Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Government's Pyramid Scheme

Didn't they just go and change up the food pyramid. I'm sorry, but it's the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen. And I love this quote from an Associated Press article:

"[The old pyramid] become quite familiar, but few Americans follow the recommendations," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Tuesday as he unveiled the new pyramid.

The new one encourages people to figure out their calorie and exercise needs using a new government Web site www.mypyramid.com. There people can find 12 different models based on daily calorie needs—from ... sedentary toddlers to ... teenage boys."
This is completely absurd. If people er I mean Americans are familiar with but don't follow the recommendations of the simply and easy to follow "old pyramid," what in the hell makes the government think that people, especially Americans, will muddle their way through 12 different models. I sure as hell won't, and I'm not even a sedentary, toddling teenage boy.

Later in the same article, a graphic design expert is quoted as saying that "the new pyramid doesn't provide much information and instead assumes people will do a lot of research. 'They've thrown away the useful part of the pyramid—less at the top, more at the bottom. I think words and pictures together are very powerful. But just by itself, this isn't a substitute for what we had before.' [He] called the stair-climbing figure an 'inelegant' attempt to encourage exercise. 'If you remember the pyramid at all, and you remember oil was at the top, you now have somebody marching steadfastly up towards the oils,' he said." I'm sorry but that's hilarious.

But not nearly as funny as this: "To help promote the new emphasis on exercise, Johanns invited fitness expert Denise Austin to be a cheerleader for the recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity. Austin, a member of the president's Physical Fitness and Sports Council, goaded reporters like an exercise class instructor: 'The more you move, the more you lose!' She gave an impromptu demonstration, gripping the arms of her chair like parallel bars and lifting her legs to work her abdominal muscles." Have you ever seen Denise Austin in action? She is unintentionally hilarious, and I can only imagine the moves she put on during the press conference. What a joke.

By the way, do you remember those Presidential Fitness Challenges of yore? They'd make kids, even the asthmatic ones, run a timed mile with absolutely no training and do silly things like walk a balance beam. I think fitness goals are great at any age, but the approach, like the aforementioned pyramid scheme (pun intended), was all wrong. Interestingly, there's a President's Fitness Challenge for adults, too. Medals are the lure—bronze, silver and gold. It's weird if you ask me but just weird enough that I might go for it. I know I would feel absolutely ridiculous walking around with a Presidential Fitness Gold medal 'round my neck—ridiculous enough that it might be fun to turn myself into a "Presidential Champion." Maybe I can even earn the super neeto patch!

* * *

Meanwhile last week I said, three things get me through the day: nutritients, exercise, and tunes. I think I've pretty much covered the food, though I didn't mention my occasional need for donuts or candy or some other kind of sweets. Nor did I mention that we have wine every Friday at work, and that as much as I abhor Chardonay, I've succumb more than once. But it's time to move on because we've got a new pope and other things are going on in the world about which I have an opinion or two, but I feel equally compelled to finish out this work thing, especially because there is a law of diminishing returns that will eventually come into play, i.e. a day whereby no matter how good the food, or how far I run, or how many songs I have in my playlist, I'm still hoping to win the lottery, and I will by golly by gum.

Alright so I found long ago that the more active I am, the more energy I have. That exercise = energy is well documented, but it's easy to forget the extent to which it's true. Sure you might end up feeling tired that particular day, but once you get in a regular groove, you'll find that your energy lags more when you miss a few days.

I am fortunate in that I enjoy working out. If you can't find something you enjoy doing that gets your blood flowing, then working out sucks. There's nothing more painful than spending 20 to 90 minutes doing something that you can't stand. For instance, I hate swimming. There's nothing about it that I like. I loathe the smell of chlorine. I get the heeby jeebies from stray hairs and debris that I know I'm gonna end up drinking. And I can't stand drowning. In the Bay Area, there are plenty of non-pool options, complete with non-pool deterrents like ice cold temperatures and salt water that stings worse then chlorine when you swallow the water just before you drown. Nope, no water sports for me, and I mean that in all the connotations.

Now me, I learned belatedly in this life that I like running. Go figure. When I was in my teens and twenties, you couldn't have gotten me to run, even by offering me a steak and a slab of cake at the finish line. Then lord knows what got into me, but I started running about two years ago and behold, I love it. I'm a natural runner; I'm fast, and I can go the distance. BUT, I've got totally flat feet, and since everything's connected, I've had problems from the foot on up to the knee with both legs. I had to have six-weeks of physical therapy last year, where it was highly suggested I try something easier on the body—like swimming. My compromise was to take a couple months off and then to resume on a greatly reduced schedule. So I went from running three to four times per week to twice a week or doing the math, I've gone from about 20-25 miles per week to about five, which blows but hey, at least I can do it at all.

Ideally, I'd like to get four cardio sessions in per week, but I'm kind of stymied. I usually go bike riding either Saturday or Sunday, so that give me three. Riding is awesome, especially in as scenic a place as San Francisco, but it's not the same. Riding gives me a complete sense of freedom. For example, two weekends ago Soyboy and I went for what was meant to be a leisurely ride, and we ended up in Sausalito. Along the way we rode through Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach, went along the Coastal Trail to China Beach, went through Mountain Lake Park and the Presidio and eventually over the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather was stellar, and it was totally fun. But running is different for me. I don't know why. They say it's the endorphins.

Meanwhile I'm still looking for one more piece to round it all out. The Ron and I bought a soccer ball recently. We kicked it around last in Delores Park Thurday after work, which was a blast, but I hate to rely on either people for stuff like that. I'm not casting aspersions on The Ron, but I like activities that I can do on my own if no other takers are around. I'm thinking about handball as a possibility now, if I can find a court.

But cardio is only one piece of it. Another is flexibility. I do what I call "baby yoga" at least two to three times per week: studios are expensive, so I've armed myself with a DVD or two, and I get my stretch on that way.

As for strength training, which is the third part of the fitness triangle, that's incorporated with the running thanks to the inestimable coaching of SF Outdoor Fitness's Mike, and then I've got a trick or two of my own up my sleeve. (C'mon, I can't give away all my secrets). Suffice it to say, strengthing and conditioning is going on daily.

In addition to feeling healthy and energetic as a colt, I've also found that working out helps keep me on track. I tend to go to bed earlier rather than later because I know I'm gonna get up at 5:30 a.m. on the days I run. I also tend to eat better when I'm in a fitness groove because my body craves nutrient-rich food, and because I know that I perform better when I fill myself with quality fuel.

Which brings up another point: rest. Working out gives creates a body awareness that wouldn't otherwise exist. For example, two weeks ago I was exhausted one evening. Not just sleepy, but physically exhausted. At first I thought it was because I hadn't gotten enough sleep the day before, but I realized it was more than that when I found myself wishing for a bus though I wasn't far from my house. I didn't feel sick or run down; my body was just tired. I decided not to work out the next morning and slept in an extra hour. Doing so, didn't make much of a difference. I was sluggish all day and couldn't wait to get home to my bed. Then I thought about what I'd been eating, what sort of workouts I'd had earlier in the week, and I decided I was low on protein. After work, I ate a cheeseburger, something I rarely do. Saturday I dragged myself on a long walk and then had two filet mignons in the afternoon. Sunday I went to Osento, a local women's bathhouse, and treated myself to an hour and a half of hot tub and sauna, which I try to do every few weeks. Then I ate a smoked trout salad because unlike the previous days, I craved salad. Monday, the exhaustion I'd felt began to drain away. Today I felt 100 percent raring to go. When I hit the pavement the next day, I knew I'd feel stronger than before my little burnout, and I did.

I don't eat red meat often, but there are times when it makes a difference. I often find that when my body is craving something, it's because I need something. Maybe it was the iron, maybe the mad cow's, who knows. I was also craving pampering. I try to do the spa (steam and soak) about every three weeks or so and a deep tissue massage about once a month. I've also done acupuncture for relaxation. They all work in different ways, but they all work. These methods of healing can be expensive, but I try to budget for them as best I can because they're worth it, especially as we get older and especially when you're really active.

My overriding physical fitness goal isn't prowess; it's about paying attention; when I don't, I suffer. I've done that plenty of times, and I'm sure it will happen again. But overall, I like the grounding feeling that comes from physical exertion. I also find it's a sort of meditation for me. Sometimes I take my mom with me, communing with my ancestors, if you will. Other times, I talk to the universe or just listen to my own internal rhythm. I know many people work out in the afternoon or evening, but I like the way it sets the tone for the rest of the day. Then I can go to work and plug in and still feel like I'm transforming my life.

As for fitness websites, my favorite is Marty Gallagher's Purposely Primitive Fitness, which discusses diet basics, fitness, and exercise along with random philosophical musings (Marty's Stream of Warped Consciousness Blog) from the five-time world master powerlifting champion. The web site might seem intimidating at first, but I got to know his work through his Live Online Washington Post columns. In that forum, he made an art form of addressing every level of fitness questions from every walk of life, not just hardcore bodybuilders. Now he's got his own thing going, and I think it's great. Ask him a question during one of his live chat sessions; just make sure to include a lot of detail. The more you tell him, the better a response he can give.


Anonymous rl said...

this sounds so nice:

For example, two weekends ago Soyboy and I went for what was meant to be a leisurely ride, and we ended up in Sausalito. Along the way we rode through Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach, went along the Coastal Trail to China Beach, went through Mountain Lake Park and the Presidio and eventually over the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather was stellar, and it was totally fun. But running is different for me. I don't know why. They say it's the endorphins.

whenever the weather is good, after karate, E insists we go on a bike ride. they last about 45-60 minutes, around the park, to the local market. my goal this summer is to get out and do solo rides which i've never done. well, when i was a kid, around the neighborhood but no solo rides as an adult!

9:04 PM  
Anonymous rl said...

plus your comments on the pyramid are HILARIOUS! and i agree with it all!

9:10 PM  

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