Proteins, carbohydrates, fat, cholesterol, a whole pharmacy of chemical compounds make a non-stop dance within the confines of our skin suits. There's a conspiracy of activity striving to keep us alive and thriving. So if being of sound mind and body is actually important to us, how do we mess it up? And what can we do to keep our equipment in working condition?
We all know the answer, even if we don't want to face it. Life requires maintenance. We can see it in anything that we create. Machines need to be maintained to keep working. Cities need to be maintained or they crumble, the territory to be reclaimed by nature. Houses need to be cared for or they'll fall into disrepair. The human body is the same.
That means work. That means eating properly and it means excercise. Now, once upon a time, this used to be easier. Before junk food production became major industries and before we started using our brains to think up sedentary occupations for ourselves, we were hunters and gatherers. Or at least our ancestors were. They worked hard to survive and exercise came with that as a matter of course. Those people walked everywhere. A lot of the time, they were walking to find food, so there was definite motivation. Food was much more scarce so overeating was no more likely than eating badly.
Today, we've learned to keep the food coming to us and we've crafted a civilization that makes sitting a major part of daily activity. Instead of making time to rest, we have to make time to move. I remember Doc Brown explaining it to the saloon audience of 1885 in "Back to the Future III" and even they thought it sounded ridiculous. "Does anybody walk or run anymore?" Pat Buttram asked him. Wistfully, the good doctor assured them that we modern descendants would continue the practices for fun and general well-being, but...we've managed to create some large butts. Watch The Learning Channel for a couple of weeks and you're likely to see a few people you would swear were taking lifestyle tips from Jabba the Hutt.
OK, so if you've decided you don't want to resign yourself to having people deliver platters of food to you on an hourly basis and test the limits of the human body's fat storage system, it's time to get up and walk. "But why? Obviously we were meant to store lots of fat."
Yes we were, because food used to be scarce for humankind for the last hundred thousand years. Recently, as you might've heard, we fixed that. We're also built for walking. With practice, we can outdistance anything we want to eat. That's how humans used to catch faster, stronger prey animals. We'd push them till they were worn out, better still if we'd managed to wound them first. Hunts might take days, but our ancestors learned to walk and run and to track things down. We inherited a great exercise and a tremendous energy storing system.
Walking is a great exercise that requires no special equipment. You don't even have to break a sweat for it to benefit you. Walk thirty minutes to an hour every day and it'll be better for you than trying to run seven hours a week. "What? If a little is good, isn't more even better?"
Pull up a chair. Yeah, more sitting. I'm going to hit you with two secrets of health and fitness that they won't tell you on the diet pill commercials. There's a limit to the health benefits you will receive from exercise. Surprise! After you've burned about 2500 calories on exercise in a week, you can take a break. You won't receive any more perks after that. That's not to say you can't keep training and teach your body to run a hundred miles if you want to; however, if that were your goal, you wouldn't need a push from me. You would already be out there running. So for all of you still reading, ask yourself if you'd rather walk thirty minutes a day or run for two and a half hours? I know my answer.
Now, since I mentioned the commercials, they may have enticed you with images of smiling people sporting low-fat bodies and chiseled abs. Many people find these images to be very motivating goals. That's why they use them. Assuming you're still sitting, I've got another bit of information they're not sharing with you. Those smiling low-fat people aren't healthy.
To be medically technical about it, the images they're showing you are of anorexics. Anorexia wasn't a desirable medical state the last time I checked. Your body uses fat for different reasons, so it needs it. Hell, your brain is made out of fat and cholesterol. If you're wearing ten percent bodyfat or less, you're anorexic and so are those models on TV. By the time of their photo shoot, they've likely dehydrated themselves, too, to really make sure the skin is tight. That's why you can see their chiseled abs and sculpted musculature...and their ribs. That's the only way you're going to see yours either. Do Olympic gymnasts and weightlifters show off their abs? No. Their very strong muscles are hidden under fat, but that's OK because they came to perform, not to pose.
You should go do some push-ups. Start with as many as you can handle and remember to breathe deeply. Some days do a few less. Switch it up to surprise your muscles. Notice how much easier it becomes. You don't have to set an hour aside for this simple activity, just one minute at a time throughout the day while you're taking those stretch breaks to keep from sitting all day. You will increase your strength and your stamina over time.
The great thing about the simple push-up is that you're not just working your arms. There are a variety of ways to do push-ups and you're going to work your core muscles, strengthening your back and your abdominals, as you go. That means you're less likely to hurt yourself as you perform other activities. And since you're breathing deeply, your breathing will improve. When your breathing improves, everything improves.
Now, when you build muscle, you will become stronger. You will also become heavier, so don't freak out when you hit the scale. Another secret ("Man, how come nobody's been telling me this stuff?") is that as you build muscle, your body will store a little more fat. Don't panic. I'm not saying that push-ups and other resistance exercises will make you fatter. Actually, the accumulation keeps a pretty even pace. If you started at twenty-five percent bodyfat and added ten pounds after a few weeks of strength training, you'd find that you were still at twenty-five percent bodyfat. That means you've added a few of those pounds in the form of fat.
Getting rid of the fat is a little trickier. The commercials don't tell you this one either, but there is a limit to how much fat you can burn. A pound of fat stores thirty-five hundred calories. It's a lot and it's a lot to burn. It's even a lot to eat in a day, but we've proven we can do it. Unfortunately, it's more than we need. Due to the efficiency of the human body, you won't burn more than two pounds of fat in a week. If you could, no one would've needed to invent liposuction. When the commercials tell you someone lost thirty pounds in two weeks, a little math will tell you that it's not all fat. If it wasn't fat, then it was something that person should've kept (muscle, water, etc.).
That gets us back to the basics, but that's OK because we're trying to keep things simple.
- Eat right: protein first, followed by vegetables and low-starch carbohydrates
- Eat less: unless you're involved in intense exercise, you probably don't need more than two thousand calories a day--no super-sizing!
- Walk more, sit less.
- Get regular sleep and drink plenty of water: like I said, basics
Your total body weight isn't the indicator you want to watch when determining your health. Pay attention to your body mass composition. If you haven't already, shop for a good bodyfat scale. For detailed reading, you might look into the writings of biochemist Dr. Bart Sears. He developed the Zone Diet. A lot of different diet plans have built on its simple framework and touted themselves as revolutionary (The Miami Beach Diet, for example, was a hybrid that starts as the Atkins Diet and segues into the Zone Diet).
One other bit of exercise you might want to look into is rebounding. If you think you're not familiar with it, it's basically jumping on a trampoline. Not the big ones, like in your backyard, which is undeniably a lot of fun. No, this involves the little ones like you'd find in the exercise equipment department. There is a difference, though. The mini-trampoline will cost you about $40 and the "rebounder" about $200. Unlike most products, though, the difference in quality really is reflected in the price. Use the $40 model like the $200 model and you'll wear it out in about a month. A "rebounder" is bouncier, sturdier and designed to last for years.
If you like bouncing on the big ones, you'll probably enjoy the small version. On the small one, you can bounce inside and get more bounces. The importance of this is that you're altering the stress on your whole body at once repeatedly. At the height of a bounce, you're airborne and feeling weightless. At the bottom, you've momentarily multiplied the g-force stress on yourself, over and over, but without the impact stress of jogging or even walking. Even though it's fun, ten minutes of that counts as work. Do a few thousand bounces every week and who cares whether or not you go for a walk?