Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Too much of a good thing?

Food, exercise, rest – these are all things that we need to survive and produce life.  However, while all of these things are inherently good, in excess they can be harmful and even deadly.  In America we have somehow learned how to take things that sustain us and make them part of our gluttony-fueled lives.  For many people, food is a drug.  It becomes something that controls them and causes urges that stronger than their willpower.  Our ever-increasing visits to restaurants and calls for take-out also cause us to have “portion distortion”.  Most restaurant chefs are dishing out portions that are two to four times bigger than the government's recommended serving sizes.  We need food to live, but too much and it will kill us.  The same can be said for exercise.  There are many people who feel the need to exercise to an extreme level.  I consider myself a runner and running is my staple exercise.  However, I have always thought marathon runners were a bit on the insane side – I respect the discipline and determination that it takes, but let’s be honest – the Athenian dude that ran the 26-mile route to Athens to announce victory in the Persian war died of exhaustion.  Furthermore, a Minneapolis Heart Institute study recently found that men who’d competed in marathons for 25 consecutive years showed 62% more arterial plaque than sedentary men.  But, don’t think you can just lie around in bed either.  A 2010 study in the journal Sleep, men who logged nine or more hours of sleep a night were 43% more likely to have heart disease than those who slept seven hours.  So, there is obviously a need to keep everything in moderation. 

Let me tell you a little bit more about my personal experience with learning how you really can have too much of a good thing.  As I have mentioned before, I began running for exercise in college.  It became something I enjoyed and it helped me stay fit and eased stress.  When I went through an extremely trying marriage and devastating divorce, I turned to running as my vice.  It was a way I could vent my frustration, take time for myself, and still feel like I was doing something healthy (rather than diving into a bottle of cabernet or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s).  However, I had a very rough year and didn’t have time to lift weights, practice yoga, or even stretch – I spent all my physical activity time running.  At the end of that year, I had developed a pain in my left foot.  I didn’t complain or see a doctor – as an athlete and the only child of a single mother with multiple jobs, I was programmed to “grin & bear it”.  I took NSAIDs to relieve pain, and even started taking them before a run.  After nearly a year of pain, I saw a doctor.  It turns out I had two stress fractures in my left foot.  I wore a boot for month after month and each x-ray showed no healing.  Since I had gone so long without allowing the bones to heal, the fractures would not repair themselves.  During the week of Thanksgiving in 2008, I had surgery to install two plates and eight screws to repair the fractures.  I was in a hard cast for eight weeks, after which I had to learn how to walk again without a limp.  In the end, it was nearly a year with no running.  I had to build up my calf and leg muscles and learn how to be smart about exercise.  It was a huge learning experience for me.  I now run fewer days a week, lift weights, stretch daily, and occasionally practice yoga.  However, I am now in better shape than I have ever been.  I combine my well-rounded exercise with wholesome meals and snacks each day and a good night’s sleep each night.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love my cabernet and Ben & Jerry’s, I just enjoy it in moderation. 

A healthy life does not involve restrictions or overindulgence.  You just have to find that happy healthy place where you keep all things in moderation.  Let’s face it, no one ever got fat eating one cheeseburger or one piece of cake or by skipping one day of exercise.  We get fat by allowing those daily choices to become our lifestyle.  It’s the dose that makes the poison.  So, chose your dose wisely and you’ll have a healthy and happy life!  Not sure of the dose you need?  Call me and I promise to find it for you. 

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