You have to try, if you’re to survive holiday living

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

With the holiday season in full swing and the weather dipping below zero, like most of you I have been eating too much and exercising too little. Suddenly, meat and cheese platters have been showing up at work, and when I get home, an array of baked goods has arrived. Most of the time, I don’t know whom of Santa’s elves to thank while I do my mindless grazing.

When January comes, and the resolutions to lose weight sprout like so many toadstools, I’ll be right in there. Unfortunately, I am one of those of little sticktuitiveness. I need help, and this year I got some from a friend.

He recommended the book “Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D. As a physician, Lodge is able to cut through all the gimmicks and deal-making we make with ourselves. What deals? I’ll go on a diet. I’ll join a gym class. I’ll cut out desserts. Etc.

But Lodge goes back about 50 million years and lays it on the line. You were given a body that has developed through the millennia, and up until 100 years ago, it took a lot of physical exertion just to survive. So now we drive our car to the gym when we’d be further ahead if we simply walked to the gym and back. We don’t have to get out of the cab to harvest the back 40, and in another 20 years, we won’t even have to get out of bed. The problem is, if we don’t replace the physical exertion with something else, we may not be able to get out of bed.

The result is the obesity epidemic that has swept the nation. Hodge talks about the sludge that too many of us allow to build up in our bodies. He talks about how when we get home from work, we claim to be too tired to exercise. The reality, he says, is that we are at war with ourselves and with nature. If you want to live, you will use your body sufficiently to get rid of the sludge. To make the process easier, you will eat more of the right kinds of food. He writes, “70 percent of what you feel as aging is optional. …No joke.”

We take pills for our increasing ailments, high cholesterol, low hormones, worn out joints. We drink caffeine in the morning to get revved up, and we drink alcohol in the evening to calm down, all the while inflaming the linings of our blood vessels to give the excess calories we eat a place to hide.

Crowley and Hodge have a simple exercise program, but it begins by asking us to make no more excuses. After checking with your doctor to determine if you have a legitimate reason for doing nothing, accept where you are at, and then go from there. If you can only walk for a minute without having to stop to catch your breath, then walk a minute. But do it every day, without exception, and build from there. The first goal is to be able to exercise for 45 minutes per day at least six days a week.

At first it seems radical, and in some ways it is. It means that you actually have to change your lifestyle. When it’s 20 below out, if you don’t have access to a gym or home exercise equipment, there may not be many good options. But maybe your house has a few stairs that you could climb up and down on inclimate days. Your primal brain (not the one you think with or even the one that governs your emotions, but the one that got the human race started) doesn’t care. It only knows that you are doing what you need to do to get rid of the sludge, or that you aren’t. It’s Mother Nature at her most basic, and she won’t be fooled.

Once you can do 45 minutes without any discomfort, the authors recommend buying a heart monitor. Then work at being able to exercise for those 45 minutes while maintaining 60-65 percent of your maximum heart rate (which is 220 minus your age). If you are 60, for example, you would need to maintain 96-104 beats per minute. If you are 50, it will be a little higher. But most important is to do the 45 minutes of exercise at least six days a week.

The second goal is to begin lifting weights on two of the six days each week. Still work out for 45 minutes, but change the routine. The third goal is to take two of the remaining aerobic days, and instead of maintaining 60-65 percent of your maximum rate, push yourself to get it up to 70-85 percent, or even 85-100 percent for a minute or two. But the most important thing remains showing up to do something six days a week for at least 45 minutes. If you do that, the authors say, you really can feel younger next year and for five or 10 years after that. Your choice. Mother Nature will deliver a verdict either way.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or by email at [email protected]