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.

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Interior Exercise

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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.