Monday, December 24, 2012

Simple Connections

In 1994, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon. So did Oprah. Yeah. That Oprah. It was my third MCM. It was Oprah's first. Of course, we didn't run together, even though it felt as if we did. For the entire, miserable, 26.2 rain-soaked miles, crowds of "supporters" let me know that "Oprah is right in front of you!" I desperately wanted to catch up and pass her entourage, so I could tell the people on the sidelines, "Oprah is right behind me!" That never happened. Oprah finished in 4:29-something...a mere 2 minutes ahead of me. So, so close...

But, this post isn't about that marathon; although, I distinctly remember a great deal of it. The start cannon boomed, the skies opened, and it poured the entire time. Oprah was right in front of me. I said several bad words to my wonderful, supportive husband at mile 17. A couple of dudes mooned me as we crossed the 14th Street bridge back into Virginia. And Oprah beat me. (In case you hadn't figured that out.)

Nope. This post is not about the marathon, and it's not really about Oprah. But it is about the book she and her trainer, Bob Greene, wrote subsequent to the marathon: Make the Connection: Ten Steps to a Better Body--and a Better Life.

The book actually belongs to my sister. She probably acquired it shortly after it came out and while she was briefly living with us when she first started nursing school. It's been in a box, moved from house to house, since then. As I started sorting through some books (I have way too many books, by the way), I pulled it out. Curious. Put it aside. Then, not too long ago, picked it up and read it.

In part, the book chronicles Oprah's challenges with managing her weight and the breakthroughs she finally achieved with Bob Greene, including being able to run a marathon. But the meat of the book is the approach Bob uses with his clients to help them lose weight.

A lot has happened since the book was published. Oprah is overweight again. Bob Greene is more than a fitness consultant to the stars with a well-marketed fitness-based business that includes programs, books, and food. And some of the ideas put forth in the book are probably not entirely healthy or correct, but at its crux, the basic ideas seem sound...and simple.

Here's the thing. People who are not runners, triathletes, or otherwise consistently physically active will often point out (with a touch of envy, I think) that I can eat anything I want because I work out so much. They then look askance at me when I respond that that's not entirely true and that the process of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, while naturally easier for some than others, is really not all that complicated. I think they refuse to believe me because we are bombarded with marketing that tells us we need to eat or not eat certain kinds of food to lose weight. Diets that are effective are special, based on points, made up of freeze-dried food (shipped right to your door!), and so complex you need to pay someone to tell you how to eat. While I would never discount the value of a good nutritionist (because I think we are so confused about food, we need to be re-taught how to eat properly), the value of a good nutritionist becomes nil if we don't consistently follow through and develop a healthy lifestyle.

Then, of course, exercise is paramount to maintaining appropriate weight. Unfortunately, we tend to focus on the idea that 30 minutes of exercise a day is sufficient and forget that the intensity of the exercise is also important to achieving weight loss. Just taking the dog for a 30-minute stroll around the neighborhood each day, while healthy and beneficial, is probably not going to really help someone meet weight loss goals in the long run. 

(Okay. So I am neither a nutritionist nor an exercise physiologist. It's best to take the foregoing and following with a grain of salt and understand that it's entirely based on my own life experience...which is unique to me, and I know it doesn't mean I'm right. Not that I'll ever admit that I'm wrong.)

Anyway, back to the book. I think that the reason it appealed to me is it outlined a simple, easy-to-understand approach to achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It's not going to help anyone run a marathon or complete a triathlon. But I think it does provide the basic building blocks of fulfilling those types of goals, especially if someone is starting from scratch, so to speak. Without further ado, here are the 10 "simple" steps outlined in the book:

  1. Exercise aerobically, five to seven days each week. It's really all about the commitment. An hour of exercise, most days of a week, is not all that much in the grand scheme of things. 
  2. Exercise in the "zone." There comes a point when it's a good idea to up the intensity level of exercise and make it harder...harder to breathe, harder to maintain. Not all the time and not for the entire duration of a workout, but for 20-plus minutes of that workout. According to Bob Greene, this helps to raise metabolism, which helps with weight loss.
  3. Exercise for 20 to 60 minutes each exercise session. Most people are busy. It is hard to find the time to carve out for regular exercise in schedule-filled days, but, except on the rare occasion, 20 minutes is probably doable. That's why walking or running is always a good option. Put on some shoes, head out the door.
  4. Eat a low-fat, balanced diet each day. Individual nutrition needs are just that...individual...but this is certainly a good place to start. It's all about making sure we consume the appropriate amount of calories, eating real foods (comes in its own package), reading and understanding nutrition labels when you do have to turn to packaged foods, and doing it all in moderation (don't eat the whole batch of cookies, but one or two is probably fine).
  5. Eat three meals and two snacks each day. I have eaten like this for years...okay maybe three or four snacks for me each day; however, there's something to be said for not letting yourself get too hungry between "feedings" so that you are less inclined to overeat or over-indulge.
  6. Limit or eliminate alcohol. Bob Greene goes on a bit about how alcohol, even a tiny bit, seems to make his workout the next day harder and unpleasant. I have never noticed an effect unless it was quite a bit more than a tiny bit. (I have had some of my best Saturday runs, though, after somewhat raucous, beer-soaked happy hours.)
  7. Stop eating two or three hours before bedtime. I guess there are all sorts of metabolic and health reasons to follow this rule, but when I have no choice but to eat late, I hate going to sleep on a full stomach. 
  8. Drink six to eight glasses of water each day. So, this bit of advice seems to go in and out of fashion. Whether it's specifically valid or not, it seems to me that staying hydrated is a good idea. Although I may not have noticed adverse affects from my glass of wine the night before, I most definitely do notice adverse affects in my workouts if I do not make sure I consume fluids regularly throughout the day.
  9. Have at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables each day. The best balance of dietary nutrition is continually debated (protein, fats, grains, dairy, etc.), but I think this advice is probably pretty sound. And to those of you who say you don't like fruits or vegetables, I say, "learn to like them." There are no substitutes.
  10. Renew your commitment to healthy living each day. Simply put, it should be a priority.
So, okay...maybe a bit hokey and dated. But I think it's not a bad reminder of how simple being healthy really can be. We don't need special, overly packaged foods; we don't need special barefoot running shoes; and we only need to dedicate less than 5% of the hours in a week to regular exercise. 

Simply simple.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cleaning Closets

When I decided to temporarily leave full-time employment 2 years ago, part of "the plan" was to clear out the clutter all over the house, starting in my overly large walk-in closet and then working my way through the entire house, including the attic, sorting, tossing, organizing, selling, and, in short, creating a clean slate.

I have made a bit of progress here and there. With the help of some wonderful friends, the garage has been emptied of the tools that were of absolutely no use to me. I sorted through a bunch of papers that had been shoved in the attic (aha...the missing car title). And I've done some rearranging, picture hanging, and even painted a room.

But 2 years later, the closet still needs to be cleaned.

There just is something about the closet. It is quiet, dark, and intimate. It is where we kept our clothes, the most personal of personal items.

I dreamed about you a few nights ago. It wasn't like so many of the other dreams about you, which are usually both hopeful and confusing. In this one, we were arguing. About what, I don't remember, but each of us was quite peeved with the other. I woke up feeling disconcerted and anxious and, generally, in a bad mood.

Most of the clothing has been gone since that winter, taken to a men's homeless shelter in downtown Jackson. But the closet continues to haunt me, physically drawing my strength and resolve away each time I set to sorting, folding, tossing, organizing. I work for 15 or 20 minutes at a time, dissolve into tears, and am, quite simply, done for the day. Progress is slow. Aching. But I refuse to allow myself to move on to another clean/sort/toss/organize project until the closet is completely done.

Yesterday, the garage door broke. The hinge just snapped. So did I. Nearly every day reminds me of how much I relied on you to take care of the small things that make me feel so helpless and useless. We were a perfect match, you and I. You were the practical, hands-on McGyver who could fix, patch, jig anything with little effort or thought. I am none of those things. In fact, I am the complete opposite, often stymied by the simplest of household repair or maintenance work. So much needs to be done around the house, and I am at a loss for where to start. I call in some local handyman type, but as soon as that repair is done, something else requires my attention. Yesterday, it all crashed down on me, and I am furious with you for leaving me with all of this crap to deal with. And I miss you so very much.

Today, I think I had a closet cleaning breakthrough and have finished reorganizing the built-in shelving.  Creating a jewelry, purse, and journal/personal book shelves. It's as if I made it through the "hard part." I am now certain, hopeful, the rest will be easier, if not quicker, as I go through my own old, outdated dresses, skirts, suits, slacks, blouses, shoes, and piles of t-shirts from races past. 

Of all the items I took to the shelter, suits, shirts, jackets, shoes, I couldn't take your cowboy boots. Remember how I hated them? I tried so hard to talk you out of them and for years, before you finally broke down and bought them, had been trying to convert you to a more traditional look with lace-up dress shoes. But, you were set on cowboy boots, and those became both your go-to casual and dress shoes. You even had your dress slacks tailored for the boots. Your black, fancy-stitched, pointed-toe cowboy boots now sit on a bottom shelf in the closet next to a box with all the sympathy cards and notes we received and a few photos that remind me of the fun times we had.