Gardening Muscles

Yesterday was my first gardening day of 2021. I did a lot of weeding, picking up fallen twigs, and clearing away dead leaves and stalks. I also lugged a few bags of cow manure into position and started to dig out a new flower bed in our side yard.

Today, I admit that I’m a bit sore.

Gardening may not provide the most aggressive workout, but you definitely use a different send of muscles than you do in, say, walking. There’s obviously bending, kneeling, and stooping involved, and also a lot of stretching and working with your arms as you pluck weeds behind your plants, spade out the soil, and use your weedpopper to dig out those stubborn dandelion roots. When you add in some rock hefting, which is an inevitable part of the gardening process in Stonington, you’ve got a pretty good exercise regimen going.

This morning, I’m feeling yesterday’s gardening workout in my hamstrings, lower back, and upper arms. It’s going to take a while before my gardening muscles are back in shape. Today, after it warms up, I’ll go out for another workout and try to build up that gardening tolerance again.

Upper Arm Display

The combination of COVID-19 vaccination sweeping the nation and social media being a primary form of communication in modern America has produced an unusual situation. We’re seeing a lot more of people’s bared upper arms these days–either displaying the Band-Aid signifying that they’ve got their shot or actually getting stuck by a needle.

This is unusual because the upper arm is a part of the body that normally is blissfully covered by clothing. In pre-COVID times, it would be rare indeed to encounter a friend and have them expose their upper arm in greeting you. There’s a reason for this. Unless you’re a bodybuilder who is working on getting ready for next year’s Arnold Classic, you’re not really paying much attention to that triceps area.

Oh, you may have noticed, with a sad realization of the regrettable realities of aging, that as you’ve gotten older that upper arm area has become saggy, with a flap of loose skin and jelly-like flab that hangs down and sways in the breeze when you hold your arm out. But you thought that, in the priority list of body parts that demand attention in your personal fitness regimen, the upper arms fall well below, say, the waistline, because they are simply not as visible and obvious to the casual observer. That is, they weren’t as visible and obvious until posting vaccination photos suddenly became de rigueur.

We weren’t prepared for this new reality, which is just another way in which COVID-19 has upset our well-ordered, pre-pandemic world. And now I wonder: will the increased visibility of the upper arm cause a surge in people hitting the gym and performing push-ups or other exercises designed specifically to tone those triceps areas, to make for more attractive vaccination photos when the COVID booster shots inevitably hit the market in the future?

In the meantime, we can all be grateful that vaccination shots are given in the upper arm, and not in the belly.

The Shovelton Workout

We got a lot of snow overnight — by Columbus standards, at least — and walking was impracticable, so this morning’s exercise consisted of shoveling our front steps, the sidewalk, and the brick walkway to our backyard.

I’d be in much better shape if I had to shovel snow every day, although I’m certainly glad I don’t need to do so. It involves just about every form of exercise you can think of — bending, scraping, lifting, and then turning to hurl the snow from the shovel to your snow mound. And at our house you get your steps in, too, because there is only one plausible snow mound area and you end up lifting the snow on the shovel and carefully carrying it to that one accumulation point to be tossed onto the pile.

Why hasn’t somebody invented an exercise device that approximates shoveling snow? You could call it the Shovelton. Workout participants would don their winter coats, hats, and gloves, grab the Shovelton shovel, and shovel away. The screen could add urgency by showing an approaching garbage truck, requiring you to quickly clear a path to roll out your recycling bin, and you could up your workout by choosing the “plowed street” option, in which the snowplow has deposited huge mounds of snow and cinders that block your sidewalk and driveway and must be cleared away so you can get to work on time.

This Morning’s Virtual Run

The Stonington 600 is a running and walking event put on the by Island Community Center to promote health and wellness among residents of Deer Isle.  Yesterday we passed a sign announcing that, with COVID-19 and the interest in promoting social distancing, the event will be a “virtual run/walk.”  When I saw the sign, I thought:  “A virtual run?  Finally, a running event I’d be willing to participate in!”

Imagine my disappointment when I learned that, if you are participating in the Stonington 600 by running, the “virtual” nature of the event means that you are still supposed to actually run!  You’re just supposed to do your distance by yourself, running whatever course you wish during a three-day period, rather than being part of a group that runs the same course at the same time.

This approach doesn’t seem to fully embrace the “virtual” part of the concept.  So, this morning I am taking a virtual run around town.  In fact, I’m doing it right now.  I’ve left our house, trotted down the gravel path, and turned left to head down the hill.  I’m starting to feel loosened up as I turn left, so I pick up the pace on the short stretch of road and then head onto the main road, where I’ve got to keep an eye out for the over-sized pickups roaring past on their way to the lobster co-op.  By the time and turn right and head down the hill into town, I’m moving with a fluid, elegant pace.  I check my watch and realize that I’m making pretty good time this morning, which makes me feel good. 

I dash past the town hall and the Harbor Cafe and the hotels, then turn right to sprint down the hill toward the mail boat dock, turn left, then turn left again onto heartbreak hill.  I hate this part of the run!  I’m huffing and puffing as I head straight up the 30 degree incline.  Why don’t I run down this stupid hill, rather than up?  When I finally reach the Catholic Church, I’m laboring.  Feel the burn!  Then it’s back to the main road and down the hill to trot back through town again.  I’m back on pace and grateful that it’s a nice cool, clear morning, so I’m not getting overheated.  I check my virtual watch and take a swig of virtual water, and I’m on the home stretch.  I dodge some more trucks, turn left onto the road to the lobster co-op, and then charge up the final hill, with my legs feeling a little rubbery.  When I finally reach our place I towel off and revel in that runner’s afterglow.

Hey, that virtual run was pretty good!  Later today, I’m going to do some virtual power-lifting.

Exercise Is Where You Find It

The snow fell on Saturday, and when it looked like the snowfall had ended, I went out and shoveled the snow off our front steps, our brick entrance way, the walkway to the back yard, and the sidewalk in front of our house.

Alas!  The storm was only taking a breather and toying with me, and another four or five inches of snow fell later on Saturday and Sunday morning.  So yesterday I grabbed the back saver shovel and did it all over again.

Shoveling snow is pretty good exercise.  You do a lot of bending, lifting, and twisting, as well as some precision work in scraping off the packed down areas that somebody has walked on.  If the snow is moist, good packing snow, as this snowfall was, you end up with a decent amount of weight on the end of your shovel, ready to be hefted and hurled onto the snowbank you create. It doesn’t take much shoveling to get the heartbeat up and the sweat glands flowing, even though the weather is cold.  Combine that with being outside, taking gulps of crisp fresh air, and you’ve got a nice little workout going.

In my case, I’d say the whole process took between a half hour and 45 minutes.  When I was done I had clean steps, a clean sidewalk, and a feeling of accomplishment.  If I’d been in a gym, it would be akin to one of those exercise routines where you pick up a heavy ball, twist to one side and then another, and then throw it to the side and do the whole process again.

Studies consistently show that most Americans don’t get as much exercise as they should.  One response might be to move to the Midwest and buy a snow shovel.

 

Reasonably Achievable Resolutions

Did you make a New Year’s resolution?  If so, how’s it going?  According to a social network called Strava, which somehow conducted some research into the topic, most people who make New Year’s resolutions end up breaking them by January 12.  So hang in there: you apparently only have to suffer through a few more days of compliance before you can go back to those old habits.

The Strava research seems to have focused on exercise and dietary resolutions, which are probably the most challenging resolutions of all.  People buy that health club membership and start eating leafy green vegetables for dinner with the best of intentions, but are felled by unrealistic expectations of what will happen.  When those unrealistic expectations aren’t met, they fall off the wagon.  And then, after they fall off the wagon, they figure it’s hopeless to try to change and totally give up.

I think making resolutions makes some sense, and the start of a new year is as good a time as any for some self-reflection and consideration of how a beneficial behavioral change might be in order.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to get more exercise and be more healthy, but why stake your New Year’s resolutions entirely upon goals that experience teaches are incredibly difficult to reach?  Maybe we should start small, and think about little, reasonably achievable resolutions that might just make you a better person and improve your life at the same time.  Consider, for example, this list of 58 New Year’s resolutions that don’t involve dieting or exercise.  It’s not exhaustive and right for everyone, of course, but it may give you ideas for the kind of resolutions that are suitable for you.

This year, I’m going small with my resolutions.  I’m going to clean out my closet and give the clothes that aren’t being used to a charitable organization.  I want to go through what we’ve got stored in the basement and the pantry, figure out whether we’re using it, and donate what’s unneeded to the Goodwill.  I’m going to tackle my emailboxes and iPhone photos, delete what I don’t want to store forever, be happy about the reduced clutter, and see whether that improves my phone battery life.  And while I’ve done a better job of leisure reading this past year, in 2019 I’m going to up the ante by identifying and then reading through to the end at least one really mentally challenging book.

Making goals is a good thing, but reaching those goals is even better.

 

Overweight Ohio

Some entity I’ve never heard of came out with their list of the fattest states in America.  Of course, I checked to see where Ohio ranked, and found that we’re at number 12 on the portly parade — not quite cracking the Top Ten of Tubbiness, but definitely up there farther than we want to be.

3672977397_af1d0d37ac_zAn outfit called WalletHub (has anybody heard of these guys?) supposedly looked at three factors — “obesity and overweight prevalence, health consequences and food and fitness” — to determine their rankings.  By their analysis, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Arkansas rank 1, 2, and 3 in overall corpulence, whereas Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii, respectively, are the top three at the slender end of the spectrum.  And notwithstanding all of the lobbying fat cats who prowl the halls of Congress, the District of Columbia is found to be one of the slimmest jurisdictions in the U.S.

I’m always skeptical of these kinds of rankings of states, but the news stories never get into the details of how they are developed that would allow proper analysis.  Precisely how was the “obesity and overweight prevalence” factor in this study determined?  Is there some kind of secret federal blubber database that was consulted?  And does food and fitness just look at the availability of food and workout facilities, or the kind of food that is consumed, or the use of restaurants and fitness outlets, or something else?  How in the world would you determine, for example, that Ohio is marginally fatter than That State Up North?

All that said, it’s clear that Ohio has work to do.  We don’t want to crack the Top Ten on the State Stoutness Scale and be known as Obese Ohio.  It’s time to put down those delectable Buckeye candies, push back from the kitchen table, hop on the elliptical or the bike, break out the weights, and start turning blubbery Buckeyes into buff Buckeyes.

News-Free Fitness

Life Time Fitness, which operates 128 fitness facilities in the United States and Canada, has eliminated cable news channels from the big TV screens that are available for viewing by members who are working out.  The treadmill set at Life Time Fitness won’t be able to watch CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, or CNBC any more.  Instead, USA, A&E, ESPN, Discovery, HGTV, and local stations will be featured on the bigger screens.

wht3_fitness-tvs-1Life Time Fitness explained that the elimination of cable news channels is due to its “commitment to provide family oriented environments free of consistently negative or politically charged content” and a “healthy way of life philosophy.”  The change is also the result of feedback from members, who said they felt “stressed” during their workouts when watching cable news programming.  One member wrote to Life Time that the gym “is no place for constant negativity like the news chains love to surround themselves with.”

Studies have shown that the viewing of TV news can affect a person’s mental state and mood — no surprise there, really — and one study reported that people who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning were 27 percent more likely to say their day was unhappy when surveyed six to eight hours later than a group that watched more uplifting TV content.  If you’re a fitness facility, why show programming that is more likely to cause people to conclude that days begun at the gym are unhappy ones?

I can understand why a fitness center might decide that featuring cable news really isn’t well-suited for workouts for other reasons, too.  How can you reasonably expect to maintain focus and a positive attitude about what you’re doing on the elliptical machines if you’re being bombarded with news stories about the latest dysfunctional activities in Washington, D.C.?  And having your blood pressure spike during a choleric reaction to disturbing news reports about President Trump’s Twitter feed is likely to be inconsistent with the pre-planned heartbeat increase and calorie burn built into that hill program on the exercise bike or treadmill.  Programs about home remodeling, in contrast, are bound to produce a better workout milieu.

Now, if we can just get airports to get rid of cable news channels on the monitors found in every gate area.  We don’t need to add to the stress when we’re waiting on delayed flights, either.

Interior Exercise

IMG_5748

We’ve reached the depths of winter in the Midwest, and the part of that dismal season when changes in temperature mean melting snow, then refreezing, then melting again, then refreezing again.  It makes walking outside a treacherous exercise that is not for the faint of heart — especially if you’re walking on ever-slippery brick.

But there is an alternative to outdoor exercise for those of us who are too cheap to get health club memberships but who desperately need the exercise if they hope to stave off the condition of Rapid Waistline Expansion.  It’s called the stairs.  And if, like me, you toil in an older building where there are lots of stairwells with different designs, like the stairwell shown above, the stairs can be a pretty cool option aesthetically, too.

According to the medical experts, taking the stairs does have the effect of burning some calories — although not enough to allow you to rationalize eating a Snickers bar a day, unless you’re walking to the top of the Empire State building on your way to work — and other health benefits as well, including building and maintaining health bones, muscles, and joints and improved aerobic capacity.  I like doing it because it gets me moving and gets the blood flowing during the day, and I feel like I’m at least doing something to maintain or even improve my health while at the office.

Of course, it’s a lot easier taking the stairs going down, than going up.

Swearing Off Sara Lee

Recently Kish and I stopped at a Bob Evans for a cup of coffee.  As we waited at the to-go counter, we stood by the glass display case that offered all kinds of tantalizing coffee cakes, crumb cakes, and gigantic cookies.  It was a classic example of conscious retail design to encourage impulse buying:  as long as you’re here, picking up your order, why not go for one of these delectable items, too?

The coffee cakes looked awfully good, but we resisted the temptation and stuck with our lone cup of coffee.

sweetbreakfast-pecancoffeecakeIt reminded me of a kind of rite of passage during my early teenage years.  Mom used to buy Sara Lee pecan coffee cake that I found irresistible.  It was dense and moist and sweet and cinnamony, with swirls of icing and crunchy pecans.  Although it was sold in kind of aluminum dish so it could be heated and served hot, I always took my Sara Lee coffee cake cold, with a tall glass of cold milk as accompaniment.  And on some days, I’d have a second piece, too.  And maybe a third.

But after a while I realized that I wasn’t exactly maintaining fighting trim, and if I wanted to actually get a date with a girl I needed to do something about it.  It wasn’t just the Sara Lee, of course, there was the lure of Frosted Flakes, and Coke and all kinds of snack foods, and a lifestyle that involved too much TV watching and not enough exercising.  And, at bottom, the inability to enjoy things like that Sara Lee pecan coffee cake in moderation, rather than in gluttonous excess.  But I swore off the Sara Lee, and I don’t think I’ve had any since.

Could I enjoy a sliver of Sara Lee and a glass of milk, without promptly ravishing the entire cake?  I’d like to think so, but I’m not going to test that hypothesis.  Sometimes it’s more prudent to just avoid temptation altogether.

Planting Season

Yesterday we spent some time over at the urban farm, where it’s planting season.  So far this year Emily and Russell have planted a number of black currant and raspberry bushes to join the apple trees and strawberry plants that remain from last year, and there’s a new beehive where the bees are busily doing their thing.  You could say things are buzzing at the farm.

It was a fine day, clear and not too warm, so we tried to put it to good use.  Russell and I spent most of our time shoveling dark, steaming topsoil from a huge mound into the back of his pickup truck, then transferring it onto the rows to be available for even more planting.  Thanks to the squatting, lifting, and twisting, I felt like I’d spent a few hard hours at the gym — except the farm effort also helped to produce two more furrows that are ready to go and made a noticeable dent in the topsoil pile.

Not surprisingly, I slept pretty well last night.

Creatures Of Habit

In an effort to get a bit more exercise into my day, I’ve been getting up earlier and walking for the last six months or so.  I leave the house a few minutes before 6 a.m., walk up Third Street, take a lap around the perimeter of Schiller Park, and head back home in time to get ready for the work day.

habit20I’ve noticed that, on my little pre-dawn jaunt, I see the same people, at about the same time, in about the same place.  The quick-walking bearded guy wearing a Kansas City Royals cap, shoulders hunched and hands in his pockets, heading down Third to the Starbucks.  The guy smoking his morning cigarette next to the church.  The two women walking in the street wearing colorful, coordinated workout outfits.  The seemingly inexhaustible guy running around the park with his two border collies that always move to the other side of the sidewalk as I approach.  The two joggers carrying on an animated conversation.

I freely concede that I’m a creature of habit.  When it comes to things like exercise, I like getting into a routine and then following it.  I could mix things up and, say, walk down Mohawk rather than Third, or really get radical and walk in the opposite direction — but I would never do that.  I like taking the turn at the Starbucks, seeing whether there’s been any progress on the church repairs, and checking out the people pounding away on the treadmills at Snap Fitness.  And, from my experience seeing the same people in about the same place at about the same time, I’m not alone in my creature of habit status.

If you google “creatures of habit,” you’ll find a number of articles about how people can break their habits, and the positives that can flow from trying something new.  I’m sure that’s true, but I’m here to say that habits can have their value, too.  There’s a certain comfort in the sameness, a zen-like tranquillity in the known and the familiar, and a sense that a new day must be starting because I’m rounding the third corner on my way around the park and that guy on the bike is wheeling by, just like clockwork.

Routines can have their value.

Working Out The Crook In The Arm

If you walk around your town, you’ve probably noticed this already.  I’m talking about the number of people who are going from Point A to Point B, carrying a coffee cup or water bottle.  I’d say at least half, and maybe more, of the people out and about these days are fully liquified and ready to immediately hydrate or caffeinate.

020107002It’s kind of strange when you think about it.  It’s as if these folks can’t bear to be away from the liquid of their choice for any length of time, so they carry it with them — even if they aren’t actually drinking from the cup, or mug, or jug as they walk along.  And I’m not talking about people who have just emerged from the nearest Starbucks with a pumpkin latte and are heading back to the office, either.  I’m talking about people who seem to carry their containers at all times.  One of my fellow walkers from German Village to downtown Columbus always carries a cup of coffee with him on his stroll to work, and he never takes so much as a sip.  Of course not!  If you try to take a drink when you’re walking you’re risking a spill, and coffee stains are hard to remove from clothing.  That begs the question:  if you’re not going to actually drink the liquid you’re lugging around, why carry it with you in the first place?

As somebody who prefers to walk unburdened by water bottles and coffee cups, I conclude that there are two potential explanations for this.  One is that the water-bearers have become emotionally attached to their liquid containers and their contents, and that constantly carrying them around provides some kind of comfort.  The other is that this is all part of some new exercise regimen. Somewhere, some fitness guru has decreed that the muscles surrounding the crook of the arm are under-exercised, and that the best way to deal with the issue is to carry around small containers and maintain the arm perpetually bent at the elbow, with the lower arm and the upper arm forming a 90-degree angle, for extended periods of time.  Only by doing so will the biceps and triceps, working with the ulna, radius, brachioradialis, tendons, extensors, and flexors, get the full workout that they really need.

Call it Coffee Cup Conditioning, or the Water Jug Workout.

Common Workout

Today as I was walking home I passed some kind of plus-sized exercise club on the east lawn of the Columbus Commons, getting ready to do some kind of group workout.  You’ll be surprised to learn that the sight offended me.

IMG_5279I’m all for exercise, but can’t it be done in the privacy of your own home, or in an enclosed space like a gym where the only other people exposed to your form-fitting exercise duds that really only look good on supermodels are the people who are paying monthly dues for that dubious privilege?  Apparently not!  No, these days people clearly feel a desperate need to exercise in public.  Whether it’s because they want to show off their exercise habits, or it’s because they’ve deceived themselves into thinking they look studly, or it’s because they believe the public element of the exercise will give them some added incentive to work just a little harder, random public acts of exercise are routinely inflicted upon innocent Americans.

This afternoon it’s the hefty group on the lawn of the Columbus Commons, wearing unflattering garb, grunting, groaning, and stretching the tensile resilience of Spandex to its maximum extent.  Tomorrow it’s a gang of shirtless male runners blithely spraying us with a halo of sweat and emanating a rank barnyard odor as they jog past on busy downtown streets during the lunch hour.  The day after it’s a woman in the airport waiting area doing self-conscious yoga poses and hoping that everyone watches her while she takes up more than her fair share of precious space at Gate C-26.

Do me a favor, will you?  Save your exercise for those private moments and leave the common public areas for the rest of us.

Giving Exercise A Black Eye

What in the world happened to Harry Reid?

The Senate’s Minority Leader didn’t appear on Capitol Hill for the opening of the new Congress because he was staying at home on doctor’s orders.  He did release a video, however, that showed that he had suffered extensive facial trauma.   A spokesman said Reid had  sustained broken ribs, broken facial bones, and a concussion; Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who met with Reid, said the injuries Reid suffered were like those of a passenger who went face first through the windshield in a car accident.  Yikes!

A statement released by Reid’s office said he was exercising at home when a piece of equipment that he was using to exercise broke.  The New York Times reports that Reid was using a rubber exercise band that snapped, hit him, and caused him to fall.  It makes you wonder precisely what the circumstances of the injury were and whether Senator Reid had been properly instructed on how, and where, to use such a band.  Resistance bands typically are used to try to increase the strength of specific muscles as part of a rehabilitation program, and aren’t viewed as highly dangerous potential projectiles.

After seeing the aftermath of Senator’s Reid’s incident, I think I’ll just stick to walking.