Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Guest Blogger: Rachel Zenhausern

Hi everyone, next up as Guest Blogger is Rachel Zenhausern, aka the Short (dis)Order Cook. She writes two blogs, the brilliant and funny Shipwrecked and Comatose and the wonderful The Essential Rhubarb Pie.

*hic!* Cheers!

She's from Mamaroneck, New York, and she's "a home cook, an amateur singer, dancer and actor, an equestrian, and a huge goofball", and she loves to cook, although she describes herself as "a bit of a bumbler in the kitchen". She enjoys experimenting in the kitchen and putting her own twist on other people's recipes. She also loves entertaining, but admits to being a picky eater and says she's a failure as a "foodie".

Here's her choice selection for the blog:

Why Do We Make This The Gold Standard of Fitness?

Just to that tree.  Just sprint to that tree.  Just to that tree.  Keep going.  Oh gods when will I get to that tree?  Please tree, move closer to me.  

It was a warm summer night and I was taking advantage of it by doing my workout at the park.  Interval cardio was the scheduled workout that night, so I was mixing brisk walks with intensity bursts.  Some of my intensity bursts were sprints.

That tree is closer, closer.  I'm almost there.  Wait!  Why does it still seem so far?  Is that tree moving farther away just to taunt me?

I finished my sprint to that tree and made it the last sprint of the evening.  I had plenty of other options for intensity bursts like mountain climbers, burpees, and step-ups on the park benches.   Breathless and grateful to be walking again, I swore I would never run again unless someone was chasing me.

That wasn't the first time I had sworn that.

Why is it when people want to get in shape, they assume that they have to run? Our culture seems to define running as the standard of what fit, healthy people do.  Where did this standard come from?  Why is it so pervasive in our society?

Let's go back to prehistoric times for a moment.  Imagine yourself as a caveman or cavewoman.  How would you spend your day?  You might wander across the savannah, moving slowly to watch for edible plants and roots.  Then you might spot some tasty prey animal.  You need your protein.  You grab your spear and chase it for a while.  Let's say it outruns you.  You're thinking you still need your protein, so you spot a nest in a nearby tree.  You climb up and help yourself to some eggs.  Maybe you jump in a stream after a fish.  You find some horny, unattractive caveman is chasing you, so you sprint away and then climb over some boulders.  You managed to escape.  You go back to your leisurely walk and look for firewood for your evening fire.

Flash forward several centuries.  We have now entered the agrarian age.  Each day is filled with a variety of tasks.  You wake up early to milk the cows.  You chop wood for the fire.  You plow your fields, sow your seeds, and once everything is planted and growing, you regularly haul water from the creek or the well to irrigate.  You muck stalls and bale hay.  If you are female you will have to build the cooking fire, gather the food for the meals, chopping and prepping every part of it.  You manually do laundry by hand, scrubbing it on a board, wringing it out with a hand-cranked wringer, and hanging it up to try.  To smooth out the wrinkles you go over your dry clothes with a literal iron.  If your rugs are dirty, you take them out and beat them.  If your floors are dirty, you are on your hands and knees scrubbing them with a scrub brush.

Throughout most of human history human lives have been a constant bustle of physical activity.  In order to survive our ancestors had to perform a variety of physical activities.  They hauled, scrambled, climbed, chopped, walked, and swam.  Sometimes they ran.  Did they run if they didn't need to?

The twentieth century brought all kinds of modern conveniences that made large amounts of physical activity unnecessary. We drove instead of walking or riding a horse.  We did our labor in front of computers.  Automation made housework quick and easy.  Food became far easier to procure since we no longer had to work very hard to procure or cook it.  It only took a few decades for our bodies began to suffer the ill effects of a sedentary diet and an instant food supply.

In the past forty years many Americans realized they needed to "get in shape".  For many years there weren't many options.  You could join a gym and lift weights, but that didn't hold much appeal for women.  The best option seemed to be to take up running.  Running is seemingly cheap and easy.  You put on a pair of sneakers and go.

Throughout modern history people did run.  They ran because they were good at it.  They were athletes.  They ran competitively.  They didn't run to lose weight.  They ran because it was their sport.  They had a talent for it.

When the fitness craze began at the end of the 20th century, people who never ran before were suddenly going for it.  It was assumed that running was good for you.  After all, it works your body over pretty nicely.  No pain, no gain, right?

Two decades into the 21st century and what do we have to show for it?  Running is hardly the only fitness activity available these days.  There are many types of dance fitness classes.  Martial arts and weight lifting are no longer the domain of men.  Outdoor sports of every stripe from rock climbing to hiking to kayaking to surfing are more popular than ever.  You can do any number of activities and be in shape.

Still we feel we need to run.

I fell for that mentality too.  I hated running ever since I was a kid.  I hated the way I was forced to run the track in gym class.  I was a failure at games of tag (plus my neverending childhood klutziness meant that changing trajectory frequently while running meant I fell down and scraped my knee or twisted my ankle often).  I hated most sports that required me to chase a ball or run around bases.  I was slow, clumsy, and uncoordinated.  I think it was clear at an early age I wasn't meant to run.  Prolonged periods of running left me with stitches in my side, aching lungs that burst into coughing fits, and sore shins the next day.

The problem was that over the years I struggled with my weight. Once my age hit double digits, I developed quite the voracious appetite and soon I had the body to match.  I tried to stay fairly active.  I rode horses and took dance lessons and even did exercise videos.  When I became an adult I joined a gym and became an avid weight lifter.  I never did enough to outdo my diet.

The time came that I decided the only exercise I could do to take the weight off was to run.  Running burns calories and I needed to burn lots of calories.  I broke myself into gently, starting off with periods of faster walking and then into slower runs, gradually increasing my speed.  I mostly did interval work on the treadmill.  I eased myself into it.  I managed to work my way up to workouts where I was going at a slow run for my slowest pace.

Eventually I started having pain in my feet.  I wasn't sure if it was plantar fascitis or tendonitis, but in any case, it was hurting just to walk.  I decided I wasn't meant to run and went back to other forms of cardio.  I continued dancing.  I discovered Zumba.  I received a Kinect as a gift.  I relied on the elliptical and stationary bike at the gym.  I took long walks.

A vicious cycle ensued.  When my weight wouldn't come off, I would decide to run again.  At one point I was really dedicated.  I managed to do three miles in a workout, which is pretty amazing for me.  I got to the point on the treadmill where I never walked, but simply jogged during the lesser intervals.  I felt so in shape.  I felt so powerful.  I was becoming a runner!

I still never lost the weight.

Then one day while innocently working out at the gym doing other activities stuff, my knee twinged.  It twinged hard.  I tried to work through it.  It kept hurting.  The pain continued as the days went on.  I had trouble dancing.  I found it painful to move my lower leg forward, so even walking was limited.  I finally had to head to the orthopedist, who diagnosed me with tendonitis and warned me that my meniscus was wearing away.  The next thing I know I was in physical therapy for months.

Seeing as I was not interested in losing any more cartilage in my knee, I swore that this time I would give up running for good.

How good is running for you?

Running is a very high impact activity.  Every time you take a stride forward and land it, you are giving your body a serious jolt.  Your feet, knees, shins, ankles, hips, and spine are taking a serious pounding.  The heavier you are, the harder the pounding.  Running can cause tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, illiotibial band syndrome, meniscus injuries, and even heart issues.  Yes, running exercises the heart muscle by making it pump, but like any other muscle, the heart can suffer overuse injuries.

The worst part is that the heavier you are, the more running is going to give your body a beating.  Whenever I see shows like The Biggest Loser making morbidly obese contestants run long distances, I want to throw something at the screen.  The impact that running places on the already-overstressed joints of very heavy people is tremendous.  What they are doing is breaking down the bodies in the name of weight loss.  If you are obese, you do not start up a fitness program with high impact activity.  You are just asking for injury.

Will running really help you lose weight?  If you are sedentary and take up an exercise program, you are bound to see results in the beginning.  A sedentary body will respond quite well initially to changes in activity levels.

As it will with any cardio activity, when you keep running your body will begin to adapt.  Our bodies are clever like that.  Once we start pushing them to do an activity, they will start to become more efficient at doing them and require less energy to complete those tasks.  Soon that jaunty little jog will be easier and you won't burn as many calories.  You need to run faster or run farther to keep enjoying the same effects that running had on your body.  You start planning for a 5K, then a 10K, then a half marathon.  Every time you run a little faster or a little farther, your body adapts just a little more.

Running and other cardio activities also have the disadvantage of being catabolic.  They break down muscle.  Muscle is a very metabolically active tissue, so as you break down muscle with all of that running, you are also slowing down your metabolism and won't burn calories quite so efficiently.  This can be solved with plenty of cross training, and some of the runners I know do cross train.  I know other runners who don't and have resigned themselves to being overweight (and of course being overweight is going to help their joints deteriorate that much faster).

No matter how much we can talk about every way running can be destructive to the body and even impede our weight loss goals, running is still held as the gold standard of fitness.  How fast and how far you can run is always a talking point in discussing your fitness levels.  You exercise?  You lost weight?  How much can you run?

Just try telling people you hate running.   I guarantee a gaggle of runners will be more than willing to tell you that you're wrong.  Running is the best thing that ever happened to them and they love it so much and if you just spend some time training with them you'll love it too.  Just Google the phrase "I Hate Running" and you will not find a community of like-minded souls, but instead will see the testimonies of people who used to hate running and pushed themselves to do it.  It is seen as a sign of weakness to hate running.  If you don't run, you are not working at the peak level of fitness.  You are also missing out on some kind of magical experience, some exercise-induced state of Nirvana, that can't be reached any other way.

I'm here to start the movement.  I don't want to run anymore.  I want to tell the rest of the world that if you don't want to run, you don't have to.  The world is filled with all kinds of exercise.  You can be very fit and never let your stride leave the ground.  I stopped running regularly as part of my routine four years ago.  Currently I'm in the best physical shape I have been in since my twenties.  I lost weight through eating a more moderate diet and some very focused strength training.  My days are filled with all kinds of physical activity.  My body isn't missing out on anything by not running.

I like to think that the mentality is changing.  This article made me smile.  Some people get it.  Your fitness level, your health, your bodyfat, and even your appearance are not dependent on whether or not you run.

I know there are people reading this who run and are good at it and really love it.  This essay is not for you. I am not here to disparage anyone who truly wants to run.  I am looking to address those who are afraid to start a fitness program because they think it should include running.  I'm talking to the people who are currently running and dreading every workout.  I'm talking to the folks who are experiencing pains in their knees and feet and shins and wondering how to make it stop and still run.  I want to say you don't have to do it.  Leave running to the runners.

If you are running, or considering running, ask yourself the questions below:

1.  Are you willing to put the time and effort into making sure you have the equipment and training to run properly and thus get the most benefit out of your workout and decrease your risk of injury?

2.  Are you only doing it because you think it will help you lose weight?

3.  Do you really, truly enjoy it?

If you don't like it, then forgive yourself and give yourself permission to try anything and everything else.  There is a whole world of fun fitness out there waiting to be discovered.

Thanks, Rachel!

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