Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy & Healthy Lives(or Danny's Solutions to New Year's Resolutions)

They say goldfish have no memories so their minds are much like mine. The little plastic castle is a surprise every time. 

Now is time for my yearly post on New Year's resolutions. Different year, same topic: health and happiness. Hope you can find something in here that you can use to better your and your loved ones lives.

As the New Year shines brightly upon us, we are rashly devising resolutions to live healthier lives. Typical "exercise more", "eat better" etc type vague goals that are hard to quantify and therefore easy to ignore and forget. Therefore Amber and my holiday present to you this year, is to create your New Year's Resolution for you. Go through each of the categories below and see whether you've met our minimum standards for each of these elements of healthy and happy living(the goals are bolded for your perusing pleasure). If not, make your goal the minimum standards. Make sure not to neglect any category.

  • Aerobic: The benefits of aerobic exercises have been touted by endurance athletes for years and are well known so I won't go into it here. Shoot for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. But remember: Aerobic exercise is not a panacea! If you are an oft-injured runner, MORE IS NOT BETTER! You probably have weakness in one of the other elements of fitness. Like...
  • Strength: Strength training is important for bone density, joint health, and functional mobility and has been shown to help with some of the same elements of the metabolic syndrome as with aerobic exercise. Shoot for 2-6 sets of 12-15 reps of exercises for each major muscle group twice a week. But if you're a body builder, MORE IS NOT BETTER! You probably have limitations in your aerobic conditioning or...
  • Flexibility: Stretching regularly can help prevent loss of mobility associated with aging and repetitive activities or positions(see sitting = smoking) that create body movements and posture habits that can lead to reduced mobility of joints and compromised body positions. Stretching has been shown to be most effective when done on a daily basis at tissue tension with holds of 3 minutes. Focus on muscles that become tightened throughout your day(i.e. if you sit a lot, think hamstrings, quads/hip flexors, calves, chest, neck-wow the list is endless!). But remember, you have all seen the super flexible yogi who can't hold Warrior 3 because she has no...
  • Balance: The last element of fitness. Balance is important for prevention of falls and to help coordinate dynamic functional movements. Shoot for standing on one leg for 1 minute with you eyes closed. If this is too challenging open your eyes. Still too challenging? Stand with one foot in front of the other like you're on a tight-rope.
Okay so you've got your exercise goal (or goals) covered. Now let's move on!

Diet: The trouble with this element of health is that there is so many diets and fads out there it's hard to sort through it all. However, there are some basic tenets that you should attempt to uphold.
  • First, half of each of your meals should be colorful vegetables. There you go. Already doing well.
  • Next thing. Stop eating before you're full.
  • Avoid processed sugars, diet drinks, trans-fats and pretty much anything that doesn't expire(I'm looking at you Twinkie!).
  • Drink enough water that your pee is clear to ever so slightly yellow.  
  • Try to only go out to eat(this includes drive-thru) once a week at most. If you're cooking your own meals you will have a far better idea what goes into them and likely won't be adding xanthum gum(I actually don't know if that's bad or not but I've never seen it grow on a tree).
  •  Eat slower. Practice mindful eating once a day where you focus on the taste, texture and feeling of each bite you take. You may all of a sudden notice that treat you thought you enjoyed, isn't so good after all.
  • Eat an assortment of foods. Variety is the spice of life and all the key to a healthy one.
  • Try new things. Not once but at least 10 times. That's how many times it takes to adapt to some tastes and textures that we might originally not think we like.

Sleep: Sleep has been shown to help improve memory, reduce inflammation and joint pain, promote healing, decrease fatigue, lower stress, maintain a healthy weight and reduce risk of chronic pain. And yet, it is estimated that between 50-75 million Americans, 1/5 of the population, have problems sleeping both not sleeping well and not sleeping enough. The American solution? Take a sleeping pill. Our solution? Find the cause of your sleeping problems! If you are struggling to sleep at night or wake unrested, there is a myriad of possible causes with well-documented non-medicinal solutions. You need to find the cause first though. If you think you can sleep when you're dead, you'll get there sooner. Make sure to sleep at least 7-9 hours a day and if you have teenagers it's closer to 10!

Hygiene: Do we really have to put this on the list? Well with the high occurrence of nosocomial infections related to poor hand washing habits, we figured we must. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time you touch someone, do any cooking or use the bathroom. Just as important as your hands are your teeth. Brush your teeth 2x/day and and floss once/day to prevent decay and periodontal (gum) disease.

Stress: Stress has been linked to every bad thing possible from cancer to chronic pain, marital strife and hair loss. There are things in life that cause us stress that we can control and other things that we cannot. The key is to see what elements of our life are intrinsic stressors(things that we put on ourselves like expectations, perceptions etc) and work to address them. Your stress related goal is to find one element from your day that stresses you out and work to find a way to eliminate it. Have a lousy commute? Make the most of it by listening to an audio book or practicing mindfulness meditation. Financial stresses? Create a budget that will help you see where you can modify your spending. Crappy co-worker? You can't change how they act but you can change how you respond to their actions. Remember: how they act is their karma but how you react is yours.

Stress can totally disrupt your health and happy but you have to let it do that. Don't.

Happiness: Hand and hand with stress is happiness. Happiness cannot occur until we embrace change. There is nothing that we have that we won't lose eventually. But that doesn't mean we need to covet and horde. In fact, viewing happiness as a limited commodity is problematic because if we see our source(or sources) of happiness as limited we fixate upon it and by focusing on holding on to it, we end up not experiencing it. This has happened to me where I have had an amazing experience and have started fretting over its eventual end(this has happened with vacations, books, and dinner). By worrying about its end, I actually couldn't be in the moment to actually enjoy and experience it. I've always hated that song by Stephen Stills' song Love the One Your With, because I've viewed it as settling for a life(or love) less than what you have wanted. But I do like the idea of being in the moment enough to still be open to love in unexpected places so you can enjoy your life that you are living now. Life will bring us to some unexpected places, if we can engage them with an open mind there is a good chance we will find happiness there.

I am sure I have missed some elements of health and wellness that are important and I apologize to all the runners out there who thought they were healthy until they realized they only had one small facet of health covered. But I am sure that each and every one of us can find something on this list that we are struggling with. Use that to help guide your New Year's resolution to be a better you. Now.

Coming Up Next: A Happier and Healthier New Year:)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Sitting is the New Smoking

We all know that physical activity is good and being a slug is not so good. In fact, physical inactivity is a risk factor for various non-communicable diseases including ischemic heart disease, breast and colorectal cancers and diabetes. In addition to being a risk factor to many things that will eventually kill us, physical inactivity also makes us weaker so when we do perform activities(like shoveling snow) we're at higher risk of getting injured. This is nothing new. Public health workers have been trying for years to instill upon people the need to stay active. The American Heart Association recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise(or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise) per week. And yet people are still dying prematurely.

While some of it is an individual's choice, society has also made a sedentary lifestyle more common. Over the years, it has become easier and easier to sit more and more. Television, longer commutes, more sedentary workplaces, elevators, NetFlix, Amazon.com the list goes on and on. For some people there is a good possibility of sitting for up to 23 hours a day! That's crazy. It appears that the amount of time you sit during the day plays a huge role in your overall health.  Studies have shown that you can exercise after work but if you sit throughout the day, you may still be at a higher risk of early mortality! So much so that it's on par with smoking in risk of early mortality. This is in addition to all of the repetitive chronic use injuries that are associated with sitting(carpal tunnel, shoulder impingement, neck and lower back pain etc).

NOW WAIT! Let me clarify: people who didn't exercise AND sat all day were by far the sickest and most disabled population. People who exercised and sat all day were far better off than this population in regards to disability and early death but still lagged(in terms of health) behind people who did not sit much, if at all, throughout the day.

So if you have a job that allows you to stand for at least 75% of your day, you are probably okay will the AHA exercise recommendations(assuming you don't smoke, you eat well and you sleep enough). BUT if you sit the majority of the day, it time to stand up! No seriously, right now.

While Amber and I do a fair amount of promoting a healthy lifestyle during your leisure hours by pretending ridiculously hard endurance activities are fun, today we will demonstrate ways to be more activity and healthy while at work. Below are some activities that you can do at your desk:

Quad stretch

Adductor Stretch

Hamstring stretch(yes, that is a stretch for me)

Hip flexor stretch

Biceps, pec and scalene stretch

Upper Trap Stretch

Piriformis stretch squat

One Legged Deadlift


Scap depression(try to get your squeezed shoulders as far away from your ears as possible)

Variation of one legged deadlift(front knee is bent)

Single Leg stance(great for balance!- Make sure you're not relying on your hands for balance)
The above activities are all fairly easy to do and will get you out of your chair for a while. Try to hold each pose for 5 minutes on each side. By the time you go through the whole routine, that will be two less hours that you just sat! If you've got a private office, you could always throw in a couple pushups, burpees or jogging in place between each activity. Make it a game to see just how little you can sit in your work-day. Good luck!

Quick Note:
Sorry to all the cab drivers and toilet bowl testers out there, since this only applies to people who are at a workstation where they have the opportunity to stand. If you're a cabbie, make sure to be chivalrous and run to open the door for your riders. If you're a toilet bowl tester, good luck.

Up Next? Amber's return to snowshoe racing. Can she regain the Snowshoe National Championship title?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Kiawah Island Marathon(or South Bound and Down)

This past weekend I flew down to South Carolina to race the Kiawah Island Marathon. I was the lone wolf this weekend because Amber was competing in a Masters Swim meet.  I have always wanted to go to Charleston and I wanted to improve on my qualifying time for the 2014 Boston Marathon(you can continue to submit faster times up until Feb 2014 and will be seeded accordingly).
The lone sailor
I arrived in Charleston Friday morning and I can tell you right off the bat, I was not impressed. In true Danny fashion, I saved a few dollars by getting an "off-airport" rental car. After waiting for a considerable time at the curbside, I was finally picked up and driven into less and less nice areas of North Charleston. We finally arrived at what appeared to be a small old car lot which was in fact, where my rental car was. Typically rental cars have a nice new car smell. Well, I can tell you that this did not. Imagine a chain smokers car and you'll have a better idea. I used this opportunity to get some fresh South Carolina air as I drove to Kiawah Island.

Kiawah Island is a private island about 45 minutes slow of Charleston. During the drive from the car rental lot to Kiawah Island, I witnessed 15 car accidents. That is not a hyperbole. I counted 15. Yes that's all of my left hand fingers, my right hand fingers and five of my toes. No snow, no poor visibility. Nothing but good old fashioned bad driving. It was crazy how bad the driving was. In fact, I was beginning to doubt why I had wanted to go to Charleston. Besides bad drivers, all I could see was strip mall after strip mall for the majority of the way to Kiawah Island. It wasn't until I was over the bridge to John's Island did it get nicer. And it did get nicer, with large mansions and big trees over hanging the road, it was pretty similar to Savannah, but not quite as nice.

Finally making it down to the Kiawah Island gate, I felt like I was crossing the border. Actually it felt more secure the crossing the border. I had to provided proof of identification as well as verification of race entry. After nearly getting a cavity search, I was finally allowed on the Island. And was met with sign after sign of "Danger: Alligators". Yikes. That's certainly one way to make me run faster.

I quickly picked up my race bib and shirt, sneezed and missed the expo and headed back towards Charleston. I spent the afternoon exploring the French Quarter in Charleston which was as nice as North Charleston is crappy. Charleston proper reminds me of a bigger Savannah with more sophistication and modernization. Even their old buildings appear remodeled and updated. They also have an area called the "museum mile" which, you guessed it- has a mile of museums and art galleries. It was a great pre-race area to walk around.


But if you truly want to find out what a city is really like, you don't head to the nice part of town. You head to the Wal-mart. Which was conveniently located close to my hovel, errr: hotel. I walked to Wal-Mart from my place and witnessed some of the rudest people I've seen on any of my trips this year. There was a fight in the parking lot, a woman who pushed her shopping cart into a guy into a wheelchair, and about 100 16 year old mothers all wailing on their children(that is a hyperbole). I quickly got my banana and a $6 long-sleeved shirt to wear before the race start and went back to my hovel...

He keeps calling it a hovel. It must have been a dump. And it was. I am being a little bit of a whiner but it's all about management of expectations. I arrived at my North Charleston hotel(have I mentioned to AVOID North Charleston) where the lobby was clean and well-maintained, there looked to be a nice pool and hot-tub and a hot breakfast served daily. But wait. Sorry sir but you're at our sister hotel. While the other hotel was less than a mile away, it did not have hot breakfast, the lobby was not clean and instead of a nice pool and hot-tub they had an abundance of stray cats and ducks. Yes real cats and ducks. Right outside my door. All night long. For those of you who have heard me sing, now imagine, five to fifteen of my closest equally silver-tongued friends all singing a sweet cacophony all night long and you may have an idea of my evening. Luckily, I had only booked this hotel for one night so I wouldn't have to repeat this on Saturday. But a good night's sleep before the marathon was also out the window.
I was not staying anywhere near this cool church

To top off the evening, after driving around North Charleston for a while, I finally settled for CiCi's Pizza. Nothing against them but an all-you-can-eat pizza place is not good place for someone like me with very little self-control when it comes to pizza. I tried to fill up on pasta before going to the pizza line but ended up just eating pasta before eating nearly 20 slices of pizza. Ahhh carbo loading. Well, at least I didn't get food poisoning like in Savannah.

I awoke early to drive back down to Kiawah. I must say from the parking and needing to take a shuttle, the potential for a shortage of bathrooms and the impending rain, I was leery about race day morning. All of naught. It was smooth parking transition into big coach buses(no school bus here) to the race start where there were plenty of bathrooms. They also had a morning dynamic warm-up that they offered before the race start. All in all it was probably one of these easiest race day mornings I have had.

The race course

The marathon started with the half marathoners and we ran together for the first 11 miles. Knowing this I was wise enough to let the fast guys go at the start. I got into a pretty good pack of mostly marathoners and settled in for the long-haul. There was one especially chirpy marathoner asking everyone what they were planning to run today. Most of them were looking to be running in the high 2:40's low 2:50's but one guy was planning to do a 2:45. So far at the five mile mark we had been consistently hitting 6:18 miles so I thought he was legitimate. When he gapped the rest of the group, I decided to hang with him.

At this point it was difficult to see what place we were in because of the half marathoners also ahead of us. At the first of many out and backs, I counted 3 marathoners ahead of us. The other run and I continued to click off 6:18s so I stopped even checking my splits. Big mistake. Several miles later, I felt surprisingly comfortable and relaxed and looked down at my split: 6:30! We were slowing and that is why it felt easy. Frantically, I picked up the pace in the process dropping the guy I was running with. By mile 18, I had passed the third place guy and was feeling pretty good. Another runner had caught me right around then and we went through mile 20 about 4 seconds apart in 3rd and 4th place. He was running so much more smoothly than I was, I knew I didn't have him. But the 2nd place runner looked catchable. And, in fact, he was. I passed him shortly thereafter for 3rd place.

Now at this point most people would start letting their motivation to finish and place spur them on. But all I could think about was water. I was so thirsty that at mile 24 I actually stopped and drank 5 cups of water and 1 cup of gatorade. That mile was an 8 minute mile. Not too impressive. It was hard getting back into the running after having stopped and my last two miles were unimpressive 7:20's which allowed the 4th place runner to get too close for comfort as I pulled out the 3rd place victory by only about a minute. Still it was good enough for another sub-3 marathon in a new state so I was happy:)

A little about the race:
  • If you don't like out and backs, DO NOT do this race! I think there was total of 6 out and backs varying from 1/2 mile to a 3 mile out and back. It was a great way to see all the parts of the island and stay on the island because I think otherwise it would have to go off island to get the distance in. It's a great race to set a PR at.
  • If you like hills, don't do this race. There aren't any. Entirely flat and fast with only a few spots along the marshes and ocean when the wind would pick up at all.
  • If you don't like random people talking to you, don't do this race. This could have been that I was always by myself(and probably looking pathetic), but I had so many different people come up to me and tell me their life stories. One young spry 80+ year old was doing trying to do marathons in all 50 states(like me!). He was telling me the most difficult part was finding races that had generous enough cut-off times so he could finish. One race in Jackson Hole took away all the course markings while he was still out there and he got lost getting back. Poor guy. But also inspirational to still be doing what he loves. Another person was the pulling guard for the Air Force football team and now he's out running marathons and just signed up for his first Ironman next year.  
  • If you want to see the golf courses you're running alongside, don't do this race. Luckily for me there was always trees between the road and the golf course which keep almost the entire race in the shade. It was hot enough that could have made for a very miserable race otherwise.
  • If you like to race and leave, don't do this race. The post-race celebration is what made this race. It was under a tent with silverware and table clothes. Good food and great drinks. I hung around for the awards ceremony which allowed me to have plenty of time for both. Definitely worth it.
My Third Place Pelican
After meeting some interesting characters at the post-race ceremony, I headed to my second hotel. Much improved! I settled in, showered and headed out to an All You Can Eat Oyster bar on Isle of Palms which is about 20-30 minutes away from Charleston. I drive there salivating the whole way only to find it got cancelled due to the weather. Darn! But it gave me the opportunity to check out the beaches over there. I think if I do this race again, I'll stay over on that side as some of those beach-front hotels were very nice.
View from the Isle of Palms Boardwalk
I headed back towards my place and ended up at a sports bar owned by Phillies fans so I ended up watching the Army/Navy game and have a pulled pork sandwich and Yuenling. Not exactly South Carolinian but still hit the spot.

The next morning I headed back into Charleston, checked out some of the sites, I had missed on Friday including the Seawall and White Point Park which is where several Pirates(I don't think Bobby Bonilla was one of them) were hanged in the 1700's. Also, luckily for me it was the 2nd Sunday of the month, so the town of Charleston shuts down some streets for pedestrians only which made for some nice ambulatory exploration.

I then jumped on a Harbor Cruise that took us on the Cooper River, its confluence with the Ashley and out to the Atlantic Ocean. It was amazing to see all the huge houses lining the shores of the river and it's marked contrast to the Navy and shipyards just opposite them. They also have four forts(the fourth was called the forgotten fort because the other three made it obsolete); the most famous being Fort Sumter, named after General Sumter(the "Gamecock"), where the first shots of the Civil War were fired over.
Fort Sumter
History is pretty cool, but what was far cooler was all of the dolphins in the harbor. I had heard stories of Great White Sharks coming up the rivers but I didn't see any but did see plenty of dolphins and was able to capture some on video(see below). Definitely the highlight of the trip.

More Scenes from my Charleston Stroll:
Patriots Point-the USS Yorktown(if you look closely, it can hold 80 aircraft!)



Plenty of History:


I wrapped up my Charleston trip with a quick detour to the HL Hunley which was a submarine used during the Civil War. A Sub in the Civil War? I couldn't believe it so had to see for myself. For $10 admission you can actually see the submarine which held 8 confederate soldiers. It was successful in sinking the USS Housatonic but then it sank and became a coffin for all eight soldiers. It wasn't found until 1995 and brought to its final resting place in 2000. An interesting trip and a great way to end my trip down south.
Not sure the connection between Hunley and this mansion but this was about a 1/4 mile away in an otherwise sketchy neighborhood.

So that's it for races in the 2013 season. Now time to enjoy some snowshoe racing before the big Galveston Marathon in February where my sister will be venturing into the world of marathons for the first time. Can't wait!

Oh yeah, and Amber has a few races up her sleeve too:)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Quarrelsome Litigant

Did you hear about Bruno Leduc? He has been labeled by a Quebec judge as a "quarrelsome litigant". That is someone "often demonstrates stubbornness and narcissism" and that the claims are "at the limit of being rational." If anyone could be defined as such, it appears it would be Mr. Leduc. He most recently sued the Dominican Republic because it rained on his vacation. In fact, he has sued so many companies in the last 13 years that the judge now is barring him from lawsuits without prior approval from a judge.  He is the type of guy who would sue McDonalds for getting him fat then sue his gym for not getting him thin. Although, I don't know the guy personally, he sounds like the north end of a horse going south.

 In regard to our health, most of the time we would need to be filing a lawsuit against ourselves. Almost all of the risk factors for death and disability(obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic pain, and even some cancers[for more on that see: Cancer in developing countries: The next most preventable pandemic by Lopez-Gomez et al]) can be reduced with healthy diets (including no smoking and drinking alcohol in moderation), regular aerobic exercise and visits to your doctor for check-ups. And yet we, as a global society, continue to lose years off our lives from early death and protracted bouts of disability. This will need to be a class action suit.

The trouble is that for many of us, exercise isn't fun and it's hard. Even for people with an athletic background playing team sports, most aerobic exercise(like running) was punishment. You ran laps if you made a mistake, wind-sprints if you lost a game, etc. For many people it is hard to convert that sense of punishment to pleasure as the opportunities for team sport participation diminishes as we get older. But we need to find some way to stay active! With the increase in sedentary work, long commutes and television, society is sitting on its collective butts now more than ever. Meanwhile, studies have shown that sitting is the new smoking. No seriously. Studies have looked at sitting times and found that the more you sat the sooner you died( for more on this, see: Sitting Time and Mortality from All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer by Katzmarzyk et al).

My sister is a great example of someone who hates running. Growing up playing almost exclusively basketball, running was certainly a punishment. She has expressed on numerous occasions her distaste for running for the sake of running. But she has picked it up. You could say she's running for her life. For she knows that she needs to get aerobic exercise to stay healthy and fit so she has decided to give running a try. And in true Ferreira form, she isn't doing it half-way. Knowing that simply "staying fit" won't be enough motivation for her on dark, cold, snowy days in mid-winter, she has decided to sign herself up for a marathon to keep her going on those frigid days.

Meanwhile, I am hoping that she finds some enjoyment in running as well as the competition. She did the first leg of the Mill Cities Relay yesterday and ran 7 flats for over 5 miles! This comes a day after her longest run yet. When asked how she did, she replied that she wished she knew where the finish line was so she could have run harder... Oh yeah! A little sandbagger:) I can't wait to see how she does once she starts running on a regular basis. And now that she's on the Gate City Striders, she has the opportunity to race the New England Grand Prix so I'm hoping this will keep her excited about running and kicking some butt.

You see what I did there? I am making running fun. And that's what you've got to do. It doesn't need to be running but it does need to be aerobic. Make a game out of it, track your progress, sign up for a marathon whatever. Just get out there and do something so that you can live a long and happy life with the ones you love.

Which brings me back to Mr. Leduc. I may try to employ his services and have him sue the manufacturers of chairs so that everyone has to stand at work. That good service may outweigh all his frivolous lawsuits in the past.  Or maybe not.