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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Egan Bernal > Lance Armstrong

Bernal, Columbia’s first Tour de France winner, and at 22 years old, the youngest rider in the race, seems to be Armstrong’s opposite in every way. Granted, variety is the spice of life, but I’ll take Bernal’s soft spoken, low key humility to Armstrong’s angry brashness every day of the week. Here’s hoping fame doesn’t change him too much.

The Art Of Conversation

In the middle of day three of the Central Oregon 500 last week a lethal trifecta of The Varsity, a headwind, and rollers popped a few of us hacks off the back and we formed a mini peloton of the Truly Spent.

Now that we had sufficient oxygen to talk a bit, Boeing Ed from Seattle said that Boeing was requiring employees to take some forced release time. From the context, the fact that he lives on Mercer Island, already has 32 days off a year, and knows what the CEO paid for his road bikes, I deduced that Ed is upper management.

“Is the forced release time due to the 737?” I asked, before adding, “That seemed like a real clusterf$ck.” I anticipated a spontaneous reply along the lines of, “Yeah, we need to own those very unfortunate mistakes.” Instead I got a one second pause, which was more than long enough for me to realize I had unintentionally offended him so I instantaneously inserted a comma in the conversation before adding, “Or has the press mischaracterized things?”

What a recovery, because BE said something to the effect of “Yeah, they do, if you don’t make safety you’re most important priority you don’t even have an airlines.” I immediately thought about how work cultures can become all encompassing, making employees susceptible to groupthink.

Had BE been a friend I might have busted his balls a bit, asking for specific examples of hyperbolic or inaccurate coverage of the problematic plane, but as an acquaintance I lobbed him a slow pitch right over the plate. Which he clearly appreciated.

Why did I wuss out? Because we have no foundation on which to dig deeper. No shared history meaning insufficient trust that despite awkward differences of opinion, there’s still ample respect for one another. That’s the difference between talking to acquaintances and friends. With acquaintances, who we see only sporadically, we often need to finesse things, to keep things copacetic. In contrast, conversations with friends should be characterized by more honesty and depth.

My split second salvaging of that brief conversation at 20 mph had nothing to do with our current preoccupation with analytics and algorithms. It was based entirely on intuition and feel. Art not science. I was able to quickly rebound because my preferred teaching methodology is discussion leadership and after three and a half decades of leading group discussions I’ve learned to read not just people’s spoken words, but their pauses, sighs, eyes, body posture, and general frames of mind.

Can that sort of thing be taught? I’m not sure. If someone were serious about seeking feedback they could definitely improve at it, but it innately comes more easily for some than others.

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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The Mouse And The Man

Just received the meanest of text messages from the Bad Wife:

“I’m pretty sure I went 49 mph today coming down the hill between the Cove and Holiday Hills. Don’t have a computer so I can’t verify, but I’m pretty sure.”

There’s so much wrong with this text. First of all, what kind of person cycles without a computer?!

Secondly, I had just told the Bad Wife that I set a new cycling speed record during a group training ride in rural Lewis County (redundant). 48.8 mph.

I’m training for the annual sufferfest in Bend, Oregon in two weeks, the Central Oregon 500, which I turn into the Central Oregon 400, or last year 336, due to light snow on McKenzie Pass.

I am happy to report that I’m starting to feel some snap in my legs, but I coulda used a larger cassette on some of yesterday’s climbs. At times, I thought I might have to toss one or both water bottles overboard to breach the steepest pitches.

There were eight of us. I knew seven. Or so I thought. The eighth dude was someone I hadn’t seen in 15-20 years. The last time I saw him I was literally yelling at him at the finish line of the Black Hills triathlon. No, not in my character, but I watched him pass me on the bike, and then, totally ignoring the no drafting rule, suck another guy’s wheel for miles and miles. I did not reel him in during the run and did not take losing well. Keep in mind, this was before I studied Stoicism and got my shit together, by which I mean, got my ego somewhat in check.

Have you ever gotten so angry at someone that your anger ends up being much worse than whatever offensive action the other person committed? Me too.

Not immediately, but with just a little passage of time, I would’ve liked a do-over. As if an Olympic age group triathlon has any cosmic significance.

So imagine my surprise when The Drafter, a friend of a friend I learned, showed up for our group training ride. What to do? I intuited that he still remembered the psychotic break. Damn. Awkward. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. I know what to do, pretend I don’t remember any of it!

That’s right, as a friend puts it, I was way more mouse than man. Why the hell couldn’t I have apologized and said what I was thinking, “Man, sometimes I think back to that time I lost it at the triathlon and I feel badly, sorry for all that anger.” And we rode together for 3+ hours. And we talked about our 26 year old daughters and life. His daughter is a first year teacher in Brooklyn and he was asking me for advice to pass on to her.

Having obviously moved on even without an apology, he was more man than mouse.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m a loser and that’s the one thing you’ll be most correct about today. You’re also wondering who was stronger two decades later? The Man or the Mouse? He did challenge me on several of the steepest climbs. He really shoulda known better. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

 

Weekend Assorted Links

1. Tour du Rwanda? Click on the “continue reading” link to be transported to Central Africa.

2. My mom, who died four years ago today, liked to say, “Variety is the spice of life.” Apparently, not everyone agrees. Related, dad was a serious PB&J guy.

3. As Students Struggle With Stress and Depression, Colleges Act as Counselors. One reason tuition continues to rise much faster than inflation.

4. Is this the answer to my terrible, no good, awful commute?

5. I know some Specific Northwest Pressing Pausers who make regular trips to the Swamp. Instead of exacerbating climate change, maybe they should consider this.

6. Why some parents pay bribes to get their kids into more selective colleges.

I Hear You

Tongue firmly planted in cheek, I think, a loyal PressingPauser chided me for being too political in recent posts. Given the state of our disunited union, and the angry nature of our national dialogue, political burnout is totally understandable. He implored me to write more about other things. More personal ones.

I do not get as much feedback on the humble blog as I would like, so I’m prone to heed any I get. Please consider following my friend’s lead in letting me know what you do and don’t like. The reader is always right.

So let’s get personal.

First off, I’ve long suspected I’m on the cutting edge of societal evolution, but now I have hard and fast proof. Context. My “friends” like to tease me about my $14 Kirkland jeans. Prolly because I look so good in them #jealousy. Get a load of what WBuffett had to say about Costco in his just released annual letter:

“Here they are, 100 years plus, tons of advertising, built into people’s habits and everything else,” Buffett said of Kraft Heinz’s brands. “And now, Kirkland, a private-label brand, comes along and with only 750 or so outlets, does 50% more business than all the Kraft Heinz brands.”

And:

“Customers see the brand as a blend of quality and value, and it gives shoppers a unique reason to go to Costco that other retailers can’t match — online or off.”

Taking names and kicking ass, one pair of jeans at a time. Once this post goes viral, I expect Costco to call and ask me to participate in an advertising campaign. Maybe a “famous bloggers in Kirkland jeans” expose. Oh wait, they don’t have to advertise because you can already find their label on my backside most of the time.

Not personal enough? Okay, brace yourself for the next level.

One time my sissy borrowed my iPod, remember those, and had a good laugh at my expense. “You’re iPod is filled with female folk singers!” Yeah, what of it! Just more hard and fast evidence that I’m secure in my non-toxic masculinity. When it comes to groovy new female folk singers, the 23 and 26 year old prove helpful. Here are three worth checking out, that is, if you’re not beholden to some antiquated notion of gender.

• Billie Eilish, When the Party’s Over. Not even old enough to vote yet. Video is weird, but that’s to be expected from a teen. I’m sharing it because 162 million people have watched it and I don’t want you to feel left out. Grooved to this track while running yesterday afternoon. Started out in a light rain and ended in glorious sunshine reflecting off the Salish Sea. 7 miles, 54:30.

• Sigrid,  Strangers. Only 44 million views, so please help her close the gap with Billie by watching. 22 years old, Ålesund, Norway.

• Maggie Rogers, Light On. 24 years old. Career launched after Pharrell Williams listened to a tape of hers in a masterclass.

Alaska is her most listened to track, but I like this below the radar vid even more:

Two predictions. Olivia Colman will win Best Actress and my running posse will give me endless shit for highlighting three young women singers. The R-17 jokes will fly fast and furious. In my defense, one of the things I like most about these young women is their rejection of the pop music dynamic of the past, where young female singers felt compelled to sell their sensuality. These women, in their Kirkland jeans and t-shirts are saying f$%k that. Accept me as I am. Or not.

Still not personal enough? Jeez, maybe I should just write about the President tweeting back at Spike Lee for reminding people that there’s an election in 2020 and to choose love over hate.

2018 fitness report? 276 kilometers swimming. 4,868 miles cycling. 1,050 miles running, thus keeping my 20 year 1k+ miles running streak alive. . . barely due to an end-of-year calf strain. Now that’s some personal snizzle fo shizzle. For the record, “snizzle” is an actual weather term meaning a “mixture of snow and freezing rain” but my hip use of it means “shit for sure”. Feel free to come up with your own meaning.

And, of course, to weigh in on your blog.