Sunday, January 11, 2009

June 2007: Annual Health and Fitness Letter

June 6 - Attitude and Longevity: Dr. Becca Levy is a professor at the Yale School of Public Health. She recently completed a study which showed that people who had a positive attitude about aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those who were not so positive.

There seems to be a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy in how one views aging. If your view aging as a negative and use words like “fuddy-duddy, decrepit, sad, wrinkly, tired, stiff, brittle, unhappy, invisible, obsolete, diminished, fat, fragile, cranky or marginalized,” you tend to take on some or more of these traits. If your view of aging includes words like “wise, experienced, active, full of life,” the opposite is true.

The old adage is that “you are as old as you feel.” I truly believe that. I your age defines and limits your behavior, you will become less and less active, less and less alert. This adage goes hand in hand with another old adage, “Use it or lose it.”

A good attitude will have you using your mind and body to do things, to do things and to exercise both. A negative view of aging, can easily reduce you to becoming a couch potato, parked in front of the TV watching soap operas and game shows, allowing your body and mind to atrophy.

Of course, studies like those of Professor Levy, are not absolutes or guarantees. There are very few of those in this life. Rather there is a statistical correlation. We are talking probabilities not absolutes. There are plenty examples of people full of vim, vigor, a love of life, and with great attitudes that get cancer and die at the age of 40 or 50 something. Attitude is just one more thing people can do to slow the aging process and to maximize ones longevity. Other factors include, smoking, diet, and optimizing their blood chemistry i.e. cholesterol, triglycerides, etc.

My Uncle Rouben, the subject of my May 2004 letter, had a great attitude. He advocated taking care of ones self always saying “there is no greater blessing than good health, don’t take it for granted.” He ate well, exercised, did not smoke and drank moderately. He lived very well, he lived fully. He was an adherent of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking.

One day he had a stroke. He was upset because he had failed his driver’s test, really upset. That evening he had a stroke. His left side was essentially useless and his speech was slurred. Shortly after having the stroke, his positive attitude kicked in and he was certain that he would persevere and with the Power of Positive Thinking, he would gain movement in his paralyzed leg and arm and one day walk again. He truly believed and diligently did what the doctors asked him to do or try to do.

June 19: Attitude is important within ones physical reality. Christopher Reeve (1952-2004) played Superman. He was a gifted actor but excelled as a pianist, a pilot who flew two solo transatlantic flights. In the 1980’s he took to horseback riding and was quickly competing in equestrian jumping events. In 1995, he was thrown from his horse and suffered a severe spinal chord injury that left him paralyzed. He could have easily died from his spinal chord injury when he was thrown from his horse. Yet, he lived. In this condition, he made the best of what his reality was. With his new reality, he dedicated his life to raising awareness and money to find a cure or treatment to repair his spinal chord. The following quote summarizes his remarkable attitude.
What I do is based on powers we all have inside us; the ability to endure; the ability to love, to carry on, to make the best of what we have – and you don’t have to be a ‘Superman’ to do it.
Christopher Reeve lived many years past his severe injury. He did this with the assistance of his wife and, no doubt, supported by his wealth. Yet, I believe it was also his attitude.

People are probably pre-disposed to having a youthful attitude. You can see it in people from adolescence on. Of course, life’s trials and tribulations can certainly erode the attitude, if we let them.

The key is getting or having the right attitude. Even harder is maintaining it with all that happens in life. The curveballs such as debilitating disease can really bring one down.

We have heard the various adages. e.g. Do you see the glass as half full or half empty? When served lemons make lemonade. So, one always has a choice to take oneself positively and not feel limited by age or condition. Obviously Christopher Reeve could no longer act, ride horses, or pilot an airplane. Yet, given his debilitating condition he became a spokesman and leader for research in spinal chord injuries.

I never gave Christopher Reeve much regard before. Sure, I enjoyed his movies but that was about it. I felt bad when he was thrown from the horse and injured. I really did not pay that much attention to him except what I was subjected to in the papers and on television. Yet, when he died, I felt very bad and in reflecting on his life, was impressed with his courage and determination. I would have liked to see him walk again. I would have loved to have seen my Uncle Rouben walk again.

I have actually mixed two concepts: the attitude towards aging and the power of positive thinking. But, I believe they overlap so much they are really the same thing. There is a low probability of finding someone who had a positive attitude in general but a horrible view of aging.

All in all, Dr. Levy simply confirmed: you are as old as you feel.

June 23 - Cycling: I went for a fifty mile bike ride today. I never was more than seven miles from home. The Chicago area is well known for its bike trails, often abandoned rail beds or, in the case near me, next to existing tracks. The two near me are the Skokie Valley Trail which is 8 miles long and the Robert McClory (a long standing congressman in the area, now deceased) Trail that actually runs from Chicago to Kenosha, WI. I rode the Skokie Valley trail this today. I basically did three laps, 48 miles, adding 4 more miles for the getting to and from the trail from home. It took three and half hours with a stop for coffee and to refill my water bottle.

Biking around here is different than biking in Connecticut in one specific way. It is much flatter here. It was pretty hilly in CT and could get very exhausting in climbing the hills. When I first moved here the folks in Kiddle’s bike shop in Lake Forest told me, “The wind is your hills here.” To a degree that is true. There is certainly resistance when riding into the wind. The difference going with the wind and against it can be 2-4 mph! That is a 10-25% differential. But it is no hill. There were hills in Connecticut where I swear I could have walked up faster than I pedaled. I could be cruising at 14-17 mph, hit the hill, and grunt, groan, and struggle for the next mile at like 4-6 mph. That differential is more like 60-70%. I would have to ride into a hurricane to experience that kind of wind hill.

Today, I rode my newest bike. In April, I bought a vintage fixed gear. It is vintage because the bike is built on a 1970s Nishiki steel lugged frame. Nishiki is or was a respected Japanese bicycle manufacturer. They also sold bikes under the Panasonic name and in their day were considered a serious player in the world of road or racing bikes. The frame is grey and teal with the patina of age. It has some urban grunge or messenger bike chic to it. I have kept it basic, no computer, no saddlebag, and no add-ons of any kind except a water bottle cage. When I ride it, I just throw a cell phone in my jersey pocket, just in case. As I like to keep a log of my miles, I go on routes where I know the mileage.

It is fixed gear. That means there is only one gear and it is fixed. Fixed means you cannot coast on the bike. If the rear wheel is turning the pedals are turning. It is like a circus bike, one could ride it backwards if so inclined and so skilled. I am certainly inclined but, alas, lack the skill to go backwards. When you see a messenger in New York rock his bike back and forth at a stop light without having to put a foot on the pavement, he has a fixed gear bike. You can see photos of my bike on Fixed Gear Gallery a wonderful site dedicated only to fixed gear bikes. Anyone who has one can post photos of their bike with a brief commentary. There are a fair number of Nishiki’s on the website.

June 30 – More Biking: It was a simply gorgeous day today. It was a perfect biking day. The sky was totally blue and completely cloudless. The temperature was in the 70’s.
I went out at 7:30 am with my neighbor and long time friend, Ken Hachikian. We did a twenty mile loop. It was probably only 60 degrees at that time. I rode a hybrid bike and we logged the 20 miles at 14.2 mph. We were passed by a few folks on road bikes.

When I got home, I made some espresso and relaxed for a half an hour. Then I switched bikes and went out for another ride on my road bike. I wanted to do another thirty and log the third fifty mile day this month. I ended up getting to fifty in another two hours. But, I was ten miles from home. OK… may as well do a metric century, 100 km or 62-63 miles. I ended up at 64.
This put me at 1,056 outdoor miles for 2007 and on pace for another 2,000 mile year. Last year I logged 2,300. With the new job and all, I did not think I would be able to match last year’s mark which was facilitated by not working so many long hours after Colgate launched the Voluntary Early Retirement Program back in May 2006.

June 24 - Diet: I have maintained my vegetarian low fat diet for a year and a half now. It has worked well for me. I eat lots of food and never really feel hungry. My blood pressure has been good, when I get a chance to check it. I am due to check my cholesterol. That will be done as soon as I find a doctor out here.

As I wrote last year, dieting never worked for me. It really is a low probability of success strategy for most folks. It involves going too hungry for too long. This creates the tension that when the diet is relaxed results in that slingshot effect of gaining back all the weight one lost and more. Most of the dietary pundits advocate changing ones lifestyle to permanently lose weight. I feel like I have changed my lifestyle.

Now what I have done is not for everyone. Many people ask me if I miss eating meat or having the occasional drink or six. I really do not. I like the food I eat. Dr. Dean Ornish was absolutely correct when he said that the subtle taste of vegetables and fruits would take the place of foods one gave up. Fruit has never tasted so good. I have eaten more oatmeal, tofu, hummus, tabouli, dried fruit, baked potatoes, whole wheat pasta, and grilled veggies then ever.

OK… there is that every now and then when someone is grilling shish kebob or some other spiced meat. The smell of that can be intoxicating but it soon passes. Others ask if I miss having the drink. Again, I thought I would but actually I am having better conversations in social settings than when boozed up. Some say I am a bit boring and perhaps showing my age. But, I reject that because… I am as old as I feel. As far as this goes, I feel pretty young.

I probably should have given up caffeine too. But I have not. I really like coffee and still drink three to six cups a day. I am a good customer of Starbucks but not as much as when I was in New York City and there was one on every corner. I drink either espresso or regular coffee with fake sugar and skim milk. Every once in a while, I will have a latte with sugar free vanilla syrup and skim milk.

Here is the really odd thing. I still smoke cigars. I enjoy them and consume one or two a week on average. It is hard to smoke much with all the restrictions in restaurants and other indoors venues. A colleague recently introduced me as the “cigar smoking vegetarian.” It is pretty funny when you think of it.

Weight loss has really slowed down. I lost weight quickly through October of last year and really have stabilized. I would like to lose another pant size or two. I guess in order to do that I probably have to cut back on volume, on calories.

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