Would You Rather Be Happy or Live Longer?

Hour Glass

If you had to choose between long life and happiness, what would be your choice?

Guess what? You don’t have to choose. Happy people live longer. At least that is what research is showing. Studies about the connection have been going on for years, but all point to the fact that that happier we are, the longer we live.

Of course, what defines happiness for one person doesn’t necessarily define it for someone else. There are research questions that helped to identify the components that make up happiness. Five main areas are: 1. Having satisfying social connections, 2. Looking on the bright side, 3. Meaning and purpose in one’s life, 4. Spirituality, 5. and what Martin Seligman (co-founder of the Positive Psychology movement) calls flourishing with PERMA (Positive emotion, engagement, relationship, meaning, and accomplishment). For a full explanation of all of these, go to the article from http://www.cnn.com: https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/30/health/happiness-live-longer-wellness/index.html

On this blog, I talk about nutrition, exercise and spirituality and how they can help to improve our health–physically, emotionally and spiritually. It is noteworthy that research now shows a strong link between happiness and long life.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. It is a time for recognizing the blessings in our lives. That sense of gratitude helps to bring happiness our way. This is not an exercise just for the end of November; Jewish tradition’s mussar movement encourages us regularly to practice gratitude. Rather than focusing on the negative, we should be grateful for all the positives. The research shows: we will be happier…and for longer too!

Stay Away from the Gym!*

The Sleeping Dog Lies

*A couple of days ago I had a conversation at the gym with two young men; we were in the sauna and one asked “I wonder if the sauna is good for my fever….” Um…what?!?! I had just seen them both working out in the Fitness Center. In the course of the very brief conversation, it came out that the other young man had only slept two hours the night before. Again…um…what?

I am as much of a workout/gym fanatic as the next guy/gal but there are times when I know I should not be at the gym–if not for my own well-being then for the well-being of others who come to workout to get healthy…not sick!

How do I know when to stay home? If I am contagious or otherwise have what appear to be infectious symptoms, I obviously stay home. Otherwise, usually my body tells me. Sometimes I am just so tired that I cannot drag myself out of bed or off the couch; this is my body telling me that it needs a break. Of course, I cannot do this every day, by every once in a while it does occur.

A recent article on http://www.nbcnews.com focused on times when we should stay home from the gym. SPOILER ALERT!!! Here are the subject headings, but it is worth reading the entire article: 1. When we are really stressed. 2. When we are sleep-deprived. 3. When we are feeling under the weather. 4. When we are really sore. 5. When we’ve just checked a marathon off our bucket list. The author, Stephanie Mansour, goes into depth and explains why we sometimes need to step back in order to be more effective when we step forward again.

Luckily I had read the article before the conversation and I told these two men (politely) that they might want to rethink their decision and wait until they are in the proper shape before they head back to the gym. Give this article a read: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/5-times-when-you-shouldn-t-work-out-ncna1068281–especially the next time you are not sure whether you should give it your all…or give it a rest.

The Holocaust, Pushing Myself, and an Admission of how Weird I Am

Image result for columbus jcc obstacle course

Warning: this will be a strange post, but one that will give you some insight into what makes me tick…and how Judaism and Fitness intersect in my life.

When I was younger, I was not athletic at all. This was not helped by the fact that when I was 12 years old I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease (and my weight had dropped to 69 pounds). I was not a healthy kid and athletics were not really a thing in my family to begin with.

There were members of my family who were survivors of the Holocaust, and even more who did not survive. I remember learning about the Holocaust when I was in elementary school (too early to see the kind of documentary footage that was shown to me). I remember thinking as a teenager that had I been alive then, I never would have survived. I could not have made it without my medicine. I was weak. I was pale. It sounds morbid, but in the minds of some Jewish people I think we ask ourselves what our fates would have been had we not had the fortune to be on this side of the Atlantic or in the Land of Israel back then

As I grew older, I spoke with cousins who were survivors and heard their stories. Some of them were sent on “death marches” as the war was coming to a close. Concentration and death camps were being dismantled and evacuated, and inmates were forced to walk (or run) westward away from the advancing Red Army. Those who could not keep up were shot or died along the way; some made it until the liberation. I am in awe of my relatives who made the walk despite terrible conditions, inappropriate clothing to protect them from the elements, and a starvation diet. How did they find the strength to go on? What choice did they have?

Over the years in my fitness journey, part of my motivation was to be “ready” physically if things should ever get bad, if history (God forbid) were to repeat itself. When I run and I get tired, I remember those on the forced marches and I push myself to go the distance. This was especially true when I used to train and compete on the Black Diamond Obstacle Course the JCC of Greater Columbus. If you are unfamiliar with the course, it is outstanding and the result of a great deal of effort by committed employees at the JCC there. For a couple of years, the obstacle course was my playground. Often during my training I would think about those living in the forests or on the run in the woods during that dark period; the obstacle course runs through a wooded area by the JCC and near Alum Creek so the setting seems reminiscent. Again, whenever I felt I couldn’t do an obstacle I thought about my relatives, and pushed myself a little further.

I don’t know if this is normal. I used to think I was maybe a little paranoid, but perhaps I am more of a realist. I pray that things will never get back to the terrible horrors of WWII, but now when I think about it, I am convinced that I would have a much better chance of surviving than I did as a teenager. I am fitter, have greater endurance, and have tested my mettle on a few occasions. But who knows?

This is not my total motivation for fitness. In actuality, I want to stay healthy for my wife and kids…and someday grand-kids (?). I want to get the most out of life for as long as I can. I want to be fit–not because of fears from the past, but because of my hope for the future.

Following Abram Outside of Our Comfort Zones

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There is an expression in the fitness world that is often found on motivational posters:  “If It Doesn’t Challenge You, It Won’t Change You.”  In other words, if we are doing exercises that don’t really push us beyond our comfort zone, we won’t see results; using the same weights and the same number of reps over and over is not only a recipe for boredom, but also for disappointment.  As a trainer, I continually work on progression, moving my clients from one level of challenge to the next.
This philosophy is true not just with regard to fitness, but in other areas of our lives as well.  At work, if we stick to the tasks we know well and never challenge ourselves to learn new skills or new parts of the organization, we will stagnate.  In school, if we only take subjects that interest us or are only on one topic, we will never expand our horizons and perhaps even our points of view.  In our relationships, if we merely ever stick to the tried and true, there is a danger of allowing love or friendship to slowly die.  We must always challenge ourselves.
I am reminded of this especially on this Shabbat when we read Parashat Lech Lecha.  The Lord spoke to Abram and told him to go forth from everything with which he was familiar to a new land where God would make him into a great and mighty nation.  Talk about getting outside of one’s comfort zone!  This was the ultimate challenge and not only did it change Abram (to Abraham!), but it altered the history of humanity.
Change is scary; it is tough to leave behind that with which we are comfortable.  One truth in life, however, is that change is inevitable.  We can be objects and have things happen to us, or we can be like Abram and be the subjects of our lives by challenging ourselves to be more tomorrow than we are today.

Exercise: Ugh or Yay!?

Liverpool Discovers - The Runner

A few blog posts back I wrote about how weight loss is not “one size fits all.” The same is true for exercise as well. I know folks who love to run but cannot stand swimming, and those who love bike riding but hate running. It is very highly individualistic. That is not to say that an “ugh” cannot turn into a “yay.”

At the Mandel JCC where I work, we offer Jump Start Orientations for all our new members. Each new member is entitled to two complimentary sessions with a trainer; one is an orientation to the cardio equipment and stretching equipment while the other focuses on the strength equipment. It is, of course, a clever way to try to get folks to sign up for personal training, but it has a more important role to play. Many people walk into a fitness center and are simply overwhelmed. There is a lot of equipment. There are people who look like they know what they are doing. There is music playing but people have on earphones. Some individuals are sweaty and grunting. It is a lot to take in unless you are used to going to a gym. The JSO helps the new member feel more like an insider; they now know one of the trainers who knows him/her back, and they can walk into the gym and have a mastery of at least some of the equipment.

In the JSOs, I often encounter new members who think they won’t like the elliptical or the stationary bike but once they try it out they decide they really enjoy it. There are also many people (like I used to be) who don’t see themselves as gym-goers or athletes or runners…but, in time, they find they have become “that person;” you know, the one who has to check an extra bag at the airport just for all their athletic gear even when they go on vacation.

A recent article on http://www.nbcnews.com talks to this very point, focusing on running. Running is one of the most difficult individual sports in which to engage; it requires perseverance, special athletic footwear, and endurance. I am not sure how or when I became a runner, but at one point I realized I was. I enjoy biking and swimming (although less so), but running is my thing and I am glad to finally be getting back into it after my foot surgery in April.

The article talks about how there is no one way to approach running. Some people like to run with others, while some like to do it alone. Some prefer a treadmill while others want a track or a trail. Some run the whole time while others walk part of it. The author, Amanda Loudin, notes that it is important to know yourself and what works for you so that you can find a way to run that is feasible and enjoyable.

This, of course, could be said of any sport. Some people like to swim competitively, while others do it for fun. There are those who enjoy a leisurely bike ride to the coffee shop, while others ride 300 miles over three days for charity. There is no “one size fits all,” there is only what fits you.

Don’t give up. Don’t be like the new members at the JCC who at first are intimidated by what they see when they walk into a huge fitness center. Rather, keep an open mind. Know yourself. Don’t try once and declare it a failure. Realize that getting into a sport and a regular routine takes time and commitment. Of course, the rewards–both physically and emotionally/spiritually–are well worth it.

Read the article at: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/how-run-guide-people-who-think-they-can-t-ncna1064311

Power to the (Older) People

Power to the people

In the world of fitness–as in the world of physics–there is a difference between strength and power.

Muscle strength is the maximum amount of force a muscle can exert against resistance in a single effort. For instance if a person is able to press 135 lbs in a single rep of a bench press, that would be their muscle strength.

Muscle power, on the other hand, is the ability to exert maximal force in as short a time as possible; this could mean accelerating (as in a run), jumping or throwing an object (a ball, a discus, a javelin). Muscle power takes into account speed.

The way a person trains their muscles depends on the outcome they are looking for. Those seeking sports performance often focus on power training since speed is usually a factor in competitive sports. Many others who look to improve muscle tone or who want to be able to carry out activities of daily living may focus on strength training.

The most recent issue of ACE Fitness Journal (Sept. 2019) had a brief article on power training vs strength training for older adults by Shirley Archer, JD, MA. She reports on a study out in Brazil reporting on the benefits of power training in an older population. It showed that subjects in the study who were above the median in maximal power had better survival rates than those below the median; in other words, if you have more muscle power there is a tendency to live longer.

This is exciting news to those of us who work with many older clients. The study can be found in https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/pages/default.aspx, vol. 41, issue 1.

The article by Archer notes that there is need for more study and caution. Power training requires more balance and coordination; some seniors may not have the necessary skills to perform power training. Even so, it is interesting to note that this is a promising direction for trainers and clients as we age.

I look forward to more research as I continue to help my older clients live longer, healthier and more independent lives.

Reasons to be Thankful…Really

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As the Jewish year draws to a close, many of us are thinking about our successes and failures, triumphs and tragedies over the last 13 months (it was a leap year). We also begin to think about the changes we want to make in the coming year.

One area upon which we should be reflecting is “what are we grateful for?” For sure, we have no problem coming up with what didn’t work right, what is annoying, and what is just a hot mess. Most of us probably spend a lot less time thinking about what is going right: the people in our lives, the many blessings we enjoy, the love that surrounds us. It reminds me of people who complain when a flight is delayed (which is an annoyance for sure), with little thought for the wonder of flight and little regard for the fact that just 100 years ago the same trip might have taken days or weeks.

A study reveals that developing a greater sense of gratitude is good for our health–mental and physical. It is described in this article: https://dailyhealthpost.com/gratitude-rewires-brain-happier/?utm_source=link&utm_medium=fb&utm_campaign=sq&utm_content=dhp&fbclid=IwAR1Jaqb8PoCWfKtVmcG8YprLSbpisoYATjfM1mR1byrtV8lVtg5C-lPcXvU.

People who developed a practice of recognizing and expressing gratitude had a more positive outlook and had less health problems according to the study. The more optimistic you are the less likely you are to have sleep disorders, inflammatory diseases and heart failure.

The neuroscience also shows that it is possible to nurture our sense of gratitude and actually rewire our brain (through new neural pathways) so that we can strengthen these healthy tendencies. Of course, this means we will emit more positive “vibes” which will rub off on others. This can create what the article calls a “virtuous cycle.”

This will not happen automatically. We need to create patterns of thankfulness. In the study, participants were asked to keep a log of positive things that happened, or things for which they were thankful each day. This along heightened the sense of gratitude. It went beyond just the rote recitation of the words “thank you,” often stated quite thoughtlessly.

Psalm 92 says “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” This is true, but now there is scientific truth that backs it up…and we can achieve that “good” by thanking those around us too.

Thanks for reading this!