How Fit is Fit Enough?

Today’s First World Problem: I enjoy too many different types of exercise.

You already know I love running. I’ve backed off a bit this summer due to a slightly sore hip and the Texas heat, but I still hit the trail a couple times each week. After Hotter’N Hell, I’ll start running more to prepare for the big trail run in October.

My new road bike is a blast to ride, and with Hotter’N Hell 50 coming Aug 25 and a 27-mile warmup race called The Goatneck (?) on July 28, I’m trying to ride three times a week.

So that makes two activities, both of which make my muscles stronger but potentially tighter. To help them stay loose and maintain muscular balance, I’ve been practicing yoga at Jenny’s gym once a week with her guest pass. I’ll probably join eventually once they offer a good deal. So now I’m up to three activities.

As you might have wondered, since I already run and ride, why not add swimming and become a triathlete? I’ve never been a competitive swimmer, but I could probably learn. Or why not take up tennis to strengthen my core further and add some upper-body activity? Or why not hit the weight machines to support all the other work I’m doing?

So far no one has offered to sponsor me as a full-time athlete, and to be honest, I’m not exactly holding my breath. So I still need to make a living. Plus my body needs sleep and food from time to time. And I have two cute little boys and a loving wife and want to spend time with them. My grass grows (much to my chagrin) and needs to be mowed. I go to church and spend time with friends and family.

Something has to give, which leads me to today’s question:

How fit is fit enough?

How would you decide? Does working out four, five, or six days a week make you fit enough? What about three hours a week? Five? Ten? Is it being able to fit into your preferred pant size? Is it winning races in your preferred sport(s)? Is it being satisfied when you look in the mirror? Is it being satisfied with how you feel? Is it a heart rate, blood pressure measurement, or cholesterol level? Is it being able to run/ride/swim a certain distance or lift a certain amount of weight? Is it not being tired at the top of the stairs or being able to pick up your children or grandchildren?

I’m still working through this question myself and suspect it will take a little while to find the right balance. I definitely need to limit my activity to some extent, so don’t look for me in the Hawaii Ironman anytime soon. Rest days are important, so I’ll need at least one or two each week. Perhaps some days I’ll ride a bit and then run a bit, or maybe ride to the gym for a yoga class.

For those of you who do exercise, how do you decide how much to do?

Things I’ve Learned Lately

  1. If you ever get overconfident regarding your own abilities, try applying them in another discipline and see how you do. Due to my running and cycling, I’d convinced myself that my legs were pretty strong. Then I went to a hot yoga class with Jenny at her gym. My legs were sore for two days afterward.
  2. My original hybrid bike (Specialized Sirrus Elite, size XL) weighed 27 pounds. My new road bike (Trek 2.3, size 58cm) weighs 21.6 pounds. Jenny’s bike (Specialized Dolce Elite, size 51.5cm) weighs 21.6 pounds as well.
  3. We tried a test ride on Friday right after we brought the new bikes home. I hit 26mph on a flat at near max effort. I never came close to that speed on a flat with my hybrid. It felt like I was flying. I liked it.
  4. If someone can watch our boys for the night, Jenny and I plan to ride the Hotter’N Hell 50 mile race on August 25. It will be a challenge, but with our current fitness levels and ten weeks to train, I think we can finish it. As a warmup, we might do a shorter race in late July at Texas Motor Speedway.
  5. There’s a thing called sprouted grain bread that my friends are eating on their new diet. They say it’s easier to digest and better for your body. Bread made from sprouted grain is more expensive, but they say it’s worth it. According to Livestrong, it’s similar to whole wheat bread with a few added benefits.
  6. A $6 bottle of sparkling white wine can be just as tasty as a $45 bottle of real champagne, maybe even more so.
  7. We don’t use our beautiful wedding-present champagne flutes enough. There’s always something to celebrate if you look for it.
  8. An easy way to feel guilty is to ignore a panhandler on the corner and then drop $4 on a cappuccino at Starbucks.
  9. Gloria’s in Oak Cliff has fantastic Mexican and Salvadorian food and great service. It seems to be in an old firehouse and still has a fire pole. (no, they won’t let you slide down, maybe due to their strong margaritas). We ate there with Jenny’s family for her parents’ 40th anniversary, her brother-in-law’s birthday, and her father’s birthday. The only downside was the forced valet parking. Living in the suburbs has spoiled me in the parking department.
  10. Brenden and Jonathan will be in school three days a week starting in July: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. This will help Brenden get ready for kindergarten next year (WHOA) and give Jenny a little more free time.

To Scale

What’s better than a little data? A lot of data. We just got a new toy that generates all kinds of data: our first bathroom scale. But this isn’t just any scale. It displays my weight like you’d expect but also uses a harmless electrical current to calculate my body fat, total water content, muscle mass, and bone percentage. Plus it looks slick and has a nice, clean display for our information. Except for getting my body fat measured back in junior high or high school, I’ve never had any of those measurements taken by a medical professional. But as far as I can tell, the extra information seems to be fairly accurate, or at least reasonable. We’re both trying to lose some body fat, so I hope this scale will help us track our progress.

With accuracy down to 0.2 pounds, it also allows me to perform some interesting experiments. For instance:

  • How much does my weight vary throughout the day and from day to day? (as much as five pounds)
  • How much weight do I lose during a trip to the bathroom?
  • How much water weight do I sweat out during a short run or a long run? This information can help me know how much replacement water to drink.
  • With my workout program and diet, does my body fat drop as quickly as my muscle mass increases, or is one faster than the other?

I haven’t decided yet what to do with all this data. Several iPhone apps let you track your weight and other data points. I could also set up an Excel spreadsheet or use some other tool. We’ll see. Right now I’m just playing with it.

The Naked Eye

Over the last year, I’ve gotten pink eye two or three times in my right eye. My most recent infection is still lingering, albeit mildly. I think I reinfected my eye by not washing out my contact case. (not one of my brighter moments, but I thought the contact solution would sanitize it)

Pink eye is annoying for anyone, but it’s extra annoying for me. While my left eye is perfect, my right eye (the sick one) is badly nearsighted, so I wear one contact. When you have pink eye, they recommend not wearing contacts. I suppose the microorganisms could linger on the lens and keep the infection alive or something. Normal contact wearers simply switch to glasses when they have pink eye. However, when I first got my contact, my eye doctor said glasses weren’t a good idea because they would screw up my depth perception. So I have no glasses and no contact until the infection is gone. I suppose I’ll declare the end of my pink eye sometime later this week.

Until then, I’m running around with one good eye and one really blurry, naked one. My brain gets a bit confused trying to reconcile the two images, but I actually works fairly well. My left eye is dominant anyway, so I guess my brain just tunes out the blurry image. It’s a bit odd when I can only see an object with my bad eye, such as in a mirror or around a corner. For a good time, many of you can simulate this by running around with one contact or by looking through only one lens of your glasses. Although I haven’t had many problems with my contact, it does feel dry or get lost in my eye on occasion.

My recurrent pink eye got me thinking, though. Apparently wearing contacts boosts your risk for pink eye, as does having small children. I’d prefer to keep my children, but I don’t have to use the contacts, certainly not every day. And I don’t have to be half-blind if I get pink eye again. I have three options:

  1. Get a monocle. Would I look good in a monocle? I think I’d look mysterious. And wise. And a lot older. Maybe I’d grown a beard and dye it gray. “The most important men in town would come to fawn on me. They would ask me to advise them like Solomon the wise. ‘If you please, Reb Tevye… Pardon me, Reb Tevye…’”
  2. Get glasses. My original doctor said no glasses. My current doctor never said that. Perhaps he might have a different opinion. If not, I’m sure there’s some optometrist somewhere who would hook me up.
  3. Get LASIK. Jenny had LASIK over a decade ago and was very pleased. So have millions of other people. It’s expensive, but I would only need one eye instead of two. Even if the surgery went badly, I’d still have my good eye as a backup. Part of me wonders whether it’s a frivolous expense. It’s certainly not necessary, but it would save me from having to buy contacts for the rest of my life.

Have any of you tried LASIK? If so, do you have any thoughts or advice to share?

Failure of the Calorie Equation

Thanks to various health classes, articles, and my own desire for everything to make sense, I’ve always believed the old equation that says calories in – calories out = change in weight. It’s simple. It’s easy to remember. It seems to be widely accepted.

It also provides an easy way to assign credit or blame for one’s weight. If you’re at a healthy weight, you must be doing the right things. If you’re overweight, you must be doing something wrong, and it’s your own fault for not being more disciplined. If you really wanted to, you would make the tough choices and eat better and exercise more.

However, that simple formula has a glaring problem that I tried to ignore or explain away for years:

It doesn’t work very well.

In the real world, most people want to be fairly healthy and maintain a good weight, but losing extra fat is difficult. Once lost, it’s extremely difficult to keep the weight off, and most people eventually fail and gain all of it back if not more. I doubt this is news to any of you. Having never struggled with my weight, I blew off this phenomenon as lack of discipline (“these people just aren’t respecting the equation!”), even though I knew how hard many of them fought and how much they watched their diets and how much they worked out.

A growing pile of evidence suggests that I’ve been wrong, that most of us have been wrong. Like it or not, metabolism isn’t nearly as simple as calories in vs. calories out.

The New York Times ran a fascinating article this week called The Fat Trap. I strongly recommend reading the entire article, but its main point is that your body actively resists weight loss and seeks to return you to your previous weight after you lose any significant amount. Once you reach a given weight, your body resets that weight as the ideal and tries to keep you there. Even if you do manage to lose some weight, you’ll have to work much harder to stay there permanently compared to someone who was already at the same weight, almost to the point that it becomes the primary focus of your life. Also, to make things even more difficult, people really do process food in different ways. In one study, given the same diet and same level of exercise, people lost or gained weight at different rates. That blows my mind. It also blows the equation out to the compost pile.

I’m no doctor or biochemist, but if true, this concept explains a lot. It makes me feel like a jerk for silently and ignorantly judging overweight people. It also makes me sympathize much more with those who do struggle with their weight. They not only fight the social stigma of being overweight and the difficult battle to eat better and be more active, but also their own bodies’ fighting against them.

Sure, there’s plenty of room for discussion about how and why we should prevent people from becoming overweight in the first place, which seems to be the only good solution. I’m working hard myself to stay trim, hoping to avoid a much more difficult battle 20 years from now. But for now, I merely want to open my own eyes, and maybe some of yours as well, to the nasty war that millions of people are fighting every day.

Your Daily Calorie Needs

Runners World offers an interesting calculator for your daily calorie needs. Just punch in your height, weight, age, and gender, and it calculates how many calories you burn.

More specifically, it calculates your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is how many calories you need just to stay alive with no activity whatsoever. It also estimates your total calorie needs based on your general level of activity. My BMR is 1555. I figure I’m moderately active per their definition, so I need a total of 2410 calories per day.

If you want extra credit, you can take those numbers and start converting them into food and drink. For example, I could consume my daily calorie needs with 16.5 cans of Coke, 22 medium apples, 80 carrots, or – get this – 2.1 chocolate shakes from McDonald’s. Obviously, the human body has other needs than simple calories, and some foods are better sources of calories than others. =)