m apart. Please, just don’t out me to any of my colleagues.

*Decent chance I have my first donut in a long time today. #glazed

**Could an educator-reader please tell me if teaching is like riding a bike, I’m afraid I may have forgotten how. Any tips?

***Except for one colleague-friend who follows my workouts on Strava. I should probably get him to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

****No, I haven’t just opted to not write about racing triathlons, I have in fact sold my time trial bike and stopped competing for reasons I’m not entirely sure. As I age, given the attrition of my peers, and my consistent training, I would do quite well. But when I envision best case scenarios, like winning races, I’m still not sufficiently motivated to toe the line. Is there a sports psychologist in the house?

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Youth Sports Contract

From the end of my last post on Andrew Luck retiring, one could conclude that youth sports is a utilitarian endeavor. Get a college scholarship, turn pro, make millions of dollars. The exact problem with too many parents’ thinking.

I hate to break it to you, but your child is very unlikely to get a Division I college scholarship. They’re even less likely to turn pro and make mad money ala Andrew Luck or Rory McIlroy.

I propose youth sport parents be required to sign the following contract at the time they sign their children up for any organized sport.

  • I do not expect my son/daughter to make up for my own athletic failings.
  • Therefore, I commit to not yelling at my child from the sidelines. Ever.
  • I do not expect my son/daughter to earn a college athletic scholarship, turn pro in any sport, or make millions of dollars.
  • I will not complain to the coaches about my child’s playing time.
  • I will cheer for my child’s team and also for whichever team they are competing against.
  • I expect my son/daughter to develop stronger social connections during the season. In that spirit, I expect them to cheer their teammates and show respect to their opponents whether they win or lose.
  • I expect my son/daughter to become more resilient in light of probable difficulties during the season, whether physical, interpersonal, or otherwise. And unless it’s a grievous situation and I am asked by my child to intervene on his/her behalf, I commit to letting him/her resolve his/her own problems this season.
  • Learning to compete hard should never supersede having fun. Consequently, I expect my son/daughter to develop even more positive attitudes towards physical activity in the hope that they enjoy a lifetime of good health.

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The Diet Industry Is A Virus

A poignant takedown of the “wellness industry” by novelist Jessica Knoll who leads with this admission:

“I called this poisonous relationship between a body I was indoctrinated to hate and food I had been taught to fear ‘wellness.'”

Half way in, a story:

“I had paid a lot of money to see a dietitian once before, in New York. When I told her that I loved food, that I’d always had a big appetite, she had nodded sympathetically, as if I had a tough road ahead of me. ‘The thing is,’ she said with a grimace, ‘you’re a small person and you don’t need a lot of food.’

The new dietitian had a different take. ‘What a gift,’ she said, appreciatively, ‘to love food. It’s one of the greatest pleasures in life. Can you think of your appetite as a gift?’ It took me a moment to wrap my head around such a radical suggestion. Then I began to cry.”

Further in, the three paragraph knock out:

“The diet industry is a virus, and viruses are smart. It has survived all these decades by adapting, but it’s as dangerous as ever. In 2019, dieting presents itself as wellness and clean eating, duping modern feminists to participate under the guise of health. Wellness influencers attract sponsorships and hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram by tying before and after selfies to inspiring narratives. Go from sluggish to vibrant, insecure to confident, foggy-brained to cleareyed. But when you have to deprive, punish and isolate yourself to look “good,” it is impossible to feel good. I was my sickest and loneliest when I appeared my healthiest.

If these wellness influencers really cared about health, they might tell you that yo-yo dieting in women may increase their risk for heart disease, according to a recent preliminary study presented to the American Heart Association. They might also promote behaviors that increase community and connection, like going out to a meal with a friend or joining a book club. These activities are sustainable and have been scientifically linked to improved health,yet are often at odds with the solitary, draining work of trying to micromanage every bite of food that goes into your mouth.

The wellness industry is the diet industry, and the diet industry is a function of the patriarchal beauty standard under which women either punish themselves to become smaller or are punished for failing to comply, and the stress of this hurts our health too. I am a thin white woman, and the shame and derision I have experienced for failing to be even thinner is nothing compared with what women in less compliant bodies bear. Wellness is a largely white, privileged enterprise catering to largely white, privileged, already thin and able-bodied women, promoting exercise only they have the time to do and Tuscan kale only they have the resources to buy.”

Make it a four paragraph technical knockout:

“We cannot push to eradicate the harassment, abuse and oppression of women while continuing to serve a system that demands we hurt ourselves to be more attractive and less threatening to men.”

Knoll’s essay is an excellent rebuttal of wellness bullshit, but she errors in suggesting men are free of body image issues and dieting abnormalities. It’s just than men who endure versions of similar struggles are not nearly as willing to talk about what Knoll powerfully lays bare. That taboo is far too strong.

Cycling the Central Oregon High Desert

Apologies for not having any posts in the queue when I took off for Bend, Oregon last week for the annual Central Oregon 500, five days of consecutive 100 miles bicycle rides. I know it’s hard getting through the week without your normal filling of PressingPause.

I planned on riding days 1, 2, 3, and 5. My daily totals were 101, 103, 95, and 73, so the Central Oregon 372. When I left Sisters yesterday afternoon after the final ride, Rick Adams, a new 62 year old acquaintance from San Fransisco, was talking about riding back to Bend because he was sitting at 490. I tried to talk some sense into him, but there were lots of fit crazies.

I rode a lot with Ed from Seattle and Doug from Bend among many others. I was way more social than normal, meaning somewhat, drinking beer, hanging out, exaggerating our daily exploits after rides. I don’t do that enough. I show up five minutes before our local training rides leave and then peel off and head home near the end of them.

I don’t always like being social, but I can be. When I dropped my teammates off on Day Four I noticed there were a few more female riders than normal so that was a bad call. Speaking of which, Stephanie from Bend, born and raised in Olympia, just hammered despite not necessarily looking the part. Note to self, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Highlights included riding by what must have been the world’s largest Alpaca farm, hundreds and hundreds grazing on beautiful green fields, half of them shorn, half not. Is there a cuter, more uncoordinated looking animal? Yesterday’s exclamation point, McKenzie Pass. . . lava rock, snow covered peaks in immediate distance, snow on the side of the road at the top, descending into deep forest. Speaking of descending, new record on Day 1 with a tail wind down the Century Highway, 49.2.

Lowlight. Getting hit in the face by a large insect at high speed. Watching Nicole zig and a dog zag while climbing McKenzie. An unexpected but relatively tame crash on a closed course.

Rest easy dear reader. I am swapping seats, from the bike to the blog, stay tuned and thanks for reading as always.

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Cautiousness Is Costly

After spending Saturday morning exercising, I rallied when the family proposed a hike in Olympia’s Watershed Park, a beautiful 1.4 mile trail in the heart of a dense, fern-filled Pacific Northwest forest.

By the time we began, daylight was fading into dusk. In a steady rainfall we began our clockwise loop. A few minutes later, a young athletic woman materialized in front of us, maybe 18 to 20 years young, hair wet, holding her phone, listening to music. Her warm smile suggested this was a better than average run. Fifteen minutes later, she reappeared. Impressed, I said, “Man, you are really getting after it.” “Yeah,” she acknowledged, smiling even more exuberantly.

The Good Wife, Eldest, Youngest, her, and I all got to our parked cars at the same time. She split before I could thank her.

I would’ve liked to thank her for daring to be different. Or more simply for being daring. A lot of people, scratch that, nearly everyone, would say she was crazy to be running alone, near dusk, in the rain, in a park where a person or two have been accosted previously. By focusing on the one or two tragic episodes over the last 10-20 years, people would forget that in between, thousands of runners have joyously run the 1.4 mile loop unscathed.

Our semi-dark, rain drenched hike was great fun, but based on her radiant smile, I bet her run was even more exhilarating. One she’ll remember fondly.

Close in age to my daughters, I thought to myself, what would I think if I was her dad or if my daughters chose to run alone in Watershed at dusk in a steady rain. I would’ve felt better if she had a friend or dog with her and told me her plan, but I’d much rather her (and them) error on the side of running alone in the elements, than not.

Why? Because when we try eliminating risk from our lives, we’re not really living. We’re most safe when sitting on our sofas, but if we spend too much time on our sofas out of fear of what could go wrong if we venture outside, we forego adventures, new friendships, and positive memories of having successfully taken calculated risks alone or with others.

Calculated risks like running in Watershed in a steady rain, in the almost dark. Negotiating the rolling hills, the wet footing. Celebrating being of healthy mind and spirit. Of overcoming fear. Of being alive.

Thank you for reading some of what I wrote this year. My hope for 2019 is that we live a little (or a lot) less cautiously. Happy New Year or is it New Years?

 

Daniela Ryf’s Secret Weapon

No one can beat Daniela Ryf, Switzerland’s long distance triathlon queen.

Once again, many tried on Sunday in Kona, Hawaii. The race consists of three legs, a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. Or for my metric friends—4k, 180k, 42k.

Ryf, winner of the 2015, 2016, and 2017 editions of the championship, was the indisputable favorite. Last year’s runner up, 25 year old Lucy Charles from Britain, was promising to hang with Ryf.

Never mind the 5-6 months of dedicated training for race day, a few minutes after dawn and minutes before the race start, Ryf was stung by jelly fish in both arms while warming up near Kailua Pier. Which brings to mind Mike Tyson’s quote, “Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the mouth.” Ryf had a plan until stung in both arms.

In considerable pain, Ryf decided to try swimming. An athletic marvel, in the following interview, at the 2+ minute mark, Ryf reveals her true secret power—extreme mental toughness. “Maybe in five hours,” she says, “I’ll be feeling fine.” Most of us are doing well when we walk for 30 minutes, run for 45, swim for 60, or cycle for 90. Imagine thinking, “Maybe in five hours I’ll be fine.”

Although a few male pros were hospitalized after being stung pre-race, Ryf knew there was a chance the pain would dissipate. Her mental toughness coupled with her confidence in her training was more than enough.

Long story short, she finished the swim 9 minutes behind Charles, which many thought was an insurmountable gap. Four hours later, and five into the race, she passed Charles near the end of the bike and crossed the finish line 10 minutes ahead of her in a course record 8:26:16, 20 minutes faster than her 2016 course record.

Like Ryf, when we’re in pain—whether physical, mental, or emotional, how can we envision a brighter future? How can we learn to think that “Maybe in five days, weeks, months, or years, we’ll be fine?”